Why I Don't Teach Self Defence

By Joshua Hagen

I know that my being a judo coach and yet rallying against teaching self-defence may seem incongruous to some, but to me, the idea of teaching self-defence is ridiculous and borderline dangerous. Selling a discipline as “self-defence” is a marketing tool commonly used to sell martial arts to women, children, and smaller or weaker people in general, and it’s not a tool that I am interested in using.

I believe in judo. I believe that learning judo builds skills and character. I believe that women and children specifically can benefit greatly from regular practice, and may be more able to protect themselves in some situations than if they had never trained at all.  

Predators prey on victims, as we know.  The people who attack women typically do so when they appear to be easy targets.  A strong, confident woman is far less likely to be attacked than an insecure one, walking with her head down, counting the spaces in the sidewalk.  

Judo gives people confidence, and helps them to become stronger, and more fit.  Through practising hard randori, a person will have had many “violent” encounters, and come out them just fine.  All of these are important lessons, and yes, they may just help a person to defend themselves should the need arise.

Judo also teaches you to be humble.  A woman who weighs 110 lbs, and who finds herself in an altercation with a man weighing 220 lbs, is at a serious disadvantage, no matter how much training she has had, in any number of disciplines.  Her best option, by a mile, is to run, yell for help, and dial 911.  To imply otherwise is incredibly dangerous.  

There are “educational self-defence videos” out there with women in impossibly ridiculous theoretical situations. Dutch MMA fighter and coach Bas Rutten tells a great story of a group of people entering his gym with their “master”, who teaches them this brand of self defence.  One of the women in the group believes, as she has been taught, that if an adult man has her in hadaka jime or rear naked choke, and she just pokes him in the eye, he will cartoonishly let go, allowing her to escape. This is a terrible idea, as Rutten explains, and as many of us already know.  A person is already so vulnerable in that position, that to severely anger the attacker could actually end in the death of the victim.

Judo has a very strong place in MMA as is highlighted by the incredible career of Rick Hawn in Bellator, or the meteoric rise of Ronda Rousey in UFC.  These fighters are clearly seen using techniques in MMA that have been foundational to Judo for the last 135 years.

As much as it is marketed to be one, MMA is not a street fight.  In MMA, there are rules, there are a limited number of combatants, weapons are not allowed, and there is a referee.  Teaching someone that they can disarm 3 attackers with knives or an assailant with a gun is going to get them killed.  I would personally feel responsible for what could happen if I were teaching people to be overconfident, even though I would probably not be held liable in court.

I wish we could all agree to leave the self-defence angle out of our judo-marketing initiatives. It’s counterproductive, misleading, and ultimately dangerous.

If you would like to read about why there are no longer leg grabs in judo check out this blog

I have posted the video of the Rutten anecdote below (warning: there is some explicit language)


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