top of page

Breaking Down the Sports of MMA for Self-Defense

In our last post we discussed and compared different martial arts and their effectiveness for self-defense. If you haven't read it, we explained why the sports of MMA are the most efficient and effective for real life situations. But what about the difference between the sports in MMA? These include striking: like kickboxing, muay thai, and boxing ; and grappling: like wrestling, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Judo. Let us break it down like this:


Striking teaches students what to do when two people engage in a conflict while standing. This is how most fights and attacks begin, so it it incredibly important to learn! More specifically, students learn how to keep a balanced stance while ready to protect their face, body, and legs. This includes how to maintain good footwork, good balance, and very importantly, good range. Controlling range is extremely important for students to learn. Essentially it teaches you how to keep people out of your personal space, at a distance where the can't touch you, without compromising your position. Striking teaches students how to move forward, backwards, and side to side while maintain all of this, and keeping them ready to defend or execute.

Coach Gemma in her 7th MMA fight against Allison Ainsley

Students also learn how to defend punches and kicks from their opponent, and how to execute such strikes with good technique, power, and speed. Should a person ever have to use force, it's important to know how to do so without hurting yourself, and the extent of force that is necessary to assure your safety.

Wrestling & Judo

Without striking and submissions, students learn how to stay standing when someone is trying to put them on their back, and how to use take downs to put their opponents on their back. These moves extend to wrist grabbing, body grabbing, head locks, when someone picks you up, and much more. It also includes how to throw opponents when they approach you from the front or behind. These sports, like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, are developed to work on people who are bigger and stronger than you. This incorporates strategies like using momentum, manipulating balance and center of gravity, and using an opponents weight against them. These concepts are extremely useful and necessary for self defense scenarios, where the attacker is normally bigger in size.

Coach Gemma using a double leg take down in a competition

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Without striking, students learn how to establish dominant positions of control and power. It is really important that victims know how escape if someone is sitting on their chest, has their back, or is between their legs. These are extremely vulnerable and dangerous positions, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu specifically addresses how to quickly escape these positions without needing strength. It also teaches students how to stabilize positions of control for when they are on top.

Coach Val using her legs and arms to control the posture of her opponent from the bottom

Students also learn how to defend chokes and arm locks and how to shield themselves from punches. In addition, students learn how to submit their attacker if necessary, including using chokes, arm locks, knee and ankle locks, and more. Knowing how to use submissions is an incredible asset to have should you ever need it. Students will understand how to use their own bodies to render their attacker temporarily unconscious, giving them the time they need to escape without having to resort to scarring techniques like eye gouging or stabbing.

MMA: A Peaceful Means of Establishing Control and Safety?

As ironic as it sounds- MMA techniques keep you and others more safe. Other than the fact that it teaches one control and discipline, it gives victims non-violent ways to assert and defend themselves. Most self-defense programs teach violent methods like eye gouging and groin kicking. While we believe that women have the right to use these techniques to defend themselves, if these are the only means we have given them to do so, we have failed.

The fact of the matter is these techniques assume we will be attacked by a stranger on the street, when the reality is that most situations - from uncomfortable crosses of personal boundaries at college parties to sexual assault - will come from a person the victim knows; someone she is not willing to maime in order to defend herself.  MMA gives women the options they need to control their personal space and escape uncomfortable positions without having to hurt the other person, as well as the knowledge of how to use force if necessary - while understanding exactly how much force is needed to escape safely with minimal damage to the other. MMA also is highly technical and scientific, giving people real options that do not rely on size or strength


Each sport in MMA confronts a different level, and each are necessary for forming a complete understanding of self-defense. Since almost all fights start with two people standing up, it’s essential to learn how to keep your distance, protect your head, and defend strikes (kickboxing). And since most fights end up on the ground, it’s very essential to learn how to get out of truly dangerous positions (BJJ) and to defend the initial grabs (wrestling).

We hope this gives you a good idea on our philosophy of self-defense and why we teach the techniques we do at Girls Who Fight! And if you are out of the Toronto area, we would encourage you to start training in at least one of these sports if you’re interested in learning how to defend yourself.

Make sure to follow us on instagram for more self-defense content!

Follow @girlswhofight_to


37 views1 comment

1 Comment

I think every girl should learn martial arts and know the basics of how to defend herself in unavoidable and inevitable situations. My father has been encouraging me since childhood to learn these skills. And believe me, it's a healthy activity and it makes you strong and fit. By the way, do you guys know of any Black Friday sale on sports goods or any kind of discount on coupon codes such as black friday coupon codes or Christmas? I want to gift a martial art kit and sportswear to my niece this Christmas.

bottom of page