Today’s article by Paula Span in the Washington Post hit on a big issue for the feminist and women’s safety/self-defense community. (Click here to read it) The writer talks about attending a kickboxing class taught by a woman who uses ‘girly’ language and visualizations when teaching punches and groin strikes. Instead of explaining a right hook to nail someone square in the jaw, she has the class re-enact “clearing off their dresser.” Instead of kneeing a rapist to the groin, she has the class act as if they are “doing yard work and breaking sticks over their knees…so hard that the neighbors look at them funny.” Paula explains most of the class is middle age, none of them too interested in causing pain, disability or death in anyone…possibly not even to someone threatening their personal safety. So this method of teaching kickboxing works for her classmates. They are learning the moves, but not threatening their fragile feminine psyche. <sarcasm> Let me also note: Kickboxing is not self-defense, and should not be confused with training that prepares you to fight back in a truly violent confrontation.
In the women’s self-defense community, we walk a very fine line. Convey the fighting material too lightly, and people don’t take it seriously. You also run the risk of a woman not being emotionally or mentally prepared for a real attack, and then freezes under the adrenal stress in a real situation. Furthermore, as women, can’t we handle a little tough talk? Feminists from the 1970s must be throwing a fit over this article, to insinuate women need such a soft touch in learning life skills. But if you teach too hard-core, you run the risk of turning the women off…and possibly never learning about self-defense again out of fear of taking a class. I’ve seen this many times at countless self-defense courses around the nation. A bad-ass instructor doesn’t mince words, and you can actually see the faces of the women in the audience gloss over and they shut down.
Most instructors in the world will tell you it’s very difficult to make a living teaching personal safety and self-defense. Unless you twist in fitness or black belt achievement, most women simply aren’t interested. How do we make women realize how much they need this training, how important it is to understand intuition and fear, even if it makes you uncomfortable? And after we help women understand this, how do we ensure they act upon it and take a class? That’s the hardest part…the action and then the follow-through. When I owned a self-defense studio in New Jersey, we’d have full classes signed up weeks in advance of the class start date, only for half to cancel the day before the first night of the course. Yeah, life gets crazy. But self-defense seems to always fall to the bottom of our to-do lists for so many personal and emotional reasons too.
There isn’t an easy answer for getting this training to women, but I think the women’s self-defense community has to come together, each of us offering our niche speciaities. For example, at Girls Fight Back we have found a niche of providing one-time, 90 minute, live seminars at high schools and colleges using humor and empowerment. While our seminar is intended to be introductory, our message throughout is to sign up for a class in their geographic area. For free, we supply a vast list of women’s self-defense classes around the nation where our audiences can sign up. Is this system perfect? No. Do I wish we could teach each of the 100,000 women I speak in front of each year true down ‘n dirty instruction that could save their life? You bet. But our niche is connecting with young women, making safety and self-defense appear unthreatening and “cool” within their social norms…then providing them with resources to take the next step. It’s just one tiny piece of the big puzzle. What’s you’re niche? And how can we work together to solve this social issue?
As we develop our vision for 2009, keep this mantra in mind: “Know what you are, know what you’re not.” Regardless of what industry you are in, you can never be all things to all people. What makes you different or special? What do you enjoy? What audiences seem to really connect with you? Who do you connect with? Concentrate on them…they are your niche. Once you find them, start partnering with people in other niches, and that’s when real change starts to happen.