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I went to a women’s self-defense class. Here’s everything they got wrong.

I’m a mother who loves to travel with her young daughters and backpack in the wildnerness with them. I’m aware that these are “risky” activities and want to be able to protect my daughters. So, when I saw a Krav Maga women’s self-defense class being offered, I signed up immediately.

As expected, I left the self-defense class knowing the most efficient way to knee a groin and how get out of a choke hold.  What I didn’t expect was how pissed off I’d be after the class because of all the things they got wrong.

What Happened during the Self-Defense Class

Krav Maga is a military type of self-defense.  It is VERY intense (to say the least).  During the two-day, 6-hour self-defense workshop, we did many exercises designed to increase our “fight back” reaction.  

It started with shouting “back off!” to pretend attackers.  Then it led built up to simulations such as:

  • Having our partner straddle and strangle us.  We learned moves to stop the attack.  Then we did the exercise IN THE DARK with our eyes closed!
  • Getting our hair grabbed and having to swivel around so we could swing our arm into the attacker’s groin.
  • Walking outside through dark, creepy places while “attackers” wearing body armor jumped out and attacked us.  We had to fend off four attacks in a row!

It was definitely fun to hang out with 10 other women during the self-defense class. We laughed a lot while practicing the moves and hitting the hell out of punching bags.

But it was also unsettling to getting “assaulted” and repeatedly told that predators were lurking at every corner so we needed to know how to defend ourselves.  We were in a class after all, and it was hard to gauge how hard to fight off a fake attack.

Emergency Conditioning is a Good Thing…

A lot of what we did during the self-defense class could be called emergency conditioning: a practice where you replicate/visualize a scary situation in your head.

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You basically trick your brain into thinking that you’ve already gone through the ordeal.  That way, if the event actually does happen, you are more likely to react properly instead of freezing up (which is very common in sexual assault).

Fire drills are an example of emergency conditioning. Pilots do this conditioning when they practice emergency landing drills.

READ THIS: “I hate my boss” – 7 steps (+ how to fix the situation)

But the emergency conditioning taught in the self-defense class was not based on what is actually likely to happen during an assault. Nor was much of it very practical.

What the Self-Defense Class Got Wrong…

I could go on for hours about all the things the Krav Maga instructor got wrong.  But here are the main ones which left me feeling dissatisfied by the end of the class.

1. Assaults Are Committed by Strangers Lurking in the Bushes

Throughout the entire 6-hour self-defense class, the instructor (a man) kept telling us about creeps we might encounter while waiting for the bus.  

That predators would stalk us to our cars.  

Or be waiting in dark alleys or in the bushes (at the end of the class, they actually had us walk next to bushes where attackers jumped out).

The reality is that most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.

The statistics vary, but all come to the same conclusion that a woman is likely to know her attacker:

  • ACESDV reports that 80% of women reporting sexual assaults knew their attacker.
  • PBS reports that 75% of rapes are committed by someone the woman knows.
  • BBC reports that, in the UK, the attacker was only a stranger in 10% of rapes and serious assaults.  In 56% of cases, the attacker was the victim’s partner!

Bear in mind that most sexual assaults go unreported (77% according to RAINN statistics!).  Since women are less likely to report when they know the attacker, the percentage of assaults committed by strangers is probably much, much lower.  

Oh, and let’s not forget about the huge number of sexual assaults in the military.  As this Daily Infographic article points out, sexual assault in the military is rampant – and all those attacks are likely by people the victims knew.

With this in mind, it makes no sense to have “attackers” jump out of the bushes.  Instead, most people need to recognize and de-escalate REAL threats – like the ones that come from coworkers, bosses, and even family members.

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2. That Attackers Are Crazy

Another thing the self-defense class got wrong was repeatedly calling the attackers “crazy” or “perverts.”

