Review: Lavinia Soo-Warr – Self-Defense for Women

Since I teach self-defense (based on aikido) to both men and women, a student gave me Lavinia Soo-Warr’s Self-Defense for Women and wanted to know my opinion.

I’m not in the habit of criticizing other people in my field, but this time I feel a comment is warranted. For two reasons: first of all, people tend to feel that anything in print has been verified, and second, because the ideas expressed in this book are downright dangerous nonsense.

The self-defense techniques in this book are divided between attacks by strangers (in the street) and sexual harassment at work.

Mrs. Soo-Warr makes two crucial mistakes in her book: the techniques to apply against strangers are ineffective and will give those who think they armed themselves with the possibility of self-defense with a false sense of security. The techniques to apply at work in sexual harassment situations are extreme measures – to stick a pen in someone’s hand or break his little finger for putting his hand on his knee is not only the fast-track to getting fired, but also make one liable to be charged with assault.

Let me start with the techniques for application in street situations. Apart from the attackers in the pictures being able to do only one thing at a time, most of the self-defense techniques are unnecessary complex and demand exact application to be effective. Plus the attacker must not suddenly change tactics, or the victim is in serious trouble.
The groundwork, where a female victim has to defend herself against a male attacker sitting on her, are laughably ineffective and will only amuse the attacker.
The street is not controlled environment where you can try to see if something works, and what works in a dojo or gym won’t work in the street.

Then there’s the problem of adrenaline. In any conflict situation the system is flooded with adrenaline to prepare the body to fight or flee. This hormonal flood has some serious side-effects, the most important is tunnel vision and the lack of capability to perform complex tasks. Any self-defense technique with more than two steps will be too difficult to perform. Especially since most victims will be surprised by the attack and the assailant has the advantage.

The sexual harassment techniques from Lavinia Soo-Warr’s book are dangerous for another reason: unwanted and inappropriate touching as depicted in the book are not to be countered by the extreme measures advised by Soo-Warr. Kicking, stabbing with pens, breaking fingers and ramming elbows into faces are not only grounds for immediate dismissal, but will probably result in being charged with assault.

The biggest problem is the martial source of Soo-Warr’s techniques, which often results into fighting. And while they’re ineffective countermeasures to a real street assault against a rapist/robber, they’re clearly too extreme to be used against co-workers.

All techniques where (improvised) weapons are used have the disadvantage that being charged with assault is inevitable. And judges have different ideas of what can be considered self-defense than Soo-Warr’s notions. Not everything is allowed when someone touches you inappropriately. And a technique that fails to incapacitate an assailant will merely annoy him, which may end up costing you your life.

In other words, if you’re looking for a book on real-life self-defense, spare yourself the trouble and money and look elsewhere. And reconsider if you’re looking at this book to replace self-defense instruction. Find a good instructor, not one who tells you to rearrange someone’s face for putting his arm around you, and you’ll realize this book is bogus.



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