Postscript: This excerpt from the book was given special assistance by  Dr. Joyce Trafton, Nanadan [7th Dan] Goju-Ryu Seibukai, and appreciated by the book's author Dr. Hermann Bayer, Ph.D.

Almost always when innocent people suffer, violence comes as a surprise, unexpected and unannounced. When confronted that way, passivity or non-violence does not stop the predator. Examples show that there is absolutely no guarantee that anyone will be there to help the victim, even if there were bystanders. And since most of those potential attackers are not older, overweight individuals who avoid the gym, but rather slim and trim (in their vast majority) males in the prime of their lives, violence needs to be reflected and countered with an immediate and sufficient, attack-ending, defense-counter. 

However, most girls learn early in life that they are to be timid, immobile, and giving. Therefore, as they grow older, they react to male aggression by freezing, fainting, or flailing their arms and legs uncontrollably. Seldom do they fight efficiently or flee deliberately. Women and girls to defend themselves against domestic violence or against other predators need a different approach than teaching men or boys. Besides differing physical capacities, there is a social definition of perceived gender roles in place, which supports a wide-spread assumption of universal differences between masculinity and femininity. Such an attitude in turn unconsciously impacts behavior and training settings within a dojo. 

The traditional training approach cannot resolve this specific challenge, particularly it cannot avoid flashbacks and their impact on practice and thus cannot successfully empower abused women and girls—although this very group urgently needs to learn how to defend themselves against generally male aggressors. Another possible issue of mixed-sex training may be that whenever men and women train together several specifically gendered anxieties arise around touch. In particular, these tend to involve either an aversion to “hurting” one’s training partner, or a fear of sexual impropriety, which could make training experience somewhat unrealistic for female karateka.

Most women were exposed to sexual harassment and perhaps sexual encounters as girls. When social media was not rampant, most of the time the frightening encounters remained secret. Nowadays, girls are even more exposed to danger because of the Internet, because of group activities that used to specialize on either male or female involvement but are now mixed, because of changes in public education that pushes sexual content even in elementary school, because of sexual content, violence, and perversion in the media. Female teens complain unsuccessfully about sexual advances and threats from boys and men in athletics, theater rehearsals, schools, camps, military environments, and other places. Ironically, the adult response even today is often an unhelpful “boys will be boys.” 

Basic Awareness and Safety Priorities

Research found that people embody their mindset and self-confidence with posture and may project vulnerability through body language as they walk down a street. So, it is no surprise that psychopaths mention gait as a prevalent reason for target choice. Consequently, before any physical self-defenses are taught, basic awareness and safety are priorities; postural feedback encourages confident body language as direct impact on how others perceive them. Applying the theme of posture to young women today, it is evident that poor posture, including cell phone posture, makes them look vulnerable, physically weak, and inadequately prepared for the realities of dating, dominance, and unexpected sexual encounters by male aggressors.

Women have many excuses for not participating in self-defense classes. Because of the media representation of karate as a challenging sport, many consider it outside their physical ability. They have doubtless watched martial arts movies where extreme physical fitness, speed, and high kicks are promoted. In fact, a recent comment from a group of women was that if self-defense were karate, they did not want to train. Also consider their plight as they walk into a dojo of mainly men. Then, there are other excuses: no time, embarrassment because of size or weight, competition, the supposed advantage of concealed weapons, PTSD, and opinions that “my significant other will protect me.” 

Women Fight to Survive

In order to survive, females must attack male vulnerability; however, even males intimate with females felt such an approach “unreasonable.” Our students reported that techniques like throat punches, eye gouges, knee strikes, and other combat moves, were seen as not acceptable by their husbands, boyfriends, or brothers because “men don't fight that way.” Unless in military combat, it looks like many males have game-like rules of engagement that ultimately dictate dominance, but, in contrast, women fight male attackers not to dominate but to survive. 

