I have been teaching ‘self-defence’ in some shape or form for the past two and a half decades. Most prominently as the hand to hand combat instructor for my unit in the Military, and then later as a martial arts coach.
What has stood out for me over the years is that people say they want to learn how to defend themselves, but they actually really don’t. The kind of self-defence training people want, is the ‘100% guarantee to work or you get your money back’ kind. It’s the Hollywood version of self-defence.
The interesting fact about martial art schools who focus exclusively on reality based self defence is that they are situated often in the middle to upper class neighbourhoods of the world. Places where real violent crime is minimal. Where the likelihood of dying in a motor vehicle accident — because you didn’t feel you needed to wear a safety belt — is statistically far greater than you ever being mugged in the street. But people don’t want to hear that.
These schools are also often headed by people themselves with little or no real world experience in interpersonal violence. I get asked how do they then, the ‘experts’ get to peddle their wears on Youtube, Facebook etc, where anyone in the know — knows that real fights are not pretty, never go to plan, and there is a high likelihood you will get injured (possibly even seriously). As noted earlier most experts are counting on their audiences ignorance. One can make anything seem plausible to an audience that doesn’t know the truth. I am the first to admit though, that in order to capture an audiences attention, you need to put on a good show via a promo video for example (if there are contradictions in the world of self-defence this is yet another one). Showing how real fights go down, what will be asked of you in order to survive it, just doesn’t sell. Simply it would scare people off. This is why we get clients in via the promo video first, and then gently ease them into reality.
When looking for an ‘expert’ people often seek out people they presume should know. But even then, one has to be careful. Someone who fought on the battlefield, is the right person to go to if you were going to war, and needed to learn how. Those same skill sets though, are not what is needed for civilian self-defence. This is why I am always amazed how many really good firearm instructors I know seem to choose the worst empty hand systems to work and learn from. Knowing how to effectively deploy a firearm in a violent altercation is not the same as knowing what to do when one is empty hand facing an armed aggressor. The same could be said for many things, like sport jiu-jitsu. Inverted guard is great for the sport game, but not so good when someone is standing over you in the street hitting you in the face with a brick. I concede of course that in militaristic expressions, some skill sets, mindsets etc do cross over — but to assume that they are all simply interchangeable regardless of context is a mistake.
The reality is we are all evolutionary designed to seek out survival data. The world, at least as pro-ported by the media is a very scary place (to read the opposite of this view get Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined). It then seems rational to learn how to defend oneself. Self-defence trainers are counting on it. They are also counting on the fact that for the most part, 99% of the people who enter their facility have never been in a violent situation before, barring an ego push and shove at a bar — so the ability then by the ‘expert’ to sell the ‘fantasy’ style of self-defence becomes easy.
I once taught a rape prevention workshop on request from a female client. I never did it again. Because not one of the woman who attended wanted to hear the truth about that situation, nor did they want to see what it may go down like, feel like and what would be required from them to survive. The lesson that day, and still remains today, people say they want self-preservation skills, but heaven forbid if you present it as it will actually be. Hollywood in other words sells, because it’s a comfortable presentation for the arm chair warrior!
Real self preservation doesn’t sell because there is nothing heroic about it. The hero wants to stand his ground and fight his way through several opponents. Someone who is desperate to live will find a way to walk or sneak away, preferably unseen. If going hands on is necessary, which is always the last option in self-preservation, then the victim strikes only enough to find an exit. Not then to stick around, stomping a persons head into the pavement, or getting into a back and forward verbal assault hurling insults about someones Mother.
This is the thing for me at least, most of what gets past off as self-defence, is really Ego Defence. Its about not losing face, feeling less of a man, or at least in ones own mind not being a coward. These things have nothing to do with self-preservation. Imagine if you will a poster for a self-defence workshop entitled, “5 Ways To Walk Away From a Fight.” No one would pitch because teaching someone to walk away doesn’t sell. That’s why another workshop in the same town, on the same night, at a different venue advertising, “5 Ways To Beat Any Attacker in 5 Seconds or Less” will always be a sold out hit.