The Best Self-Defense Programs Empower Women




In this post, we will examine the concepts of different programs that teach purely self-defense; not martial arts schools, but self-defense schools. There are many sites, when scouring the web, that expound on the glories of self-defense. But all have the same advice:

Prevention first, defense second

The purpose of this article is not to single out particular schools or styles, but to give the reader a general overview of what to consider when looking for a self-defense class.

What is the best school that will teach you how to defend yourself? It doesn’t really matter what class you take, if you are comfortable with what you are learning.

If it empowers you so you are no longer afraid, the program has done its job

When weighing your options, here are a few things to consider:

1. Most women’s self-defense programs are taught by men

Without stating the obvious, men have a different mindset than women. As hard as they try, it is very difficult for them to assume the role of a woman and how she feels when attacked. Men’s power comes from the upper body, women’s power comes from the hips. Men deal with confrontations differently: they are less emotional and more of a problem solver and fix-it man. The difference in mindsets does make a difference when conveying the idea of defending oneself.  But this is not to say men do not make good teachers.  Both of my Senseis (teachers) were men, and I have the deepest respect for both of them.

2. For a change in viewpoint, find a class that is taught by a woman with certification to train

A woman with a black belt has experience in the martial arts, which confounds the idea that self-defense doesn’t need martial art’s background.  An instructor need not possess a black belt or certification, but without these, their knowledge is limited to their specific training.  However, some of these programs are well structured and yield inspiring reviews of women thwarting their attacker.

Before you sign up for class, research the instructor and the school, both online and in person. 

Are they teaching what you want to learn?

Man in Self-Defense Suit

3. Training gear

Some schools use no gear at all, others use what I fondly call an “alligator suit.” A term from days-gone-by for self-defense suits.   The attacker dresses in big bulky hardware for protection from the woman who is punching and kicking with all her might.  This allows her to aim for target points and work on her techniques without hurting her training partner.

The problem I see with using this type of training gear is that the woman has no sense of realism.  She is punching as hard as she can to a perceived target, but she is not experiencing the realism of hitting real targets.  In schools that don’t use this type of protection, the attacker wears a groin cup and holds a safety body shield for protection (which is perfectly safe and much more realistic.)

A note here about contact.  If you hurt your partner, neither will be able to train, so when using a real person to practice on, focus your hits to stop about an inch away from the body.  Practicing to focus in this manner improves your techniques and trains you to be exact in your targets.  And teaches you self-control.


Bruce Lee and his famous yell

4. Learn to yell

Watch this video to see how a kiai works.

The kiai, or warrior shout, is that nasty, scary sound you hear coming deep from a martial artist’s belly when he hits his target. The modern version of the kiai is yelling, “go away!” or other shouted command. The shout serves many purposes, both psychological and physical.

Psychologically, the attacker stops for a moment, not expecting such a loud yell from a small woman. The shout pumps you up both physically and mentally, tightening your muscles and bringing on the adrenaline. Plus, if a bystander hears you yell, you are more likely to get help.

5. The use of weapons

There are many weapons that can be used for self-defense. From knives to guns, to pepper spray, to key-ring attachment (kobutans), there are many weapons a woman can use.

There are two problems with a weapon;  1) it can be taken away and used against you; 2) the weapon is never there when you need it.

You never know how experienced your attacker is with a weapon, so it is best not to use one unless you are perfectly sure how to handle it.

A word about pepper spray. This is also known as bear spray, what people take in the mountains to ward off chance meetings with grizzly bears. In a way, your attacker is a grizzly bear, and the problem is the same for the hiker as it is for you. The spray goes both ways. Even with the container held at arms’ length, you are sure to get some backlash. The wind will shift at the wrong moment, and you will also be disabled. Not a good plan.

Emergency whistles are a great way to draw attention to yourself and scare away your attacker. But then again, you have to carry it with you at all times.

What a way to live, right?

