Empowerment Through Martial Arts
Tuff Love Fitness is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit providing accessible and affordable self-defense, martial arts, and fitness training for people in Oakland and the surrounding San Francisco Bay Area. We were founded by a team of four female martial artists with the goal of promoting martial arts for populations that may be underserved by many traditional martial arts programs: women, the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities and assault survivors.
Our nonprofit also sponsors Tuff Love Self-Defense whose mission is to provide free self-defense training to women and girls throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.
A New Definition of Self-Defense for Women
In 2017, a small group of female martial artists started Tuff Love Self-Defense (formerly known as “Women’s and Girls Self-Defense”) in Oakland, California because we wanted to develop programs that were accessible to women outside of the martial arts community. The foundation and content in our programs were based in martial arts principles, especially Brazillian jiu-jitsu. We’ve continued to hone our curriculum as we teach, listen to survivors of violence, and partner with other women working to end violence against women.
All of the women of Tuff Love learned self-defense in martial arts schools. As our lives were greatly enriched by practicing martial arts, we felt a need to share our skills in a more practical manner that could reach larger numbers of women. After years of training, discussion, and working in agencies to support victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, some of us began to think about self-defense for women in a new way.
Our new concept of self-defense was inspired by the women in our communities who have confronted and survived violence. We found that, contrary to the common perception of assault against women, most women are assaulted by people they are acquainted with and know well. Assaults often begin with casual encounters in which assailants attempt to test boundaries and control. Therefore, setting boundaries is a self-defense strategy that can stop violence before it begins. It is often more effective to defuse an assault at this stage when women listen to their intuition and are willing to risk embarrassment or being seen as “overreacting.”
Assaults committed by non-strangers to women include domestic abuse, both emotional and physical, and sexual-harassment and assault, which can range from sexist comments and jokes, name-calling, and threats to unwanted touch, rape, and incest. A study by the National Crime Victimization found that 78% rape or attempted rape were committed by people women knew as acquaintances, friends, intimate partners, or relatives; strangers committed only 22% of reported rapes.
In addition, many women are more vulnerable to violence based on their race, age, ability, and sexual orientation. As women and members of groups share these and other characteristics, we are all at risk of assaults because of the perception that women may be passive, vulnerable, or weak. Perpetrators who commit assault often are not looking for a fight, but want an easy situation in which to overpower or control another person. These experiences with abuse and assault, combined with our experience learning to defend ourselves, have evolved into a new definition of self-defense from a woman’s perspective.
Self-defense is a way of nurturing ourselves by caring about our own safety and the safety of others. It involves intuition and awareness as well as knowledge of self-defense techniques. We can use self-defense to create a safe, supportive, and caring environment. Self-defense skills and strategies are much more than a method for defending against attackers. The skills and strategies have many uses and help improve the overall quality of everyday life for women. Most importantly, even when used in situations that are not potentially threatening, these skills enhance our ability as women to nurture our awareness of ourselves, our relationships with others, and our enjoyment of the world. These skills help everyone, including those with limited physical ability, have more control over and improve our lives. Regular use of these self-defense skills and strategies in non-threatening situations let us recall and apply the skills readily when our safety is threatened.
Tuff Love’s concept of self-defense emphasizes de-escalation, prevention, avoidance, deterrence, and survival strategies, as well as techniques for escaping and protecting oneself from a stranger or non-stranger assailant. The Tuff Love Self-Defense program stresses the need for important elements of self-defense that we can incorporate into our daily lives:
Accurate information about the assault common to women as the primary aspect of prevention.
Awareness of the environment around us by using our physical and intuitive senses to avoid dangerous or uncomfortable encounters before they begin.
Skills for appearing confident and assertive to deter attacks when an assailant begins dominating or controlling a situation.
Use of our voice to set and re-enforce boundaries.
Easy yet effective leverage based self-defense techniques to use during threatening situations that does not rely on strength, power or athleticism.
Skills for risk-assessment and survival psychology, both for strangers and non-stranger aggressors.
It does not place any responsibility or blame on the survivors of assaults or abuse.
Tuff Love Self-Defense was founded on the belief that women of all sizes, ages, physical abilities, and cultural and economic backgrounds have the right and capability to defend themselves successfully. Tuff Love’s unique approach considers the types of attacks most commonly experienced by women, teaching self-defense techniques combined with awareness strategies to resist assault successfully.