Unlike the world of combat sports there are no weight classes, rules or division of genders in a real world self-defence situation. The reality is that a lot of women will give up size and strength to a would-be attacker. However, with technique and an understanding of leverage, larger people can be controlled.

VT1 Mixed Martial Arts Academy has been running a free monthly women’s self-defence clinic. The clinics are organised by Cassie To and guided by Brazillian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) black belt and co-owner of VT1, Liam Resnekov. Liam noted that while self-defence is the main focus, it’s also important that parents who participate bring in their daughters and sons, as the women’s self-defence clinic fosters an environment where parents can relearn how to play with their kids; a forgotten art.

The clinics primarily use techniques from BJJ, which was developed to solve a particular problem – how can a smaller, weaker person defend themselves against a larger opponent? Unlike striking based martial arts, BJJ allows a practitioner to subdue an attacker without doing them any great harm. We spoke to Cassie To, the driving force behind VT1’s women’s self-defence clinic, about why self-defence is so important for women.

Women's Self-defence Image: VT1

Back / Rear Mount. Image: VT1


The Neversphere: So Cassie, how did you get into martial arts?
Cassie: Originally I started with MMA because I had no idea which martial art to pick. MMA seemed to have everything in it, so I started with that. Martial arts was just something I’ve always wanted to do for fun. After about six months of MMA I got tired of getting squashed by larger opponents, so I decided to pick up BJJ alongside MMA.

Now I do everything; BJJ, boxing, wrestling and sometimes I’ll jump into a Muay Thai or MMA session. BJJ and wrestling are definitely my favourites. My main motivation for staying is that I’m always trying to improve and keep learning. It’s also heaps of fun and there’s so much to learn in each art… I’ll probably be hanging around for a while!

The Neversphere: You mentioned a few styles of martial arts there, what is taught in the women’s self-defence course and why do you think that it is an effective system compared to other systems out there?
Cassie: Primarily BJJ is taught at the women’s self defence clinic. There are a few minor aspects of striking (such as elbows and knees) that are taught, but it’s mainly BJJ. I think BJJ is extremely effective for self-defence. It’s all about how to overcome a bigger opponent and is ideal for smaller body types. You don’t have to be really strong or big to pull of the defence techniques. I also find the techniques that we teach are practical and relatively easy for beginners to pull of with some practice.
The Neversphere: Without giving too much away, what kinds of techniques have you covered so far?
Cassie: We’ve focused on grip breaking (breaking someone’s grip on your arm, shoulder and throat), base and balance, maintaining safe distance, getting out of mount and defending strikes. I think what’s important is that what is taught is practical, easy to learn, useful and memorable, and taught in a way that’s engaging.

Women's Self-defence. Image: VT1

Watch for the upkick. Image: VT1


The Neversphere: What motivated you to start this project?
Cassie: I think self-defence is extremely important for girls to know. That was the main reason I wanted to get something happening at VT1. Not only from a self-defence and safety point of view, but feeling comfortable, strong and empowered in their own bodies. BJJ is also something I love doing and I’m always happy to share that with people who want to learn.
The Neversphere: What do you think the benefits are of women learning a martial art?
Cassie: I think there a lot of benefits women can gain by learning martial arts. Self-defence is definitely one of them, but also learning about what their bodies are capable of doing and the confidence that comes from being skilled in a martial art.
The Neversphere: Are you seeing people come back for more, or is it generally new people coming through?
Cassie: We are seeing some regulars appear, which is awesome! It’s great to see them building on their skills and showing a genuine interest. We’re also seeing some of the girls jumping in our normal BJJ classes, which is even better! There are always a few new faces at the seminar as well.


The Neversphere: Do you have any word of encouragement for those who have considered trying martial arts but haven’t taken the plunge yet?
Cassie: I would say don’t feel nervous about jumping in or feeling goofy. We’ve all been there and everyone’s really friendly. It’s not about having to be tough, strong or aggressive, and you definitely don’t have to wrestle with anyone (unless you want to). It’s heaps of fun and I really encourage anyone whose thinking of trying it to give it a go. You never know if what you learn might come in handy one day, and even if you never use it, you’ll feel pretty badass knowing some cool moves.
The Neversphere: Being a women’s self-defence clinic, is it exclusively for women?
Cassie: It is for women, but we actually encourage partners, brothers and dads to come along so that they can be partners for the drills/techniques and help the women practice outside the gym. For our seminar I don’t think it’s necessary to have it strictly only women.

A lot of women aren’t directly involved in martial arts but their partners are, so we encourage the guys at the gym to bring their girlfriends, wives, sisters, mothers, daughters to the seminar and jump in with them. It definitely helps encourage and support them in something they may not be familiar with.
The Neversphere: For those who are keen, when can they jump in?
Cassie: The women’s self-defence seminars are held once a month on the first Saturday of the month at the VT1 gym in Chatswood.

The women’s self-defence clinics start at 9am on the first Saturday of every month and anyone can attend. No previous experience is required and the clinic is safe for beginners. You can find more information on the VT1 website.