Not just self defence
Learning self defence is not just about defending yourself from an unknown assailant. It is about learning how to physically control situations that may result in injury to those involved. Imagine having to control a distraught friend at the side of a busy road. Or perhaps having to restrain your drunk teenager who insists “I’m fine to drive”. And of course, protecting yourself from a mugger or rapist.
In situations like these, you need to be able to physically take charge without being forced to injure the other person. If you can control a situation when someone is trying to hurt you, then you’ll additionally be able to control the other situations. So let’s focus on the worst case scenario — defending yourself from a violent aggressor.
The differences between violence against men and women
Women have different self defence needs than men. Violent attacks on men are usually motivated by territory disputes or perceived lack of respect. The main motivation for attacks on women is for the attacker to gain a feeling of power and domination. These different motivations result in different forms of violence.
Attacks on men are often public, and usually by a stranger. They are accompanied by much posturing, shoving, verbal threats, before exploding into an exchange of punches and kicks. The aim is to either scare or injure the victim, so that the victim leaves the area or the attacker feels that he has redeemed himself before onlookers.
Attacks on women are different. Attackers are frequently known to their victims. The attacker is trying to physically assert his power so there are painful squeezing holds, forceful shoves, violent yanking of limbs and sometimes slapping and punching. It is mainly one sided and at a much closer range compared to the trading of blows between men.
Self defence solutions for men don’t work for women
For men, self defence is a simple affair of learning to defend against punches and kicks, and learning how to hit back.
Women need to learn to extract themselves from strong holds and defend against blows. But hitting back is not usually a viable option. Most assailants are known to the women they are attacking. They are friends, relatives, ex-partners, co-workers and neighbours. It’s easy to strike out against a stranger with intent to harm, but much harder to do this to someone you know and probably like.
But even if you could bring yourself to try to hurt your attacker, would it be effective? Your attacker is stronger than you, possibly intoxicated so he has a stronger pain threshold. Can you hit hard enough to hurt him? What if he is pinning your body to the ground with his?
Aha! I’ll bite, claw his eyes, hit him in the groin. These “disabling attacks” are commonly advocated. But can you be 100% sure these will work? If they don’t, you’ve just made the assailant very angry. His motivation has changed from domination to retribution. A bad situation has turned very much worse.
A solution that works for women
A woman’s primary self defence goals are to fend off blows, escape from holds or pins and then to control the situation. Attempting to battle strength against strength against a stronger attacker is not a successful tactic. A more successful tactic is to neutralise or overcome his strength by using positioning and leverage.
Fending off blows can be achieved quite simply by positioning yourself out of the danger area of the blow. You can do this by tightly clinching with the attacker. A tight clinch means you are too close to the attacker for his blows to have any power. The tight clinch meshes well with the rest of our strategy as we’ll see shortly.
Battling strength against strength is unlikely to work against a stronger attacker. What does work is to use a strong part of your body against a weak part of his. The strongest muscles in a woman’s body are those in the legs and hips. When standing, these muscles are used to hold you upright and can’t be used against your attacker. But when you are on the ground, your legs are no longer used as supports and you are free to use these strong muscles against your attacker. Being on the ground is an advantage for a knowledgeable woman.
In an attack, a woman who is in a tight clinch on the ground with the attacker is in a better strategic position than a woman on her feet. Coincidentally, when the attacker is stronger or during an attempted rape, a woman will often end up in this position. With knowledge and training, a woman will be able to easily take control of this situation.
You may not have a choice about whether you end up on the ground, or you may choose to go there deliberately. Regardless of how you get there, the goal of this self defence course is to give you knowledge and training that will make you effective on the ground.
How being on the ground helps a weaker defender
Being on the ground reduces the effect of strength and increases the effectiveness of skill. This narrowing of the strength gap benefits a weaker, skilled defender.
When standing, both the attacker and defender use the strength in their arms. This is obviously advantageous for the stronger person. When struggling, the heavier person will have the better balance. Again the heavier, stronger attacker has the advantage.
When on the ground, typically the defender will be underneath while the attacker will be on top. With her back on the ground for support, she can use the strong muscles in her legs and hips in addition to those in her arms. The defender has increased her effective strength.
The attacker is in a kneeling or crawling posture, which less familiar than a standing posture. Being in a less familiar posture will require him to expend extra strength to maintain balance. His effective strength has slightly decreased.
This change in effective strength narrows the strength gap between attacker and defender. It is now easier for the defender defender to create the opportunity to reverse the situation so she is on top and the attacker is underneath. She now has the option to either stand and flee the situation, or to pin and control the attacker.
When on top, the defender can pin a larger attacker by using her bodyweight effectively. For example, if she uses the weight of her head and upper body, she can pin the head of the attacker. With his head trapped, it will be very hard for him to escape.
Being on the ground narrows the strength gap. If the defender has enough skill to fill the gap, then she will prevail and control the situation. The most effective skill we know of to fill this gap is Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
BJJ is a grappling based combat sport. It is used as the grappling basis of no-holds-barred fights in Brazil, as well as being a sport in its own right. In these competitive arenas, ineffective techniques and training methods are quickly discarded. It is continually adapting and advancing as competitors strain to gain the edge over each other with more effective use of leverage and position.
This continual adaptation in a limited rules environment, has resulted in arguable the most effective ground based art. It is heavily used in today’s mixed martial art competitions as competitors realize that without ground training, they will speedily lose.
What is interesting to understand is how it came to be so effective. BJJ is a grappling based style. There is no punching, kicking, biting, eye poking or other dangerous moves. This means that practitioners can train hard every day with full resistance and not suffer injuries. In striking styles, practitioners can’t train with full resistance all the time as it would result in too many injuries.
By removing so-called dangerous moves, BJJ has paradoxically become a much more dangerous art. This is because there is no difference between training and competing. All the skills, timing, positioning and pressure learnt while training are used in the exact same way when competing.
This makes BJJ especially useful for self defence. A BJJ competition is very similar to a real self defence situation in intensity and level of resistance. An attack will be less confrontational as a BJJ practitioner has likely experienced a similar situation with a more skilled attacker in everyday training.