I was talking with a couple of friends over dinner and the topic of women’s self defense came up. My friend (who does not train jiu jitsu) showed the rest of us (who do train jiu jitsu) the self defense move she learned. She’s a very small woman who is so non-violent that she was reluctant to finish the choke on my husband who outweighs her by 75 pounds and started jiu jitsu when he was 15.
I was a little concerned that the self defense technique was a choke from the back – it just seems like an unlikely situation for her to be in. If the only self-defense technique she knows is the choke, how will she get into position to finish the choke? Also, how practical is this move against a larger person? Sure, if she is able to get and stabilize the position, the choke would be effective. But with no experience against a resisting opponent this doesn’t seem likely.
I’ve spoken to a lot of my women friends about sexual abuse and assault and all of the women I have asked have been sexually abused or assaulted – most often by someone they knew (this is a difficult topic that I will address at another point). Averi Clements just posted an article on how self-defense classes can be tailored to address the realities of what kinds of violence women face.
While Averi’s article discusses the importance of focusing on the self-defense situations women are likely to face, she does not mention specific techniques. With her perspective in mind, these are the five self-defense moves I would like to see in a self-defense class. The first three I have personally experienced.
- Why: A larger attacker could drag someone away by having a strong grip on their arm or wrist.
Bear Hug Defense:
- Why: From the back, someone could be dragged away. Escapes from the front are important for avoiding unwanted physical contact.
- How: There are four ways an attacker can bear hug: from the back over the arms, from the back under the arms, from the front over the arms, and from the front under the arms. Unfortunately, many self defense videos don’t show how to defend against an unwanted hug from the front, or a hug when someone is trying to make sexual advances. I have only included videos demonstrating defenses from rear bear hugs for that reason.
Arm around Shoulders:
- Why: An attacker could try to lead someone away in this position and it looks friendly. Or this situation could be unwanted or inappropriate physical contact.
- How: All the videos I found rely on striking or require the attacker being about the same size as the defender. So here is how I would escape if someone put their right arm over my shoulders:
- Base by spreading your feet a little more than shoulder width apart. Bend your knees slightly. Do not let them take you anywhere.
- Grab and control their right wrist with your right hand. Hold on tight.
- Step behind them with your left leg. Try to put your foot right between theirs.
- Push your hips forward to off-balance them.
- Duck under their right arm by stepping out and behind them. Do not let go of the wrist until you have escaped.
Kimura from the Closed Guard:
- Why: This is a common position in a sexual assault situation.
- Why: It looks like a slap but is more effective.
Where are all of the kicks to the groin, elbows, and palm strikes? The average man is 5.5 inches taller and 27 pounds heavier than the average woman (CDC, 2017). If a person is not trained in striking or has not had much practice, strikes will not be very effective against a larger opponent, Also, in a social situation, escapes and slaps are appropriate where strikes may feel like an overreaction (even if they are not).
Most of these moves can be modified to not involve striking and all prioritize escape over harming the attacker. Unfortunately, while doing research for this article I found that most videos focus on how men can defend themselves from men.