There is a reason why an array of martial arts are practiced today. But with all of these choices, what martial arts are best for women’s self defense? Even styles that first originated hundreds or even thousands of years ago, have persisted. That is because they have been proven effective on some level and in some contexts, at the very least.
Each martial art offers its unique advantages, particularly when it comes to self-defense. So, what about women’s self-defense? It is crucial for women to be informed about the best martial arts to practice, particularly smaller women concerned about self-defense and unsure of where to start. But is there really a difference between women’s martial arts and martial arts in general?
Some of the best martial arts for women, which will be discussed below, include Krav Maga, Kali, Kenpo-Karate, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and even Muay Thai! Below, you’ll find out What Martial Arts are Best for Women’s Self Defense, why they are practical options for women’s self-defense, and why we are even asking the question “What Martial Arts are Best for Women’s Self Defense?”
What is “Women’s Self-Defense?”
First of all, women’s self defense, more than anything, is 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. That is the same for men and women.
If there is a six-foot-one-inch muscular woman, should she take a martial arts class that tells her women are smaller and weaker, when he teacher may very well be smaller and less muscular than her? Clearly not! While many women are smaller and less muscular than many men, there are plenty of very small men, and plenty of larger women.
There is no such thing as punching for women and punching for men, or wrestling. 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.
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.
With that said, and second of all, what we mean by “Women’s Self-Defense” is that we acknowledge this is a phrase used in martial arts communities today. Furthermore, on average, many women are physically smaller or less muscular than men. This is, of course, not universal – which is why the term “Women’s” self-defense is a misnomer. With that said, in the article that follows, we examine what might be good solutions for smaller-framed students in particular – with the full acknowledgement that any legitimate martial art is going to potentially be good for women.
For instance, I could have included Kung Fu as a system in this article, and yet I didn’t? Why not? Because many of us are very used to seeing women in Kung Fu movies, tearing up the bad guys on screen. Some of you might even know that the Kung Fu system of Wing Chun was literally created by a Buddhist nun – not a monk! Here then, I am looking dispel some common misconceptions about women in martial arts and talk about what works well for both women and men alike, and also what is often thought of as “suitable for women” because of the respective systems being good for smaller-framed people (with the acknowledgement that many women are statistically smaller than many men).
The primary focus of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is self-defense, and it is easy to see why because it teaches a variety of strategies from chokeholds, armlocks, takedowns, throws, and attacks. Students practice ground, street-fighting stances, which enable them to come close to mimicking real-life situations without hurting one another.
This martial art became more popular thanks to competitors using it in UFC matches. Still, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu recognizes that the same grappling techniques are also necessary for women to learn to control violent attacks no matter their size nor the size and strength of their opponent. With its focus on leverage, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teaches women to attack from higher positions, but this martial art’s main emphasis is on ground fighting. It is a great option for women and smaller students who want to learn how to defend themselves in the likely chance that they end up on the ground or pinned underneath their male assailant in a sexual assault.
Apart from the mat-based grappling, women also learn how to defend themselves if weapons are involved. Another critical aspect of this martial art is teaching students how to deal with attacks without actually attacking, whether its simple escape techniques or attacks to control the attacker. When necessary, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu will also teach women how to disable attackers properly, take them down and conquer them, even if they are smaller and even if they are in close quarters.
The sad reality is that the world can be a dangerous place for women, but it is a woman’s responsibility to learn how to fend off an attacker in the event of a violent assault. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu addresses self-defense from all angles, teaching a woman the awareness, patience, techniques, and self-control necessary to protect herself, regardless of her size.
It is not terribly uncommon in the martial arts world – for women to be the minority on the mat. It’s something you have to be used to when you’re a woman who likes to practice violence as a hobby.
It’s especially par for the course in the Filipino Martial Arts, at least, in my personal experience here in North America.
I tell you what, though… man, I sure wish we could get more women into the Filipino Martial Arts, because it’s just so made for us, y’know?
A major reason why is that weapons are the great equalizer. In reality, in a self defense situation, 99% of us would be prefer to be armed than unarmed. A weapon of any kind is that great of an advantage versus unarmed. This is especially true for women in self-defense situations vs. a male.
But who walks around with a stick?
The stick is often a stand-in for other stuff. It can be an umbrella, a walking cane, a backpack or purse, a pen, a knife, a machete, a tire iron… any tool, really. Our training methodology lends itself very well to improvised weapons, and most of us walk around with something that can be used in a pinch! As well, everything that can be done in Kali with a stick or sword or dagger, can be done empty-hand as well. Surprise? You aren’t alone. Most people have no idea that Kali is also an empty-hand discipline and that the empty-hand techniques stem straight out of the weapons training.
Being strong is, of course, always an advantage in fighting or in self defense situations, but strength is not the primary factor in Kali. Timing, speed, and accuracy (targeting) are. Strength is helpful, of course, but timing, speed and accuracy are things that any woman can develop just as well as men can.
