A lot of gym owners and instructors advertising their female-centric seminars and women’s BJJ programs as “women’s self-defense” really need to stop doing that.
It’s not that jiu-jitsu isn’t great for self-defense, and it’s not that jiu-jitsu can’t help women defend themselves in a bad situation — it’s just that the type of “self-defense” being taught these days stands to benefit the bottom line of instructors and academy owners more than it stands to benefit the safety of the women they’re teaching.
From a marketing standpoint, it makes sense. After all, how many people out there know what jiu-jitsu is just from hearing or reading the name in passing? So many women have heard or experienced horror stories about sexual assault and domestic abuse that the idea of learning to defend themselves is often more appealing than the idea of trying another martial art with a three-syllable, foreign-sounding name. Many academy owners have capitalized on that by framing their women’s jiu-jitsu programs as “women’s self-defense” programs. And while it may get people in the door, this practice is often dishonest at best and dangerous at worst.
Teaching women how to protect themselves involves teaching the correct techniques in the correct way, but it starts with creating a healthy and safe environment for women at your academy. If you feel personally attacked by any of these bullet points, put your ego and women’s self-defense classes and seminars to the side and focus on improving the experience of your existing female members before trying to attract new ones.
- If you can’t adapt moves for smaller practitioners, don’t call it “self-defense.” Most of the newbie women in your class(es) will be seriously lacking in both strength and technique. If you’re large and in charge and can’t figure out how to make a move work on someone 100 pounds heavier than you, you don’t have the knowledge to be teaching a self-defense course for people who might find themselves in that exact situation.
- If your gym is not female-friendly to begin with, don’t call it “self-defense.” A Jiu-Jitsu Times survey revealed that 36 percent of women in jiu-jitsu had been sexually harassed or assaulted in a BJJ-related environment. If you criticize female students for having romantic or sexual relationships with male students (but not the other way around), if you allow sexually charged comments to be made in your gym, if you don’t offer female students the same opportunities as you offer your male students, if you don’t spend as much effort teaching your female students as you spend on your male students, if there is any kind of disparity in how your female students are treated versus how your male students are treated, your “self-defense” schtick is a sham. The overwhelming majority of situations in which women would need self-defense don’t happen when they’re jogging on the street — they happen with friends, family, or acquaintances. And by creating a culture in your gym that tells women that they’re lesser than the men or that sexual harassment is acceptable, you’re creating a toxic environment and being a massive hypocrite.
- If you’re buddy-buddy with predators, don’t call it “self-defense.” It’s easy to teach women how to defend themselves against a random, faceless hypothetical assailant hiding in the bushes, but at least from what I’ve seen in the BJJ/MMA world, it’s apparently a lot harder for coaches to distance themselves from predatory black belts. If you even think that someone might have assaulted another human being and you invite that person into your gym or try to befriend them, f*ck right off with your fake, feel-good “self-defense seminars.” You can’t claim to care about women’s safety while being pals with someone who’s put another person’s safety in jeopardy. I don’t care how good they are at sports, I don’t care how “nice” or “cool” or “chill” they are — if they even maybe assaulted someone, they should be nowhere near you, your gym, or your students.
- If your demonstration isn’t realistic, don’t call it “self-defense.” It would be great if assault happened in the middle of the street at 1 p.m. with lots of escape routes and an attacker who gives up after getting his arm hyperextended, but that basically never happens. Your self-defense classes should cover situations that take place when the victim is forced into a corner or against the wall. In the dark. With an attacker who won’t stop trying to kill her unless he’s dead or unconscious. Because that really does happen. This article includes some more tips on how to actually make your self-defense class a realistic self-defense class, and I beg anyone who’s teaching one of these seminars to take that advice into consideration.
- If your class doesn’t include any follow-up, don’t call it “self-defense.” Half of us who’ve been doing jiu-jitsu for years couldn’t tell you what our instructor taught a week ago. So do you think a student who doesn’t train in any martial art would be able to perfectly execute a move she learned six months ago and drilled ten times before moving on to nine other techniques? Self-defense programs are generally way more efficient than on-off seminars, the latter of which can give women a false sense of confidence and do more harm than good.
- If your class is just a run-of-the-mill jiu-jitsu class, don’t call it “self-defense.” Yes, many of the moves in traditional jiu-jitsu can be used in a self-defense situation, but then, that’s just jiu-jitsu and should be advertised as such. A basic women’s jiu-jitsu class should not be advertised as “women’s self-defense” any more than a typical jiu-jitsu class should be advertised as “men’s self-defense.” Definitely mention the benefits of jiu-jitsu for personal defense, especially if a technique is particularly applicable in dangerous situations, but don’t give your class such a specific label unless you’re willing to back it up with uniquely tailored techniques.
I’ve seen a lot of well-executed self-defense programs that live up to their advertising and lead women into supportive, safe academies. But I’d also like to see a lot of gym owners do some self-reflection and ask themselves if what they’re promoting has more to offer to the potential female clients they’re targeting or their own wallets.