Friday, March 12, 2010

Can/Should a Man Teach Women's Self-Defense Classes?

This question was posed by Zara in the comment section of my previous post. The following post is my husband's reply to the question.

My name is Thomas and I am Michele's husband. She asked me to respond to your comment because I have very strong feelings about domestic violence, teaching self defense, what’s appropriate and what is it to be successful. Besides teaching self defense classes for more than a decade I have been sought out by schools, womens groups, girl scouts to teach the way I teach. Any karate person can teach the physical movements of a womens self defense class but what makes it special and successful is knowledge and experience in what is real life dynamics and what is just "Womens self defense 101", the status quo.

Let’s start at the beginning, your heart is in the right place and I commend you. You know someone that was attacked, let your understanding and sympathy, your embarrassment by what our gender can do to drive you to make a change. For me it was a very close friend getting raped. Since then it has been the scores of women that I met that had been assaulted. I volunteered at a womens crisis center and became a certified counselor in domestic violence and sexual assault. Every man should have to do that.

Question #1 - to successfully teach a true womens self defense class you want them to walk out feeling like that there are things they can do besides becoming a victim, you build confidence, you let them know that they are worth fighting for, keep to the basics (if they can't remember it when they walk out then it’s not effective. I start each session off with a little about my background, why I have an interest in helping them, and although I obviously can't relate to what they have been through or what things they have to deal with I can reassure them that I will listen and we will grow together through it.

Let me sidetrack for a second. What we are dealing with is subtle and I could write a volume about. There are many trips and nuances. Ultimately, it’s for them and not for you so make sure they feel and know you are there for them. When I said you need to build confidence, I meant an awareness that there are things that will work and that they are not defenseless. Anyone being attacked should psychologically be prepared for some injury. The commercialized glam courses that I won't name make women feel like if a guy grabs them they will whip them just like the guy wearing all the body armor. Very Bad

Question #2
Do a lot of reading and understanding of what is real. There are different attack scenarios based on age. A quick example would be teaching younger kids stranger awareness, mindful of abductions and molestations. Teenage/college girls are more likely to be attacked by a "friend" or boyfriend, relative, rather than a complete stranger. Adult women need to worry about spouse/partner, co-workers etc.. So when you really look at it, the types of self defense moves that cause major damage are statistically ineffective because most of the time the person knows the attacker and is not going to fire off a primary strike. 90% of self defense is awareness, not putting themselves in high risk situations. The times that are physical are usually grabs, being pushed down and held down. I always ask the women what situations are they worried about. It’s all fine and good to teach what I have seen and understand but it doesn't help the woman that has something on her mind that we didn't cover because we didn't ask. Asking also opens up trust. I will teach a general womens self defense class with students around but if I am covering specifically sexual assaults all kids and men are out. Another major thing to consider is you will likely have someone there that has already been assaulted so don't force people into uncomfortable situations that could cause flashbacks. If you are doing something and you need to demonstrate and you are asking a woman/girl to help, before I go near them or touch I ask if they are ok with me touching them.

You raise a very valid point about getting them to have the internal spark to do what they have to in a moment of crisis. They will, most likely, in the 3 hrs say you have with them, always be shy about doing power techniques - it’s ok. Sit them down let them know that they can be the nicest, most gentle person in the world but when someone crosses the line you need to change your focus and go to some other place and it’s ok to do that. Let them know that it’s ok to be angry if they are abused.

You also mention the worry about if you don't press them they won't be ready for the (sudden, shocking and ruthless). Perfect - well stated point. But without years of physical training they can't get that way, you need to tell them that it is sudden, shocking and ruthless. Don't let them leave your building thinking if they get attacked they will get away uninjured. If they do get hurt the shock will shut their bodies down. It is a very well known tactic for men to just walk up and BAM crack their target hard so that there is instant compliance.

Every time I witness physical or verbal abuse of a woman, child, the elderly or even an animal I have stopped it. Every time I do it I expect to get hurt so then if I take a shot it’s not a surprise.