In Kali, as well, being shorter is less of an issue than in certain systems. In Filipino Martial Arts, we learn what targets are good no matter who we are facing and what we are presented with.
Krav Maga was initially used as the official self-defense system by the Israeli military on and off the battlefield. Today, many women benefit both physically and mentally from the drills designed to address one’s strengths and disadvantages. In this way, the real-world application of Krav Maga helps teach women how to gain the upper-hand despite their size.
With its application in law enforcement and growing popularity in competitive fighting, Krav Maga may seem intimidating to some, especially beginners. Yet, there is no denying that it has a lot to offer any woman who is willing to learn how to deal with both armed and unarmed attacks. The drills are heavily repeated so that Krav Maga students can act quickly when under duress. One thing worth noting, however, is it is very physically demanding to learn what is usually a more specialized set of self-defense moves used to defend only against selective attacks. Often training will involve the use of fake weapons, and real-life scenarios can be very different from what you might train for.
This martial art also teaches women how to use various parts of their bodies, including their knees and elbows, as weapons when they need to, which gives them some tools to defend themselves in violent situations. That said, apart from striking techniques, Krav Maga does not incorporate a wide variety of martial arts that could end up being more effective given the various violent scenarios that could happen.
Krav Maga prioritizes conflict-avoidance and awareness of one’s surroundings, which is incredibly important for women to practice given they are at a higher risk for violent crimes like sexual assault. For this reason, Krav Maga is known as a simple and effective art for self-defense, making it a popular choice for women. Still, this martial art may require more time and dedication than you may be able to give if you are looking to walk away with more immediate skills.
Kenpo-Karate stands out among the rest as one of the best martial arts for women because there is an emphasis on kicking. If you think about the fact that women are generally stronger in their lower bodies than their upper bodies, you can understand how important it is for women to have a self-defense practice that focuses more on these lower-body moves, where other martial arts do not. Not to mention that most men have more upper body strength than women, which they are likely to use against a woman in an attack.
In Kenpo-Karate the emphasis on kicking is beneficial for women of all sizes because they will learn where and how to strike an assailant’s weaker areas, including their chin, solar plexus (which can impact their breathing), and groin. Kenpo-Karate is not just about kicking and striking, however. Students will learn to defend themselves against attacks with blocking techniques as well.
In Kenpo-Karate, there are not just one or two crippling kicks that women learn to combat strong male attackers, but a series of them. However, the main thing you do not gain from Tae-Kwon Do is the focus on hands and grappling techniques, which are still important despite a woman’s lower body advantage. This means that a fight against an attacker who is in close proximity, which would be the case with sexual assault, could be a tough one to win.
Overall, it is a great martial art to practice if you are a smaller woman or just starting with self-defense, but you may want to consider learning other martial art forms alongside Kenpo-Karate. There are others that can help you feel more equipped to defend yourself through more upper body training as well.
Women in Muay Thai?
Contrary to long-held misconceptions, which have been dispelled to a certain extent by popular female MMA fighters, women absolutely do train Muay Thai and it’s becoming very common around the world.
In fact, more and more women are competing in the sport at local events as well as promotions of the highest level.
You don’t have to be rough and tough to train Muay Thai. Absolutely anyone can train Muay Thai. The sport and its precursor Muay Boran techniques are entirely suitable for men and women alike!
So how did this misconception of Muay Thai as a “man’s art” even emerge? The reason is historical: the sport of Muay Thai has typically involved young men and even boys fighting competitively. For self defense, however, Muay Boran techniques work just as well for women as they do men!
Many of the benefits of martial arts include learning a valuable skill, getting in shape, improving your discipline, and getting a good workout!
However, one of the most valuable assets any woman can gain with martial arts is to defend herself and have a higher level of self-confidence.
As a woman, it is essential to know how to defend yourself from any possible attack if you do not want to become a victim.
Learning how to defend yourself helps you build your self-confidence. You understand that you have the power to protect yourself and be more resourceful when someone is trying to hurt you. This can also help lower your stress level as well.
Martial arts are an excellent exercise for anyone. They help you gain strength and muscle in areas of your body that need support. This is important for women because many of the feminine organs are weak and sometimes damaged by stress or other reasons. Martial arts can help balance these weak areas so that your muscles, bones, and organs are strong and healthy.
Discipline is one of the essential skills you will learn while training in martial arts. Martial arts will help you learn to focus and to be patient. You can use this discipline in your everyday life, whether at work or home because this discipline will spread to every area of your life.
In this day and age, it is vital to be prepared. Knowing how to stay safe is a valuable skill that could save your life or the lives of those around you.
Martial arts were created to help people learn how to protect themselves without fighting dirty or getting hurt. It’s a way of fighting fair while still protecting yourself from any harm.
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