The world of what makes good martial arts and self-defense is a complicated and muddy one. Narrow that down to women's self-defense and it's even worse. Like in the fitness and nutrition industry there’s a lot of conflicting advice, self-proclaimed experts passing off bad advice to make a quick buck, and pride alongside good, well-educated instructors.
It can be overwhelming to go through all of the conflicting advice to sort out what is true and what isn’t. Add to that the fact that fear is a daily part of many women’s lives and it’s easy to take the path of least resistance and look for anything that promises a quick, easy solution.
To make that process a little easier, let’s bust some of the common myths surrounding self-defense for women and help everyone make better choices.
1. Shut Down Any Attacker With This One Move…
Lots of people - especially in online videos - like to advertise simple, one-shot defenses. “This technique will stop an attacker every time!” “Do this joint lock if you’re grabbed!” “Go for the eyes!”
The problem with relying on one simple defense is that there are so many variables in an attack that no one 'technique' can account for all of them. Attacks are not the rigid, turn-taking encounters like you might see in a video or practice. They are dynamic, hectic, and vary even more depending on who is attacking you. What if you try that one cool, ancient move you saw but it doesn’t work? What if the attacker knows how to defend against it? What if they punch you in the face?
You cannot rely on any one technique to protect yourself, if you truly want to know how to defend yourself you need to learn how to fight in a variety of situations and ranges, and against partners who are resisting.
2. “A Good Kick To You-Know-Where Never Fails”
So many "experts" in women's self-defense love to tell them to "simply kick the groin and you'll take out any guy!" Unfortunately though, hitting a fella in the groin is not guaranteed to stop him. Most guys have been hit there at least a few times and have ingrained automatic responses to protect that area. You might even be dealing with someone on enough controlled substances to have a severely dulled pain response. Some have even learned how to ignore hits to the area. I’m not saying don’t go for it - if there is an opportunity, hit it! But don’t rely on it.
Much like there is no magic bullet technique, hitting a male in the groin is also not a magic bullet to taking them out.
3. All You Need Is A Weekend Women's Self-Defense Seminar
Seminars are a great way to learn the basics in a short amount of time, but don’t expect to become an expert in just a few hours.
Only so much can be taught in such a limited amount of time, and to become good at it you will need to keep practicing what you've learned. If you do go to a seminar there are a few simple tips to get the most out of it.
How to get the most out of a seminar:
- Take a notebook. Making notes about the things you've learned will help digest the information you've just learned, and provide a great way to review again later.
- Ask if you can record yourself practicing the techniques. Many instructors won't want you to film them teaching but might be okay if you film yourself, so be sure to ask!
- Ask lots of questions. Making sure you understand the information and techniques is crucial for it to be useful to you.
- Keep Practicing! The most important element of being good at self-defense is practice. Like any skill, the more you practice the better you get and the more the movements become like second-nature. This is what you should be aiming for - so practice as often as you can and if possible, find someone to practice with.
4. Gimmicky Weapons/Tools
Whole industries are devoted to peddling disguised weapons. Many of these “weapons” fail to actually think about the scenarios in which they’d be used, overstate their effectiveness, and/or are just plain useless. They’ll use the best marketing tactics and sales-talk to convince you that their weapon is “the best” tool to protect yourself with.
The biggest problem with most self-defense weapons on the market is that they are about as effective as a security blanket, and fail to account for the most likely attacker. Hint: It’s probably not going to be that weirdo who cat-called you. Unfortunately, the most likely person to violently attack a woman is someone they know (a friend, a relative, or a partner) and the attack will most likely come when their guard is down.
For the sake of space, I won’t list every single bad tool out there, but here’s a couple of the most common we’ve seen going around lately:
GoGuarded - These are little rings that you place on your finger with a spike on them. The main selling points is that it’s a sharp point that you can use to defend yourself and since it’s on a ring it cannot be easily taken away.
While it’s great that it can’t be easily taken away - that’s one of the biggest concerns with any weapon or tool - the angle the point is at is completely ridiculous. You would never hit anyone like that, and you're sacrificing speed and power if you attempt to hit someone at the awkward angle this ring would require to work. Save your money and don’t buy this.
Tiger Lady Claw - These are “claws” that pop out when you squeeze the product in your fists. They’re intended to be used to scratch the attacker and have little bowls inside the claws that hang onto any DNA samples gathered while defending yourself. The issue I have with these is that your only real option with these is to scratch - that’s it. Scratching will absolutely not stop someone who is determined to attack you. If anything, it will just anger them and make them more determined to harm you.
Stun Guns - Stun guns are a pretty common less-lethal alternative to many weapons, some even have flashlights on them. The flashlights are useful if you need to see in the dark but are rarely enough lumens to actually temporarily blind a potential attacker. The number one problem with stun guns is that they are actually rather ineffective as a self-defense tool. They hurt when on bare skin but for civilian models it takes up to four seconds of direct contact with a major muscle group to incapacitate - it’s nowhere near strong enough to stop someone who is committed to attacking you. On thick clothes it's barely noticeable. The sound is startling, but I wouldn’t count on that alone.
Furthermore, thanks to Hollywood many people think stun guns actually disable a person for a short period after it's been used on them. In reality, it only incapacitates a person while being used. If you are going to use one, you need to be close enough to use it, actually make contact with bare skin, then be able to run away immediately.
