Boxing isn't about self-defense. Here's why:
When people find out I am a boxer and the founder of Niagara’s first women-led boxing club, they say some strange things to me.
The most common comment is, “Oh, so if someone jumps you in the street, you can totally handle it,” or some variation of that. They have the idea that, because I am a fighter in a rule-bound consensual sport, I am well-equipped to handle surprise violence that would likely be delivered by someone quite a bit larger than me.
It is a strange thing to say for numerous reasons, not the least of which being that although it does happen on occasion, getting jumped in the street by a stranger is a relatively rare event in St. Catharines.
I suppose it is possible that – should such an event occur – my intuitive response might be to deliver a punch, but you would be hard-pressed to find a boxer who says this would be their go-to. A woman I know in Toronto thought that boxing would be good for self-defense. When she did find herself in a situation where she needed to defend herself, she beat her attacker off with her umbrella. A male boxer I know says he broke a beer bottle and waved it at his would-be attacker.
Underdogs Boxing Club will not be teaching self-defence and I do not think of my boxing experience as self-defence training, because boxing is rule-bound and consensual.
I am not going to get jumped in the street and be able to say to my attacker, “Hey, hang on, let’s get our gloves, head gear, and mouth guards, and find a referee before we do this.”
More than that, though, teaching boxing (or any sport) as self-defence creates two problems beyond the very real difference in consensual versus non-consensual fighting. It suggests that the onus is on the would-be victim to defend herself, rather than on the would-be attacker to just not attack her.
The other problem is that it creates a false sense of security in three ways.
First, most of the people who are attacking other people, particularly when we are talking about teaching women self-defence, are known to their victims and so are not strangers jumping out of dark alleys. Suggesting that a self-defence course will help in this situation is problematic, because when we are in situations where we have to fight off people we love or who are otherwise known to us, there are a number of emotional and psychological responses tied up in these relationships.
Second, in a short-lived self-defence course – they are usually six weeks long – it is extremely unlikely that someone is going to remember what they were taught and be able to carry out those tactics in a high-stress situation.
Third, again when we are talking about women needing to learn self-defence, those who would be attacking us usually have a significant size advantage and may also have a weapon. Sometimes, physically fighting back is not the safest option in the long-term.
In my opinion, boxing (or other sports) will make you less likely a target for those rare strangers jumping from dark alleys and also for those individuals who would be abusive in a relationship, but not because you will be able to defend yourself. Rather, I suggest boxing is beneficial in this regard, because it is an empowering sport that will build confidence, help participants recognize their own physical and mental strength, relieve stress, and improve physical and mental health. All of these things will make you walk taller and be less likely to be considered a target by anyone.
Laura Ip is an active community advocate, founder and board member of Underdogs Boxing Club, board member of Niagara Podcasters’ Network, and blogger and podcast co-host of The Practical Feminist. Laura can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.