10 Best Self Defense Classes for Women in 2023
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The pandemic taught us that you never know when everything can be taken away from you and have the world shut down. Now more than ever people are itching to make the most of life and to travel the globe. However, there's a very real danger inherent with putting yourself out there.
Women, especially are at higher risk when they decide to travel solo or to a less-developed country. Women are targeted more in sex-related crimes, domestic crimes, and random violent attacks than men, with females in the United States accounting for 81.7% of sex-related homicides.
Women have two primary options for safety and they are self defense weapons and self defense classes. While weapons are a great tool to arm yourself with, self defense classes teach you how to use your own body and mind for protection. Consider weapons as an immediate and effective strategy, and classes a longer investment that will last a lifetime.
So which self defense classes are best for women?
The problem with finding the best self defense classes for females is that everyone is biased in their opinion. If you ask someone who trains in Judo, they will tell you Judo is the best. If you ask someone who trains in Krav Maga, they will tell you, Krav Maga is the best.
We're happy to tell you that our article is as unbiased as possible. We don't sell or teach self defense classes; we sell self defense rings and jewelry. Therefore, we have no investment in any particular class, except for those that are truly the best for women.
If you are interested in learning about the best self defense weapons for women, you can browse our self-defense rings here or read our guide on the top self defense weapons for women in 2023 here.
So without further ado, let's get into it...
Physical Fitness for Women
Women can lift weights, run, go to the gym, and work on their physical fitness to increase their strength, size, speed, and endurance, which will help them physically fight off an attacker and flee a dangerous situation.
However, one of the best ways to defend themselves is to enroll in martial arts or self defense classes. Martial arts, combat sports, and self defense classes are the most comprehensive approach for women to learn how to defend themselves.
Women will learn how to physically fight off an attacker with their arms, legs, and body. They will learn how to read and avoid dangerous situations, de-escalate a threat, and mentally prepare for an attack. Self defense classes will provide grueling, intensive workouts where women will improve their physical fitness, strength, and conditioning. Lastly, self defense classes empower students and increase their confidence, which can be one of the biggest deterrents in an attack.
What’s Important in a Self Defense Class for Women?
We’ve ranked our top 10 best self defense classes for women based on criteria we find most important for females including fighting style, class structure, training regime, accessibility, and cost.
Practical Fighting Styles
Practicality and effectiveness of fighting style is the most important criteria for a female self defense class.
We believe striking is the number one most important fighting technique for women to learn in self defense.
While moves like choke holds, body throws, and arm bars can be useful, they are not as important as techniques that focus on striking.
For example, choke holds and arm bars are effective at controlling an opponent, but how practical and effective are they for women learning self defense for her everyday life? If there is a large assailant attacking you, is your first move going to be to try to take him to the ground and put him into a choke hold? It definitely should not be. The last thing you want to do while fighting a bigger and stronger attacker is go to the ground. Conversely, in a dangerous situation, your first instinct should be to keep distance from the threat by striking him, so that you can escape.
Effective striking systems teach women how to use their hands, arms, feet, legs, and sometimes elbows and knees to defend against a perpetrator. Striking allows women to quickly and powerfully impact an attacker from a distance to disable or at the very least stun him. After the attacker is immobilized from a strike, the victim can flee the scene and call for help. That’s why martial arts with an emphasis on striking rank higher on our list.
Class Structure and Training Regime
How a class is taught impacts how good the class is.
An optimal class structure is one that prioritizes physical drills, sparring, training, conditioning, and real life situations.
Other subjects like forms, breathing, meditation, philosophy, and culture are important for a holistic self defense education, but they should be taught as second priorities.
Cost and Accessibility
While a self defense weapon for women will typically be a one-time cost, self defense classes will be an ongoing cost in your monthly budget. It’s difficult to put a price on safety and peace of mind, but there are many martial arts schools that will teach you effective self defense without breaking the bank.
Geographic location will play a factor in price, but typically classes should not cost more than $300 per month and ideally that number will be closer to $200.
Here’s our list of the 10 best self defense classes for women:
Judo, a modern Japanese martial art and Olympic sport that focuses on grappling (which is close-range grabbing), lands at number 10 on our list of best self defense classes for women. Judo is known as a “gentle” martial art that incorporates physical, mental, and moral philosophies into its teachings. Judo's focus on close-range self defense can be very beneficial for women learning self defense as many dangerous situations involve an attacker who is trying to grab or subdue you.
- Judo teaches smaller individuals how to effectively fight off larger assailants.
- Judo is a hands-on martial art that instructs students how to fight off an assailant after they have grabbed or subdued you, which is a common dangerous scenario.
- Judo classes comprise physical, hands-on training and sparring on mats, which prepares students for real life situations.
- Judo lacks striking technique such as punches and kicks, which is vitally important for women learning practical self defense.
Judo can be a very effective martial art for women pursuing self defense.
Judo emphasizes close range combat and maximum efficiency while fighting. Maximum efficiency means utilizing your opponent’s weight, gravity, timing, leverage, pressure, and balance, as opposed to brute force to defeat your opponent.
