The Critical Flaws in Women’s Self-Defence Training

by | Nov 8, 2023 | Self-defence | 0 comments

In self-defence, it’s vital that training provides practical, effective, and actionable skills. Regrettably, much of what is being taught under the banner of “women’s self-defence” is not only ineffective but could put women at a disadvantage. Let’s delve into the critical flaws in many self-defence programmes today.

Misplaced Priorities: The Power Fallacy

Self-defence reality
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A common scene in many women’s self-defence classes is participants hitting pads with weak palm strikes. Little emphasis is put into utilising body weight, hips and footwork to generate enough power for a 65 kg woman to put down an 85 kg man. Imagine a much larger man against a small woman – correct technique and tactical targets will be her saviour.

Without this knowledge and ability to execute powerful strikes, merely hurting the attacker will just antagonise him to retaliate with greater force! Factor in an attacker’s potential alcohol or drug-infused state (which increases their pain threshold), and the goal to hit and run = escape, becomes unlikely.

Striking the Wrong Targets


Another flaw of many training programmes is the instruction to strike the jaw and face. If you can snap the head back then this might be enough to give the attacker something to think about whilst you escape, but striking the side of the face with weak palm strikes is a missed opportunity when you could be hitting vital points like the carotid artery.

A slap might momentarily shock but a targeted strike will do what’s necessary, incapacitate them, allowing you to escape.

Irrelevant Scenarios

Many courses waste precious time teaching women to defend against unlikely attacks, such as an under-arm bear hug or outstretched-arm strangulation. Men who attack women are likely to know that the best way to control their victim is by grabbing overarm and pulling in close with strangles and grabs.
It’s standard economics. The opportunity cost applies here. Every minute spent on impractical techniques is a minute lost on teaching a potentially life-saving skill.
Self defence scenarios
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Compliant partners

A prevailing issue in scenario-based self-defence practices, especially seen in martial arts such as ju-jitsu and krav maga, is the reliance on compliant partners. While it’s essential for partners to initiate attacks in a controlled and measured manner to enable learners to grasp and internalise techniques, the training should include crucial learnings that simulate real-world, unpredictable, and intense attack sequences. Combat sports, like boxing and MMA, have an edge in this regard since they provide this type of rigorous training.

To highlight the flaws of the ‘compliant partner’ issue within self-defence and martial arts, consider the training for knife attacks. In many training sessions, the “attacker” theatrically lunges with a knife, leaving it extended long enough for the “defender” to employ a series of blocks, locks, or twists. Such choreographed counters can create an illusion of capability. But, real-life evidence indicates that knife attackers often use one hand to grab, steady, punch or distract their target while relentlessly thrusting with the other. This disconcerting reality is frequently omitted from training, so to effectively defend against this without true understanding and preparation will likely lead to an unsuccessful escape.  
The Extreme Spectrum: The Larkin Dilemma
On the other and extreme end of the spectrum, methods like Tim Larkin’s Target Focus Training emphasise lethal counterattacks, like strikes to the windpipe, as used by a student who unintentionally killed an attacker attempting to rape her.
The dilemma is this, if we know there is an ‘off’ button on a rapist, do we focus our training time on teaching girls from fourteen upwards to skilfully hit that button?

The non-priority problem

Why bother with house insurance if you’ve never been burgled?

There aren’t many people that would agree with that statement. Most people don’t think twice about investing in protecting their most expensive physical assets. But what about the human asset? The protection of physical and mental wellbeing. Most people allocate very little resources to protecting these vital assets, yet last year (2022), there were 1.1 million reported sexual assaults, and 1.5 million violent assaults in the UK.

Conclusion: A Call for Reform

In countries where carrying weapons isn’t permitted, self-defence courses, martial arts, and combat sports are supposed to represent essential insurance policies against sexual and violent assault. The critical question here is, how comprehensive are current training methods?
Courses promoting feeble palm strikes and unrealistic attack scenarios provide superficial protection, providing only a false sense of security.
Dedicating four years to achieve a black belt practising disciplines like karate, judo, kung fu, krav maga, or kickboxing certainly broadens that protective shield. Arguably, the highest level of readiness will be among those individuals who rigorously train 3-4 times weekly, engaging in randomised attack drills along with competitive matches. This elite group often includes practitioners of boxing, Muay Thai, MMA, and certain Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu disciplines.
Many factors influence a trained individual’s real-time response to a violent attack. Mindset and phenomena like tonic immobilisation (the paralysis experienced during intense fear) play significant roles. A candid conversation is overdue, especially if the aim is to offer dependable safeguards against violence and sexual assault for our loved ones.
There’s a pressing call to reassess and overhaul current women’s self-defence training. Practicality must supersede comfort. An emphasis on realistic scenarios, efficacious techniques, and a genuine understanding of the threats women encounter is paramount. This is the route to offering authentic and potent protection.
At Mu-shin Self-defence, we’re tailoring courses to suit all ‘time’ budgets. Online and app-based Bushido Bitesize courses include lessons of under 15 minutes daily over 20 days.
Mu-shin Self-Defence programmes provide group training with app-driven refresher sessions. The objective is to achieve instinctive responses, so it’s essential to periodically revisit and reinforce training drills to fully embed to muscle memory.


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