A few years ago I was teaching one of my self defense courses for women. It’s a two-hour seminar that deals with defense against an unarmed attacker. (I have other classes dealing with armed attackers and other situations.) One lady was doing a pretty good job learning the strikes, but she just was not hitting as hard as I know she could. She was still being “nice.”
I was trying to figure out what would bring out the savage fighter in her (which I know lurks in almost every woman on the planet). Her daughter was only eight at the time and quietly playing in another corner of the room. I said, “They’re after your little girl!!!”
The rest of the women in that room noticed the sudden and violent transformation of that lady. I saw the “Mother Grizzly Bear” come out. There was “blood in her eye” and she just erupted: punching and shoving and kneeing and chopping me and my kick shield across the room. I couldn’t stop her repeated, relentless strikes. She finally had me pressed up against a wall and I said “Ok! Stop! THAT’s what I wanted to see.”
Now she knew what to do. The techniques I taught her were effective, and she knew she could defend herself and her child.
I believe that the majority of women and girls do not naturally come to a defensive situation with either the ability or mentality to physically defend themselves (yes I know there are exceptions; I’ve met them). About 95 percent of the time when I ask a woman to make a fist, she balls up her hand in a way that would make a boxer cringe (usually it is with the thumb sticking out). Men, on the other hand, almost always know how to make a proper fist and throw a good punch.
However, I am also convinced that the vast majority of women can learn very quickly to become effective, ruthless, ferocious fighters who are quite capable in defending themselves against attackers. All they need is the desire, proper techniques (and knowledge of targets), encouragement, and the time to train.
The following are the tips I teach all the women and girls in my self-defense classes. (I also teach CCW to women and I highly recommend that women learn how to shoot and carry a pistol wherever it is legal to do so. However, not every woman is able to carry or wants to. Some may not have the gun nearby, so it is important to know how to fight to get to the gun.)
Here are five basic principles for self-defense. I hope these tips are helpful to you as you train.
The battle always begins in the mind. If your attitude is, “Oh I don’t want to hurt anybody!” — then you really don’t want to live. Yes you do want to hurt the attacker! If you don’t hurt him badly enough, and fast enough, he will kill you. You must be willing to fight ferociously, viciously, without let-up. Just think for a moment of what the attacker will do to you or to your loved ones if he or she is victorious. If they get past you, they will be able to continue to harm countless other women. Fight to the death with an understanding that there are no rules and you must do whatever it takes to save your life or the life of your loved one.
Recently I was in a conference with some police officers. One officer asked the crowd, “What is the most fearsome creature on earth?” Silence. He answered, “A female who is backed into a corner and she’s defending her young.”
The other cops immediately started nodding in agreement and mumbling, “Amen.” He went on: “I would rather face some of these 200-pound drunks than a woman who believes she is defending her child or her own life. She’s unstoppable!” Again, the other police officers agreed.
There is deep inside of you (and most other people) a “killer instinct” that is held back by strong moral convictions (thank God). However, you must be able to “flip the switch” and let it out when the time comes to fight.
Learn simple, effective techniques that you can recall under extreme stress. Spinning-back kicks are nice to learn (I enjoy practicing them now and then), but they are not what you need to know now. You need to know only about six strikes that you can learn quickly and repeat over and over again without thinking. Here is an article I wrote last year about these strikes.
This is my article on the targets to strike on the attacker’s body. (No, your first strike is not necessarily the groin. That’s actually pretty hard to strike; there are other more effective targets.)
I would also recommend that you go to a good martial arts school (one with a good reputation for teaching self-defense, not just tournament fighting) and tell the instructor that you would pay him/her for a few hours of instruction in these techniques. Maybe you could get a group of your best friends to join in? I have gone to several ladies’ groups at various churches and conducted these kinds of seminars (no one gets hurt other than a few bumps, and they all have a great time learning together).
Make sure you learn how to fight dirty. By that I mean, you use your finger nails, make-shift weapons, alternative weapons (like pepper spray), and the environment (slam his head into the corner of a desk, for example).
Make sure you know how to get out of various chokes and holds, and especially if you are on the ground with the man on top of you.
Here are a few great videos by Nick Drossos and his female bouncer friend Helen Stranzl on this subject:
I recommend every video by Nick Drossos, although you should know that his language is quite vulgar at times. But he will teach you what actually works, and what does not. Here is a link to all of his other videos on women’s self-defense that I think will be quite helpful.
3. Strike first.
I know this sounds terrible and it probably cuts against everything you’ve ever been taught. But do you really think you could withstand the first punch of a really strong man? Do you really want someone to get the drop on you? You probably do not have the strength (or skill) to block that punch, and if it connects to your head, it’s over.
So, if someone is threatening you and you feel like your life is on the line, as soon as he is within range, strike him.
Strike hard with everything you have. I normally teach a double palm heel strike to the jaw or nose. But if you think a strike to the throat is warranted, go for it. Follow up immediately with hammer fists to the side of the neck or head.
Then get out of there as fast as you possibly can. You are not there to slug it out with the guy. Your job is to stun him quickly with rapid, stunning, debilitating strikes, then disengage and get the heck outta there.
You will not rise to the occasion. You will fall back on your training. Reading about self defense, talking about it, or watching videos will not save your life. You must get a partner and practice getting out of various chokes and holds. (Train on the ground with the attacker on top of you!)
You must get a punching bag (a 70-pound bag is best, but if you even get a small 40-pound bag that will be fine). Use some bag gloves (even gardening gloves will work) and beat the snot out of that bag at least once a week.
I often practice what I call “stress drills.” I will imagine an attacker in front of me (in the form of the heavy bag) and attack non-stop with as many strikes as possible for 15 seconds. That’s actually quite a long time. Many confrontations are over faster than that. Eventually I work my way up into striking the bag continuously for 40 seconds or longer. It definitely is a great workout.
That seems like a given, doesn’t it? But if you are very overweight and out of shape, you will probably not have the strength, flexibility, coordination, and endurance to last against a powerful attacker. Sure, I might be able to flatten my attacker in three seconds. Maybe.
Personally, I like to prepare myself for worst case scenarios and overtrain. That’s why I run to build endurance. I lift weights so that I can be stronger (lifting weights also helps prevent osteoporosis). I constantly stretch so I am flexible. And during the week I go out to the heavy bag and beat the daylights out of it.
You will fight like you train. Start today.