These principles can be effective for women as they will typically be outweighed and outsized by an attacker, and Judo teaches students how a smaller, lighter fighter can take down a larger, heavier opponent.
Judo techniques comprise throws, trips, flips, holds, pins, locks, bars, and other close-range moves to beat an opponent. Judo's exclusive focus on close-range combat can be beneficial for female self defense as many real life attacks are close range.
Here is a visual resource that shows various Judo throws and techniques with detailed animations: https://www.judo-ch.jp/english/knowledge/technique/
Judo’s main drawback is that it doesn’t involve the use of striking with the arms or legs. The absence of striking is the reason Judo comes in at number 10 on our list of best self defense classes for women.
While Judo can be a very powerful and crafty martial art for self defense, we can’t ignore the fact that the best self defense disciplines for women place a large emphasis on striking. Striking allows a woman to maintain distance from her attacker, and disable them from a distance without having to engage in close-range combat, where a perpetrator would be able to take advantage of their size and strength.
While close-range fighting techniques have their advantages, they are less effective when used on someone who is bigger, heavier, or stronger than you. Therefore striking is the best way to fight off an attacker who is larger than you, so you can flee the scene and call for help.
How Would Judo Benefit a Woman in a Real Life Attack?
As a woman, if you trained in Judo for personal protection, you would be mainly learning how to fight an attacker when he or she has already grabbed you. Your training would be focused on how to use the attacker’s own weight, along with gravity, leverage, and balance, to throw or trip them to the ground after they've subdued you. After you have physically separated yourself from the assailant, you would then run away, call for help, or if you're trapped, use other moves and weapons to incapacitate them.
Overall, Judo is an efficient martial art that seeks to use less energy and less force, and it can definitely be an effective self defense class for women. However, we would recommend enrolling in a martial art that emphasizes striking, or one that teaches a more comprehensive program that includes striking, like those classes higher on our list, to ensure that you are best prepared to fight off an attacker.
Taekwondo, a Korean martial art that focuses on striking with the legs and feet, comes in at number 9 on our list of top self defense classes for women. Taekwondo is translated into English as “Kicking”, “Punching”, and “The Art or Way of”. Taekwondo's powerful and versatile use of striking with the legs and feet make it a very effective martial art for women to protect themselves against an attacker. So if it's a very effective striking martial art, why is it so low on our list? Let's get into the reasons below.
- Taekwondo's focus on striking with legs and feet is very effective for female self defense as the legs are the longest and most powerful natural weapons on our body.
- Taekwondo utilizes a lot of "wooden board breaking" training which increases the strength, speed, and precision of their kicks for real life situations.
- Taekwondo doesn't emphasize hand strikes, which are essential in a self defense situation.
- Taekwondo doesn't teach grappling, ground fighting, or close-range fighting which can be vital in a dangerous situation.
Taekwondo can be a very effective martial art for women to protect themselves against an attacker with its emphasis and employment of kicking techniques.
For female self defense, we recommend striking martial arts over close-combat techniques, because distance is vitally important in fighting off a bigger and stronger assailant. Taekwondo’s use of foot strikes allows you to protect yourself using your longest and strongest weapons - your legs.
Taekwondo is a very technical martial art that focuses on speed, mobility, agility and flexibility which are important in a sudden, unpredictable attack.
Taekwondo's best defensive moves would be groin and shin kicks to stun the attacker and run away, or powerful side and roundhouse kicks to the head and neck to disable the aggressor.
If you're interested in learning more about Taekwondo, here's a great resource which goes into depth about Taekwondo and its techniques: https://made4fighters.com/blog/taekwondo-moves
Taekwondo lacks a few key factors as a self defense for women.
Due to its integration with sports, tournaments, and competitions, Taekwondo classes focus more on scoring points in these tournaments rather than teaching practical everyday self defense.
Taekwondo does have hand strikes and punches, but they are very rarely taught and practiced compared to foot strikes and kicks. This is because Taekwondo is a tournament and Olympic sport, and in those competitions you can only use kicking and foot strikes. Therefore over the years, Taekwondo has evolved to conform and comply to these rules and most modern day Taekwondo schools heavily emphasize kicking. Improving your leg strikes to fight off an attacker is a great self defense strategy, but there are times when using a hand strike is more effective and practical. For example when you punch someone, both of your feet can remain on the ground giving you more stability and balance. When you kick someone, you're maintaining your stability and balance on only one leg, which means there's a higher chance of falling or being taken to the ground.
Taekwondo also doesn't teach grappling or ground fighting, which are important secondary disciplines for practical female self defence.
Taekwondo schools place a significant importance on "breaking boards" rather than real life sparring with partners. Breaking is important to increase the power, speed, and precision of your strikes, but real life sparring with a partner is more important for practical defense.
How Would Taekwondo Benefit a Woman in a Real Life Attack?
If a woman who trained in Taekwondo were to be attacked in real life, she could utilize her martial arts training to defend herself. Upon rebuffing and deflecting the assailant's initial attack, she could then use shin kicks or groin kicks to create distance between the assailant and herself, while also stunning him in the process. If the assailant was incapacitated from the shin or groin kicks, she could then escape and seek help. If the assailant was not yet incapacitated, she could then employ a side kick, front kick, or roundhouse kick to the assailants body to further incapacitate them, and then flee the dangerous situation.
