Every day women live with the risk of being physically attacked. Attacks on women are common. However, there is also a long tradition of women learning how to fight back against assault. During the World War II, the growing number of physical attacks against women performing new roles led to many self-defence manuals for them. Self-defence has recently moved to social media. Videos from such sites often go viral. Viewers may also feel more confident after watching such videos and shift their response to attack from escape to fight. But while such displays often come with laudable intentions and good advice, they could actually put women in danger.
The physical ability of fighting: Unless the viewer is prepared to invest plenty of time and training, this is probably not the best advice. Simple techniques are difficult to apply under real-life pressure, where there are limited chances to slip, strike or run. And attackers often behave in unpredictable ways. Even in self-defence classes, demonstrations tend to be given with compliant partners. You can see that the assailant pauses briefly following the attacks and uses singular rather than multiple attacking movements. He pauses and feigns pain when being struck, fails to free himself from the restraint techniques and remains silent throughout. But real assaults are not perfectly choreographed – and attackers would not be following the script. There is evidence to suggest that determined people can often absorb powerful strikes, even to sensitive areas, and may continue attacks regardless of injury or pain – especially if they have consumed drugs, alcohol or are experienced fighters themselves. Even strikes to the face or groin might not halt an attack, unless they inflict considerable pain and damage.Striking ineffectually carries a big risk, because it leaves you within range of the attacker – and because striking an aggressor turns the confrontation into a fight. Attacks are usually fast and committed, and attackers do not normally freeze while executing a move. A grab from behind can transition into a takedown, while a hair grasp might be accompanied with strikes, kicks or shoves.
When people are put into locks, they generally resist, struggle and shift their weight to gain leverage, kick out or use a free hand. In a bear hug, when kicked in the groin, attackers will just as likely tighten their grip and drop to the floor with the victim underneath. A heavier attacker will be better able to resist locks and absorb strikes, too. Mass matters – this is why combat sports have weight categories.
Making techniques work: Training objects, such as compliant training partners and demonstration videos, lack the kinaesthetic feedback required to develop skills to cope with real-world situations. Those looking to defend themselves must be able to adapt techniques depending on the circumstances of the attack. They should also be able to transition between techniques and automatically perform powerful and accurate counterattacks. All this takes lots of time, practice and variation with partners of different sizes, reaches, strengths, personalities and motivations. Progressive scenarios should be used to simulate reality. Combat systems use such methods to prepare people for potential scenarios through months or even years of regular, intense and interactive physical training, with knowledgeable and competent people, some of whom should possess experiences of violence. Training involves conditioning the body and multiple senses including smell, taste and touch. This progressive practice eventually modifies one’s mind and body, developing contextually specific intelligence and creativity.
There is scientific evidence to show that sustained training has the power to improve combat reaction times, attention and alertness and cognitive function in older adults. Even then, the ultimate aim of self-defence is to minimise violence and avoid confrontation. Spending so much of one’s life perfecting this goal is indeed the opposite of the spirit of martial arts – to love fighting but hate violence.