A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

Jan 23, 2013, 08:13 IST | Roshneesh K'Maneck and Hemal Ashar

With the current clime of anger over sexual violence against women, opportunists are offering quick fix self-defence courses for women. These need to be taken with a healthy dose of salt, as they can arm women with a false sense of security and confidence

Crash courses are like crash diets
The days following the Delhi gang rape have been disconcerting for many reasons. Thousands of women jolted by the incident have signed up for crash courses in self-defence. And while I am glad that women are taking matters into their own hands when it comes to their safety, women need to read the fine print before enrolling for these ‘crash courses’ guaranteeing safety.

Bruce Lee always believed that one had to finish a street fight as quickly as possible to avoid getting hurt

As someone who has been practicing a martial art for the last 20 years, I believe that these two-three week courses that are offered to train women are quite bogus. And here’s why. For anyone to master a certain number of movements, though they might look easy, a minimum of a month is required. Locks, which are now being shown as effective ways to fight off an attacker have to be continuously practiced with someone for them to be effective. If you believed that you could learn it and then carry it out a day after training, you will be shocked to find that the movements will be ineffective leaving you stunned and even more vulnerable to an attack.

Jawans showing martial arts expertise. Trained personnel already have a base of physical fitness, strength and endurance

Secondly, several of these crash courses have failed to identify a man’s weakest spot. Though showing women how to do high kicks is impressive, in a fight they are of no use and a waste of time and energy. What women should be taught, but aren’t, is that the man’s thighs, his groin, his ears and his throat are his weakest spots. A kick to his groin or his thigh, a slap to his ear, or a jab to his Adam’s apple will give one enough time to flee.

Residents walk at the memorial for rape victims during a protest against the gang rape of a student in New Delhi. Pic/AFP

One must also understand that for any kind of offence to be effective, a woman needs to develop some kind of strength in her body. And though some may argue that at the time of an attack, adrenaline pumps in making one strong enough, one is also left in a certain state of shock. Hence, people who claim to be providing training or self-defence lessons should first teach some core strengthening exercises that women must practice for long-term results.

Proponents of Kalaripayattu, one of the oldest fighting systems, show their expertise. It is important to make a distinction between sport martial arts, martial arts for exhibitions and demonstrations and training in martial arts for actual combat

In the end, women must understand these crash courses are like fad diets. Initially, you might witness the euphoria of immediate weight loss, but in the long run you will be unhappy. Even though these self-defence classes may instill a sense of confidence, which is a necessity at this juncture, they might prove useless in attacks like the Delhi gang rape where the victim was overpowered by (a ratio of) six to one, or in attacks when men use weapons.

Activists hold placards during a protest at the district court Saket in New Delhi on January 21, 2013. Pic/AFP

Not self-defence, self deception
Post the Delhi gang rape the operative words today are self-defence. Martial arts teachers and some self-trained self-defence experts are offering defence classes to women. There are some fundamental problems about this enthusiastic rush to get enrolled in self-defence classes, well-intentioned though they may be. Incidentally, while there are exceptions of course, not all these teachers have the best intentions in mind.

Students watch an exhibition of basic judo skills as they participate in a camp. Picture used for representational purposes only. Pic/AFP

Fake and fraudulent
Many self-defence courses already saddled with the bogey of bogus instructors and fake black belts (that coveted degree in martial arts) peddling questionable degrees seem to be quick to offer solutions.But, like those who have sweated blood and tears practising the martial arts will tell you there are no short cuts in self-defence. Women cannot get ready to face a street situation and hope to overpower men by learning some quick moves, or indulging in slick footwork. As women, they start at least 15-20 kilos lighter than men. Their physical structure itself puts them at a disadvantage. These classes are like throwing one into the deep end of a sea, without first learning basic swimming skills.

Never let the knife out of sight and disarm the attacker as soon as possible. Pic/AFP

Give them time
While there are some tricks women can learn when caught in a potentially dangerous situation on the road, they involve an element of surprise like startling your attacker. This might range from throwing something in hand -- like keys, a water bottle or even a bag at the opponent, these at best can be used to keep the attacker at bay and give time to women to make a getaway. Women must realise though that these are distractions at best that may work in a dangerous situation, but they have the potential to backfire too.

The biggest drawback in most of these judo-in-a-jiffy-and-Bruce-Lee-in-a-blink-of-an-eye kind of courses are that most, do not teach women a vital aspect of fighting on the road: that if you hit your attacker, he will hit you back. Even if it is a hard slap, the fact that somebody has hit her, can send a woman into shock. Women are not taught to take blows in many of these classes.

A fight cannot be one-sided. Bruce Lee had once smirked at a martial artiste practicing his moves on a boxing dummy. “Bags don't hit back,” he had said. That was not just another movie line put in there to evoke claps from the audience. Bags don’t hit back, but your opponent most probably will. Women will have to face a moving, thinking and brutal opponent. Would a woman be strong enough to absorb the impact of a strike by a man? It would be hard without specific training.

The hard way
It takes years of conditioning (making part of the anatomy strong enough) to withstand a blow. Two hours, two weeks or even two months is never going to give a woman that kind of conditioning. Shockingly, there are classes now that claim they can teach women self-defence in a matter of hours! Ask any woman who has actually trained for physical combat and they will corroborate how it takes months, if not years of training to be ready to fight off attackers in street brawls.

There is also the aspect of physical fitness. Combat requires fitness; to be able to last in a fight you need a minimum level of endurance. Are these women doing requisite endurance training to back up what they have learnt? Will they be able to sustain a fight? Even if the aim is to disarm or disable the attacker, not to prolong the fight and move away, things don’t go to plan on a street. While many courses do teach women how to strike at the anatomy’s weak points, how to use the knee, elbow, fingers to devastating effect, at times, one may not be able to strike the vulnerable points quickly enough. 

For a woman to kick or strike at the groin, a man needs to be standing at a certain distance and face one in front. To hit the eye, a woman needs to at least as tall as the man’s shoulders. What women can do then is to join a bonafide teacher and class and train the hard way because frankly there is no other way to self-defence. Practice the martial arts and workout in a class as if one’s life depends on it. Because, on the roads, it does.

Go to top