Overall, Taekwondo is a great martial art that will allow you to develop superior striking skills with your legs and feet. While the martial art lacks hand and arm strikes and close combat fighting, women who train in Taekwondo will benefit greatly from the ability to defend themselves using a vast array of powerful leg kicks and foot strikes. Women interested in Taekwondo should pursue it or continue learning it, and simply take another self defense class in addition to it like a close-combat or more comprehensive martial art as well.
8. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Summary
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu originally came from Japan as just "Jiu Jitsu", where it migrated to South America and adopted new local influences to become the popular and modern day "Brazilian Jiu Jitsu". Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a martial art primarily based on ground fighting and submission holds. The art focuses on taking an opponent to the ground to neutralize minor size or strength differences, and utilizing positions, leverage, angles, and techniques to force an opponent into submission.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Pros
- Brazilian Jiu Jitsu's focus on negating size and strength differences through various positions and techniques benefits women who may be outsized by an attacker.
- Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is primarily fought on the ground which is important since a real life attack may end up going to the ground.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Cons
- Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can only neutralize minor size and strength differences, so if an attacker is notably bigger or stronger than you, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu may be rendered useless.
- Brazilian Jiu Jitsu doesn't teach any striking skills with the hands, arms, feet or legs, which is the most important aspect of practical self defense for women.
About Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, otherwise known as BJJ, has boomed in popularity due to the UFC and other televised combat sports. The art uses joint locks, chokeholds and other submission techniques to beat an opponent. Its importance and effectiveness in the octagon is second to none and that’s why a lot of people are interested in training in BJJ.
Here is a great resource that shows various Brazilian Jiu Jitsu techniques in short video clips: https://www.grapplearts.com/the-16-most-important-techniques-for-the-bjj-beginner/
BJJ is excellent at learning how to defend yourself while fighting on the ground, which is where a dangerous attack may end up.
While Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the best martial arts to learn for ground fighting, we have to think about whether this type of fighting would be good for women to take for real life self defense. While there are several benefits like learning how to control one’s body during a fight, training to fight from inferior positions, practicing various holds and locks to subdue an opponent, we have to ask ourselves if these should be the only techniques women should learn for a real life street attack.
In a real life attack, women will generally be smaller than her assailant since perpetrators tend to target physically inferior victims to themselves. In a sudden attack, would it be wise for a woman’s first instinct to be to take a larger and stronger assailant to the ground? We don’t think so.
The first fighting instinct and response should be to strike from a distance, fend off your attacker and flee the scene. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s first move would be to take the attacker to the ground which is the last thing we’d recommend you do.
We also have to acknowledge that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu may be effective for two opponents of a similar size, weight and strength. The truth is that most of these techniques, holds and locks won’t be as effective on an attacker that is significantly bigger or stronger than you. He’ll simply be able to overpower his way out of a lot of holds and locks.
We also have to understand that BJJ is so popular in the UFC because it’s a closed environment with judges. In the UFC, you can't strike your opponent, flee the scene, and win the fight. You have to stay in the octagon and “defeat” your opponent. In real life, there’s no need for a victim to stay around to “defeat” her opponent. Once your attacker is down, your job is to flee the scene, not finish the job.
While street attacks may end up on the ground, there are steps leading up to the fight being on the ground. We’d prefer to train in a martial art that teaches defending yourself at every step of the way, or one that focuses on the initial steps of a confrontation so you can avoid going to the ground at all, where your chances of survival are much lower.
How Would Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Benefit a Woman in a Real Life Attack?
In a real life street attack, a woman who's trained in BJJ would have the first instinct to grapple her assailant and bring them to the ground. If the assailant has already grabbed you and taken you to the ground, you would be able to fight for position and attempt to hold them or submit them.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Conclusion
Overall, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the best martial arts for ground fighting and teaches students to use positions, angles, and locks, rather than brute force, to defeat their opponent. The idea that you can win a fight from a traditionally inferior position, like on your back, is remarkable, and can be extremely important in a real life street attack. Real life self defense comprises many disciplines, and ground fighting is undoubtedly one of them.
However, a martial art that focuses solely on ground fighting is not going to be the most effective for women. We would recommend taking BJJ with another martial art like Muay Thai that focuses on striking, or to take another comprehensive martial art that covers multiple self defense disciplines like Karate or Kung Fu.
Boxing lands at number 7 on our best martial arts classes, and is a combat sport that focuses on punching. Boxing can be a very effective martial art for female self defence. Its sole focus on punching and striking with the hands means that you will be very experienced, comfortable, and trained at using your hands for fighting off an attacker - and in many cases that can be all you need.
- Boxing's sole focus on hand punches makes it one of the most effective striking martial arts to learn for practical self defense.
- In addition to offensive punches, boxing also teaches defensive maneuvers and footwork which can help you defend yourself against an assailant.
- Boxing's lack of foot strikes, grappling, or ground fighting make it a one-trick pony.
- Sparring with partners in a boxing class may not happen until a student is very advanced which might require a greater time and financial investment compared to other martial arts.
