Like it or not there are Bad Guys in the world who if given the chance would feel little in hurting you or those you love. As such, people just like you, who spurred on by their evolutionary imperative to survive and thrive — naturally seek out self protection methods. I have always been an advocate that one of the main focuses in my own personal training of martial arts should always be the protection of self, and those I love. If you are going to be spending time on martial arts, than you should be spending some part of it focused on developing self-preservation skills.
2 Major Obstacles to Your Self-Defense Success
It is clear to me however that there are two obstacles that stand in the way of someone being able to learn, and deploy effective self preservation skills. The first is that often many of the people who seek out self protection lessons haven’t previously found themselves in actual need of those skills. I have said this before, and I will say it again, as unpopular as it will make me, the truth is the vast majority of people who go to self-defense lessons live in parts of the world with little or no need for those skills.
Much of the desire of people to learn how to defend themselves comes from their evolutionary instinctive drive to do so, and secondly, media’s incessant focus on making the world look like the most dangerous place in the universe to live.
Because most people don’t actually know what it is like to be embedded in interpersonal violence, their benchmark of what it may be like often stems from Hollywood movies, and of course the dreaded news. Watching something, and knowing it experientially are not the same thing. This lack of real world experience allows many people to be hoodwinked by self-proclaimed self-defense experts who promise to imbue them with the necessary ‘fight skills’ to stave off any attacker/s.
The 2nd obstacle comes up once a person actually decides to do something about their personal safety and steps into a self-defense school. Here more often than not, dealing with interpersonal violence is orchestrated. One only has to take a cursory look at YouTube where many self-defense experts demonstrate their systems and approaches to dealing with interpersonal violence. More often than not (I really want to write here, “Almost always”), it comprises of the ‘expert’ knowing where the attacker will strike before hand. The attacker moves little if any. Crucially the attacker doesn’t continue to fight back once the initial attack is made.
The argument is often made here that this approach is just a drill. In other words it’s a way to show a student what to expect, and how to deal with the attack being shown. Fair enough, but never do you see at anytime, either the students and more specifically the ‘expert’ demonstrate those same moves in an actual fight scenario — a fight scenario that is not choreographed.
A few Things You Have To Expect in the Reality of the Fight
- You see the thing is, once you step into the realm of real fighting, not guided drills, you quickly learn a few important lessons,
- In most instances there is zero opportunity to predict what either the attacker will do first or what their next move will be. Fights are chaotic.
- This lack of prediction then requires a person to react, rather than respond to the unfolding attack (a guided drill teaches you to respond, not react). The fact that one will be required to react means that without the aid of prediction — much of what is covered in a guided drill will more than likely become obsolete if the drill was only ever the measure of what is deemed success.
- An attackers initial attack will be followed up by more attacks — and those attacks don’t magically stop simply because you as the defender fought back. Almost never are people taught how to recover from the onslaught.
- Your psychology and emotional state plays a huge role in how well you will be able to fight back or even fight at all. This is almost never covered in self defense schools. It also cannot be covered in a guided drill. Just learning a drill in a choreographed fashion, can never bring you even 1% close to what the reality of the fight will really feel like.
What Can Be Done?
I can only speak about how I train my own student to protect themselves. Firstly, we do drills, but every drill has to be backed up by my G. R. I. T. Method;
- GUIDED DRILLS: Drill a specific response, to a specific attack or attacks (for example someone comes up to you, shoves you, but then starts throwing punches at your face). This is where a student learns the technical response to a pre-defined attack. I also apply progressive stress inoculation here, so once someone seems to be getting it at a light pace, we then dial up the contact. The tragedy here is that most self-defense instructors bullshit their students into believing that a GUIDED DRILL is enough to secure their safety in a real fight.
- REACTION TRAINING: Once I am happy that a student can pull off what I asked them to in the GUIDED DRILL phase — I know ask the person who is the attacker to camouflage his main attack taken from the GUIDED DRILL phase — so that the defender doesn’t actually know when it will be coming. Here the goal isn’t to attack or defend hard, but rather to slow the whole experience down, and even when the attack comes to do it at half speed. This is also a great opportunity to begin discussing strategies to manage the psychology and emotional components that arise in a real fight.
- INOCULATION: Similar to REACTION TRAINING but this time as full out as possible, without seriously injuring each other. Here wearing protective gear is important. In addition, I like to choose 3 to 4 GUIDED DRILLS we previously trained, interspersing them with camouflaging the attack — to see if a student can a) remember what they learned b) how well that holds up to the pressure. To be honest, if I did the first few stages right, most students do pretty well here. But what crops up is the psychological and emotional obstacles as the intensity rises. Much of my time here is actually spent not working on the physical techniques of students, but rather teaching them how to manage the psychological and emotional roller coaster ride inherent in dealing with violence.
- TROUBLESHOOTING: Things will go wrong. The reality of fighting predicts that when you throw in resistance, uncooperative opponents, and the overall chaotic nature of fights you will either get an approximation of what you trained, or it simply fails. If it fails, here is the time to unpack what went wrong, and even at times relooking at what we trained in GUIDED DRILLS – to see if we can improve the methodology or if we need to abandon it all together.
The simple conclusion to this article is this, if your instructors who claims to be a self defense expert is not training you as I outlined above in my G. R. I. T. Method, he or she is setting you up to die on the street. It doesn’t make me popular writing that I know, but your life, and the live’s of my students matter. Teaching self-defense or what I prefer to term self-preservation should never be about the instructors ego, looking good, or fame — it’s a job that should be approached sober, quietly, and with humility. Lives depend on it.