Ten women gathered in Redmond on a wintery Tuesday evening, stretching and chatting after an hour-long class focused on how to break a wrist grab, escape from a group of attackers and improve their self-awareness and reflexes.
One had left an abusive relationship. Another is a single mom. One had wanted to learn more about self defense before heading off to college. All wanted to feel more confident and self-reliant, so they enrolled in instructor Fauzia Lala’s “Defense Ninja” classes for women’s self-defense.
Lala has black belts in taekwondo and Arnis, and currently trains in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Krav Maga and Wing Chun. Through 12 years of training and research, Lala came to believe that the biological and psychological differences between men and women warrant different techniques for self-defense.
“The reason I started this program is that martial arts out there don’t fulfill a very specific need which is, a) self-defense and b) for women, for women’s bodies and women’s emotional needs,” she said.
Her classes incorporate elements of martial arts, but with real-world scenarios. They focus on women’s strengths and use a holistic approach that also teaches breathing, awareness, nutrition and confidence.
“Martial arts are all very stylistic, and self-defense isn’t,” she said. “Even if you look at a self-defense style of martial arts like Krav Maga, it’s very male-oriented.”
Men have more upper body strength, whereas a woman’s strength comes from her legs and core, Lala said. Women tend to have more fat, while men have more muscle. Women are more flexible, but men have denser bones, which Lala said she learned the hard way. Once when she was sparring with a man, she shattered her shin.
“I was out of commission for six months…and he had no bruise, no pain, nothing,” she said.
Lala, a Muslim woman who grew up in Dubai, also said she recognized political realities for people of color and women. Shortly before she started her classes in September 2017, a mosque in Bellevue was burned down and a sign at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) facility in Redmond was vandalized. That summer, two people had been killed on a train in Portland, Oregon after trying to intervene as a man yelled at two women, one of which was wearing a hijab.
Lala wanted to be able to protect herself and help other women do the same. Her class started with a focus on Muslim women, because it was a way for them to learn self-defense and get fit, while keeping with cultural values of modesty.
Lala is aware of the statistics for the number of women who experience assault, domestic violence and sexual harassment — the latter of which she endured throughout her childhood. She knows many of her students have had traumatic and triggering experiences and wants her classes to be a safe space.
In 2017, Lala decided to write a 10-step curriculum and started teaching classes at MAPS and at a studio in Seattle’s University District. Learning how to escape effectively is the first level of her program.
“Out of all of the women who are attacked, 70 percent don’t kick or punch fight back; they don’t really fight back in a physical sense,” she said. “It’s not natural for us in general to engage physically and on top of that, it’s very weird for us to touch people who are being aggressive to us. We just want to get away.”
Lala said her goal is to help women become empowered and “strengthen their strengths.” Her goal is “to have defense ninjas everywhere;” to give every woman a set of self-defense tools in her arsenal to use if necessary. She also wants her students to be able to play games, get a workout, build a community of powerful women and have fun.
She recently decided to expand her program to North Bend, Shoreline and Mercer Island, where she lives. The cost is $150 monthly, but partial scholarships are available. Classes usually run for two hours every week, and can be on held separate days or back to back.
See www.defenseninjas.com for more.