Boxing is a sport that's typically performed with two competitors wearing gloves in a boxing ring who throw punches at each other for set periods of time called rounds.
Boxing classes have been traditionally taught more as a sport than a self defense class. However, Boxing’s techniques and training can certainly teach you to fight off an attacker and defend yourself in a real life situation.
Boxing is widely popularized with international attention due to famous boxers such as Muhammed Ali, Mike Tyson, Manny Pacquiao, and Floyd Mayweather, just to name a few famous boxers. Due to its notoriety and pedigree, many people will look at boxing to improve their self defense skills.
Boxing is a striking combat sport that focuses only on punching using a basic arsenal of the jab, cross, hook, and uppercut. Besides punching, the combat sport trains fighters in stances, footwork, conditioning, timing, and defensive maneuvers.
Boxing can teach very effective skills for self defense. We utilize our arms and hands more than our legs and feet, and becoming proficiently fast and powerful at striking an opponent with punches can be very effective at protecting ourselves. As harped on throughout this article, we strongly recommend learning striking for female self defense since striking keeps aggressors at a distance, and in a dangerous situation, distance is your best friend. Additionally, striking can be fast and stunning to the opponent which will allow you to escape the situation quickly.
We like how Boxing classes are not spread thin between various topics. Boxing classes are pretty much all physical training, repetitive striking, and conditioning, rather than less practical areas of some self defense classes.
Boxing's consistent and intensive training regime will allow you to throw punches from muscle memory faster and stronger than you ever imagined. If a woman consistently trains with boxing, she will become very proficient at her hand strikes and that alone might be all she needs in a dangerous situation.
Check out this detailed guide on Boxing to learn more about the sport and determine if it's a good fit for your self defense training: https://expertboxing.com/the-beginners-guide-to-boxing
The downside to Boxing for female self defense is it doesn’t involve any leg or foot strikes, close combat grappling, ground fighting, or survival techniques. This lack of an overall self defense curriculum shows that it was created mainly for a regulated sport, and therefore is narrowly-focused for female self defense.
How Would Boxing Benefit a Female in a Real Life Attack?
If a woman who trained in Boxing were to be attacked in real life, she would be in a great position to defend herself by striking the attacker and dodging their attacks.
Once you are able to identify the stranger as a legitimate physical threat, your best course of action is to create or maintain distance, and then prepare to use your strikes to maintain distance and stun the aggressor.
A jab or hook to the assailant's face would be a great initial move to stun or incapacitate him. After he has been stunned or incapacitated, you could then flee the scene and call for help. If he is not yet stunned, you may need to throw a more powerful cross or uppercut to fully incapacitate him before fleeing the scene.
Overall, while Boxing has a narrow focus in technique and style, we can’t negate the importance and effectiveness of that single style - punching. Like most of the other martial arts listed above, it’s important to learn a comprehensive self defense program since violent attacks are unpredictable. However, we can say that striking in our opinion is the most important skill to learn for women, and Boxing does a great job of teaching and training women how to punch powerfully and effectively.
Kickboxing comes in at number 6 on our list of best self defense classes for women. It ranks relatively high on our list due to its fighting style, training regime, and class environment. Kickboxing focuses on Kicking and Boxing for its fighting techniques, which are striking with the hands/arms and feet/legs. It ranks one spot ahead of Boxing for this reason; you can learn all of the Boxing punching techniques, plus a wide array of kicking techniques such as foot jabs and hook kicks.
- Kickboxing's techniques focus on striking with your hands, arms, feet, and legs, which are the most important aspects of female self defense.
- Kickboxing classes are straight to the point, comprising cardio exercises, bag work, strength training, and partner drills.
- Kickboxing does not incorporate grappling or ground fighting. While grappling and ground fighting are secondary techniques for effective female self defense, they can still be useful to learn.
- Kickboxing classes include sparring, but it's not a major point of emphasis and is sometimes reserved for only advanced students.
Kickboxing is a great self defense for women and will train you to deliver powerful, fast, and precise punches and kicks to an opponent. Training also teaches you how to defend against strikes, evade opponents’ attacks, and counter strike using stances, footwork, and blocks.
Many people take kickboxing classes for its intense cardio and conditioning. The training regimen is straightforward and comprises of working on striking with a bag or a partner with pads. The sport's repetitive training program allows students to develop superior muscle memory which they can quickly access in a street fight.
You also won’t have to remember various forms, stances, terms, or styles before you learn how to strike. You’ll start off practicing a handful of punching and kicking strikes and repeat them till you are exhausted. Therefore in a sudden attack, your brain won’t have to process much more than punch here and kick there.
Another advantage of Kickboxing is their approachable and accessible class environment. Many self defense and combat sport schools can be male-dominated and intimidating. On the other hand, Kickboxing classes will be attended by many females looking for an intense workout and some basic fighting skills. Therefore the environment, the instructors, and the other students will create a more approachable environment for a beginner female student.
One disadvantage is Kickboxing doesn’t include any ground fighting, grappling, throws, locks, holds, or weapon usage. While we prioritize striking for female self defense, it would be remiss to leave out other valuable fighting techniques and situations.
