Girls, Want to feel empowered? Learn the Art of Self-Defense

Joanne Reed

Photo by Joanne Reed

Girls, want to feel empowered? Learn the art of self-defense.

Wonder Woman is my favorite superhero movie. The main character is a kick-ass female demigod raised by a tribe of powerful female warriors. These women, or Amazons, display exceptional riding skills, courage, and excel in combat and in the art of self-defense. Their daily routine consists of martial arts training, which is a good routine to have because you never know when you will need to use those skills! When their Paradise Island came under attack, those beautiful and skillful Amazons rode onto the battlefield and fought fiercely and ferociously to defend their home.

Wonder Woman herself symbolizes strength, self-reliance, sisterhood, and mutual support among women.  As a woman and the mother of two teenage daughters I completely adhere to the principle that women should be self-reliant; that we can be feminine and strong at the same time. The old Barbie Girl stereotype that I grew up with when I was a child didn’t do it for me, it was too narrow, it portrayed women as a one-dimensional character pretty and accessorized to impress boyfriend Ken. The Wonder Women character, on the other hand, is a much better role model who displays a multi-dimensional side to her, soft and hard, compassionate, and ruthless when necessary.

You are stronger than you believe, you have greater power than you know.” 
Antiope to Dina, Wonder Woman

The portrayal of women warriors in literature and popular culture is not something that is purely fictional, there live among us women who are disguised as ordinary women but who are actually exceptional because they have a warrior-spirit inside of them. They are the hero of their own movie.  

This article isn’t really about a superhero movie, though, it is about something very real that happens too often in our society: the harassment of women going about their daily life. Women don’t have to be victims of despicable behavior by some men (not all, thank goodness, there are a lot of good men out there) who think they have the right to a woman’s body.

How to be safe in an unsafe world? Learn the art of self-defense

Walking home alone and feeling uneasy about being followed? Walking the streets going about your own business and being heckled by a group of men disguising demeaning comments as compliments? Getting a weird vibe from a stranger in a crowded bus who is getting too close? Sadly, those unpleasant encounters happen more often than you can imagine. art of self-defense, Kapow! Photo by Joanne Reed

The term sexual harassment includes verbal sexual harassment (e.g. sexually explicit talk, homophobic slurs, repeated request for a date after a person has said no, cyber sexual harassment, (the use of text, phone, and internet to sexually harass), and physically aggressive sexual harassment (flashing or indecent exposure, being physically followed and being touched or brushed up against in a sexual way without consent). Sexual assault involves a sexual act that someone was forced to do against their will and without their consent.

A National Study on Sexual Harassment and Assault was commissioned in 2018 by several organizations including Stop Street Harassment (SSH) a volunteer-run non-profit organization dedicated to documenting and ending gender-based street harassment worldwide, Raliance, an organization dedicated to ending sexual violence, Promundo, an organization who promote gender equality and whose mission is to create a world free from violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls.

The final report and findings from the study were written by Holly Kearl, a Community Manager at the Aspen Institute, founder of SSH, and author of three books about street harassment. The report presents the findings of a nationally representative survey of approximately 1000 women and 1000 men conducted online in the USA in January 2018. 

The findings of this study demonstrate that from verbal to physical forms, millions of people in the US experience sexual harassment and/or assault. 81% of women and 41% of men reported experiencing sexual harassment and/or assault. 77% of women and 34% of men reported verbal sexual harassment. 62% of women and 26% of men reported physically aggressive forms of sexual harassment. 41% of women and 22% of men reported cyber sexual harassment. An Alarming 27% of women reported sexual assault compared to 7% for men.  Most women (66%) reported experiencing sexual harassment in a public place, on the street, in the park, in a store. 38% reported sexual harassment in their workplace and 35% in their home. One disturbing statistic shows that whilst the most frequent perpetrators of sexual harassment are strangers, perpetrators of sexual assaults are more likely to be from someone you know! You can read the full study by clicking here.

The good news is that more than 1 in 4 women (27% of the women who reported sexual assault) survived the experience by fighting back and refusing to become a victim. Finding your warrior-like spirit is great but it is even better if you can back it up with some real self-defense skills. So, ladies join the nearest martial art school near you and become your own hero.

