ArticlesWomen's Self Defence

Why self-defence MUST be taught differently for men and women


In the modern day and age, it seems the suggestion that anything must be different between sexes is a sure fire way of attracting a deluge of irrational and poorly-spelled hatred. GOOD. Those people need to read this article, and so do their social media followers.

I have maintained for many years now that women and men need to be taught self-defence differently. The reason for this belief has nothing to do with physiology, temperament, “comfort levels”, “insecurities” or anything of that nature. While I agree that certain demographics may prefer to be in a group of peers, and acknowledge this can be a good first step for making these people more receptive to training, that’s not my reason.

My reason is far more practical and pragmatic. Are you ready for it?

Men and women are attacked differently.

Ground-breaking, right?!

But surely everyone needs to know how to escape a passive wrist grab?!

Well, let’s have a look at some facts:

Most common forms of violent crime against women:

  • Sexual assault by a person known to the victim 
  • Abusive of threatening behaviour by a relative or spouse
  • Opportunistic predatory crime such as bag snatching, mugging, etc
  • Most common form of physicality is a grab or control to demonstrate superior strength and societal power
  • Most attackers are male and of superior size and strength

Most common forms of violent crime against men:

  • Social violence resulting from a disagreement or verbal conflict
  • Anti-social violence (random attack, coward punch, etc)
  • Mugging, hold-up, etc
  • Most common form of physicality is a punch or use of a weapon
  • Most attackers are male and of more comparable size and strength or sometimes weaker and assisted by use, or threatened use, of a weapon

So when we compare these lists, we see that the only overlap (based on probability, not possibility) is that of opportunistic predatory crime such as muggings. However, generally speaking


If I’ve got a very limited amount of time to teach someone some physicals skills that might save their life, I’m not going to teach a young man how to escape a wrist grab, and I’m not going to teach a young woman how to talk her way out of an argument in a pub. The probabilities of these situations dictate that the training time should be spent elsewhere.

Women need to know how to recognise signs of violence and control before getting hands on, and once there, they need to know how to attack ferociously to escape from a bigger and stronger assailant.

Men need to know how to keep their ego in check so they don’t escalate a dirty look into a traumatic brain injury, and if they can’t, they need to know how to defend against strikes and either control or escape from their assailant.

Just to cut off the “yeah buts” I can hear building up:

  • I am well aware that women also get sucker-punched, that women fight other women over trivial rubbish more and more, and that sometimes violent men are weaker than the women they target.
  • I am also well aware that men can be overpowered by women, that men can be raped and sexually assaulted, and that men will also be grabbed, choked, etc.

But if we’ve got limited training time, we need to play probabilities, not possibilities.

Does this mean that we should have separate male and female classes? I don’t hate the idea, but I don’t tend to subscribe to it, either. We need to face the fact that most violent criminals are male, so the women’s class is automatically disadvantaged if they don’t have a male to practise against. And I don’t think having women in a men’s class is a detriment – in fact it can be very useful to have women to play bystanders or partners in scenario training.

Again, we’re talking about limited training time here. If you’re interested in undertaking ongoing martial arts training and living that as a lifestyle, by all means, learn everything! Kicking, punching, elbows, headbutts, grappling, counter-grappling, clinch, shredding, knives, guns, sticks, improvised weapons… really, go nuts. I love martial arts and I love the challenge of being able to fight in any environment with any weapon or no weapon. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the average person who wants to know how to defend themselves against the situations they’re most likely to face.

So how do I manage this in a class such as our Essentials of Self Protection where the demographics are mixed? Often I’ll have two groups learning two different techniques. The men will be dealing with one situation, while the women will be dealing with another. It’s not rocket science. But why waste a young man’s time learning how to stop someone dragging him by his handbag if he never wears a bag?

Self-defence training should never be about what fits nicely in a curriculum. It should always be about the needs of the student – who they are, what they are, and where they are. Work from there and make them safer for the risk they face.


Own your safety.

Joe Saunders

MVP S1. Ep. 1: Introduction

Previous article

MVP S1. Ep. 2: The Truth About Surviving Violence

Next article

You may also like


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Articles