Empowered woman raising her fist in the air

5 things women should know about self defense

The internet is full of half truths and outright misinformation when it comes to women’s self defense. Much of this questionable information is distributed in the name of marketing. What do I mean? Simply put, if marketers tell the truth about self defense, it’s harder to sell.

In the protection and safety world, women’s self defense is revered as a sort of super secret technique set that magically empowers women. 

If it sounds like I’m a little down on women’s self defenses, I’m not. But I do get a bit disgusted at the myths and magical marketing so many corporations use. In fact, I wrote a little about it in an article on women’s self defense myths.

And since I wrote that article on the lies you should watch out for, I figured a great follow up would be about the truths you should know. So, if you’re a woman who has considered taking a self defense class, here are five important bits of information you should keep in mind. They aren’t all pretty, but self defense isn’t a pretty situation.

1. Self defense isn’t just punching and kicking

If you’re like most people, the phrase “self defense” makes you instantly think about fighting. You know, kicking the groin (a semi-myth in it’s own right), hitting, scratching… the works. But there’s mach more to protecting yourself than fighting. In fact, fighting is the last step.

There are actually four phases of self defense: awareness, avoidance, de-escalation, and finally, the physical act of fighting (defense). And those four phases actually break down even further into what we refer to as the 7 areas of personal safety

Why are these things important? Because any time you fight, there is a greater than 0% chance you get hurt, or worse. Certainly, any time a woman is in danger is the time to fight back. But wouldn’t you prefer the ability to stay out of such situations? That’s where the long list of pre-fight skills comes in.

2. You must consider domestic violence/known attacker

If you had to hurt a stranger to save your own life, could you? If you nodded your head in an emphatic “yes,” now consider this. Could you do the same to someone you know? Maybe even a spouse or boyfriend?

Reflection of domestic violence in a person's eye.
Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay 

According to the CDC, 20% of women report physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. Not some faceless, nameless, stranger in the dark, but someone they know well, and even share their life with. 

Furthermore, a UN report in 2017 noted that 137 women were killed per day by someone they knew. That ‘someone” isn’t necessarily a spouse. It could be a neighbor, family member, even a store clerk you see on a regular basis. 

The point of this isn’t to scare you, nor is it meant to induce paranoia. But the reality is, as a woman, you’re very likely to be attacked by a familiar face. And from a physical standpoint, getting assaulted isn’t less dangerous just because you know the person. That means your definition of win has to include situations where you know your attacker. 

3. The attacker isn’t always male

Just as women don’t always suffer attacks at the hands of strangers, the attacker also isn’t always male. 

Yes, it’s true that men commit 96% of sexual assaults. But the numbers are high in same sex couple as well. In fact, a CDC study shows 44% of women in same sex relationships experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking. 

Here’s another consideration. Who are you more likely to trust? A strange woman asking for help, or a strange man asking for help? Most people give the same answer– woman. And therein lies another problem.

It’s not uncommon for criminals to use ploys. One such tactic could be using a woman as the bait to draw you into a more secluded attack environment. Who wouldn’t be tempted by pleading cries of a woman needing help because a child is locked in the hot car?

There’s one last thing to consider regarding male versus female attackers. Men aren’t the only one who get in fights. I know, you’re not the type to go around causing problems and starting fights. But just because you aren’t doesn’t mean the same applies to other women. Women are just as capable of social violence as men. You can find out more about ego-based (social) vs predatory (anti-social) violence here.

4. Fighting a bigger person will always be harder

Here’s a hard truth marketers don’t want you to think about. 

It’s odd in a way, because if I walked up to you on the street and asked if fighting a 250 pound person or a 95 pound person is harder, you’d tell me it’s a dumb question, right? Of course, we all know fighting a bigger person is harder. Always has been, and always will be.

Black writing on a white wall. Stubborn on vision, flexible on details.
Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

Yet, a common speech in martial arts and self defense circles is how technique trumps all, using leverage to overcome even the biggest attacker with ease. I’ll tell you right now, that’s complete and utter bullshit.

Size, strength, and speed are always factors in a fight (which is a big reason it pays to avoid a fight in the first place). But women’s self defense classes are often marketed as magical techniques because, if they told you the truth, you’d wonder why even bother taking a class.

Well, harder doesn’t mean impossible. In other words, yes, fighting a person who outweighs you by 100 pounds will always be harder, make no mistake. But that doesn’t mean it’s can’t be done. 

At some point, strength difference will always come into play. But knowing how to fight effectively delays that point and gives you a greater advantage than you would normally have- and a surprise advantage your attacker likely doesn’t expect.

5. Why a women’s self defense class is important

After the last section, you may be wondering if taking a self defense class is even worth your time.

Actually, yes.

For one, knowing the right tactics– the right techniques– does improve your chances of survival. But it isn’t a magic formula. Instead, knowing techniques and how to use things like leverage, balance, and structure in your favor allows you to use the strength you have in the most effective way.

But just like self defense is about more than fighting, so too are the effects of taking a self defense class. 

Chart showing results of women's self defense study by the University of Oregon.

Several studies show how taking a self defense class benefits women in ways other than fighting. For example,  a University of Oregon study showed a tremendous difference between women who took a self defense class and those who didn’t. 

In their study, the women who learned self defense were half as likely to experience unwanted sexual contact, coercion, and attempted rape. 

Another study, this one by the University of Windsor, showed similar results. This particular study followed 893 women. Results showed a 46% reduction in rape, plus a 63% reduction in attempted rape for women who took a self defense course.

Of course, taking a class can never guarantee your complete safety. However, there are also benefits to self defense training– other than fighting back– if you are attacked.

One way self defense training helps attack survivors is that women who fight back against their attacker tend to heal faster emotionally and psychologically than those who don’t fight. This is often attributed to the survivor’s knowing that she did everything in her power, leaving no regrets to second guess later. That isn’t to say you should or should not fight, but it is an interesting discovery. 

But what if you only decide to take a self defense class after surviving an attack? Is it beneficial then? Absolutely.

In a study published by the National Institutes of Health, taking a self defense after an attack helped the healing process. Participation in a class helped women rediscover their self confidence and move forward in the healing process. 

One last thing I’d like to add here regarding attack survivors. An attack is never your fault, even if you didn’t fight back. Acquiescence is not the same as consent.


Only you can decide whether or not to fight back if you’re attacked. Likewise, whether or not you take a women’s self defense class is entirely your decision. 

In making your decision, it’s important you understand there is more to self defense than punching and kicking. Self defense begins long before any physical contact occurs, and the best from of self defense will always be avoiding the fight. If you choose to attend a class, ask what skills they teach beyond the physical self defense.

You should also understand what a self defense class can and can not do for you. A women’s self defense class can and should be an empowering event. With the right class, you’ll walk away with a new sense of self confidence tempered with the reality of surviving violence. 

You’ll know effective tactics for dealing with a stronger person, but an honest consideration of why perfecting the first three phases of self defense and mastering the seven layers of safety are more important. 

Self defense training will never make you invincible, no matter what someone tells you. But it most certainly is a way to gain power and confidence in your own personal safety.

Interested in discovering more about the gimmick-free truth of self defense for women? Since 2007, over 3000 women have taken control of their own safety through the Common Sense Defense & Women’s Empowerment class. Click here to find out more this special program.

Featured image by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

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