Published: May 28, 2016


By PJ Pereira*


Since the long overdue debate around violence against women got traction, parents have been asking me for advice on how to get their little girls to learn to defend themselves. Teaching women to fight is far from a real solution for our society’s rape-culture problem but, at least on the individual level, it may help – either by teaching them how to get out of violent situations or creating clear signs of physical confidence that will make some predators think twice. 


I’ve been teaching martial arts to women for a while now. It’s fun, but sometimes very disheartening. Most of my female students tell me they wanted to learn to fight when they were kids, but their parents said “it was a boy’s thing.” That’s the first part of the problem, and an easy one to fix: don’t be those parents.


​Other issues I’ve empirically observed start at how uncomfortable my female students usually are with rough, physical contact. They can’t stand causing any level of pain. They get psychologically shocked when they get hit. Most of all, they lack confidence. The idea they can survive a fight with a stronger man is unfathomable for them. That’s what they’ve heard their entire lives, after all. Good news: all those issues are the base of every martial art in the planet. Let them start early, and they may have the chance of not even developing those erroneous feelings. It will make learning much easier for them.


If you are a parent of a little girl and is on board with this plan, just doesn’t know how to get started, here’s my advice:


  1. Don’t wash fighting action away from their world. Let them see martial arts as something natural. Movies and tv shows can do a lot for that. From Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda to Netflix’s Kicking It, and even some super hero flicks, there are lots of good entertainment that touches this subject without slipping into dumb violence while showing they need no prince to save them.
  2. Since young age, wrestle and tumble with them. Schools wisely tell kids not to play rough for safety reasons, but at home, parents should be able to do it with care. From pillow fights to wrestling in bed, to getting them to escape the tickle monster or simply laying on top of them and force them to escape, make them understand a size difference doesn’t mean they can’t win, and that physical pressure and discomfort is ok.
  3. If they show any interest early, find a nice school with lots of other kids and teachers that make them feel like they are playing. Until they are 7 or 8 at least, the hard discipline of martial arts may turn them off too early.
  4. When they reach 12-13 years old, make them join a class and stick with it. Truth is: in today’s world, one in five college women will be victims of some sort of violence, learning to defend themselves is like knowing how to swim for younger kids. It’s a life skill. If they join at that age and stick with it, by the time they go to college, they are likely to have an advanced degree and be able to handle almost everyone.
  5. Look at different styles; try different things. There is not such a thing as a better style, just the one that suits you better. If you live in a big city with lots of choices, experiment. For younger kids, 11 or under, I would start with big, physical styles like Taekwondo, Karate, Capoeira or Northern schools of Kung Fu, with their high kicks and punches and jumps; or maybe gentler but smart styles like Judo. Later, after 12, more intense methods like Boxing, Muay Thai, MMA, compact styles like Wing Chun, Jet Kune Do, Krav Maga or more complex ones like Aikido and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can be added to that list. More than picking a style, though, chose the nicer, more balanced instructor that enjoys working with kids.


No matter if an early or late starter, all women I know that spent time to learn a fighting system became a fierce, impressive, confident fighter that can defend herself against much bigger opponents using technique and intelligence. Following these tips will give them the chance to focus on the fun part much quicker, cause they won’t have to unlearn the fear. As a side benefit, they will also develop a sense of confidence under pressure that will help even more in this misogynist world.



* PJ Pereira is a martial arts instructor with 20 years of experience and advanced degrees in Shao Shin Hao Kung Fu, Wing Chun and Shorinji-Ryu Karate.

Disclaimer: I know violence against women is a serious issue and do not mean to diminish the debate to this single angle. And I know there will be people that will severely disagree with me and think this is a man trying to blame women for not being violent or something like that. Please, understand this whole thing saddens me more than you can think. I got into martial arts not to defend myself but because I loved the discipline behind it. Having to teach someone for self-defense reasons breaks my heart. Unfortunately, that’s the world we live in, and if this little advice can save only a few brave women from trouble, it will be worth the headache it may cause. In the meantime, us, parents of boys, have a long road ahead to teach and educate them to treat their female peers with respect

Published: May 28, 2016

Categories: Uncategorized