The reality is that many of the people who commit sexual assaults are very “normal.” As UCONN writes,

“Sexual offenders come from all educational, occupational, racial and cultural backgrounds. They are ‘ordinary’ and ‘normal’ individuals who sexually assault victims to assert power and control over them and inflict violence, humiliation and degradation.”

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It might not seem like a big mistake to call attackers “crazy.” However, this false belief makes it harder for women to recognize real threats, which are probably from their “normal” coworkers or even family members.

3. You Have Three Seconds to Fight Back

One of the hardest things for me to swallow about the self-defense class was their mantra that “You have just 3 seconds to fight back.”  

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The instructor’s rationale was that, if you don’t fight back and run away within 3 seconds, the attacker will already get complete control over you.  Oh, and there might be some buddies of him lurking around the corner.

Yes, there is some good advice here.  The faster you react, the better your chances are of getting away.  Statistics show that women who fight back are 50% less likely to get raped.  However, those same statistics show that fighting back increases the odds of being seriously injured by 10%.

They completely ignored the fact that it might not be smart to fight back in all situations.  What if the attacker is a mugger and not a rapist (and we know that you shouldn’t fight a mugger!)? Shouldn’t I wait a few seconds to assess the situation?

Saying to “fight back” also puts the burden on the woman to prevent the attack. As Feminism in India writes,

“The bottom-line is that defending oneself is a personal choice, and holding a survivor accountable for not reasonably exercising self-defense is problematic in that it contributes to rape culture.”

4. Trying to Teach Us Self-Defense Skills in Two Days

Most self-defense classes teach women to respond aggressively to attacks by striking the man.  But, as pointed out here,

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“If you are forced to use that much violence to break an attack you are not practicing ‘self-defense’. You are in a fight. In a fight, the attacker hits back — or hits first.”

Since instructors of self-defense classes know fighting skills, it makes sense that this is what they teach. But these skills can’t be learned in a two-day workshop.  

READ THIS: Margaret Fuller: The amazing life of America’s forgotten feminist

What would have been better?

How about emphasizing that there is no one “best” way to respond to an attack. In addition to fighting back, we could have been taught to use our intuition and de-escalation tactics.  These are taught in feminist self-defense classes and are actually proven to reduce attacks.  

The Worst Part Was Being Told to Live in Constant Fear

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I went into the self-defense class feeling confident and secure.  After 6 hours of listening to the instructor say that “predators are everywhere, they are smart, and they plan their attacks,” it was hard not to be paranoid on the walk home.

This sort of paranoia does not help women stay safe.  Instead, it just reinforces what society has been doing for years: putting the burden of rape on the woman.

Society is full of advice for women on “how not to get raped.” The advice goes as far as giving hairstyle tips (don’t grow your hair out long since a rapist might grab onto it).

I shouldn’t have to adjust my life because of all the possible threats to us as women. Nor should I be made to feel guilty if I do get assaulted in a dark alley, while drunk, or doing other “risky” activities (“she should have known better”).

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether I took a self-defense class or not.  Nor does it matter whether I fought back or not.

It is not my responsibility to avoid getting raped.

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So let’s start offering more do-not-rape classes to men instead of just self-defense classes for women.  Guess what? These no-means-no classes are actually proven to work.

But, until these men’s classes get implemented on a wide scale, I’m going to teach my daughters how to properly knee a groin.


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Notable replies

  1. I think that whenever a life threatening situation happens, that your life flashes by. That that is the brain searching its banks for a memory to enact a cure . For example a memory of swimming saves us from drowning. In that sense these classes offer a safe matrix to develop a defense pattern in theory .
    The difference between this matrix and "real world attacks " is that the attackers intent is obviously very different and the psychological interplay between defender and attacker can be completely different universes. The intent of the attacker can cause a defender to be convinced that defense is impossible.
    That in itself is the loss, the actual attack is merely the manifestation of the loss.
    Does that make the matrix a waste of time ?
    I think not. :slight_smile:

  2. Just get your Blue Belt in Krav Maga, then you should be able to manage.

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