Seeking information about self defense course(s) and related activites/classes.
August 29, 2007 6:03 PM   Subscribe

I am interested in self-defense classes. There are lots of methods and places to do this. The options are a little overwhelming and I know very little about the topic. Can somebody break it down and make some suggestions and/or recommendations that might be best suited for me?

Based on the following (below), what would be a well-rounded type of self defense that might be most effective for confidence-building, safety, and exercise?

• I am a 5' tall, physically active, late 20s female
• I have lots of free time (could attend one class, or a series, but don't know what the difference is between a single session or an intensive course)
• I live in Oakland and can travel
• Would be interested to martial arts (there's so many kinds!) and/or other forms of activity
• Classes that allow me the opportunity to meet other women and/or men in the area would be great too

Any other info and ideas welcome. Thanks!
posted by iamkimiam to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I would try a specific women's self-defense course first, to learn some basics and to see how you like it. Impact has been around a while, and I have heard it highly recommended. Very practical, and good full-force training.
posted by procrastination at 6:15 PM on August 29, 2007

I am female and short, not really athletic. I've dabbled a little bit in quite a few forms. Based on your size and gender, I would recommend aikido. It is a form that is not based on brute strength but on how you convert an attacker's energy to your favour. That sounds wishy-washy, but I am describing it the best I can having only dabbled in it. For example, an attacker is rushing towards you, you would not block it the attack (like in other forms) but you would catch the attacker's arm and keep moving them forwards until they fell over. Really. With the right placement, it works. I could do this after a few classes with guys that were way bigger. (I'm 5'2") In fact, often the bigger guys went down faster because their centre of gravity was higher. As a shorter person, your centre of gravity is lower, giving you more stability.

Of course IANAMA (I am not a martial artist and I most certainly not your martial artist.)
posted by typewriter at 6:18 PM on August 29, 2007

Or "am not" or something....
(boy, I sure know how to screw up a not-funny joke and make it less funny...)
posted by typewriter at 6:19 PM on August 29, 2007

The thing about martial arts that I didn't really understand until after I started is that if you are going to do it right, it takes a bit of a commitment. It sounds obvious in retrospect, but I didn't know that if you want to do it well, you have to practice every day. It sounds like you have the time to dedicate to it, and that's great.
posted by ambrosia at 6:28 PM on August 29, 2007

It really depends on what you're expecting to get out of it.

Aikido (and, really any martial art ending in "-do") and Tai Chi are fun and relaxing, but not really effective in a fight. I love these two. Oakland, I'm led to believe, has some excellent Tai Chi and Aikido teachers.

Capoeira is dancing disguised as fighting disguised as dancing. I've always wanted to try it, it looks so much fun.

Jujitsu (and, really, any martial art ending in "-jitsu") is going to put the emphasis on the "martial" part of martial arts but isn't going to be especially relaxing, and it will take years of study before it's really effective in a fight. Same with Karate.

If you're looking to learn how to kick ass and take names, read this post by tkchrist.
posted by lekvar at 6:34 PM on August 29, 2007

My boyfriend just chimed in. (He is a martial artist.) He says that for your size, for the most practical real-life application of self-defence, jujitsu is what you want.
posted by typewriter at 6:46 PM on August 29, 2007

I recommend a two-part approach. For learning some immediate and aggressive techniques, try something like Model Mugging. This will give you a few easily-learnable ways to fight back in the event that you are attacked, as well as some psychological underpinning to help identify where women typically give away power and put themselves in danger.

But for long-term effectiveness, definitely take up a martial art (I'm partial to karate, but it's really a matter of what's the best fit for you). The true benefit of a martial art is learning to build an awareness that will keep you out of danger to begin with. Well, that and excellent physical and mental discipline.

There are women's dojos that have classes or seminars focused on self-defense. But--and this is only my experience and opinion--if you do take up a martial art long-term, I think it's worth doing in a coed environment. This will add a whole other level to your education and self-knowledge.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:55 PM on August 29, 2007

I am a little taller than you and took Shotokan Karate in college for a few years and got a lot out of it. I'm sure a lot depends on your teacher, but I learned a lot about balance and discipline as well as some effective ways of deflecting attacks and also keeping myself centered and able to do whatever I needed to do (usually get away, but there are some other things that you can do that are helpful). It doesn't have a whole gamut of colored belts, there's just white, brown and black, but I felt that the things I learned there are still useful to me now as I've moved on to yoga and swimming. I have also really heard good things about aikido but there is a lot of rolling and falling involved. Good if that's your thing or you don't bruise easily, but I do and it wasn't right for me.
posted by jessamyn at 7:14 PM on August 29, 2007

Choose Aikido - if you wanna do something for general fitness, flexability and awareness. Another argument for Aikido is, that it usually 50/50 guys and gals, which is unusual in martial arts / dojos.