Traditional side note - been doing traditional 30 years and love kata, some people argue kata is useless. If you don't know how or why then it is but there must have been some reason all those great masters did it. For me the yoi position is my internal switch. I'm calm, casual but when I do kata and I hit that yoi nothing else exists but the defeat of my attacker. I have hard, powerful kata.

For me how that translates is when I did crisis intervention work and have been attacked its throwing that internal switch that saved me.

I don't care if it’s a gun, knife, mace, karate or whatever your weapon of choice is, if when the moment comes in crisis for you to act if you hesitate you lose.

I would be more than happy to share as much info that you want or answer any other questions.

If you don't mind me sharing some personal ethical perspectives.

I never charge for womens self defense classes because I feel hypocritical that money takes precedent over a woman’s safety.

I always allow anyone to come back for free follow ups or questions.

One day society needs to understand that there should be no need for womens self defense. They should have a given right to a safe, happy life. We need to teach all children in early health classes the rules of a healthy relationship dynamic. Tell boys it’s wrong to abuse. Its garbage making it a woman's responsibility to recognize an abusive relationship or learn how to defend themselves.

Tom is a Renshi with a 5th Dan in karate and 5th Dan kobudo. In 1995, with permission from his instructor, he started his own dojo. (see before and after pictures).


Narda said...

Q: 'Should a man teach the class?'
A: No necessarily. The bigger and the scarier, the better. Could be male, could be female. The point is - crossing hands with someone that will challenge us. Even shock us.

SD courses as an awareness exercise in taking precaution, and sharing information is a good thing. But being a female, I can tell you from experience, that we all 'play too nice'. A conspiracy of sorts, we tentatively cross hands with each other in these workshops, utter little apologies to each other if we get even a little rough...and it undermines the value of the course.

It's good as a beginning, but one needs to cross hands with someone that will make us use the techniques. I played that role this past week, encouraging other women in a R.A.D. class to push a little. 'Yes... that hurts... GOOD!' :) But unless a woman comes to the course having already experienced violence, it's still all 'academic' without the 'ah ha' moment. Of entering that nexus, that sphere where fear and mass and spirit come into play.

Anonymous said...

Hi Narda,

I’m glad you realize playing nice with your attacker isn’t going to get you anywhere and being overly nice in training is bad preparation if you ever need to use this stuff for real. Training for self-defense is difficult, it’s exhausting and it hurts but that’s just how it is, if it were the other way around the instructor probably doesn’t know what he or she’s doing or they just don’t give a damn. Train hard, fight easy… There’s still much truth in that saying.

I noticed the same problem during classes: whenever two women practice together they tend to go easy on each other, they don’t offer realistic attacks and they hold back on their counterattack out of fear of hurting their partner. It all depends on your reason(s) for training of course but if you’re at all serious about self-defense this won’t do and in reality you’ll get hit on the nose or worse. Whenever I see this I have the tendency to break them up and pick one to train with: I show her that if she doesn’t attack properly there’s no need for me to defend and if she’s not committed in her counters I won’t go down, period. I could fake it of course but that won’t teach her anything and even lull her into a false sense of security. Unfortunately this attitude and the fact I’m pretty intense myself when training has brought me a reputation of being somewhat of a hardass and quite a lot of people in our dojo (bar the more experienced ones) seem quite intimidated by me even though I’m not violent and am extra careful not to injure anyone. In a way it’s not too bad: I remember being quite intimidate by the higher belts when I was just a beginner and students need a role-model (sensei’s obviously much better than me but his skill is so advanced mine actually seems attainable) and someone they can look up to. If the higher levels of our art wouldn’t look and feel dangerous and efficient then what reason would there be to study harder and gain rank?

If I’d teach these kind of classes I’ll be courteous and fair towards but the participants but I wouldn’t go easy on them either. I hope there will be someone like you there who sees the virtues of this approach and who can help motivate the others. Sorry you had to learn this the hard way though.


PS: in any case there should always be a man presented in these classes, even if the instructor is a woman (the gender isn’t very relevant as long as the person is capable and experienced), to play the attacker and to give a sense of real resistance and how well the techniques would work in reality.

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