Three of my good friends and training partners have been developing and teaching a women's self defense class here at College of Charleston for the past few semesters (kudos to Pat McGuigan, John Venable, and Amy Langville for their important work on this front). The program has been a huge success. Their curriculum is based on traditional Gracie self-defense and they also include some good mobility work and ginastica natural. The class has proved to be both popular (as indicated by high enrollments) and transformative (as indicated by what the students say in their evaluations and workbooks). Given that nearly 70% of the students here at College of Charleston are women and given the prevalence of rape on campuses nationwide (e.g., an astounding 1 in 5 women report having been the victim of rape or attempted rate during college), I think this type of program is ideally suited for our campus (and other campuses around the country). I also think it's the kind of program that should be tailored and adopted by high schools, junior high schools, and even elementary schools.
I do, however, have a gripe with how the women's self defense program is classified here at CofC--namely, as a P.E. course. By my lights, this sends the wrong message--namely, that training women how to help prevent themselves from being raped is somehow akin to other courses such as sailing, surfing, or dancing. Rather than being a P.E. course taken for credit, I think the women's self defense program should play a more prominent role in the ethos of the college. Indeed, as the course is presently offered, only seniors can take it! But wouldn't it make more sense for incoming freshmen to have the opportunity to take the course as well? Moreover, what about female faculty, staff, and the daughters of faculty and staff? Shouldn't they, too, have access to this type of program? I think the obvious answer is "yes." Hopefully, in the coming months, we can convince the college to rethink how they approach the women's self defense program.
In the meantime, I want to address a common criticism of these types of programs that I hear from time to time which I think is misguided--namely, that the entire rational behind rape prevention programs is wrong-headed. One woman even became a Youtube sensation for airing a similar objection. The charge here is that these programs are premised on the idea that women are somehow responsible for preventing themselves from being raped--which, is taken to be a way of tacitly blaming of the victims of rape for not doing more in their own defense. Instead, so the critics argue, men should be trained not to rape. In short, the worry is that as well-intentioned as these programs may be, they send the wrong message to the wrong demographic. On this view, women shouldn't need jiu jitsu to make themselves safe. Rather, men need to learn to respect the rights and autonomy of women and not treat women as mere sexual objects.
To me, this is a blatant false disjunct--that is, the reasoning here fallaciously assumes that either women should be taught how to defend themselves from predators or men should be taught not to be predators. Clearly these two aims are not incompatible (see here for a video that makes similar points). Moreover, I don't think that focusing on empowering women detracts from the importance of teaching boys from a young age how to have healthier (and less morally monstrous) attitudes towards women when they grow up. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of faith that our paternalistic and misogynistic society will make much progress in the short term when it comes to properly educating (and reeducating) men.
That's not to say that we shouldn't continue to try to make progress on this important front, it's just to say that in the meantime, women (especially on college campuses) will continue to find themselves in the midst of predators. Worse still, these predators are encouraged and even protected by the rape culture that is endemic to many campuses around the country (for those who deny we have created a rape culture, see here). So, while we wait to turn the tide on our country's misogynist ways, we should do what we can to prepare women to confront the threats lurking around them in the here and now. Jiu jitsu works (see here for a recent example). So, it's a great vehicle for empowering women. Let's start treating it as such (rather than simply treating it like any other P.E. class).
Well, that's it for now. If you agreed with what I've said, then do what you can as a jiu jitsu practitioner to empower women and make the world a less dangerous place. I have embedded some videos below for motivation!
p.s. See here for more details about the rape crisis in this country. See here for a poignant book review of Jon Krakauer's Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (which is on my reading list).
p.p.s. I should point out that while I wish CofC would expand upon and improve the women's self defense program, they deserve a lot of credit for even starting the program in the first place. Even if I don't think the program should be limited to seniors or treated as a P.E. course, at least the college had both the vision and willingness to move things in the right direction (e.g., new mats were not cheap!)--which is more than can be said for most colleges around the country.
Here is a nice video showing women using the self defense aspects of jiu jitsu:
Here is an old school video which highlights how little progress we've made (given that most women still don't know jiu jitsu all these years later):
Here is a video of one of the best jiu jitsu matches I have ever seen--which happened at this year's World Championship between Michelle Nicolini and Mackenzie Dern:
Finally, for those who think this wouldn't work in a real world situation, here is a great explanation of how to defend against a person who is between your legs and trying to choke you with both hands: