I am a Marine myself and between extensive combat experience, close quarter, and hand to hand, I am well versed in a variety of disciplines. For me this comes naturally.

Now that being said, I am having a hard time figuring out what to teach my wife and daughter. What is overkill versus necessary to defend effectively without going overboard?

My wife is 5'4" and weighs 100 lbs soaking wet and my daughter is 5'7" and 100 lbs soaking wet. So I am looking for suggestions as to how to approach their training without inevitably treating them like Marines and turning them off because I am "too rough" or "too demanding" or "expecting too much"? I want them to have the best but I know it may not be a reasonable expectation, so I am content to having them learn what provides them the most comprehensive and yet relatively easy to learn while effective techniques.

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    "how to approach their training without inevitably treating them like the countless Marines I have trained" - you are making the assumption that you are the right trainer for them. You may be better off just sending them to someone else to train (and be prepared for the possibility that they may not train for long before losing interest).
    – slugster
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 12:33
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    @slugster - That comment deserves to be an answer, if for no other reason than the assertion that he may not be the best trainer for them.
    – JohnP
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 14:30
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    @JohnP, I have been clear that my perspective on combat makes me terrible for training them, that's why I don't want to become the reason they are turned off and looking for outside help. Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 20:39
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    @GµårÐïåñ Good on you. I remember when my wife was in the beginner classes I was teaching at the time, it wasn't the best mix :)
    – JohnP
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 20:45
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    @GµårÐïåñ You may have misinterpreted what I meant - it's got nothing to do with how good you are or your level of knowledge, it's that those close to you won't necessarily learn or apply themselves well when you train them. I've got this with my kids - they learn little things from me when we play fight, but formalised training is out of the question because to them I am Daddy rather than Sensei. This means I need to let someone else train them, then just correct the things that are wrong and give them occasional extra tuition.
    – slugster
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 20:56

9 Answers 9


I am afraid you are looking for a unicorn and you do not even know what a unicorn is.

There's a world of difference between giving your daughter enough training to "survive" a date and her surviving walking back to base after crossing Mogadishu. No Nonsense Self-Defense is a good place to start looking at these issues but is by no mean exhaustive. As for myself, I would suggest a few things.

First: What are your aims? Keeping them safe is unrealistic since it is so broad. Look at statistic of crime where you live. This will tell you what the most common things they might have to worry about. There is no need to train them for something that has no chance of happening.

Second: What do they want? Is this your mind set that want to keep them safe because you are so used to violence? Do they see the same world as you?... Ask them what they want. This will tell you what they want to learn. GµårÐïåñ has since said that his family is driving this. This is a good thing.

Third: Now, pick a system of self defence or a martial art or dancing or advanced driving... Whatever you pick, there will be good things and bad things. There are no ultimate system. just stacking the desk in your favour.

For example, in the USA, you are eight times more likely to be killed by law enforcements than terrorists. Thus a law degree might be more effective than a martial art. In the USA, you are as well about 150 times more likely to be killed in a road accident than in a terrorist attack. Thus a driving course is vastly more effective at keeping you safe than an anti-terrorist course. Now, if you live in Mogadishu, things might be different...

Edit after comments: In answer to

My immediate goals are: deal with a perp that has a knife, gun, or just physical force. Not necessary stay and fight it all the way but disable and disarm long enough to get out of dodge without being pursued.

I see where you are coming from and please read the rest as helpful, supportive suggestions as it is how it is meant. Self defence for you relies on surviving physical assaults. It's your job as a Marine to fight. Civilian self defence is about not being in a position to survive a physical assault. Those are totally opposite things. They are utterly different skills and you do not need to know anything about combat to be good at self defence.

As for being hard asses, any good teacher can do that, no matter the art. Look at this answer and question.

  • Believe me brother I know what you mean by unicorn, hence why I reached out. My goals is for them to never be a victim, to know how to stand their ground with just about anyone they encounter, short of someone like myself being their opponent, in which case they are screwed. This sounds terrible but they want to be like hubby/daddy - badass (their words) and to earn the respect of being a Marine's daughter/wife. They know they will never be solider level but they want to be able to never be a victim or at least give as good as they get, preferably better. Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 20:42
  • My immediate goals are: deal with a perp that has a knife, gun, or just physical force. Not necessary stay and fight it all the way but disable and disarm long enough to get out of dodge without being pursued. I have taught them basic effective throat jab, palm to nose/face, inner knees and a few other pressure and weak points but as we all know the size and aggressiveness of the perp will make some of them out of their reach. I am not looker to make them killer ninjas as much as I would love it, just well trained defenders of their self and others. Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 20:47
  • Thank you, I appreciate what you added to your answer and I commend your supportive suggestions. Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 7:46
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    @GµårÐïåñ: You are most welcome. Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 20:23
  • +1 Thank you for making the "self defense or martial art or dancing or advanced driving" argument! Your phrasing is spot on!
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 5:13

While the answer can have all kinds of nuances, I suggest Krav Maga (full disclosure I practice it).

