RAD Women’s vs. Martial Arts

When I started teaching RAD Women’s Self-Defense, a male friend who is a black belt in karate good-naturedly joked that he would sit in and watch one of my classes so he could tell us what we were doing wrong.

I joked back that statements like that were the reason RAD Women’s has a “No Men Allowed” policy. We both laughed, and the conversation moved on. But his comment bothered me because I think his viewpoint—that taking up martial arts protects a woman better than a self-defense class geared specifically to her needs–is shared by a lot of people. So, I’m going to clarify that issue now.

There is a reason why RAD and other women’s self-defense programs were developed—and that’s because martial arts training isn’t enough to protect a woman from a rape attack. In fact, the techniques developed specifically for women, capitalizing on women’s strengths (as opposed to men’s), and utilizing positions women are likely to find themselves in during such an attack, were created in response to the rape of a female black belt.*

Martial arts are about fighting. The participants understand that. They approach one other as equals although, of course, each will try to defeat the other. There are moves and countermoves. Opponents spar.

A rapist isn’t looking for a fight. He has no intention of moving against his target, then watching to see what maneuver she might counter with. His goal is to subdue her immediately so he can continue his violence against her. There is no sparring in this kind of attack, no give-and-take. He certainly does not consider his victim a worthy opponent. His desire is to debase, humiliate, and grievously injure (or kill) her. He wants nothing less than total domination of her.

Just as the purpose behind the confrontation is different, so are the positions within it. Martial arts are fought mostly from a standing (vertical) position. Even when jumps and rolls are used, participants return to an upright stance to regroup and prepare for the next move. The rapist, on the other hand, knocks his victim to the ground quickly, and uses violence and threats to keep her there. Knowing how to fight on her feet will not help a woman who finds herself in an unfamiliar, horizontal position.

Also to be considered are the facts of human physiology. In the majority of cases, men have greater upper body strength than women. A woman fighting a man in a standing position will simply not be able to match, much less overcome, his more massive arm, chest, shoulder, and back muscles. However, this does not mean that women are weaker. We’re stronger in our lower bodies—our hips and legs. And this is why we’re so dangerous when we’re on the ground. When a woman has been taught how to direct her strength in a ground fight, she focuses her power effectively against her attacker. His first surprise is that she fights back; he targeted her because he thought she would be an easy conquest. His second surprise is that, used to fighting standing up, he doesn’t know how to approach a ground fighter. He can’t get close enough to counter her moves, or execute his own.

There’s one more very important difference between martial arts and RAD Women’s training. RAD takes into account that women in our society have been taught from childhood to “be nice, be polite,” and not to hurt anyone. Many women have internalized this idea to the degree that they would rather let someone hurt them than stand up for themselves. Such unhealthy thinking prevents them from realizing their full power and potential. It keeps them afraid. RAD Women’s programs teach a new way of thinking, empowering women to overcome the societal conditioning that tells them they’re weak, frail, and unable to fight back successfully against a man–thinking that rapists take advantage of.

*See The Evolution of Martial Science,


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One Response to “RAD Women’s vs. Martial Arts”

  1. Emmie Asbell says:

    Great blog post.Really looking forward to read more.

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