We live in a fast-paced world where the majority of women who take a self defense class will want to learn how to defend themselves within a few months of starting. Very few other martial arts will train you to strike using your hands and feet as quickly and powerfully as Kickboxing does.
How Would A Woman Who Learns Kickboxing Use Her Skills In A Dangerous Situation?
Women who learn Kickboxing for self defense will benefit greatly if they were to find themselves in a dangerous situation. After you've trained and improved your striking over a long period of time, you will start to realize how powerful and fast your kicks and punches can be. And you will view them as weapons that can be used to protect yourself. If you were to be aggressively touched or attacked by an assailant, you would deploy the most effective and relevant strikes to either stun him to escape, or to incapacitate him if necessary.
What strikes would you use? Some of the best, fastest, and most effective initial strikes you can use are groin kicks (kicking to the crotch area) and face strikes. Using one or both of these can at the very least stun your predator, or in some cases severely disable them.
Overall, Kickboxing is an excellent class for women to learn self defense. It combines practical striking, an efficient training curriculum, and a welcoming environment for females to learn self defense.
Here's a link to a brief beginner's guide to Kickboxing styles and techniques so you can see if it's a good fit for you: https://www.infighting.ca/kickboxing/the-ultimate-beginners-guide-to-kickboxing/
5. Kung Fu
Kung Fu Summary
Kung Fu is a Chinese term that encompasses multiple Chinese martial arts, disciplines, and fighting styles. It includes popular martial arts such as Wing Chun, Tai Chi, Jeet Kun Do, Wushu, Shaolin, Qigong, and many more.
Kung Fu Pros
- Kung Fu is a comprehensive martial art that includes everything from striking, to ground fighting, to joint locks, to weapon fighting, and much more.
- Advanced students who study Kung Fu for a long time will be skilled in various fighting styles and trained to take on virtually any type of dangerous situation.
Kung Fu Cons
- Kung Fu requires a longer period of time and more commitment to become proficient in any basic self defense.
- Kung Fu includes disciplines such as culture and history, which are not as important and useful for practical self defense.
About Kung Fu
Kung Fu has been made famous by actors and martial artists such as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen through entertainment and movies. Kung Fu is widely taught in martial schools all over the world due to its reputation of being a cool, distinguished, and powerful martial art.
Kung Fu specializes in striking and general fighting. The art comprises strikes with your hands, fists, fingers, open palms, elbows, knees, feet, and legs, incorporating any and all body parts into its self defense training.
It also encompasses blocks, defensive maneuvers, stances, locks, holds, ground fighting, and weapon usage. Besides fighting, Kung Fu also teaches forms, breathing and meditation, conditioning, breaking, philosophy, morals, and culture in its curriculum.
Kung Fu can be a very effective martial art for female self defense. Its focus is general fighting which includes attacking, defending, striking and blocking, and in various situations like from distance, close-range, and on the ground.
Kung Fu also teaches its students about practical applications of self defense in the real world. You learn groin kicks, eye gouges, bone-breaking blocks, and other techniques that would normally be considered “dirty fighting” but in a life or death situation can cripple an attacker and should be used.
The best Kung Fu schools will be ones that specialize in striking and self defense. Kung Fu Schools that teach everything are excellent for a comprehensive approach to learning self defense which includes both practical physical fighting, but also holistic areas such as character development, moral philosophy, confidence building, and spirituality. However, they will spread out all of their teachings and it might take a long time to reach a proficient level of practical self defense. This is the only knock on Kung Fu - there is so much to learn across so many disciplines, that some schools and classes will require several years before students can be comfortable defending themselves in a street attack. Your best bet is to learn about the specific Kung Fu class and style you're interested in, to determine if it focuses mainly on practical fighting training, or if it teaches all areas equally.
How Would A Female Kung Fu Student Defend Herself Against An Attacker?
If a female Kung Fu student were to be attacked, she would be in a great position to defend herself with her knowledge and training in striking. Female students who train in Kung Fu for a long period of time will become very comfortable and proficient with their fighting abilities and will be able to "understand" a fighting situation before it starts. She would be able to use stances and defensive maneuvers to try to avoid any initial advances by the aggressor. If necessary, she would use blocks and defensive techniques to defend herself, and would follow up with counter strikes of her own. As mentioned throughout this guide, the best strikes against a male assailant would be groin strikes to his crotch area, and face strikes, and Kung Fu teaches many ways to strike both areas.
Kung Fu Conclusion
Overall, Kung Fu is one of the most well-respected martial arts out there and can be extremely effective for women learning self defense. The martial art focuses on hand and foot striking with training in other important areas of practical self defense. However it also includes some areas like philosophy that people may find gets in the way of how quickly they can learn more practical fighting techniques. If you have the time and are looking for a long-term self defense discipline with character building and overall personal development, then Kung Fu would be a great fit for you.
Read this list to learn about the various Kung Fu styles and if its the right fit for you: https://sportsaspire.com/kung-fu-fighting-styles
Karate is a Japanese martial art that comes in at number 4 on our list of best self defense classes for women. Karate ranks high on our list due to its powerful and comprehensive fighting style, practical application, and rigorous training regime.