My gf is 110lbs wet wearing boots, and takes Krav. She had no background in martial arts, and no real natural skill for it, but after training in KM for some time, she now has the confidence, knowledge, and skillset to adequately protect herself in many situations.

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    I actually considered that, I have several friends who practice (I learned mine in joint training operations with Mossad) but you are right, I have seen success with it being used with novices. +1 in consideration to do it. Thanks. Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 20:50
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    As an aside, you have my extreme gratitude for your many years of service to our country.
    – Alan
    Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 3:30
  • I thank you for that, as do all those who serve. Speaking for myself, it is my duty and honor to do so. Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 20:45
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    Krav Maga is designed to be picked up quickly. If you can find a good teacher, I would suggest it no question. (Just be wary, if every Krav maga instructor who claims to have trained Israeli special forces did so, then there are waay more instructors then soldiers)
    – Btuman
    Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 18:18
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    @Btuman, agreed. Thankfully due to my "past" life for lack of a better word, I know enough REAL soldiers to ask and a few live in the states now, so that certainly helps me. I broached the subject with them to ask if they would be interested in teaching my girls and they were, but they all agreed that our female friend should do it for added benefit of perspective. So we'll see how this works out. Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 22:33

Find a school that fulfills the following requirements:

  • spars at least a little hard
  • your wife and daughter enjoy training at
  • is near you

Then be supportive--not hectoring, not demanding--with their training. All else is gravy. The goal here is to give them experience with either wrestling or hitting and being hit, if they want that. It's nice that you're "a beast" but I didn't hear you say anything about what your wife wants, or what your daughter wants. Take care that this is their project, not yours.

If no schools fulfill those requirements, then get them into some form of resistance training (Olympic lifting, kettlebells, CrossFit, dumbbell powerlifts--it doesn't much matter) and once in a while, when they feel like it, have them glove up (or gi up) and work some boxing or wrestling with you, with you embodying gentility and encouragement and them going full force with ferocity.

  • I am sorry if I left that out. I included it in the comments above when asked. But they WANT IT, more than anything and they want ME to teach them but I find a little bit into it I get the feeling that I am "not right for this" for lack of a better word, I guess why surgeons don't operate on family, what if I hurt them, what if they get the wrong idea, what if they resent it. I want them pushed to the level THEY are comfortable with and not what I might want them to become, so I am totally supportive and not demanding or even pushing this, its all them. Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 20:52
  • So glove up, show them the basics of boxing, wrestling, a proper stand, a little guard work, and make it fun. Have them hit the pads, escape mount a few times, show them where a wrist grab is weak. Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 21:21
  • Oh I do that :) They have fun ganging up on me and I show them proper stance to defend against multiple targets where to aim their attacks, how to guard against a reversal. What areas to protect, how to advance for a strike without leaving themselves open. Proper delivery of the punches, kicks and so on. Basic escape from grabs, locks and even a sleeper hold. That much I have been working with the, its the aggressive offensive techniques is what I want them to learn and my greatest fear is I will hurt them if I try to teach them. Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 22:09

The other answers here are great, but I have a couple more tips to add:

  • Find a well-rounded school. A lot of arts are "do one thing, really, really well" types of schools. (If you know anything about MMA history, you'll know how well that mindset has gone over throughout the years.) Doing one thing really well is great, but street fight situations are nothing like tournaments. Find a school that does at least striking and grappling. Ideally, they should also train in throwing, escaping, and weaponry.

  • See what schools your fellow soldiers and local police officers attend. In my experience, soldiers and police officers won't attend a school that's not effective, and the police aren't likely to attend something that isn't applicable to their job. This not only helps ensure that the school is teaching techniques that will help in a real-life, but it's also more likely to teach things that aren't martial arts specific, such as situational awareness, how to keep someone pinned without using your hands, how to think about doing things within a given technique that allows you to draw your own weapon, and how to be mindful of the legal implications of a given move. It also gets you familiar with some of the members of your local police force, and can provide other perks like access to firearm training and certifications and shooting ranges.

  • Find a school that isn't heavily focused on tournament competition. I'm not talking about one that doesn't spar, here. I'm talking about the schools where they teach for the tournament. Points and tapouts mean nothing on the street. Visit a class, and you'll likely know whether the school is tournament-oriented or not within a few minutes.

