Demure, graceful and dainty is how many young girls are taught to behave. This seems to be the opposite of our male counterparts who often embrace what economist George Gilder calls “the male need to dominate.” While these stereotypes are often misleading, you don’t need to look far to find some truth in these long-held societal beliefs. Actually, look no further that the park bench where a couple sits. The man probably has his arms spanning the length of the bench with his legs spread wide while she has her arms and legs crossed, nestling into the crux of his broad chest.

The Difference between Men and Women

Biology proves that men and women are made different. This is true mentally, emotionally and (perhaps most evident) physically. According to Myths of Gender: Biological Theories about Women and Men (Basic Books, 1992) “The average strength differences between men and women result at least in part from men’s larger size.” For instance, “The upper body strength of the average female … is about half that of the average male…”(p. 217). Even when matched in size, a woman only possesses 80 percent of the strength a man does. The fact stands, most men are stronger than women.

Among other things, the strength of a man is great for moving furniture and opening stubborn pickle jars. Sadly enough, this strength is abused when a man is abusive towards a woman.

The Reality of Sexual Abuse in America

RAINN is an acronym for Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, a charity that advocates for anti-sexual violence. According to RAINN , an American is sexually assaulted every two minutes. And in 2003, “9 of every 10 rape victims were female.”

These statistics are hard to swallow. They present us with a tainted picture of reality that many of us fear but haven’t experienced. For those who have been abused, fear may be more palatable. Nevertheless, we know that fear can hinder self-confidence and cripple our emotional health. Therefore, living in fear is not an option. We cannot live in fear of abusive situations; it is important that we empower ourselves with knowledge and tools to overcome them.

The Importance of Learning Self-defense

To learn more about how women can defend themselves in moments when biology lets us down, PlumbTalk Women spoke with Wally Holem, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor at Gracie Barra in West Palm Beach, Florida. In interviewing Wally, we gleaned insight as to how Brazilian Jiu Jitzu benefits women in terms of self-defense, what it can do for a person’s sense of confidence, and why it may be good for girls to learn to fight too.

Wally was introduced to Jiu-Jitzu when he and a college buddy traveled to Brazil in 1994. He has been practicing the martial art ever since then. With 20 years of experience under his belt, he seemed like the perfect person to address with our questions about self-defense.

According to, Brazilian Jiu-Jitzu (BJJ) is described as “martial art and combat sport that teaches a smaller person how to defend himself against a larger adversary by using leverage and proper technique.” While there are many features that differentiate it from other martial arts, like its close quarter combat and absence of additional fighting props such as sticks, Wally notes that BJJ is popular because size doesn’t matter in this form of self-defense. A small person can overcome a larger opponent with proper training. This would not be possible in alternative fighting forms (Think heavyweight boxing!).

Women, Girls and Self-defense

Wally does not sugar coat the physical disadvantage a smaller person or a woman has when confronted by large opponent. “A woman will always be at a disadvantage,” he says. “The best tool a woman has to defend herself is to know what to do [if someone grabs or strikes her].”

Unfortunately, the “if” in Wally’s statement presents a problem. Wally’s firsthand experience confirms national statistics on rape and abuse charges. According to the instructor, in every class he teaches there is at least one person with a story.

With statistics of attack high among women, it raises the question: should every person – especially every woman – know how to fight? When asked this question directly, Wally offers an eloquent response:

“Every woman should empower herself with the tools necessary to be competent to protect herself.” ~Wally Holem

Beyond women, girls may be wise to learn self-defense, too. Unfortunately, RAINN reports that 44 percent of Americans sexually abused are under the age of 18. “The ones who know how to defend themselves [might be] able to get away from the situation,” says Wally.

Getting Away From an Abusive Situation

Getting away from the situation is the goal for any woman or girl who finds herself confronted by an attacker. With the right knowledge and self-defense tactics, this may be possible. However, quick thinking and martial arts moves are not the first line of defense according to Wally. When asked to share three tips on how women can prevent rape or assault he says, without hesitation, “I’m all for running.” Then, he lists his three tips:

  1. Be aware of an escape route. (Instead of engaging in combat, look for an “out” and run!)
  2. Find a good self-defense program that teaches practical skills.
  3. Practice. Practice will do more than refine your moves; it will increase your confidence so you can keep calm under pressure.

Also, Wally notes that the “rats come out at night,” which is to say people are most likely to be attacked in the dark when alone. Also, statistics show sexual assault cases increase when weather is warm but declines in fall and winter. Keeping this information in mind, being aware of situations that surround you, and following through on Wally’s three tips may lessen you risk of being attacked. Equally important, it may raise your self-confidence.

Benefits of Brazilian Jiu-Jitzu

Wally believes that practicing martial arts, like other routine habits, has the power to increase your self-esteem. When you use your body in a way you did not use it before, you become more skilled. With skill, your confidence can grow. When it comes to regularly practicing Jiu-Jitzu, you can become empowered and feel competent that you have the ability to overcome an attacker.

It would be great to live in a world where abuse does not exist and size does not matter. But even in a perfect world practicing self-defense martial arts, like Brazilian Jiu-Jitzu, would be invaluable. Men and women alike can benefit from practicing martial arts. However, for women, an additional benefit is in store when she commits herself to these practices: peace of mind. As BJJ instructor Wally Holem likes to say, “Don’t be afraid… just be empowered.”



Habitual Fitness

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