- Karate teaches a comprehensive and effective fighting style with a focus on striking
- Modern Karate classes also incorporate other useful fighting disciplines like grappling and ground fighting.
- While Karate classes include sparring and practical self defense, if they focused even more on these two aspects, then Karate would have very few drawbacks.
Karate, meaning “empty hand” in Japanese, focuses on punching, kicking, striking, and blocking using your hands, arms, feet, and legs. Karate’s focus on striking is an ideal match for women looking to learn practical self defense. And it’s no surprise that Karate was invented for self defense instead of for sport or tournament fighting. It was created in early Japan as a practical way for people to defend themselves against foreign invaders using only their arms, legs, and body.
Karate teaches its students to deliver strikes with as much power and force at the point of impact as possible to disable an opponent as quickly as possible. Training involves repetitive striking of surfaces such as bags, padded surfaces, partners with pads, or hard natural surfaces like wood and stone. In addition to striking, Karate teaches stances, timing, blocks, defensive maneuvers, and some styles teach grappling, ground fighting, locks and holds, and weapons.
Karate teaches an expansive list of fighting techniques including roundhouse kicks, forearm strikes, backfist punches, and foot sweeps, just to name a few. A typical Karate class will include practicing strikes in the air, on bags or with partners, learning new moves and techniques with partners, and basic sparring.
How Would A Female Karate Student Defend Herself If She Was Attacked?
A female Karate student's response to an attack would be very similar to that of a female Kung Fu student. She would be aware of an impending dangerous situation, but also feel more empowered that she could defend herself if necessary.
Similar to Kung Fu and other striking self defense martial arts, her initial instinct would be to deploy quick strikes to assess the aggressor's intentions and abilities. Groin kicks, shin kicks, foot stomps, face strikes, and neck chops are all quick, efficient strikes to vulnerable areas that can stun an aggressor and don't require much windup, torque or power to be effective.
If her aggressor is deterred and leaves the scene, then the initial strikes have accomplished her goal. If the aggressor is undeterred, we now know that this is a serious dangerous situation and more incapacitating self defense must be used. These include anything from powerful kicks to the vital organs of the body, eye gouges, and the use of weapons with strikes.
Overall, we like Karate as a self defense martial art for women as it teaches a comprehensive striking program involving both punches and kicks fairly equally, as well as important training in blocking, defense, and general fighting maneuvers. The training regime of Karate mainly focuses on physical training and conditioning, as well as practical sparring and this makes it an ideal all-around martial art for women to learn for self defense.
Here's a cool video on Pinterest showing takedowns at a Karate tournament so you can get an idea of its fighting style: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/836402962032669802/
MMA, or Mixed Martial Arts, is one of the best types of combat sports and self defense classes for women.
As its name implies, Mixed Martial Arts, is a mix of all martial arts and self defense styles, combined into one broad discipline that focuses on the best techniques and training of each.
While each MMA school and instructor will have their own curriculum, they all focus on the pillars of fighting: striking (Muay Thai, Boxing, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Kickboxing), clinching/grappling/ground fighting (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Wrestling), and defensive techniques which can be derived from all disciplines.
- MMA classes teach an all-around, comprehensive approach to fighting an opponent, including key aspects from all of the martial arts listed here.
- Instead of taking a Muay Thai class at one school, and a separate BJJ class at another, you can train under the same instructor and school which will be more cost-effective, efficient, and effective at reaching your goals.
- MMA classes will normally be more expensive than other martial arts, since they encompass several disciplines into one and therefore require a broad instructor/knowledge base and a diverse set of equipment.
- You will need to vet MMA instructors and classes to ensure that they focus on the most vital aspects of female self defense, which is striking. Since MMA is so broad, you may get stuck with an instructor who spends the majority of your training on ground fighting and grappling.
- As a competitive sport and tournament, MMA does not include effective strikes or techniques that would be useful in a street attack but is considered "illegal" in a referee-matched tournament.
MMA is a hybrid combat sport that includes various techniques from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, Boxing, Wrestling, Kickboxing, Karate, Taekwondo, Judo, and other martial arts.
Since the discipline is so vast, each school and instructor teaches their curriculum at their own discretion, and you may get more boxing at one school, while another school may focus mostly on wrestling. Therefore it's important to watch a class and meet with the instructors to ask them how they normally structure their curriculum.
Nevertheless, all MMA schools will teach you how to become a great fighter and be able to effectively defend yourself against an attacker.
One great advantage of taking an MMA class is that your instructor teaches you how to blend together all of the fighting styles and disciplines into one fluid system, rather than learning a striking martial art first and then grappling martial art second, or taking them at two different schools. While Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes won't be able to teach students how to perform a set of strikes and grappling moves into one combination, MMA would be able to.
How Would a Woman Who Trains MMA Be Able to Defend Herself in a Real Life Attack?
A woman who trains in MMA would be at a great advantage for defending herself against an assailant. She would be trained and prepared to handle the assailant in any situation whether he grabs her from behind, tries to throw punches at her, or has tackled her to the ground. We are not saying that she would defeat an attacker in any situation, but she will be trained and prepared on how to defend against most attacks and overcome the aggressor.
