Through all of these years of being involved in martial arts, I have noted many trends that appear to be generally true. Of course, they are not true in every instance. Few things are when it comes to the psychological states of human beings. One such generalization has been the psychology of women towards self-defense. Here I do not mean the practice of martial arts specifically. I am referring to the general notion of one defending one’s self. (however achieved)
I have a series of questions that I frequently ask women regarding self-defense. Several of these questions involve scenarios and situations one might encounter. Men almost unanimously respond with some sort of “fight mentality” to these same questions. I have asked women what they would do if they were attacked. Women often honestly respond “I don’t know.” However, almost just as often they will respond with “I would just not resist and hope the person would stop attacking me.” The first few times I heard this latter response my jaw nearly fell to the ground! I thought to myself “they can’t be serious.” But, they were all serious.
The “not resist” response baffled me for quite a while. I thought about the absolutely certain painful outcome that would result had I ever taken this position. However, as I continued instructing more women through my group classes, private lessons and seminars, I realized why this response was so shocking to me. As men, many of us grow up with fighting, or some physical confrontation/contact, as part of our world. Fighting in many ways is like a second language. Depending on your luck, upbringing, neighborhood or environment it was almost never a question of if you would fight…only when.
Even when you were not personally involved in a fight you were certainly aware that they were happening. You saw how savage other young boys (and men) could be. I think the book Lord Of The Flies captured this particular phenomenon well. Boys fight over toys, a ball or disagreement over the rules applied to a game being played. They might also brawl with team members of cross-town rivals or even with their own teammates. Then there are the bullies who try to take your lunch money, or other possessions, one has to face. Sometimes a fight is caused by a complete misunderstanding that is created by another person. Then there is the age old classic source for so many fights…fights over women. When I was in college, I think guys went to pubs and clubs for three main reasons. They wanted to meet women, drink or fight. Sometimes all three!
My point is that a culture of violence and fighting among males seemed as normal as water being wet. You could see a guy get his tooth knocked out and not think a thing about it if it was not one of your friends or family members. You’d just think “it’s none of my business” or “the guy probably said something and got what he deserved.” In any case, it’s none of my business. Women generally don’t have such nonchalant and distanced emotions when a fight occurs. They are usually somewhat mortified or concerned about the situation in a way that men usually are not.
I began to really start studying the psychology of women and listening to their perspectives on defending themselves. The reason given most for not resisting an attacker is based on the hope that the encounter would be less brutal or at least shorter. I really had to wrap my mind around these types of responses. Honestly, it took me several months of intense listening, questioning and reading to develop strategies and techniques that met both the physical and psychological needs of women for self-defense scenarios. Once I was able to get out of my experience as a male and “fighting as normal” it sped up the process.
I have conversed with so many women who have never thrown a single punch in their lives at someone. Nor have they been attacked by another woman. They called each other bad words, but never was there any threat or concern about an actual physical confrontation. Interestingly enough, many women who played sports, had brothers (or both) often were a bit different. Some of them wrestled with their brothers and not always out of choice. The ones who played competitive sports had a distinctly noticeable mental edge over other women in classes I’d taught. Contact was far less of a concern to them and many were quite game!
Several of these women mentioned having shouting matches with teammates or members of the opposing team. Wanting to “pull that player’s ponytails off” or “ram my serve down her throat.” I remember one woman saying at a swim meet that she “wanted to hold that girl’s head under water!” She felt like that swimmer was intentionally coming too close to her in her lane. So, these experiences led me to understand that some of these emotions exist in women but just may be more submerged under the surface. Whereas with men they hover right at the surface and some wear them on their sleeves.
A great deal of the self-defense work I do with women is helping them discover their own psychological motivations for wanting to defend themselves. I honestly believe that 90% of the willingness of men to fight is ego based. They feel disrespected, embarrassed, ignored or upstaged so they want to fight. Such trivial motivations are not enough for most women to warrant fighting. Again, women may think in their minds that the other woman/man is a [bad name here] or may even say it out loud. But, a mere bump on the shoulders, intentional or not, from another person is not likely to trigger the response of “let’s fight.”
I enjoy teaching women self-defense and martial arts. Most of the women I teach lack any ego about fighting because they realize that they will likely be at a disadvantage in a physical confrontation against a male attacker. So they really tend to focus on proper execution of the technique. That’s what men should also do. I have witnessed women do some amazing things in both martial arts competition and real self-defense situations. As an instructor, working with women always presents an opportunity for me to rethink not only the physical techniques, but more importantly, the psychological aspects of defending one’s self. I feel I have learned just as much from them as they have from me.