  • Find schools that are like close-knit families. You don't need a black-belt mill, you need focused training and a supportive but challenging atmosphere. There doesn't have to be a lot of black belts at the school for it to be good (and anything that guarantees certain ranks in certain timeframes are probably more focused on other things besides true understanding and learning). I practice in the Bujinkan, and one of the things that I like about it is that it's like a family, even among the different dojos. I'm in central Ohio, and we have a close relationship with the Indianapolis school, and try to support them when we can. That kind of community is often hard to come by. A school doesn't have to be small to have that, either. I've seen larger schools that had the same feel. So don't discount a school on this point, just because it's larger.

  • Find schools that specifically mix training partners. Your wife and daughter only training with each other isn't going to help them any. Training with you will help this, but they need to be familiar with different body types, and they need to learn that they can throw, control, and otherwise defend against people quite a bit larger than them, and they need to learn the differences between how guys with your body type, the lanky guys, and the guys that are your size, but with 20% body fat move.

Some school ideas:

Krav Maga
Jujitsu (not necessarily BJJ)
Jeet Kune Do

  • Thank you, lots of good points to consider, will do thank you. Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 20:46
  • Just a follow-up to thank you for the help, I have narrowed it down to Krav Maga because an old friend from Israel who is training some MMA fighters we know offered to coach them at the gym since she will already be there and being female gives her some perspective with my girls. Now how quickly or well they pick it up, only time will tell, thanks again. Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 22:29

These kinds of questions are subjective, and normally don't make good questions for StackExchange, however it is one of those common questions people really want some kind of answer for...

Having done quite a few martial arts, and having had "taster" experiences of quite a few more, I feel Krav Maga was the most directly focused on self defence as well as teaching a mindset as quick as possible.

It reminds me of various martial arts who run womens self defence courses who distill out quick and effective techniques for the most likely scenarios. Krav just feels like its made this its mission. What I liked, at least the way I trained it, is it incorporated a lot of pressure testing drills. Highly recommended

Another art I thought was quite effective/good at self defence ( at least from the person who taught me ) was Kali/Escrima. Can get quite fancy at a higher level, but a lot of the basics are really quite good, with some excellent stick/knife fighting stuff in there. Also had lots of good pressure testing.

Along with those, I think things like kick boxing and BJJ are quite good supplementary arts as they have competitive aspect to them (disclosure, I do BJJ ). I think competitive aspects help develop confidence, working under pressure, being realistic about what you will ACTUALLY remember in the heat of the moment. BJJ I'd give extra credit because on the ground, it has lots of answers to a lot of situations that people would get stuck in without direct training.

Then my final observation from various news articles I've seen over the years... Many women martial artisra from many arts have successfully defended themselves coming from backgrounds of Judo, TKD, Karate, and others. The recurring theme seemed to be, they were extremely assertive, and once they showed they weren't going to be compliant (through both force and non force), their attackers quickly gave up and took off.

  • Thank you, very helpful. I appreciate that since I have practical Krav Maga and Brazilian Jujitsu as well, we are certainly kindred spirits. Again, thank you for the thoughtful sharing of your experience. Commented Nov 11, 2013 at 1:31

I'd suggest taking them to a Krav class. I have this dilemma with my own son. I have been teaching for many years but it is extremely hard to train your own family. My first instructor taught his own daughters. One became a world champion but the other hated her dad. I wouldn't want to risk doing the later!

  • Excellent suggestion, thank you. I have had a couple others who have voted for that, so the base is growing for that option :) Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 22:25

The question I always ask someone before sharing something, is, "How much training do you want to do, and how much will you train to keep it up?"

And this isn't a judgment or demand they HAVE to do training - it's an assessment of what makes the most sense to teach them. If they're elderly, if they're disabled, it's unrealistic to demand they train in serious, regular ways. If they've got kids, if they're just trying to survive or very busy, it may also not make sense to make high demands either.

That said, the useful things to teach even if someone can't do regular training:

  • Elbows
  • Knees
  • Turning the opponent's head (palm strikes, forearms, face claws)
  • Shoves
  • Hammer fists (especially w/objects like flashlights, etc.)

Disarms are tough! They're really hard, and that's the reality of it. You can try to teach them, but they require a lot of training to successfully use. Folks who are not going to practice enough to ingrain it? The above is usually simple gross motor skills that can be effective against a lot of targets with little training and people can call upon enough to stun the person enough to run and hopefully get to safety.


Having ladies of average size defend against an average man is a big ask... a lot of striking, grappling, throwing and joint locking techniques just won't work if the power ratio is something like 1:5.

A major decision for them is whether to learn an entire system of fighting as an art/style, or to learn a smallish set of specific moves as a compact self defence arsenal. If they do choose an art/style, I believe they should aim to find one that squarely addresses the self defence movements I list below, hopefully adding depth to the understanding of mechanics and application thereof, without too many other distractions.

Another factor is whether they aspire to learn to hold off an opponent who has time to pursue them, so they can't just get the upper hand briefly and escape to safety. That's hard - so much so that it's probably not worth the extra effort to learn unless they love the training for its own sake or you live in some particularly horrible place.