Overall, if you don’t mind paying more, and you know what you’re looking for, MMA is certainly one of the best combat sports for women to train for self defense. If you're training under an elite instructor who is focused on practical female self defense, the comprehensive approach that MMA provides can't be beat by any other self defense class.
2. Muay Thai
Muay Thai Summary
Muay Thai, our number 2 self defense class for women, means “the art of 8 limbs” and originated in Thailand. When we factor in fighting style, training regime, cost, accessibility, and practical application, Muay Thai ranks in the top 2 of our list for self defense for women.
Muay Thai Pros
- Muay Thai's focus on fast, powerful striking with 8 different surfaces makes it one of the best striking martial arts out there.
- Muay Thai's training regimen is structured, efficient, and potent at developing students into powerful strikers.
- Muay Thai has gained a lot of popularity over the years and you should be able to find a few different Muay Thai classes in your area, which will give you more options and lower cost classes.
Muay Thai Cons
- Muay Thai lacks grappling and ground fighting which are important aspects of self defense for women.
About Muay Thai
Muay Thai is a powerful striking martial art which utilizes every part of your body: hands, elbows, feet, and knees, hence its meaning of “the art of 8 limbs”. Other martial arts like Boxing only teach striking with 2 limbs and even more comprehensive martial arts like Karate only teach striking with 4 limbs. Muay Thai on the other hand was created to fight and attack using any body tool available which is extremely important in a real life street attack. This shows that Muay Thai was created for practical self defense as opposed to Boxing, which was created more for controlled environments like tournaments.
Check out a long list of Muay Thai fighting techniques so you can get an idea for how much emphasis this martial art places on striking: https://www.muaythai-fighting.com/muay-thai-techniques.html
Muay Thai’s main fighting style is striking which teaches students how to fight against an attacker standing upright and from distance. Muay Thai also teaches students how to fight an opponent from the clinch meaning if the aggressor has grabbed you or is holding you - a typical real life scenario where the attacker has subdued you. In this clinch position, you’ll learn strikes, maneuvers and angles with which to attack your opponent and free yourself from his grasp.
Muay Thai’s training regime incorporates intense partner striking drills, bag work, and sparring sessions. Muay Thai classes are typically fast paced, and focus on what will be needed in a real life fight. Muay Thai gyms and schools can be found in most cities nowadays and the class costs make this martial art great for anyone looking to learn self defense as you won't break the bank on membership costs or equipment.
One potential downside to Muay Thai is their lack of ground fighting. Some disciplines and schools will teach ground fighting but it’s generally not taught in a typical western Muay Thai school.
How Would A Female Muay Thai Student React In A Real Life Attack?
If a female Muay Thai student were to be aggressed in real life, she would be in an advantageous position to fight off her attacker and escape.
Even if a female Muay Thai student had only been training for one year, she would have built up a large variety of strikes, defensive maneuvers, and most importantly muscle memory.
Her approach would be to create distance between her and her attacker either through elbow or knee strikes, and then use stronger strikes to effectively discourage or incapacitate her attacker.
Her muscle memory would allow her to perform her strikes very quickly and powerfully, and her training would allow her to be mentally prepared in real life one-on-one fighting situations.
Muay Thai Conclusion
Overall, Muay Thai is one of the best martial arts classes you can take for self defense as a woman. It equips students with an expansive and versatile striking arsenal, teaches practical fighting from distance and from the clinch, and has a training regime that will improve a student’s muscle memory, conditioning, and endurance.
1. Krav Maga
Krav Maga Summary
Krav Maga is an Israeli martial art developed for the Israel Defense Forces that comes in at number 1 on our list. Krav Maga is a relatively modern martial art developed in the 1950’s that focuses on real-life practical self defense and uses techniques adapted from several martial arts such as Karate, Boxing, Wrestling, Judo, and more.
Krav Maga Pros
- Practical self defense techniques for real life situations
- Efficient classes that get straight to the point
- Hybrid fighting and defensive techniques that are developed from multiple martial arts
Krav Maga Cons
- Higher class costs
- Limited class options
- If you're looking for a long-term comprehensive martial arts education, Krav Maga would not be a good choice as its curriculum has a more narrow scope
About Krav Maga
Krav Maga classes are focused solely on modern day self defense, which is why it lands on our top spot. The art focuses on effective striking, but incorporates any aspect necessary for real life self defense such as clinch fighting, ground fighting, and weapons.
Students will learn how to defend themselves in various situations including against multiple offenders and against perpetrators with knives. Training also includes adopting self defense mindsets such as situational awareness, avoidance, and de-escalation.
Krav Maga is an efficient martial art for women to learn self defense. Each class will involve both physical training via repetitive striking on bags and padded partners, and real life scenarios where you’ll experience being punched, grabbed, choked, or attacked with a weapon.
One drawback of Krav Maga will be the cost of classes. Krav Maga is a specialized martial art, and therefore it’s not widely offered. In a large city, there may only be a few different schools or classes offered, and in a small city there might not be any Krav Maga classes.
How Would A Krav Maga Student Fight Off An Attacker In A Real Life Situation?