How women are empowering themselves through the art of self-defense

Every human being has an inherent right to self-defense. Animals and plants use self-defense mechanisms to ensure their survival and there’s no reason we shouldn’t do the same. Learn martial arts, learn the art of self-defense. There are many benefits to learning martial arts other than enabling you to defend yourself; it helps build your confidence and self-esteem, it helps your body release endorphins making you happier, it helps achieve harmony and balance between your body, mind, and spirit.

There are many types of martial arts you can choose from. I have been practicing Krav Maga and Muay Thai for several years; I feel fitter and more empowered through it, knowing that I have the skills to defend myself, my family, and friends if need be. 

The art of self-defense. Kaboom! Photo by Joanne Reed

Krav Maga

Krav Maga means contact combat in Hebrew; it was developed for the Israel Defense Forces. The core of Krav Maga is learning skills for self-defense in real-life scenarios. It’s about neutralizing a threat as quickly as possible by any means necessary, first by defending and fending off an attack and eliminating the threat by a counterattack. This style of self-defense is extremely effective for women because there is less emphasis on pure strength. The moves taught are straightforward with a focus on using the natural reflexes of the body to respond in the most efficient way possible.

The beauty of Krav Maga is that it levels out the playing field between men and women so that it doesn’t matter how big, tall or strong you are. It is about getting out of the way, counter-attacking, and using whatever you can to get the upper hand. An effective defense will target the most vulnerable parts of the body such as the eyes, the groin, the neck with the aim of neutralizing the predator as quickly as possible. Krav Maga also teaches you methods to defend yourself against multiple attackers while trying not to get overwhelmed.

Too often when people find themselves in a bad situation their first reaction is denial: ‘this can’t be happening to me?!’ However, being in a state of denial only makes your reaction time slower and your chance of escaping safely slimmer. Attackers are taken by surprise when you fight back, but if you remain in a state of denial for too long you are losing the surprise effect of an effective defense and counterattack. Krav Maga students are first taught to consider the possibility of a personal attack, accept it, then defend themselves vigorously and counterattack to eliminate the threat.

Muay Thai

Muay Thai is also known as ‘the art of eight limbs’ uses the fists, elbows, knees, and shins as weapons; it originates from Thailand. As a practitioner, you train your body to use these weapons effectively on both offense and defense. Because of this, you can expect an intense workout that will push you to your physical limit. One hour of Muay Thai session will burn up to 1000 calories! So, if you are looking to lose some weight, reach your physical prime, learn one of the most effective self-defense systems in the world, and have some good fun, Muay Thai is surely the way to go! art of self-defense, Bang! Photo by Joanne Reed

Learning those self-defense skills could come in handy. Bad things happen every day. Better be prepared and not have to use it, then not be prepared and find yourself in a tricky situation. One of my Krav Maga girlfriends here in Seoul (Seyeong) went out clubbing one night with a friend. The two of them were just happy being out and about having a groove on the dance floor when they were approached by a man who was obviously drunk. At first, they gently rejected his approaches, but he persisted and started invading their personal space and getting touchy. This is when Seyeong in a swift, smooth, and awesome move tackled the guy on the floor. She did not hit him, she did not kick him, she did not hurt him, she just eliminated the threat by immobilizing him on the floor. He wasn’t hurt physically, but his ego took a huge beating. He ran out of the club in shame! To this day, I am so very proud of what Seyeong did that night. She showed us how you can be calm, assertive, and effective.

Fight, flight, freeze; don’t be a victim, be a warrior

One question I would like to address in this article is the issue of why some women freeze up during an attack? There are many testimonies out there of women being unable to scream, demand that the attacker stop, and fight back the aggressor, not because they didn’t want to, but because their body didn’t respond. Dr. Devon McDermott Ph.D. confirms that neurobiology can explain why this occurs. The human nervous system has two modes, a safe mode, and an unsafe mode. When you are calm and feel safe you are in a safe mode and your brain is able to perform your daily functions normally. When you are in an unsafe mode your brain reacts by shutting down its own non-essential parts, and you lose access to several essential brain structures. Your brain does this because in moments of danger it wants to channel all of its energy into keeping you alive. It takes blood flow and nutrients away from the ‘thinking part’ and puts it into the ‘safety part.’ When you are terrified or overwhelmed your brain automatically and, without you knowing that it happened puts everything into keeping you alive. 