If you are living in an area where you have to carry weapons and whistles and worried about people attacking you on a daily basis, perhaps your best move is to move away from that neighborhood! Remember, the best block is not being there.

6. Verbal self-defense

Also known as de-escalation. If you can talk your way out of the situation, do so. More about this in a future post.

7. Beware of pushing or touching the attacker

Putting your hands on your attacker to get him away from you is not the best way to go. Keep out of arms’ reach if at all possible. If he does grab you, expect to go to the ground.   That’s where rapes occur, right? On the ground? If he gets his hands on you, the best move is to not fight back, calmly wait for your opening, and use distraction to get away.

By USMC Archives from Quantico, USA – Women Marines practice self defense, circa 1945

8. Working with women only

Women do not attack women. Rarely. If they do, it is a cat fight, with scratching and biting and hitting. This is wild, crazy fighting, not controlled and disciplined. Men are bigger, stronger, faster, and overpowering. Women need to experience this strength of a man. Your attacker is six inches taller and 100 pounds heavier than you. You trained for six weeks with women your size. What will you do with this gorilla of an angry man that is coming after you?

The idea behind women-only in these classes is to develop a camaraderie, to be able to talk about experiences without having to censor them. Men in the class squelch this openness. But at some point, a good instructor will bring in a man or two to train with.

Police officers are good at this because they’ve seen both sides, and know the importance of a woman being able to protect herself. Realism is the key to safety. Practice in a secure environment, but at the same time use realistic situations. The key is to practice, and practice some more, until you get it down.

9.  Complicated moves

As you browse the internet looking at self-defense sites, you will find videos showing “easy” moves to take down your attacker. To the unpracticed eye, they look good, useful. To the practiced eye, they will do you no good. Anything that deals with joint locks, arm bars, or anything off of a grab will probably not work for you.  You don’t have time to manipulate joints.  This takes practice, and you want to keep things as safe and simple as possible.

11. Learning from videos

Videos are great for refreshing your memory, or watching how other people use their techniques, but do not try to learn self-defense from a video. You need an experienced teacher to show you what you are doing right and wrong, to correct your stances, and to place your hands a little differently.

Lastly, rapists rape because they are rapists. Stalkers stalk because that is what they do.

There is an innate desire in these men to hurt women. You do nothing to encourage them.

The internet is full of protective measures to avoid a stranger rapist.   But the rapist, the stalker, the murderer, is seldom a stranger. It is the person we date, the person we marry, our brother-in-law, your sister’s boyfriend. These are the people to watch out for, and here is where we are most vulnerable. Sad to say, the one place you may have to use your self-defense is in your home against someone you trusted and loved.

Rapists and stalkers do not like to have attention drawn to them

That is why the yell is so effective. But fighting an attacker makes them mad, so don’t fight. If they have you in a compromising position, be as still as you can until you find an opening to make your move. This is when the self-defense techniques you learned will come in handy. But not until then.

Do not take your training lightly.  You are learning a valuable skill that will serve you for the rest of your life.  Considering the violence in our world today it is imperative to know how to protect you and those you love.  As you can see, this is not “fighting” in the sense of fighting, but with just a few quick techniques, you can disable your attacker and run away. Practice makes perfect.  Keep your skill honed and it will not let you down.

Be aware.  Stay safe.


Sensei Carol


2 thoughts on “The Best Self-Defense Programs Empower Women

  1. Hi, Hong. I’m glad my post inspired you. You never know in this day and age when someone will attack you. At the least you will learn how to avoid danger. Good luck. (Sorry it took so long to answer, I just found this comment section. Still learning…)

  2. What a great post. I have never really thought about taking self-defense class. The place I live in is pretty safe. But after reading your article, it makes me more aware that anything can happen to you at any time. It’s best that you are prepared for any attack. I really enjoyed the article. Very thorough and helpful. Thank you for sharing. I will definitely be looking into a self-defense class.

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