Tai Chi is for retirement.

If you wanna really learn to kick ass and defend yourself, go for Judo, Wing-tsung or Jiu Jitsu. Or even normal boxing or kickboxing gymn to get a feel for real fighting.

Most of all, look for a good teacher and a good school. The technique is less important.

Another hint: almost all martial arts have formalized training, so real combat / street fighting hardly comes into play. That is why I recommend some real sparring somewhere to experience the stress and some pain when 'it' happens.
posted by homodigitalis at 7:16 PM on August 29, 2007

What about Krav Maga? I have no personal experience with it but hear it's good for real-world self-defense.
posted by walla at 7:33 PM on August 29, 2007

If you are actually interested in self defense, as in learning to fight effectively (rather than exercise, fun, meeting people or any of the dozens of other reasons one could get involved in such a group) then one simple way to evaluate whether a given style / teacher is right for you is whether they participate in tournaments. If they do, leave. Basicially, learning to do well in a tournament setting is a completely different goal from learning to fight.

Just one small anecdote to show what I mean: I was in a Gojo Ryu Karate class where one of the students had a habit of shifting their weight forward when striking such that their heel came off the floor (all their weight on the balls of their feet). That little spring action made their strike slightly faster and they had been taught to do this in order to excel in a tournament setting (where such speed is important). However, had they actually hit anyone while doing so it would have hardly hurt at all as most of the force of the blow would simple push them back onto their heels as opposed to breaking the opponents jaw.

Boxing, kickboxing and tournament oriented forms in general teach you how to excel within the restrictions of that environment. When all your training is focused on a set of rules (wear the gloves, don't break knees, no biting, no groin kicks etc...) it becomes a huge disadvantage to be put in a setting where those rules don't apply.

Even within a given style individual teachers will approach this issue in drasticially different ways. In my experience Tae Kwan Do and Shotokan Karate are very tournament oriented. Talk to the teacher and get a feel for what their priorities are.
posted by Riemann at 11:20 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

btw: At least in my area (and again, it can vary enourmously from teacher to teacher) Gojo Ryu Karate was taught in a very practical manner. Obviously it takes more training and exercise for an American female to become proficient with upper body strikes (though it certainly can be learned. Sensai Gittens - a woman - had a wicked punch) joint breaks and other disabling moves are more a matter of tecnique (knees, elbows, ankles, windpipe etc..).
posted by Riemann at 11:25 PM on August 29, 2007

Krav Maga.
posted by ryoshu at 11:41 PM on August 29, 2007

Let me expound a bit. If you're looking for self defense, look for a good Krav Maga school. Most martial arts will give you a good workout. Some martial arts will take your size into account, but if you are interested in defending yourself...krav maga.

It's a realistic martial art given the worst case scenario: the time you use it.
posted by ryoshu at 12:24 AM on August 30, 2007

Do read the tkchrist comment linked above - its long but worth it, and he makes some good points on martial arts.

Krav Maga wouldn't be bad but finding good, authentic schools for it in the states can be difficult. Also, be warned, it is fairly brutal/violent. This is what you want if you're serious about self defense, however.

If you'd like to get a breadth of MA's (which is not a bad idea, despite tkchrist's comment), I would suggest United Martial Arts College - its a small school that focuses on a militaristic form of Tae Kwon Do, called Moo Duk Kwan. I trained in their Sacramento location for a number of years, and the training covered a breadth of styles, including TKD, Aikido, Kung Fu, Jiu Jitsu, Judo, etc.. I've never really found a school since that gave as much coverage to all of the MA's. FYI, their website says they are in Davis and Sacramento now, but I could have sworn they had a bay area school back when I was with them, so it would be worth calling to check on that - Davis is certainly too far of a drive for you to train 3-4 days a week. The school is small and has a familial feel to it once you plug in, which is nice for meeting people and making friends. And my first lessons in judo were with a 4'10" 60 year old Korean woman, who threw me around like a rag your size won't be an issue.

Whatever you train in, the main idea behind self defense should be to make your reactions second-nature, that is to say - when you get into that dark alley situation, you would respond just as naturally as you would when making a tuna sandwich in your kitchen at home - without having to stop and think about what to do. My point here is that one intensive session (or even a series of intensive sessions) will not be enough to ingrain this in you. If you really want to be able to defend yourself well, you're going to have to train (for a long time) to make it a real part of who you are.

Have fun! Email in profile if you want more info...
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:17 AM on August 30, 2007

I did martial arts (taekwondo and a bit of judo) for a while, and the most important self defense lesson I learned was along the lines of "run away as soon as you can." Most of the really valuable stuff I got out of it was posture, a way to walk, and making eye contact, so when I walked down a street by myself at night, rather than appearing to be the scared girl who's just trying to get home, my shoulders are squared and I'm making very calm eye contact with everyone I pass. There's a quiet confidence martial arts can teach you -- it's basically military training lite, right? -- that will serve you well above any kicking or punching or ball-grabbing you can do in the case of an attack.

