Posted On August 4, 2010 by Print This Post

Size Matters

RU crew, in the past we’ve discussed how men and women interact on the psychological battlefield, but what about the literal one? Author Melinda Leigh is here today to explain how the two sexes stack up when it comes to a physical fight. Welcome, Melinda!

There are differences between the way men and women fight.  Some are physical due to size and strength discrepancies.  Others are psychological or physiological.

Good fighters, male or female, know what works for them.  They train moves to see how their own bodies respond and to find out if they are able to make different techniques work.  For self-defense/combat fighting, it’s important to practice the moves on opponents of varying sizes, shapes and abilities.  A 250 pound male isn’t going to be as easy to hip throw as a 130 pound female.  But the biggest guy goes down like a tree if you sweep his feet out from under him.  Conversely, leg sweeps are harder to accomplish on short, stocky men.

Smaller size can be put to advantage. Men in my classes sometimes comment that it’s harder for them to do certain holds, locks and traps on women. Larger hands have difficulty maintaining intricate grips on slender limbs.  Sometimes women can slide right on out.  Joint locks are harder to perform on women because females are naturally more flexible.  It can also be harder to knock a woman off balance because her center of gravity is lower.

Women need to use leverage as much as possible when fighting and to avoid being hit. TV and movie fights aside, in reality, one fist to the face is devastating to a woman’s small bones.  A trained female fighter also isn’t going to slug a guy in the jaw.  It’s her bones that will break in that contest as well.  Strikes to soft targets are a female’s best bet. Kicks/knees to the groin or belly allow a woman to use the largest muscles in her body, her legs, to deliver a blow to a man’s weakest points, which fall in a straight line from a man’s face to his groin.  If hand strikes to the face are required, then a woman should use a heel palm instead of a fist to keep her fingers intact.  A chop or half-fist (fingers bent at the second joint) fits nicely in the throat.  Eyes can be gouged with fingers or thumbs.

I’ve found that my female students are often more technically correct.  Because of their smaller size, women have to be more precise. If they don’t perform the maneuver perfectly, it won’t work on someone with a hundred pound weight advantage.  Men can muscle over technical errors.

In addition to size/strength issues, men are hard-wired differently than women.  Males are naturally more aggressive.  They have a reflex in their brain. When they are struck, they automatically strike back with equal force. (This is another reason why women should never initiate a striking match with a man.  She’s better off leveraging her body into an optimal position for a crippling blow to a soft target.)   Young male fighters often have to learn to control their natural responses in order to keep a cool head.  Strategy is a critical element to any fight.  There exception to every rule, but most women will avoid physical confrontation until they’re backed into a corner or their children are threatened.

In my own experience, I’ve found that in the sparring ring, men will come right out swinging.  Women, myself included, tend to hand back and wait.  They fight reactively.  I like to get a sense of my opponent’s style.  Then I wait for him to commit to a strike and use his momentum against him.

All in all, size and gender do matter.  The best way for a fighter to overcome physical and psychological differences is by using the most important organ in the human body:  the brain.

More than a decade ago, Melinda Leigh left a career in banking to raise her children and never looked back. She began writing romantic suspense when her youngest child entered first grade as a way to preserve her sanity and put to use the overactive imagination that caused her so much trouble as a child. She is the winner of the Put Your Heart in a Book, Marlene, Where The Magic Begins and Gateway to the Best contests.

She holds a 2nd degree Black Belt in Kenpo Karate and studies Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai kickboxing. She’s also a certified women’s self defense instructor with the Fight Like A Girl program. When she’s not writing or practicing martial arts, Melinda lives in a chaotic house with her husband, two kids, and too many pets.

For more information on Melinda, please visit and Attacking the Page: a blog about martial arts and writing

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22 Responses to “Size Matters”

  1. Morning Melinda!

    What an informative post! I guess I’d never thought of the damage a woman would do to herself when trying to punch a man in the jaw….nice to know!

    What do you recommend for a woman caught in the usual bear hug…a man behind a woman?

    Thanks for posting with us today!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | August 4, 2010, 8:54 am
    • Hi Carrie,

      I’m glad you learned something out of my post. If a woman has no option but to strike a man in the face, she should use the heel of her palm to do so.

      If your character is caught in a bear hug from behind (I’ll assume her arms are pinned to her sides), she has several options. Her choice might depend on how threatened she feels. 1) She can stomp on her assailant’s foot. 2) If she’s tall enough, she can hit him in the face/nose with a backward head butt. 3) She can shift her hips or step to either side and deliver a blow/grab to his groin.

      Thanks for stopping by the blog this morning.

      Stay safe,

      Posted by Melinda Leigh | August 4, 2010, 9:12 am
  2. Wow, I knew alarmingly little of this! It’s fascinating what you’ve learned from the sparring ring about women holding back and tending to study their opponents’ style etc., yet men often jumping in fists flying. The detail about women’s fragile bones being more breakable in an exchange of strikes gives me the icy chills.

    Btw, I simply must state publicly (because I’ve already told you this privately), I love your blog with Rayna Vause and Kim Fawcett. I learn something useful to writing my books every time I read a post there–like today!

    Posted by Katharine Ashe | August 4, 2010, 9:15 am
  3. Great information here! Lots of insight we can use and apply to our characters.

