TEACHING WOMEN’S SELF DEFENSE IN THE AGE OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

I am proud to say that the United States Krav Maga Association has more female black belt than every other Krav Maga organization combined. Over the years many of our strong female instructors have confided in me that they had been sexually or physically abused in the past and/or were molested as children. This always infuriates me and I am truly amazed at how often this is happening. It is a national embarrassment… A national tragedy. I do believe there are times that at least 75 percent of the females in any of our classes have been assaulted in the past. This is why a lot of them are there! They are doing something about this and refusing to ever be a victim ever again. Many have told me that our organization is like a safe place for them. A place where they can feel empowered, get stronger, gain confidence and have people who care about them and look out for them make them better. I have certainly learned a lot from them over the years. Thanks to them I have changed a lot as far as the way I teach.

We have had several Krav Maga gyms leave an organization and join ours with the complaint “We can’t get women to join”. I always tell them “You are doing it wrong!”. So many of us in the Krav Maga world believe that we have to be macho tough guys and act like we are teaching Navy SEALs. Students have to be Olympic caliber athletes to pass one of our level tests and we love to scream and act like drill sergeants. The problem with this is that we are running off the people who need what we offer the most. The men in our classes who are close to being Navy SEALs are safe regardless. No matter what they are learning they are going to be able to beat down an attacker. The females, especially those who have been attacked, are the ones who really need to be in our classes…and we are running them off. Shame on us.

As instructors, if we have someone slow down or stop in our class or start heading out the door we tend to think that they need screamed at, called out and embarrassed to get them back into the class. This does tend to work on hard-core guys as they come back with an “I’ll show you” attitude. The reason that female may be headed out the door is that she has been triggered by something we are doing in class. We are working on a defense that is reminding her of an attack that actually happened to her. We are forcing her to relive the most horrible event of her life! As instructors we have to notice the glazed looks, the freezing, the emotions, the anger and panic attacks when this is happening. I have seen these triggers with chokes, hair grabs, throwing to the ground, weapons, being surrounded, etc. The last thing she needs at this moment is for the instructor to yell and scream. Recently I made the comment to a few of my female black belts that “I would think by the time you are level 5 and have been in Krav Maga for three or four years that you are past the being triggered.” Well, after looking at me like I was an idiot they explained to me that it never goes away. I am still being educated by these tough women. I can’t imagine how tough you would have to be to take classes several times per week for years knowing the triggering, with all of those emotions, will happen. I am in awe of such courage.

What can we do as instructors? I am certainly not an expert nor a psychologist but I have learned over 30 years of teaching self defense. Here are my recommendations;

-Quit living by the macho instructor code and acting like we are getting Army Rangers ready for war. We aren’t there to show how hard or tough we are. We are there to make our students safe! This doesn’t mean that we teach fluff. Our female students don’t want to be treated like they are made of glass. Our classes are hard, exhausting and the best self defense we can come up with!

-Realize that this happens and pay attention. Years ago I had a female in her introductory class that I noticed went straight out the door to the parking lot after class instead of talking to the desk person about signing up. I went out and talked to her and found out that she was, at that time, living with a boyfriend who was abusive. The choke defense we worked on her gave her a panic attack and she wanted nothing to do with it. I asked her “Don’t you want some options? Don’t you want to stop the abuse?“ I told her how we don’t force things on people in our classes, how she could go at her own pace and that we are there for her. She ended up joining and was with us for at least a year and a half. The change in her was remarkable. She went from the timid woman afraid of our classes to a level 3 student whom others were afraid to partner with because she went so hard. Our classes were life changing for her. This is what we are about!

-From the first intro class state to the female that she can go her own pace. Give her permission to only attempt what she is comfortable with. She can partner with whom she chooses, do techniques in class by herself to the air without a partner, take breaks, leave the room, etc. No matter how much the instructor is pushing and saying “don’t stop” she has permission to stop. I am ashamed that in the past I remember telling my staff that sometime in class a female has to switch to a male partner so she can feel the difference in strength. If they don’t what to do that I don’t need them in my class. That was stupid of me! Again, macho instructors running off those who need Krav Maga the most!

-Have good female instructors and educate the male instructors. A female student is much more apt to confide in a female instructor. Most of the female instructors in our gym had “been there and done that” and could really talk heart to heart with the student.

This all comes down to don’t be a macho drill sergeant, pay attention, educate yourself and care. Make your gym a safe place for females. A place where they can become empowered, get stronger, gain confidence and rebuild. Above all, DO NOT run off the students who need what you offer the most!

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