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OhioMike's picture
Setting ideal training priorities for a practical women's self defense class

Having finally left my former insturctor just before the lockdowns started, I have the opportunity to start teaching a womens/girls class in the fall and am working on modifiing my sylabus and wanted some general thoughts on what you ideal priorities would be for practical women's self defense, given the area I am in I expect the age to be teen to young adult, with a few older ladies.

I came up with some rough catagories but feel free to add or combine

                                  Prior Dojo                                     My initial thinking

Distance Fighting (Kumite)   60%                                            10%

Close in fighting/escapes     5%                                              15%

General fitness                    16%                                             6%

Kata                                    15%(many kata zero bunkai)         20%(fewer kata, with bunkai)

Computer/mobile security       0%                                             5%

Protecting others                   0%                                              3%

Domestic Security                0%                                               5%

Self defense law                   0%                                               3%

Risk Assessment/Awareness  1%                                             12%

De-escalation                         1%                                              12%

Dynamics of Abuse               0%                                               6%

History/Culture                       2%                                              2%

I am targeting to combine most of the kumite and ground work with role playing but I am concerned about keeping the class dynamic and enjoyable, I have a rough draft of a 90 miniute class with about one hour of hard workout followed by discussion, the timing requirements are due to the venue. So what would you say your classes prioriy breakdown is, close to my target or am I off base?  Particulary interested in anyone that regularly teaches women's classes.



Joseph O'Neill
Joseph O'Neill's picture

Having just gone through the syllabus writing process with the BCKA, my thinking is what do you want to teach? My syllabus is very much about taking karate as a martial art, and looking at how it can be used in a self-defence situation, so would probably match what you've put above (with a couple of omissions, I don't have anything on computer security, or a focussed section on physical fitness, for example).

However, if you were looking at teaching purely self defence (as the title implies), is it worth having a full 5th of your syllabus dedicated to kata, which may have less reward for self defence for the time investment compared to investing more of that time in live or near live training, scenario drills, pre-emption etc. If you're wanting to run a self-defence focussed karate club, I think the above looks great - as I say it's pretty similar to how I've arranged my syllabus. If you want pure self-defence, I think there are sacrifices that can be made. 

Of course, if you still want a flavour of karate in a pure martial arts club, you could massively reduce the kata set (i.e. use only the pinan/heians, or only the tekkis/naihanchis), and pull the majority of the kinetic aspects of the self defence class out of those, with the extra time again spent on pre-emption and de-escalation.


I would think rough values for different foci would be similar to the below:

                                       Pure Self Defence            S/D with MA      MA with SD         Pure Martial art

Sport Kumite                     0%                                          5%                          10%                        25%

Combative Sparring         20%                                        15%                        10%                        0%

Fitness                             20%                                        20%                        10%                        10%

Kata/Bunkai                     0%                                          5%                          15%                        30%

Digital Sec.                       5%                                          3%                          3%                          0%

3rd Party Prot.                   5%                                          3%                          3%                          0%

Domestic Sec.                  5%                                          3%                          3%                          0%

Self Defence Law             10%                                        10%                        10%                        5%

Risk                                  10%                                        10%                        10%                        5%

Deescalation                    15%                                        15%                        10%                        5%

Dynamics of Abuse          5%                                          5%                          5%                          0%

History/Culture                 0%                                          1%                          6%                          25%


Iain will be able to give a much better idea on what should/shouldn't be in there, but these would just be my thoughts from recently going through the process. 

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Just my two cents based on wanting to do a women's self defense class and asking others for similar advice:

I'd remove things like distance kumite and kata entirely if your focus is self defense. If it's going to be an actual self defense class I think physical technique should also be 45-50% of the content at most, probably substantially less. If it's more of a "Karate as self defense" type class then you can toss in more phsyical technique, but distance kumite and solo kata would still be at the bottom even for that, with other kinds of kumite and drilling taking precedence.

If it's a specific women's self-protection/defense class dial down all the physical stuff and put that into the de escalation/situational awareness/understanding victim profile/abusive behavior etc.

I also plan on (if I ever teach one) to find some notable female self-defense authors, get their first-person take, and incorporate those. I feel like as a man trying to teach women's self defense there is always a big blind spot simply because I don't have first hand knowledge of what it's like to walk around the world as a woman, and obviously as far as self-defense/protection goes, women face a bunch of ugly stuff that I don't. So, there is a real risk of sounding like a know it all with no personal experience, and I would want to approach it as honestly as possible.

I have taught one small "self defense" seminar where it was for other martial artists, and it was all just technique/physical stuff. I regret even that, because even a group of martial artists half the time doesn't know anything about self defense, and I would have benefitted myself and them more had I done some research and put more non-physical technique into it.

If this is just your own Karate class you are taking over, I would also not limit yourself to one template. Ask your students what they want, all the time, and try to gauge why they are there. If it turns out they are all intereted in sport kumite, it doesn't matter so much what you want...or rather you have to find a way to "sneak in" a more well-rounded program. I mean, if you're taking over, the first thing to establish is whether or not students are already happy with the class, if they are change might need to be pretty incremental.

I've found that my students interests (including the women in my classes) and my own have change over time, and I need to adjust the amount of time we spend on different things. I also have learned over the years that some things I thought were so unimportant intially are in fact very important, so it's good to remain flexible. No plan survives contact with the enemy...and no syllabus survives contact with the student!