    Posted by Sandy Wills | August 4, 2010, 10:11 am
  4. Hi Melinda. I really enjoyed this post. The heroine in my last book was a Krav expert and I was amazed at the amount of research I had to do to choreograph her fight with a man. It was a great learning experience.

    I’ll be making your website one of my favorites!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | August 4, 2010, 12:32 pm
    • Adrienne,

      Krav Maga is an awesome fighting style. The Israeli military mean business. Kudos to you for doing your research and making your heroine believable. I hope to see you at our site.

      Thanks for commenting,

      Posted by Melinda Leigh | August 4, 2010, 1:07 pm
  5. Great post. Will definitely keep this in mind when writng my next fight scene! 😎

    Posted by Caridad Pineiro | August 4, 2010, 12:40 pm
  6. Great post – very informative, not just for our characters, but for our own safety. Most of us would not have a clue what to do if caught in a bear hug. I’ll have to check out your blog. Thanks for the tips. And you are right, Angela Knight did give a great workshop.

    And thanks to Caridad for sharing this post with her friends.

    Posted by Gail Chianese | August 4, 2010, 2:14 pm
  7. Hi Gail,

    I’m so glad you liked the post. I recommend all women take some form of self-defense class. Not only is learning techniques empowering, but Department of Justice studies show that 50% of attackers will break off the assault if the woman merely indicates she is willing to fight back. And for the other half, women need to know how to escape from a larger opponent.

    Thanks for stopping by,

    Posted by Melinda Leigh | August 4, 2010, 2:37 pm
  8. Melinda –

    Thanks so much for this great lecture! For self-defense, would you suggest a woman take a self defense training class or train in a martial art?

    You mention men are most vulnerable down the line from face to groin, but what about the knees? Would that be an area a woman could kick and get the desired result?

    Thanks again!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | August 4, 2010, 2:40 pm
    • Kelsey,

      I love martial arts, but the reality is that most women aren’t going to spend the years necessary to develop the skills to defend themselves. A self-defense class specifically geared toward women, one that offers the chance to try the techniques on a padded, male attacker, is most women’s best bet. I recommend the FIght Like A Girl (FLAG) system, but those classes aren’t available everywhere.

      Knees can be great targets, but they are smaller and need to be hit at certain angles in order to do enough damage. However, if that’s all you can reach, that’s what you strike. When kicking, stomp with the heel of the foot for maximum impact.

      Thanks for having me here at RU. I’ve had a blast.

      Posted by Melinda Leigh | August 4, 2010, 3:06 pm
  9. Melinda,

    I have found it is really hard to be sure I havet the facts right unless I have had some training or have been through some of these things I am trying to write about. Watching movies and reading books with fight scenes are either to theatrical or to real. That is why learning from professionals such as you has greatly improved my chances of getting it right. You have offered some great facts here that I will apply to my own writing right now so that if I ever need it in real life I just might remember what you said. (GRIN)

    Thank you. Time to write that fight scene!

    Posted by Holly | August 4, 2010, 7:12 pm
    • Holly,

      I’m so glad you liked my post. There are many great resources out there to learn about martial arts. Sometimes watching YouTube videos can help the writer get the “feel” for a specific style or situation. Just be sure to watch multiple vids. Anybody can upload videos, even the unskilled.

      Good Luck,

      Posted by Melinda Leigh | August 4, 2010, 8:03 pm
  10. Hi Melinda,

    It was so nice to meet you in Orlando! Thanks for the great post. Loved learning about your targeted techniques.

    Several years ago, I heard about a woman who had learned from one of Oprah’s guests to take your assailant by surprise. Make him think you’re “crazy.” The next day, while in the laundry room of her apartment complex, a man blocked her exit.

    She recalled what she had heard the day before, picked up her umbrella (thankfully, it was a rainy day!) and began shrieking at the top of her lungs while opening and closing the umbrella toward him. He ran away. 🙂

    My question–is there any martial art that a woman (or man for the matter) in Regency London (early 1800s) would come across?


    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | August 4, 2010, 7:31 pm
    • Hi Tracey,

      It was great to meet you at RWA as well.

      The reason the umbrella “trick” worked in that situation is the assailant had a plan. The woman didn’t react the way he expected/wanted, so he took off. It wasn’t worth the risk. This goes back to my earlier comment about 50% of assailants abandoning the assault if the woman indicates she will fight back. Criminals want an easy or “soft” target. Check out one of Kathy Fawcett’s early posts on being a Hard Target:

      The question about martial arts during the Regency period isn’t an easy one. Most Martial Arts have been around for hundreds of years or longer. But what exposure would your hero or heroine have to them? Did your hero travel to exotic lands where he may have studied? Could he employ someone from a foreign land to instruct him? Certainly boxing and fencing were popular in England during that period, but using martial arts is going to take some work to make it believable.

      Good luck,

      Posted by Melinda Leigh | August 4, 2010, 8:25 pm
  11. This post is SO timely for me, as I’m in the middle of rewriting a fight scene between two men – set in the Regency era, so no fancy moves for these guys. LOL The statement you made about men just “come out swinging” was great — good insight into how my hero will approach this fight. He knows it’s coming, he’s instigating it to get past the bad guy to his heroine.

    Thank you for writing something so perfectly timed for me! LOL

    Posted by Jeannie Ruesch | August 5, 2010, 6:23 pm


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