Martial Arts 101: As A Woman, Which One Should I Choose?

Every day, the world proves to be of growing danger to us women, but if you choose to take the road of ownership over your own safety and self-defense, where and how should you start?

By Julia Song4 min read
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Shutterstock/Jacob Lund

What Is Your Main Goal?

The reasons why a woman may seek to learn martial arts will depend directly on her personal experiences, needs, and the reality in which she lives.

For example, a woman who lives in a big city with higher levels of violence may seek martial arts as a form of personal defense.

A woman who lives in a quiet suburb, however, may seek it as a way to stay in shape.

Some women may prefer the discipline aspect that comes with it and the doctrines associated with a specific type of martial arts, or they may use it as a social tool for meaningful interactions with neighbors, friends, or even family. Yes, martial arts can be a great bonding activity!

Ok, I Think I Know What I Want. What’s Next?

It’s important to note that every martial art will come with most of these aspects to an extent, but the amount of focus going into any one of them, and how you should manage your commitment and attendance, will vary tremendously. So before you sign that one-year contract, you should know exactly what you’re getting into and if that will fit your style and personal needs.

You should have a clear and honest conversation with your instructor about your goals. 

You should also have a clear and honest conversation with your instructor about your goals. You will now spend a lot of time together, so it’s best that they know your goals and help you focus on achieving them through the art. The instructor may even suggest a different path they feel better fits your needs.

For instance, if your main goal is that of physical exercise, you might choose to go for something that has fast movements like Taekwondo or Muay Thai. If your goal is endurance and strength building, then Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Judo would be a better fit. And if your goal is self-defense, well, then this is the article for you.

Martial Arts for Self-Defense

This is where this subject gets tricky. Martial arts academies are still a business at the end of the day, and the longer they keep you as a customer, the better for them. In order to do that, they may advance you slowly and teach you things in a progressive manner that will lead you to keep coming back forever. Coming back to practice is a good thing, but when your survival is on the line, you want to be able to learn how to defend yourself ASAP.

Another bothersome experience I had was that very few people stuck around to be really good at it, thus there weren’t many high-skilled fighters I could find to keep up with a tougher level of training. More often than not, I found myself being used as a teacher’s assistant to the newbies instead of practicing real-life situations, such as adding a knife, extreme exhaustion, or a gun to combat.

When your survival is on the line, you want to be able to learn how to defend yourself ASAP.

I have lived in very dangerous places, and for my own sake, learning how to defend myself was paramount. I spoke to some instructors who agreed to one-on-one lessons, but they also demanded high commitment and effort. Overall, I have experience with a few martial arts, and in my opinion, so should you.

There’s the idea that if you commit to one style of fighting, you'll be great at it, but in the real world, considering all levels of threats, being a one-trick pony won’t pan out well. As you see in most of these MMA fighters, they have two or more specialty fights under their belt, and they need them all equally in order to win a fight.


Jiu-Jitsu, for example, is mostly held on the ground. While it’s great in a fight against a bigger opponent, tell me by all means, how are you going to get them to the ground? Outside of the classroom, swiping somebody’s leg to bring them down won’t be so easy, especially if they don’t fall willingly. As a woman, trying to bring a 250-pound man to the ground by means of Jiu-Jitsu is merely a fantasy.

Jiu-Jitsu is mostly held on the ground. 

So if you need to bring them to the ground before you apply your Jiu Jitsu moves, how will you do that? Great question. The answer is: It depends. 

Muay Thai or Taekwondo

Muay Thai seems to be a good alternative for that. The purpose is to deliver several quick blows to the opponent that, when compounded, will disable them. You must be quick, hit hard, defend your weak points, and get out of the line of attack. Almost like a cat-and-mouse, hit-and-run game.

The purpose is to deliver several quick blows to the opponent that will disable them.

Other notable alternatives in this style of fighting would be Taekwondo or Wing Chun. Taekwondo has Korean origins while Wing Chun has Chinese origins. Both arts use kicks and quick punches, but the philosophy behind them is different and it reflects in what techniques are taught. Taekwondo tends to have a direct approach and is considered an official Olympics sport, while Wing Chun focuses on the mind and techniques of relaxation in order to defeat your enemy.

But what happens if your attacker is very motivated? What if they pin you down, overpower you, get their hands on you? At that point, you might want to revert to Krav Maga, which is specifically designed for those instances.

Cross Fighting and Mixed Martial Arts

Cross fighting is the terminology for this, and it can encompass whatever mix of martial art you desire, though some go better together than others. There’s Ninjitsu, Wing Chun, Aikido, etc. I do recommend that you study one at a time. Don’t stretch yourself too thin. If you choose to learn another style in parallel, be sure to have a good domain of one of the styles before you begin the other. 

Knowing one fight style will help you to learn the next.

Knowing one fight style will help you to learn the next, and at the end of the day, it will make you a much more prepared fighter. No, you won’t be an expert at any one of them, but when it comes to real-life self-defense, this approach is likely to be lifesaving, especially if you’re fighting against an opponent who also has a level of training.

You Have To Own It

Regardless of the kind of martial art you study, you will pick up on certain things. You will understand how the body works, the weak points, the physics behind the moves, and the method behind the arts. At that point, I suggest you find a friend to train with and move on to developing your own version of martial art. What fits you best. The mix of all the knowledge you’ve gathered, plus some experimentation and customization. Nobody knows your body better than you and what works for you. At some point, you will need to take the lead on this.

Prevention Is Still the Best Cure

The best way to survive, ultimately, is to avoid confrontation. Be aware of your surroundings, never become publicly impaired, and always be able to anticipate when a bad situation is brewing, and get out of it in time. I speak more about this subject here

Be aware of your surroundings and never become publicly impaired.

The second best way is to ensure that, if an altercation happens, you have all the tools at your fingertips to end it quickly and to escape. This means that not only should you rely on your knowledge, but you should also have weapons to defend yourself and know how to defend yourself from weapons, even your own, if they somehow end up snatched away and used against you.

Lastly, you need to mentally prepare for the reality of survival. It won’t be pretty. You will get hurt, but you must keep defending yourself beyond the pain. You will cause hurt, but you’ll need to neutralize the threat in order to escape with your life. And you may be faced with more than one attacker or another situation that’s less than ideal for your survival.

Closing Thoughts

There are many fighting styles out there, but if you’re really committed to your survival under any circumstances, I suggest exploring more than one before making a long-lasting commitment. An instructor who cares about your wellbeing will understand and support this decision. In the end, it’s about doing what works best for you, and if Bruce Lee could create his own martial art, well… so can you!