A few hundred years ago, martial arts may have had a self-defense component and it may be recoverable. But few martial arts classes teach self-defense directly. Dance can solve this problem.
Self-defense involves situational awareness, scenario training, practice overcoming social-emotional barriers, verbal articulation skills, applying legal knowledge; and context specific movement skills for escaping, scaling force, and neutralizing a threat.
Here is my list of people who teach that: Marc MacYoung, Rory Miller, S.P.E.A.R, IMPACT, and especially check out Protective Offense. There are probably lots of individual martial arts schools that emphasize self-defense as a moral position, but unless they are teaching all the skills I listed above I wouldn't put them on such a list. (Please feel free to add to the list in the comments below.)
Martial arts as we know them today, did not develop to teach self-defense, certainly not women's self-defense. I enjoy trying to re-discover and invent self-defense in traditional martial arts. However, if we want people to develop self-defense skills, martial arts are not the obvious choice. Martial arts are often a poor choice because they condition complexity. Self-defense should also represent a break from the long training curves of most martial arts classes--self-defense should unleash people from hierarchies of learning and empower them immediately.
"If he gives you any trouble, Waltz him out the door."
If the problem is that men or women have been socialized to be nice (or compliant and caring), then the solution is to socialize them to be violent. The best way to do this is with what I call the "I'm playing" hormones. The "I'm playing" hormones feel familiar to almost everyone, people say to themselves, "I feel like a kid again!"
One of the more common forms of violence people encounter is a social situation with a very badly behaved drunk, horny, or angry dominant partner or family member. It turns out that statistics on domestic abuse are gender equal, just as many men beat women as women beat men (I had heard this from Marc MacYoung, but it was recently verified in a conversation I had at a party with a social worker who works with domestic violence advocacy state-wide in Colorado.)
There are two skill sets that were well known in the 19th century for dealing with this type of violence in many parts of the world: 1) Improvisational theater, and 2) social dances like the Waltz and the Samba.
Good theater skills will teach one how to change the scripts and the social dynamics.
Learning to dance with the assumption that some of the people you dance with are going to be dangerous a--holes, will quickly enable the development of these skills:
- breaking holds
- striking vulnerable areas with whole body momentum
- taking control of momentum for making an escape
- breaking the freeze
- injuring and escaping from a threat who attacks from behind
There are problems with dance "classes." Social-dance classes are often about courting, feeling awkward or "doing it right," none of which are helpful for self-defense. But the original movements of these dances were designed from the beginning for self-defense so the only thing that has to change is the intention. The methods don't need modification the way they do in martial arts, because these historic dances all developed from martial games, they are already designed for self-defense. Just take out the modern inhibitions and add intent.
Waltz his face into the wall. Fun.
Two hundred years ago in Europe, if a person wanted martial skills he or she went to a dance master--who also taught etiquette.
The other half of self-defense is improvisational theater; developing, changing, taking control of, breaking, dropping, and re-writing social scripts on the spot. One version of this I call "meet the Buddha," and involves a lot of personal insults and complements. I then progress to slapping games, my goal is to make slapping joyful again.
I got a chance to work with this material during the workshops I taught in Portland, in the UK, and in Amsterdam--and it was awesome. Video in the works.