Women's self defense, more than anything, is a phrase used either by people who don't understand self defense or by someone trying to sell you something.
Unarmed physical self defense requires knowing how to use and defend against striking and wrestling, standing and on the ground. And it's the same for both men and women. There is no such thing as punching for women and punching for men, or wrestling for women and wrestling for men. The same principles apply to all humans. Women need to learn to defend against the same type of attacks as men, and techniques that are most effective for men are also most effective for women. The same goes for weapon use and defense.
Unfortunate as it may be, there are no magic techniques that a woman can be taught, different from what should be taught to a man. Self defense is self defense, and to pretend otherwise is misleading at best, if not dangerous.
But aren't women smaller and weaker than men? Some are, and some aren't. I've taught women who were faster and stronger than my average male student, and I've taught men who were slower and weaker than my average female student. I've taught women who were taller than most men, and men who were shorter than most women.
It's not about being male or female, but your size, skills, and abilities relative to a particular attacker or situation.
A good self defense teacher should help each practitioner to understand their strengths and weaknesses, and which strategies will work best against a variety of different types of opponents, attacks, and situations. But these strategies are not different for men and women. They may be identical for instance, for a medium sized man against a large man, and for a small woman against a medium sized man. They may be identical for a man who is naturally better at grappling than striking, and for a woman who is naturally better at grappling than striking. Functional self defense training should not be based on gender.
The motivation for an attack may be different in some cases, based on gender. It is more likely that a man will attack a woman in order to rape her, for example, whereas most men are not going to rape another man. However, in order to subdue a woman, a man is going to have to use the same techniques (grappling and striking) as he would to beat up a man. Defending against a strike, a tackle, or someone attempting to put you on the ground and get on top of you, is the same regardless of if the motivation is to beat you or rape you, or both.
If there is an area of self defense where a greater distinction between men and women can be made, it's in the psychological and preventative areas. In every culture, men and women are viewed differently, and thus tend to see themselves differently. A man may approach a woman he intends to attack differently than he may approach a man, and he may play on different social conventions.
A man isn't likely to approach another man and insist on helping him carry his groceries, but he may do so with a woman. And, a man may be more likely to approach another man in public, making physical threats, than he would to a woman. However, the same fundamental principles of prevention apply. Both men and women must be able to recognize and avoid dangerous people and places, to recognize a situation for what it is, maintain distance when necessary, know when to be compliant and when to be non-compliant, when to fight, and when not to fight. Although specifics may be different on average, it's imperative that both men and women understand the underlying principles and how they apply to themselves in particular, instead of to men or women on average. This takes careful consideration in every case, whether you are male or female.
Fortunately for both men and women, awareness and prevention can cover 99% of your self defense needs, stopping an attack before it goes physical. Unfortunately for both, physical self defense is hard. It requires stopping an opponent who is intent on hurting you, an opponent who will be aggressive and entirely uncooperative. Learning to do that takes time, commitment, and serious training. And you're not going to learn that from most martial arts. But it is possible, with functional strategy, techniques, and training methods, all of which are detailed on this site. It's also great exercise, and a lot of fun...added bonuses.
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