Ideally, a good self-defense program should reflect these
philosophical points in its outlook:
1. No one asks for, causes, invites, or deserves to be
assaulted. Women and men sometimes exercise
poor judgment about safety behavior, but that does not make them
responsible for the attack. Attackers are responsible
for their attacks and their use of violence to overpower, control
and abuse another human being.
2) Whatever a person's decision in a given self-defense situation,
whatever action she/he does or does not take, that person
is not at fault. Someone's decision to survive the best
way she can must be respected. Self-defense classes
should not be used as a judgment against a victim/survivor.
3. Good self-defense programs do not "tell" an individual what
she "should" or "should not" do. A program should
offer options, techniques, and a way of analyzing situations. A
program may point out what USUALLY works best
in MOST situations, but each situation is unique and the final
decision rests with the person actually confronted
by the situation.
4. Empowerment is the goal of a good self-defense program.
The individual's right to make decisions about her
participation must be respected. Pressure should not be brought
to bear in any way to get someone to participate
in an activity if she's hesitant or unwilling.
Questions to ask when evaluating a self-defense course
1. What is self-defense?
Self-defense is a set of awareness, assertiveness, verbal
confrontation skills with safety strategies and physical
techniques that enable someone to successfully escape, resist
and survive violent attacks. A good self-defense
course provides psychological awareness and verbal skills, not
just physical training.
2. Does self-defense work?
Yes. Self-Defense training can increase your options and help
you prepare responses to slow down, de-escalate,
or interrupt an attack. Like any tool, the more you know about it,
the more informed you are to make a decision
and to use it.
3. Is self-defense a
No. There are no guarantees when it comes to self-protection.
However, self-defense training can increase your
choices/options and your preparedness.
4. Is there a standard
No. There are many formats for training. They may be as short as
two hours or as long as 8 weeks or a semester.
Whatever the length of the program, it should be based on
maximizing options, simple techniques, and respect
for individuals' experiences.
5. Is there a course I should stay
Only you can answer this question. Find out about the philosophy of
the program and the background of the instructor.
Observe a class session if you can, and talk to an instructor or a
student. Is the instructor knowledgeable and
respectful of your concerns? Is it a length at you can commit to and at a cost that you can afford? You deserve to
have all your questions answered before taking a class.
6. Who's better, a male or
For women, there is an advantage to having a female instructor as a role model, who has similar experiences surviving
as a woman. All-woman classes tend to provide an easier
atmosphere in which to discuss sensitive issues. On the
other hand, some women feel having male partners to practice
with can add to their experience. The quality of a
class depends on the knowledge, attitude and philosophy of the
instructor, not necessarily on gender. The most
important aspect is that the instructor, male or female, conducts
the training for the students geared to their
individual strengths and abilities. Feeling safe and building trust
comes before learning.
7. Must I train for years to learn to
No. A basic course can offer enough concepts and skills to help
you develop self-protection strategies that you
can continue to build upon. Self-defense is not karate or martial
arts training. It does not require years of study to
perfect. Many people have successfully improvised and
prevented an assault who have never taken a
class. People often
practice successful self-defense strategies without
8. If I use physical self-defense
could I get hurt worse?
The question to answer first is what does "hurt worse" mean?
Rape survivors speak eloquently about emotional
hurts lasting long after physical hurts heal. Studies show a
physical self-defense response does not increase the
level of physical injury, and sometimes decreases the likelihood. Also, going along with the attacker does not guarantee
that you will not be brutally injured anyway. The point of using
self-defense is to de-escalate a situation and get
away as soon as possible. Knowing some physical techniques
increases the range of possible self-defense
options, but the decision to choose a physical option must remain
with the person in the situation.
9. What does "realistic" mean?
Words like "most realistic", "best", "guaranteed success", etc., are all advertising gimmicks. Choosing a
self-defense class is a serious decision and is preferably based
on some research. No program or instructor can
replicate a "real" assault since there are so many different
scenarios, and because a real attack would require a
no-holds barred fight which would be irresponsible and
extremely dangerous to enact. Responsible self-defense
training requires control. It is important that each student is able to control her own participation in the
class and never feel forced to participate.
10. What is the role of mace or
other aggressive "devices" as self-defense
aids in harming an attacker?
Any device is useless to you unless you understand how to use it,
and you have it in your hand ready to use at
the time of the attempted assault. There is nothing "guaranteed"
about any of these devices. None are foolproof.
None of them can be counted on to work against all possible
attackers (no matter what the labeling may state to the contrary). Realize that anything you can use against an
attacker can also be taken away and used against
you. While some of these devices have sometimes helped
women escape to safety, it is important to be aware of
their limitations and liabilities.
11. How much should I pay?
Paying a lot of money for a course does not mean that you
automatically get better instruction. On the other hand,
don't assume that all programs are the same and just go for the
cheapest. It is always beneficial to be an
educated consumer. Shop around the same as for anything else
you buy that is important to you.
12. Where can I find a
Check with your local rape crisis center. Some centers
provide self-protection classes or can refer you to
one. YWCA's and Community Colleges sometimes offer classes.
Some martial arts schools provide seminars
and workshops. Check the phone book. If there isn't one in your
community, get involved and try to organize one.
13. Am I too old? Out of shape? What
if I have some disabilities?
You don't have to be an athlete to learn how to defend yourself. A
good program is designed to adapt to every
age and ability and provides each student with the opportunity to
learn. Each individual is unique and students
should be able to discuss their own needs. Some programs have
specialized classes for specific groups.
How can I tell a "good" course
from a "bad" one?
A good course covers critical thinking about defense strategies,
assertiveness, powerful communication skills, and
easy-to-remember physical techniques. The instructor respects
and responds to your fears and concerns.
Instruction is based on the belief that we can act
competently, decisively, and take action for our own
protection. Essentially, a good course is based on intelligence
and not muscle. It offers tools for enabling a
person to connect with her own strength and power. These
courses are out there. Good luck in your research.
Taking a self-defense class is one of the most positive things a
you can do for yourself!
Prepared for the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault
by the NCASA Self-Defense AD-HOC Committee
NCASA encourages the dissemination of this
material with attribution to:
National Coalition Against Sexual Assault P.O. Box 21378
Washington, DC 20009
No claims are made as to the reliability of any of the information provided or linked, sources often disagree. None of these pages are meant to be a replacement for professional help, but a resource that enables one to be a more intelligent consumer. You can learn a lot by becoming aware of different opinions. Don't be afraid to ask questions when it comes to your health, physical or emotional.