So personally I'm never really interested in "self-defense" or even specific "Women's self-defense" classes -- I know the basics, but I felt like I got similar things out of taekwondo, and personally I think martial arts is a lot more fun. So if you want to do martial arts, what do you want to do? Lots of hand techniques? Look at karate. Lots of kicking? Look at taekwondo. You're short? Ah, short, densely muscled women are the hardest people to throw in judo -- that'd be a nice advantage to have.

The best thing you can do is sit in on a class at some places nearby you and see how you feel. I personally don't like classes full of macho guys who think they're learning to kill people. I'd rather have a bunch of people having fun, being friendly, but still being serious about their commitment. Look at the kinds of techniques, whether or not weapons are involved, whether they integrate any modern self-defense into the style training (many places do), and so on.
posted by olinerd at 4:11 AM on August 30, 2007

I'm seconding your reading tkchrist's opinion. The guy knows some stuff.

I am an Aikido guy, and would, of course, say you should practice Aikido. But I won't. In my experience, Aikido tends to attract the "flakes". And it's easy to fall into the "flake zone". But (if practiced "properly") Aikido is relatively "soft", and doesn't rely on strength - so it's well-suited to women.

(From here on is my baseless opinion, relying solely on my own reading, watching of videos/documentaries, and second hand claims of friends who practice different styles. You have been warned.)

Ju-jitsu and Krav Maga seem to stress effectiveness. But they seem to be a bit "harsh".

Most forms of Karate (Shotokan, Tae Kwon Do, etc.) tend to have a major component that is kata or "forms" - a prescribed series of motions simulating using moves on various imaginary attackers. I don't think much of these.

Tai chi is exercise/yoga.

All that being said... Find an art/style you like, then find a dojo. Go, watch class, ask questions. Get a "feel" for the place. If it feels right, sign up. If it doesn't feel right after you've practiced for a bit, don't feel bad about leaving and looking for another school. I think (again, just my opinion & experience) that there is a significant amount of bad in the MA world (macho BS, cultish behavior, feudal Japanese bunk, as well as some chauvinistic/misogynistic crap too). So be careful.

Good luck!

I didn't want to go on too much about Aikido here, but if you have any questions, my email is in my profile.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:08 AM on August 30, 2007

best thing is to start a Martial Art...any one, that offers a varied curriculum.
I am taking Tae-Kwon Do lessons and depending on the day of the week we deal with Self-defense techniques, Grappling, Kickboxing and Traditional practice.

As long as you get exposure to all these areas and good physical conditioning, my opinion is any martial art would serve your purpose.
posted by spacefire at 12:21 PM on August 30, 2007

Okay, I disagree with much of the above. Here are my thoughts on self defense. Just for reference, I have trained martial arts for about 8 years. Most of that has been in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Judo, but I have also messed about with Boxing, kicboxing, Aikido, Karate and Taekwondo.

First of all, techniques to win a physical confrontation are only a small part of self defense. The most important aspect of self defense is awareness. When a criminal targets a victim, they choose that victim because they believe they will have an advantage in the conflict, whether that advantage is size, a weapon, or the element of surprise. So the most important aspect of self defense, in my opiniong, is to use your awareness to avoid situations in which you could be victimized. I always recommend reading The Gift of Fear, by Gavin Debecker. The information in that book is pure gold. Read it. Then read it again.

If you do that and decide that you'd like to pursue the physical aspect of self defense training, read on. First of all, seminars, intensive classes, and even 2-3 day camps are fairly useless, on their own. Like any other skill (and fighting is a skill) you must invest time to make progress. If you want to pick up some skills, plan on training 2-4 nights a week for at least 6 months to a year, preferably longer.

So now you have to find a gym to train at. Finding a good one is key, and isn't particularly easy. First of all, if self defense is really your goal, skip the traditional martial arts schools. Aikido, Karate, Taekwondo, Kung Fu, all these arts are largely a waste of time in learning to fight. The training you get at these schools is largely artistic, and not ery martial. Please look at tkchrist's posts, the ones lekvar linked to above. They contain a wealth of good info about fighting and self defense, in particular why you should avoid traditional martial arts. Since that info is already passionately and articulately written in the other thread, I'm going to skip it. Here are some martial arts that are usually taught effectively: Boxing, Brazilan Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Kickboxing (Muay Thai kickboxing in particular), Sambo, Wrestling, and Kyokushin Karate. You'll notice that I discourage Karate above. Kyokushin is a hard core, full contact style and it will teach you effective stuff, in contrast to many other karate styles.