Therefore, women self-defense is closer to combat and no game at all. For a woman it requires an aggressive, unexpected response to defend herself using the aggressive techniques of karate-jutsu (grabbing, tearing, twisting, kicking, breaking, etc.) that disable the attacker. Women must attack male vulnerabilities despite male rules of engagement, but they need to be supported and encouraged by those men who matter in their lives. 

Perhaps one of the most powerful deterrents for training is a woman’s unresolved emotional baggage or emotional instability caused by negative experiences, such as childhood trauma, relational abuse, or other previous psychological or physical trauma. If such individuals participate in classes, everything may appear to be going well until they are faced with authentic practice or an actual attack. Then, past baggage may ascend from the unconscious causing fear and inadequate responses to the attack. Discussions on that matter may arise during class when a woman suffers flashbacks, which need to be addressed right away. Women need “kuchibushi” [meaning here: time to talk and to comfort] to resolve deeply emotional issues that come up during training. Thus, karatedo in its specific version of allowing personal healing and development complements the combat techniques of karate-jutsu.

Since many women we have trained have been harassed, abused, accosted, or raped, our role as sensei is not just combat training or jutsu but transformative discussions during training when flashbacks need addressed or past experiences emerge as participants set aside fear, shame, or unpleasant memories once buried in the unconscious. They will eventually share their stories of violence in an all-women’s class or with a female instructor, but they will rarely do so in a mixed class. 

A “not me, not today” attitude starts with awareness training, which includes situational awareness, postural awareness, perpetrator awareness, breathing for power and calmness, stress reduction techniques, fitness, the laws of the state regarding self-defense, and a willingness to practice. The efficacy of training should be monitored, and changes made to meet the needs of all participants, so they emerge with the best case practice and skills. Self-defense is not “one size fits all” or unisex.

The majority of women do not have the upper body strength of men, so they must approach actual defense situations differently, each with her personal, practical toolbox of skills. Women sometimes confuse strength with becoming masculinized. It is not the goal of karate training to masculinize women; rather to empower them with techniques that work. Mostly forty-five-degree movements are suggested because face-to-face with a perpetrator is not the best option as it requires more complicated tools.

Flight Trumps Fight 

To increase chances of success, women repeatedly rehearse striking and naming debilitating target areas, such as the liver, kidneys, eyes, lower mandible, brain stem, knees, diaphragm, and throat, to name a few. The groin is not always the best target because some men can ignore the pain temporarily and turn their anger back to the target, some men have learned to suck it up literally, and others may wear protective gear. Instead, women should consider that many men have weak knees, so low kicks can be effective, and “chopping at the trunk of a tree” helps distract them momentarily from other finishing techniques that follow. Defense is not upper body only but a whole-body response that moves in quickly to close distance and strikes immediately. Women must practice with the fundamental goals of “not on the run, not done” or “not down, not done” so that they can escape quickly and safely. In all cases, flight trumps fight if possible.

The above is based on content from Analysis of Genuine Karate Volume 2: Socio-Cultural Developments, Commercialization, and Loss of Essential Knowledge by Hermann Bayer, Ph.D. (publish date July 2023, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 9781594399244), on Dr. Trafton’s work with women and girls for 40 years, and on Dr. Bayer’s experience of instructing in El Salvador after the civil war there.

Dr. Joyce Trafton, Nanadan [7th Dan] Goju-Ryu Seibukai, unexpectedly passed away in May 2023, may she rest in peace. She was an educational researcher, sensei, and author. Her Seibukai Goju-RyuKarate dojo in North Carolina is affiliated with International Goju-Ryu Seibukai in New York/USA and in Okinawa/Japan. She lived in Okinawa for about twelve years and has trained men and women over the course of more than forty years. Her admirable contribution of utmost importance to the karate world is her work with women who must deal with the severe psychological consequences of sexual violence (harassment, abuse, and rape). Her approach is continued by Sensei Denise Story, Godan [5th Dan] Goju-Ryu Seibukai.