Ideally, a good self-defense program should reflect
these philosophical points in its outlook:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Questions to ask when evaluating a self-defense course:
- 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.
- 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.
- Is self-defense a guarantee?
No. There are no guarantees when it comes to self-protection. However,
self-defense training can increase your choices/options and your
- Is there a standard self-defense course?
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.
- Is there a course I should stay away from?
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
- Who's better, a male or female Instructor?
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 come before learning.
- Must I train for years to learn to defend myself?
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 knowing it!
- 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.
- What does "realistic" mean?
Words like "most realistic", "best",
"guaranteed succes" 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Where can I find a self-defense class?
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.
- 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
National Coalition Against Sexual Assault
P.O. Box 21378
Washington, DC 20009