A final note to consider with any non-firearm weapon is legality. Laws vary between states, stun guns are illegal in some states and/or cities. They may also be banned in certain businesses or public areas. Check with your state and where you'll likely be carrying your weapon to make sure you don't get in trouble for having and using it. Stun guns are legal to own and carry in Ohio.
5. All You Need Is A Weapon
Unfortunately, it's not just a question of avoiding the gimmicky weapons and carrying an effective one. Having a weapon can be a useful tool in your arsenal for self-defense but it cannot be the only option you have. There are many considerations when deciding on carrying a weapon, and in choosing which one to carry.
First you have to take into account that it's unlikely you’ll have a weapon on you at all times. Whether it’s simply inconvenient to carry everywhere, illegal to carry into certain areas, or the simple “I just didn’t happen to have it on hand at that moment.”
Then you have to factor in ease of access - anything in your purse is too likely to get buried and when you are full of adrenaline it will be even harder to fumble around to grab a weapon. The easier it is to deploy and use, the better.
The worst thing you can do is to buy a weapon like a firearm and think that’s it. That’s all you needed to do. Even if you buy pepper/OC spray, you have to train to use the weapon and practice with it. (By the way, did you know pepper spray canisters can go bad?) Failure to train in using and retaining a lethal weapon is an excellent way to miss your target, get it taken away from you, and then promptly get killed with it. Training should also include a plan B for if you drop the weapon, cannot get to it, or get it taken away from you.
Most of all it’s important to remember not to over-rely on any particular weapon, to have backups, and to make sure you are mentally ready to use whichever item you choose.
If you are going to own a weapon getting proper training with it is absolutely crucial. Know the laws in your city and state, choose the right weapon for you, and then get as much training with it as you can to ensure you hit your target and not miss - or worse hit an innocent bystander. Just as important is training to ensure you don’t get your weapon taken away from you. Training should also help you learn to not be too weapon-focused. Too often people fixate and forget they have other tools at their disposal. You have to be able to adapt.
Buying a weapon for self-defense can be a valuable tool, but it requires practice and cannot be your only tool. Practicing awareness, avoidance, de-escalation skills, and open-hand skills are crucial pieces of self-defense that shouldn’t be forgotten.
6. You Can Learn From YouTube
Videos can be a great addition to training, however, there are a few issues that can come up as a result.
The first of which is many promise they are the only thing you need. A video can be a great addition to your training, but it’s just that - an addition. It's something to help you practice, but you still need a qualified instructor to help correct your form and ensure you are practicing the techniques correctly.
Secondly, anyone can make videos and share them or put them up online for sale. If you are going to use them as a part of your training make sure you are getting them from good, credible sources.
7. What You Wear Makes You A Target
One of the #1 most common myths that just won’t hurry up and die already is that what a woman wore caused her to become a target. This is statistically and demonstrably false. There are a number of things attackers do use to choose targets: Who looks like they won’t put up a fight? Who looks easy to overpower? Who won’t tell? Who is not paying attention? There is a whole process attackers use when choosing targets. It all boils down to who does the attacker think they can target with minimal risk to themselves.
8. Predators Look Different From “Normal” People
It’s easy to rationalize that criminals and predators aren’t like “normal” people. It’s difficult for many to understand what causes someone to attack another person and so our minds imagine them as looking obviously "other" to help distance ourselves from them. It helps that many mugshots of criminals often make them look crazy and disheveled.
But here’s the thing - most predators aren’t unlike the rest of us. A lot of them are actually charming. They look just like us and use various techniques to gain the trust of potential targets, get close, and then strike. They want your guard to be down to make it easier for them, so they won’t do anything obvious until the time is right.
Ted Bundy is a famous example - did he look like an obvious serial killer? Not really. Many called him handsome and charming - and author Ann Rule said he would have made a “perfect husband” and even said he was kind and empathetic. He graduated from college, volunteered for multiple political campaigns, worked phones at a suicide hotline crisis center, and eventually got married and had a child. He was pursuing a career in law and politics, while also moonlighting as a serial killer.
I could list dozens more, but I think you get the idea.
And those mugshots? Don’t forget that those are taken after a fight with the police - of course they are going to look crazy after fighting to get away from the police.
9. Always Be Polite
This is not so much a myth, as it is something we are commonly taught. It's also the one that brings me the greatest amount of personal frustration. As women most of us are raised to be polite - often excessively and to our own detriment. It’s better to be too polite and walked on than to be called “controlling” or worse “a bitch.” Being polite often gets extended to complete strangers who ask for your time, attention, or assistance, even if your gut intuition is telling you something isn’t quite right.
If your gut is telling you something is wrong, listen to it. I could write an essay on the topic of politeness alone but, suffice to say, it’s much better to risk coming off as rude and apologizing for it later than to be nice and be taken advantage of at best or murdered at worst. Please, always listen to your gut and don't worry what others might say or think of you as a result. If your gut says something's not right, get out of the situation immediately.
These are just some women's self-defense myths
This is not a comprehensive list of women's self-defense myths, but hopefully it has been helpful in dispelling some common misconceptions. What are some myths you have heard?