Thoughts on Teaching Women’s Self-Defence
By Catherine Webb (Urban Escrima Women’s Self-Defence Instructor)
You can’t teach a martial art in two hours. There’s no magic ninja-move, let alone enough time to imbed the idea of simply dodging into your legs or brain. What you therefore hope to do is plant the beginning of a thought process, which for all its nuance basically boils down to this: if I am attacked, I will fight back.
It sounds simple, but we often flinch from even basic physical contact, even in a self-defence class. Our instincts in the face of sudden danger can be unhelpful – fear and panic, which can freeze us to the floor – and one of the biggest goals of teaching women’s self-defence is to try and push back against that set of reactions, and begin to offer alternatives.
A huge part of that is recognising danger in advance. Often, especially as women, there’s a fear of being grappled with by a larger, stronger man, but actually we teach very little about this scenario, on the basis that we want to avoid getting into that situation before it can happen. We want to see the danger coming, and to have the confidence in our own judgments to walk away before it escalates. Sometimes, however, these things cannot be controlled, and it is as a worst-case scenario that we teach the very basics of moving out of the way and running, or dodging and inflicting pain on an attacker by targeting vulnerable areas of the body, or using any tools to hand as a weapon – mobile phone, door keys – anything to give you an edge. Students who’ve never considered using such things hopefully leave the class with the awareness of options, and through awareness, the ability to think through scenarios in advance, to make a plan for what they might do if the worst happens. One of the great goals, and indeed the great joys of women’s self-defence is seeing that instinctive flinch disappear in the class, and a confidence grow both in students’ willingness to face a threat, and to fight back.
It’s sometimes suggested that teaching women’s self-defence isn’t feminist, as women should not need to defend themselves, should not need to be afraid. And yes, of course, this is an aspiration we all have; and equally men too should not be afraid, and yet crime continues. Faced with this reality, I would argue that confidence is more empowering than ignorance, and the heart of women’s self-defence is this: that by teaching a few simple basics you can take a general fear of being attacked, and begin to change it into something more useful. There is no magic move that in two hours can give you a physical answer to every challenge, but we can begin to address how we think about defence, and that mental component is perhaps even more important – to transform fear into awareness, and anxiety into having a plan.