Most people have heard of fight or flight. It is a mechanism that has allowed mammals to survive for thousands of years; when something happens that scares you, you don’t think, you just react i.e. fight or flight, this is the situation where your brain is geared into safe mode. As well as these two mechanisms, you also have freeze, this is the situation where your brain is geared into unsafe mode. The brain uses freeze when there is no perceived way out. It is used as a method to reduce the likelihood or intensity of harm. Like a deer in headlights, you tend to freeze when you are not sure what to do to escape danger.

Fight or flight works because you are actively doing something to face the situation. Freezing doesn’t work. So, how can women avoid the freezing-scenario? For an answer, look at the military. No one understands better than the military how intense fear could impair your movement; when bullets are flying and blood is flowing you’d better have some good reflexes or you will be dead. That is why combat training in the military is rigorous and repetitive. The army spends more time training for wars than fighting real wars. As an individual, we should do the same; if we rigorously and diligently practice the art of martial art, then we will be ready to defend ourselves, our friends and family if need be. Don’t be a victim, be a warrior.

When under attack, fight back with everything you’ve got. Women used to think that they should be submissive during an attack; those who resist thought they were more likely to get injured. This old school of thought to comply is wrong. Most of these crimes are crimes of control where the assailant is trying to control the victim. The victim needs to take control back. There are countless videos on the internet showing how aggressors run away from a potential victim as soon as she starts defending herself and counter-attacking. 

The psychology of the aggressor

The next question I would like to address in this article is what drives some men to commit violent and oppressive actions against women. There are several types of aggressors. There is the aggressor who preys on vulnerable women because these types of men have very low self-esteem and directing violence towards someone is a way to compensate for their insecurities. You have the aggressor who has psychopathic and narcissistic tendencies. Those types are the most violent and serious types of aggressors; they are the type that premeditates an attack and those who are recidivists. Then you have the opportunistic aggressor who just happened to have a serious lack of judgment when an ‘opportunity’ arises.

In a pioneering study conducted in September-October 2016, Promundo explored young men’s views about manhood. The study included representative samples of more than 1000 young men each in the US, UK & Mexico across rural and urban areas and all educational & income levels. Recently, much of the discussion about harassment has been about the behavior of men in power such as Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein. However, recent research from Promundo finds that harassing and abusive behavior start young and are pervasive among men of all backgrounds. 

A majority of young men don’t harass, don’t bully, and don’t exercise violence towards women, but many do, 1 out of 5 in Mexico to 1 out of 3 in the US and in the UK, to give a couple of examples. What makes the harassers different from the non-harassers? What seems to drive young men’s violent behavior more than any other factor surveyed is how much they believe in or have internalized toxic ideas about masculinity. Parents, teachers, the media, colleagues often repeat and pass on the messages that real manhood is about domination, using violence, and never taking No for an answer. The bottom line is that too much time and energy is spent raising boys into a toxic version of manhood. 

The solution is to change young men’s view about manhood through discussion, education, using good male role models to show them the way.  To read the full report, please click here.

  • To all the men out there with tendencies to disrespect women and exercise violence to compensate for their own deficiencies. Women are not rehabilitation centers for unstable and insecure men! Get your act together!
  • To all the gentlemen out there who respect and appreciate women and know the art of treating a woman like a lady, well done! Keep up the good work and continue being a role model! 
  • To all the mothers out there who are raising sons, teach your son to respect women, and appreciate them. Teach your son that they can be masculine without being violent.
  • To all the girls and women out there, feel empowered, learn the art of self-defense, learn martial arts. You can be feminine and strong at the same time. Don’t be a victim, be a warrior! 

And this my dear friend, is Your Quest! 

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As an author, I made it my Quest to write about anything that nourishes and educates the mind with a zest of philosophy, plenty of good vibes, and this little 'Je ne sais quoi'. You can never underestimate the power of storytelling. Stories teach us about life, about ourselves, and about others.


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