Size Matters

There are differences between the way men and women fight.  Some are physical due to size and strength discrepancies.  Others are psychological or physiological.

Good fighters, male or female, know what works for them.  They train moves to see how their own bodies respond and to find out if they are able to make different techniques work.  For self-defense/combat fighting, it’s important to practice the moves on opponents of varying sizes, shapes and abilities.  A 250 pound male isn’t going to be as easy to hip throw as a 130 pound female.  But the biggest guy goes down like a tree if you sweep his feet out from under him.  Conversely, leg sweeps are harder to accomplish on short, stocky men.

Smaller size can be put to advantage. Men in my classes sometimes comment that it’s harder for them to do certain holds, locks and traps on women. Larger hands have difficulty maintaining intricate grips on slender limbs.  Sometimes women can slide right on out.  Joint locks are harder to perform on women because females are naturally more flexible.  It can also be harder to knock a woman off balance because her center of gravity is lower.

Women need to use leverage as much as possible when fighting and to avoid being hit. TV and movie fights aside, in reality, one fist to the face is devastating to a woman’s small bones.  A trained female fighter also isn’t going to slug a guy in the jaw.  It’s her bones that will break in that contest as well.  Strikes to soft targets are a female’s best bet. Kicks/knees to the groin or belly allow a woman to use the largest muscles in her body, her legs, to deliver a blow to a man’s weakest points, which fall in a straight line from a man’s face to his groin.  If hand strikes to the face are required, then a woman should use a heel palm instead of a fist to keep her fingers intact.  A chop or half-fist (fingers bent at the second joint) fits nicely in the throat.  Eyes can be gouged with fingers or thumbs.

I’ve found that my female students are often more technically correct.  Because of their smaller size, women have to be more precise. If they don’t perform the maneuver perfectly, it won’t work on someone with a hundred pound weight advantage.  Men can muscle over technical errors.

In addition to size/strength issues, men are hard-wired differently than women.  Males are naturally more aggressive.  They have a reflex in their brain. When they are struck, they automatically strike back with equal force. (This is another reason why women should never initiate a striking match with a man.  She’s better off leveraging her body into an optimal position for a crippling blow to a soft target.)   Young male fighters often have to learn to control their natural responses in order to keep a cool head.  Strategy is a critical element to any fight.  There are exceptions to every rule, but most women will avoid physical confrontation until they’re backed into a corner or their children are threatened.

In my own experience, I’ve found that in the sparring ring, men will come right out swinging.  Women, myself included, tend to hand back and wait.  They fight reactively.  I like to get a sense of my opponent’s style.  Then I wait for him to commit to a strike and use his momentum against him.

All in all, size and gender do matter.  The best way for a fighter to overcome physical and psychological differences is by using the most important organ in the human body:  the brain.

Melinda’s “Size Matters” blog first posted at Romance University over the summer.


5 responses to “Size Matters

  1. So that probably explains why my husband is so much more instinctual in the sparring ring compared to me. Plus, I get frustrated, because he’s so much taller that I can barely ever get inside his guard. It makes me feel like I’d never be able to get away if we were fighting for real.

    I have to remember that in a real fight, I wouldn’t avoid all of those soft spots that we’re not allowed to hit in class. (It’s also best for the marriage if I don’t hurt him too much.) 😉

    • Gwen,

      My husband and I always say that sparring is good marital therapy. 😉 Also, don’t forget in a real fight, you don’t have rules. Hitting below the belt and taking out knees aren’t something you can do in class.

      When fighting a taller person, get in close to them to take away their kicks. If you’re within kicking range they can keep you back, if you get inside kicking range you just took away some of their weapons.

    • Gwen,

      I’m 5′ 2″. I feel your frustration. Remember in a real fight, you could hit those soft targets and he wouldn’t be wearing a cup.

      You should try Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. BJJ teaches small people to use leverage to their best advantage. I’ve swept some pretty big guys (much to their surprise). Since most actual fights end up on the ground, grappling is a great complement to traditional karate.

  2. Good post with some good information for fighters of both genders.

  3. Glad you found it useful, Kenneth. Thanks for stopping by.


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