Many students come to learn martial arts in order to learn how to defend themselves. Most students, when looking at instructor profiles, get thoroughly impressed when they see military, law-enforcement, or security experience. They think - “this person has dealt with real violence! They can teach me how to defend myself ‘for real’”. While, this may be true, it can also be very misleading.
I have trained with a large number of self-defence experts over the years and the term ‘reality-based’ gets thrown around all of the time. One theme appears to be consistent – most instructors will say during classes or seminars, ‘in reality, this is how things will happen’. And they are all right, and they are all wrong.
A paradox? Not really.
Most instructors train and teach for their reality. What do I mean by that?
The ‘reality’ of violence is often a product of the following:
o Experience: Instructors with military experience often teach self-defence that is suited for fighting a war in a foreign country against armed forces. Instructors with experience in corrections often teach self-defence that is suited to working in the prison system. Instructors with experience in private security often self-defence that is suited for working in areas high-traffic areas where violence is often fuelled by drugs or alcohol.
o Location – Violence takes different shapes and patterns in different countries. Some countries are more likely to experience armed robberies then home invasions, more sexual assault then kidnappings, etc. Instructors often teach for what is common in their reality.
o Media – The focus of the media on violence creates a certain perception of what is likely and unlikely to happen in your location, age group, socio-economical background, etc. Fears are often based on this, and as a result classes also focus on what the latest media hype is.
The above list is certainly not an exhaustive one, but you can see how personal circumstances and factors can shape what is being taught.
And don’t get me wrong – this is not always a bad thing. We can only teach what we have experienced and know for certain works (although some don’t adhere to that principle, but this is a discussion for another time).
However this also presents some issues:
1. We have to teach for the student's attributes, not for our own – while classes should have a structure and curriculum, this should be modified to suit the student’s needs. A 50 years old, 5’1 woman who weighs 45kgs may not be able to use the same technique effectively as a 20 year old, 6’3, 95kgs man, and vice versa.
2. We have to teach for the consequences students will face – legal use of force is an important thing to know fo where you are teaching. Dropping someone to the ground and kicking them repeatedly in the head is something you may be able to get away with in some countries, but not so much in others. Are your instructors teaching you skills that suit the legal system where you live? Are they making you aware of the potential consequnces of your actions?
3. We have to teach for where the students are, not where we come from – A recent visitor to our dojo recently asked me why, as a Krav Maga instructor, I don’t teach firearm disarms in every single class. I calmly asked him if he could tell me how many times in the past year gun violence was mentioned in the news in Perth. He stared at me blankly and repeated ‘but you teach Krav Maga!’. I decided to shoot a little straighter (excuse the pun) and asked him what, in his estimation, is the likelihood of me, or one of my students, facing a gun-wielding terrorist in suburban Perth. His reply? You guessed it – ‘but you teach Krav Maga’!. I guess you can’t win them all! One of my favourite sayings is you should spend 90% of your training time practising how to deal with what is 90% likely to happen. Make sure that you spend the right amount of time learning and ptractising things that will help you for what you, not someone else, is likely to face.
So when you look for self-defence classes, make sure that you find someone who will teach for your reality, and think long and hard about what your reality actually is!
Stay safe, stay tuned