Female Self Defense Courses, can they teach you how to be safe?

The first thing that comes to mind when people hear ‘’Personal Safety’’ is martial arts or firearms training. Being in the security industry for the last twenty years, I have had the chance to attend many training courses. Continuing education is my first priority, and I attend as many seminars and classes as possible each year.  In all of them, the conclusion I reached is that preparation and prevention can be your number one tip for your safety, whether you are a civilian or security professional.

An experience I encountered at the age of 16 changed my life priorities and choices. Today, I am the result of an attack I survived that left me bleeding and half-dead in an alley. I didn’t think the attacker would “allow” me to live. I didn’t think I would live to see my family again. That “man” was why I got involved in the security industry and later into martial arts training.

In this article, I would like to focus more on female self-defense courses and what can work for us and what won’t.

To clarify my comments, I am not writing this article from a martial artist or an instructor’s point of view, but from the female perspective interested in learning some essential tips on protecting her life.

My personal experience with martial arts began as a teenager and continues today. Still, the bottom line is I’m expressing here my opinion as a woman, a student, and a former attack victim, and I’m pretty sure some martial arts instructors won’t agree with it. My goal here is not to offend anyone’s work but to address some concerns from the female perspective.

During an attack, many factors affect all of us at the same time. There is surprise, physical pain, adrenaline, and that horrible thought and feeling that someone else besides you can decide whether you will be breathing the next few minutes or not…Your nervous system is red-lined. You experience a faster heart rate, rapid breathing, and increased blood pressure. An effort from your body to control and adjust to the experience of the fear during the attack is in full defense mode. Some people might notice sensations in the stomach, head, chest, legs, or hands. Now multiply those physical responses with factors from the threat you are dealing with. Maybe a gun or knife or a much larger person or multiple attackers.

No matter how good a martial artist or instructor you are (no matter how many times you have practiced your art), there is nothing that can compare with dealing with a real-life threat. Nothing can replace the experience and test you and your abilities more than an actual attack.

We know that in some cases, women are stronger than men. Yes, there are examples of men being weaker, but generally speaking, let’s agree that for discussion, men are stronger. The aim is to help women think differently and a bit more strategically. We don’t have to learn to beat someone down; we have to know where we should be or what we should do so we don’t end up in a situation where violence is likely to occur. We have to learn to speak up when uncomfortable –being vocal will alarm a perpetrator and bystanders. No one wants to attack someone who will fight back, make a lot of noise or attract attention. As with all predators, attackers prefer to go after the weak, sick, and vulnerable. It’s a simple “Cost vs. Gain” equation.

Instead, we should not accept our environment; we should shape it and learn where we should and should not be. We can influence a potential attack simply through posture and by thinking ahead. Begin with “I won’t be a victim,” and then don’t allow it to happen. I would also suggest you consider what kind of environment you wish to be in and avoid those you know to be questionable. We can prevent danger and create a safer place for ourselves and our loved ones simply by being smarter and more prepared than a potential attacker.

No one can offer you a 100% safe environment; someone can attack you because the opportunity to do it exists. By being trained and self-aware, you prevent or postpone an attack. According to statistics, more than 2/3 of the attacks against women could be prevented if they were trained in simple and basic self-defense.

Women are known to have strong intuition, something that alerts us or makes us feel that there is something wrong with a person or situation. Use it! Think in advance what actions you could take to provide you more safety. While driving, shopping, at home, dating, clubbing, etc.

If you do a research online, you will find many self-defense courses available but, 99% of them are delivered by martial arts instructors with no other qualifications. Even fewer of those Instructors are women. From my personal experience attending many of those courses, I found that the students were treated, trained, and handled like martial arts athletes or professionals. The primary teaching effort was focused on the fight or fighting back instead of avoidance and predator profiling. So, from the first moment students get in the class, they learn how to become the victim and get involved in an attack.

The truth is, Self Defense Instructors make their money teaching what they know, and what they don’t know, they leave to someone else. Most have no formal training in altercation avoidance or conflict resolution, so they teach reactive methods rather than proactive planning.

Now, my question is how an ordinary woman, a mother, someone who has never delivered a punch or a kick in her life can learn fighting techniques in one to six lessons?

And more important, how can she successfully apply what she learned in the gym on the street? How will she react to a real threat from an attacker who doesn’t look like or act like or smells like her Instructor? Who won’t stop short of hitting her in the face grabbing her body, or ripping her clothes?

I see Instructors teaching blocks, arm bars, headlocks, etc… I am over 30, with experience in sports and martial arts, and I still don’t have the flexibility to make a successful headlock with my legs. I wonder how someone teaches that and believes that a woman with no experience or practice will apply it in real life?

I have been asking instructors if those techniques work in real life, and they all say yes for some reason.

These Instructors are missing some crucial facts:

  • They are male
  • They have been practicing for many years
  • They teach in a safe environment usually chosen by the student

I find it more dangerous to teach someone something that she is not ready to apply in real life than not teaching it at all. Teaching and reinforcing a false sense of confidence could lead to catastrophic failure. Can you imagine what would happen if a victim kicked an attacker and she kicked wrong or hit the wrong target because of her fear-adrenaline? If he stays on his feet, He will fight.

Even if the attacker didn’t initially intend to seriously injure the victim, he might lose his temper or use more force than intended.

Not all attackers retreat if you fight back; some of them will fight harder and stronger.

More serious are knife and gun disarming techniques…Learning to disarm a plastic knife and gun can be catastrophically worse if the instructor has never used a firearm for his living. I have seen everybody participating in blade disarming, smiling, and taking their time, doing it again and again….I’m not so sure if they would deal with it the same way if they had a real knife to practice with.

As a female, I tried to apply some of these techniques I learned to real life. Not all of them worked for me, and I belong to the women who have previous martial arts and sports training, so it makes me wonder how it would work for a mother or grandmother?

I understand the ”business part” of someone running a training course, but our responsibility as instructors starts with loyalty to the people paying us to learn something that will save their life?

A small percentage of people know what they are teaching and are doing it right. They have a background in law enforcement, martial arts, and the security industry. They have gathered their experience and taught realistic techniques. There are people out there, professionals focused on teaching intelligence-based tactics… Brain vs. Braun. As women, we must learn to think and out-think  We must search for instructors who know how to teach us and what to teach us. And we must learn under stress. We must allow ourselves to be tested under extreme conditions and continue to train to not be victims.

Denida Zinxhiria Grow

Protective & Intelligence Services

Founder & CEO

Athena Worldwide

Athena Academy 




4 thoughts on “Female Self Defense Courses, can they teach you how to be safe?

  1. Wendy April 2, 2013 / 23:48

    I totally agree! I’ve had that very argument with men several times. Those of us who are in the security atmosphere or law enforcement still have to keep skills up, they are tangible lessons. Now that I’m older and not as strong, I find myself working “smarter not harder” and feel it more when I’m wrestling with younger stronger men. I feel some instructors are irresponsible for taking a woman who has no experience and giving them a false sense of security or just enough training to get themselves hurt. I believe just be more aware is more than half of it!

  2. Bridgett April 11, 2013 / 23:48

    I also agree with Wendy. You can take class after class but you have to be aware of your surroundings.

  3. Wouter Marais December 5, 2013 / 23:48

    This is a great article……and I totally agree that situational awareness goes a lot further than trying to react when things get out of control

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