I poked around on the net, and here are some schools in the Oakland area that I would check out. Eduardo Rocha, Open Door BJJ, Modern Combatives, Wally Cahill's Judo school is phenomenal ; here is a listing of Judo schools in California. Anyhow, there are bound to be more, but that ought to be a good start. E-mail is in the profile if you have questions, and I'll try and check back in on the thread.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 3:09 PM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, I'm back already, since I managed to screw up one of my links. Modern Combatives.

Also, I know that Wally Cahill's site is annoying and poorly designed, but it's a phenomenal judo school. Really.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 3:17 PM on August 30, 2007

Ok, I favorited, well, just about everything. Because y'all put a lot of great info out there. Thanks!

I like the two-part approach. Some women-focused awareness classes AND some long-term practical training. I guess IMPACT would probably be good for the former (haven't checked the link yet), and I've also heard about Girl Army. Basically some quick seminars to get some info about how to avoid situations, how to carry myself and not "be a target", and some psychology/insight about defense and attacking would be very useful. Any recommendations for this type of thing in the bay area?

For the long-term MA part...I really appreciated what TKChrist had to say, as well as others. I don't think Aikido is for me, nor are some of the other TMAs. I'm now considering Krav Maga, Boxing, Jiu-Jutsu, Judo, Muay Thai, Sambo and Kyokushin. I actually don't even know what these are, or their differences. I have a lot of research ahead of me. (if anybody wants to do a quick summary of these techniques, that'd be great. I'll check Wikipedia/Google in the meantime) If I can narrow it down to about 3 styles, I can then find a few places for each in the bay area, and visit them.

Thanks for pointing me in the right direction. You've all been extremely helpful.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:59 PM on August 30, 2007

Since I'm a huge dork, and am on metafilter at midnight, here's my quick synopsis.

Most martial arts fall into one of two categories: grappling (Judo, Sambo, BJJ) or striking (Boxing, Muay Thai, Kyokushin) arts. Not surprisingly, in a striking art you will learn to hit your opponent. In a grappling art, you will learn to close the distance and defeat them in close quarters.

Boxing is....boxing. You've seen it on TV, and that's what you'll learn. You'll learn to punch, defend punches (block, slip, duck bob weave), put punches together in combination-your goal is to knock your opponent out with a punch.

Kyokushin is a striking art, and it has one major advantage over boxing-you'll learn to use more weapons, since you are allowed to kick, knee, and (I'm not sure on this, but I think you can) elbow as well as punch. You can't punch to the head, however, so kyokushin guys often develop a nasty habit of dropping their hands...not good if you're fighting a good puncher.

Muay Thai is awesome. It's often called the science of eight limbs, as the weapons used in MT are your two fists, two elbows, two knees, and two feet. Muay Thai, in my opinion, is a phenomenal art to study for self defense. You'll learn the superior hand skills of western boxing, in addition to kicks, knees, and elbows. You'll learn to clinch an opponent and strike them in close quarters, mostly with knees and elbows. Knees in particular can be a wonderful equalizer for a small fighter-hit someone hard, in the face with your knee, and they're in for a world of hurt. A friend who I train BJJ with is a Muay Thai coach. He scares me. Seriously, if you can find and train in Muay Thai, do. The Fairtex gym in San Francisco is pretty famous. It is rough art, though. Expect lots of bumps, bruises, and bloody noses if you take it up.

Judo is a grappling art that emphasizes throwing your opponent to the floor. While it is most well known for it's spectacular throws, it also has groundfighting with chokes and armlocks.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which descended from Judo, focuses on ground grappling, and offers you the largest arsenal of submission holds (chokes, leg and armlocks) of any art. Whereas judo is usually 80% throws and 20% mat work, BJJ is 80% matwork and 20% throws. This is what I spend most of my time on, and I love it. I think it's one of the best martial arts for a smaller fighter to fight a larger fighter.

Sambo is very similar to judo, but allows leglocks, but not chokes. If you can find a good school it's a great art, but it is pretty rare here in the states.

I don't have any firsthand experience with Krav Maga, so it's hard for me to say anything about it. I get the impression that it's pretty bad ass when trained seriously, under a good instructor, but I also get the impression that good instructors here in the US are a bit rare. If anybody else has info on Krav Maga, I'd love to hear it too.

Mixed martial artists often combine Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitusu, arguing that that combination gives you the best of the standup and best of the submission martial arts. One of the most famous examples is the Chute Boxe academy, from Curitiba, Brazil.

When looking for a school, find a place where the students are friendly and you feel comfortable. If you have more questions, I'll try and check the thread, or you can e-mail. Good luck-Oakland is a good place to find a good gym-lots of good schools in the bay area.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 1:01 AM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

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