I'm not sure if this is what you're looking for as you seem pretty confident of your own understanding of combat techniques, but it's worth asking yourself whether your perspectives and training translate to smaller/weaker women vs. larger/stronger men scenarios, and to the need to get in one decisive hit without trading blows or being over powered. I'll make a list of techniques you might at least want to read over and cross-reference with your own impressions - feel free to ask me why I include specific techniques in the "recommended" or "not recommended list", or what I think about some other techniques.

A few suggestions:

  • do focus on doing a few things well - 95% of common techniques won't be effective against an average male assailant even if they're delivered well, so focus on the ones that can be. For example, these are worthwhile:

    • palm strike to the nose or chin

    • punch to the throat, chin, nose

    • slap across the jaw

    • forearm (thumb side) arm bar across the front of the face or side of jaw

    • forward horizontal elbow to the throat, chin, nose

    • poking the eyes if attacked with frontal strangulation

    • kneeing or front kicking the groin

    • there are others...

These are likely not worthwhile:

  • punching, chopping or kicking to the body (often ineffectual against stronger person)

  • kicking to the head (too hard to hit effectively - too easy to be taken down, and I say this as a taekwondo instructor now practicing kyokushin)

  • kicking to the thigh (ineffectual)

  • escapes from grabs/holds (the emphasis should be on striking well enough with the still-free limbs - while they're distracted with the attempt to grab - to get them to release and hopefully create sufficient time to follow up or escape, rather than narrowing the focus to match theirs; there are simply too many possible grabs to learn effective escapes for them all)

  • joint locking (very hard to use effectively against stronger non-cooperative opponents)

  • many others...

Something that looms huge in my consciousness for self defence and effectiveness of martial arts in general is sound body mechanics.

I'd particularly like to draw attention to the palm strike to the chin/nose:

  • fast and direct

  • linear strikes take more active timing to block than hooking swings where a blocking arm can just passively absorb the attack

  • most people's palms are pretty strong - there's a lot less chance of injuring yourself than with a punch where the wrist may buckle (or the subconscious may reduce power to avoid the wrist buckling) and unconditioned knuckled may be injured, though a palm can also be bent backwards too far is you hit closer to the fingers - there's still risk but less

  • palm strike can work very naturally to convey the power from the legs and hips to the target... it can be surprisingly strong

Some suggestions for developing a palm strike (for simplicity, assuming the right hand will strike):

  • practice "pushing" strongly against a heavy - even immovable - object, building that up to be a strong shove... once comfortable they can practice against your chest or shoulder and try to efficiently transfer their strength up through their legs and torso to move you backwards - the arm should be the last thing to add power - pretty much only after their leg has broken your balance and started you backwards

  • they adopt a stance alongside the "target" with the right palm near the right hip/ribs, just resting in a relaxed position touching the target, elbow backwards - the striking arm is kept tight in close to the body throughout - do not lift the arm like a swinging hook!

  • right leg back about one shoulder width and bent at the knee, rear foot fully grounded and turned outwards only a little (around 30 degrees - most people will want to turn it outwards further, and may need to stretch their calf to adopt this angle),

  • body rotated 45 degrees towards the target, and during the strike it rotates around the vertical central axis that runs down through the head and groin,

  • push with the back leg first, rotating the hips smoothly in a single horizontal plane without them lifting or falling, then as the right hip is forwards it should start dragging the right shoulder forwards, then the arm - still relaxed - gets dragged forwards too as the hip approaches the end of it's range of motion - a bit past frontal.

  • throughout, feel the torso twisting, and let those movements bring the hand forwards - the arm muscles can stay relatively relaxed and just twitch forwards during the conclusion of the movement.

The power in a good palm thrust comes up from the legs - the legs are doing something quite similar to a sprinter moving off the starting block - the bag leg is bent and ready to flick the right hip forwards - the shoulders and eventually arm are part of a whipping/chain movement, with the arm extension and strike itself almost an afterthought.

I've felt women around your wife's size deliver very surprisingly powerful strikes in this fashion (most notably a middle-aged frail lady who studied under the late taichi master Erle Montaigue).

Something else - some people have movements they're familiar with from sports - for example, one of my friends used to play volleyball and has a very natural, powerful movement for "spiking" a ball... while not ideal, using that to spike someone's nose is reasonable advice given that person's disinterest in spending time and effort to study proper martial arts technique. Similarly, look to use the physical abilities your family have... see if the movements they're already very comfortable and proficient with suggest any techniques.


There are good answers here, my advice;

  1. 800 meter sprint training (to run away quickly)
  2. Threat avoidance tactics
  3. Basic hammer strike drills to the face focusing on the nose and eyes.

I can go into a detailed reasoning but it's about self protection more than self defence.

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