Free Self-Defense Classes: Helpful or Harmful?

We see free self-defense classes for women being promoted almost daily by schools, instructors and even organizations. The intentions are honest and they come from a generous source, but are free self-defense classes for women doing more harm than good?

Why Free Self-Defense Classes are Thought to Help Women Train

One of the biggest motivations behind offering free self-defense classes is the assumption that money is the most significant obstacle to training. A typical one-time self-defense event costs $10-$40 per hour. At that price range, money is unlikely to be the main deciding factor for most potential attendees, especially when you consider that the average haircut for women costs $45 and dinner with a drink or two will cost at least $30.

Yes, money is absolutely a legitimate excuse for some women, but the vast majority of people are spending that amount of money on a weekly basis on non-essential purchases; non-essential purchases that do not offer potentially life-saving benefits.

The Reality

The reality is that there is one primary reason why women choose not to take a self-defense class; it's not money, it's fear. Fear often comes packaged in a multitude of wrappers such as: not having enough time to take the class, not having any way of getting to the class, and yes, even that it's too expensive. But fear is at the heart of almost all of these reasons. And for the record, that fear is legitimate, justifiable and very, very normal.

To take a self-defense class means acknowledging that it can, in fact, happen to you. And for many women it has, in fact, happened to them. Both realities carry a huge amount of fear.

What if I find out that I'm not strong enough to defend myself or my children effectively? What if I get triggered in the class? What if I become emotional? What if my spouse, friends and family think I'm being silly? What if I get hurt during training? What if I'm put in a situation in which I feel powerless? What if I can't make it through the whole class? What if I'm not tough enough? What if I get yelled at by the instructors? What if the training makes me more afraid? What if I fail? 

De-stigmatizing these fears, getting them out in the open, validating women for having them, giving them permission to feel these fears and addressing them head-on are the ways in which we can best overcome barriers to training.

Why Free Self-Defense Classes Do More Harm Than Good

1. Free self-defense classes propagate the idea that fear is shameful.

Most, if not all, offerings of free classes come from a desire to encourage women to participate. But by attempting to address an obstacle that is rarely present (money), and failing to address the obstacles that almost always exist (fear), these offerings allow the presence of fear surrounding self-defense training to remain largely in the dark and buried deeply in women's psyches as "silly," "stupid," and shameful.

2. Free self-defense classes ask women to devalue their safety.

Very few worthwhile services in the world are free. So not only does the invitation to attend a free training event imply that the training may be less than (even if it really isn't), but it suggests that the value of confidence, personal safety, peace of mind, boundary-setting skills and self-defense knowledge for women is essentially zero. Should these benefits be offered to women at an affordable cost? Of course! We're not suggesting that classes should be an extravagant expense by any means, but we are suggesting that free self-defense classes reinforce the idea that those skills are not recognized as valuable by women. And it's time for that to change!

3. Free self-defense classes are unequal.

Have you ever seen a free self-defense class for men being offered? We haven't either. The idea that men should value their safety enough to pay for classes, but women don't have to, doesn't sit well with us. If the reasoning behind offering free classes for women only is that very few women train, as compared with men, then we'd like to suggest that it's time to take a look at how self-defense is taught to women. Instead of just trying to entice them with freebies, we think it's long overdue that self-defense teaching modalities and training environments become more inclusive. Learn more about what we are doing differently to ensure safety and inclusivity in our training programs.

Final Thoughts

We want to make it very clear that we do not think instructors or schools that offer free self-defense classes for women have anything other than just intentions. Yet despite the fact that they've been proven time and time again to fail at increasing attendance, many professionals still offer them and many groups of women still request them. It may be tempting to dismiss these incidences as just marketing ploys or attempts to receive free handouts, but in a world where women are targeted for violence at much higher rates than men but train in self-defense at much lower rates, we think it's important to dig down to the true heart of the issue.

We have a feeling this article will stir up some fairly strong feelings from both sides of the argument. We would love to hear your respectful feedback so that this conversation can continue. Please comment below to let us know where you stand.

Be safe and be well...