A Krav Maga female student would have many advantages to surviving a potential dangerous situation. She would be taught in self defense mindsets such as situational awareness so she could avoid or at least prepare for a suspicious individual.
Female Krav Maga students are also trained on using improvised weapons such as self defense rings that are everyday objects you can use to enhance your fighting capabilities.
Here's a link to some of the most effective, stylish, and practical self defense rings for women to wear every day: Self Defense Rings for Women.
A female Krav Maga student would specifically target vulnerable and painful areas of an attacker's body, showing no remorse. She would target the groin area, eyes, and neck on a male attacker and her goal would be to impair these areas.
A female Krav Maga student would have a major advantage in a real life attack due to her physical self defense skills, as well as her defensive mindsets and ability to adapt to new situations.
Krav Maga Conclusion
Overall, Krav Maga is one of the best self defense classes for women. The modern martial art was created for practical self defense focusing on striking and combines the best techniques and styles of various other martial arts. As you progress, Krav Maga also teaches you about grappling, close-combat, ground fighting, and weapons. The discipline also includes important self defense mindsets into training such as situational awareness and de-escalation techniques.
Learn more about Krav Maga with an in-depth summary about the martial art here: https://www.kravmaga.com/what-is-krav-maga/
Enrolling in a martial art or combat sport is one of the best ways to defend yourself as a woman. Learning to use your arms, legs, and body to naturally and effectively fight off an attacker means that you can protect yourself wherever you go. Additionally, you'll learn how to identify dangerous situations and avoid them, verbally defend yourself, and increase your self confidence in everyday situations.
Unsurprisingly, once you learn martial arts and combat sports, you’ll realize that your self defense capabilities increase ten fold by also carrying a self defense weapon. For example, if you are an advanced karate student, and you also have pepper spray, you now have two levels of defense - the pepper spray that can be used at a 5 foot distance, and then your fighting skills learned via your self defense class. Similarly, arming yourself with a handheld weapon like a Kubaton or self defense ring will simply augment the strikes and fighting techniques you know. Striking an opponent with a normal punch can be effective. But when you’re wearing a ring knife on your fist, your punch is exponentially enhanced and is even more damaging to a predator.
Overall, the key elements to learning self defense is consistency and commitment. Training in any of the martial arts or combat sports above will prepare you both physically and mentally for a real life attack. While some arts will be more practical and effective than others, each discipline will teach you important techniques and fighting styles that can be used in self defense.
I have trained now over 30 years. I competed over 20 of those years. Eight of those years boxing competition and Three in Muay Thai. I trained and competed in Judo and Jujitsu as well over five years. I also studied and competed five years in Tae Kwon Do as a kid.
I can tell you first hand that if a woman is going to pick a self-defense system it would be best to start in MMA and then specialize.
I would rank in this order. Especially If it is a single style for self-defense. 1. Judo: you can end a fight in one throw. 2. Muay Thai: the most devastating strikes on the planet, and includes sweeps and throws. 3. Jujitsu, If you have ever been a bigger stronger man just starting jujitsu, you have probably been humbled by a female with a little more training than you, who was much much smaller :-) 4. Krav Maga, finding a legit school may be hard. The strength is it offers techniques for almost any situation. Some of the gun and knife stuff are suspect. 5. Kickboxing because it is full contact and covers powerful kicks and punches 6. Karate in addition to kicks and punches has sweeps and takedowns, but many schools don’t punch to the face, or allow full contact? 7. Boxing: legit the most powerful punches on the planet, however has no answers for almost everything else 8. Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu are tied for last. Tae Kwon Do because they are like boxers with the feet and have no answers for all other aspects of self-defense, and Kung Fu because everyone I have met or saw on YouTube can easily be beat by MMA and every other pick!!
I’m glad you mentioned how self-defense classes give students more confidence and give them more power, as this can be one of the biggest attack deterrents. My parents and I have been concerned for the safety of my sister who lives alone in her home, so this will be helpful to her. Given this, I’ll make sure to advise her to enroll in women’s self-defense classes so she can acquire the necessary skills for dangerous scenarios. https://kmi.co/pages/womens-self-defense-landing-page
Some of this is bad ranking, essential part of self defense is sparring, traditional martial arts like karate and kung fu have no right to be ranked higher than boxing, most of which are semi contact and in no way effective in self defense
Self defense shouldn’t involve staying and fighting the person until he/she goes down, immobilise, stun and then run away, jab cross into the jaw and then bolt situations which you have to defend yourself are often unfair and stacked against you, going to the ground when the person attacking you has friends that could easily hurt you while you’re on the ground, don’t get me wrong it’s very useful to know ground game but the best is just to avoid it and run away.
Great advice here. As a longtime student of various martial arts, I’ve long worked in classes which the issue of how a woman or girl can realistically defend herself against an aggressive male. One of the number one things a female can learn in such classes is to overcome the flinch response, and to meet violence with violence. This takes constant training and a disciplined mindset, but it can make all the difference.
I read your article a few months ago and decided to enroll in a muay thai / kickboxing class near me… and it’s literally been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! Let’s be clear, the class kicks my ass and I’m no where near able to properly defend myself, but I’ve learned so much and am getting stronger and more confident. Excited to see where I’m at in a year!
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