Wednesday, 18 December 2019 16:02

The Missing Ingredient in Self Defence

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What do you think is the most important element of self-defence classes?

Giving the student real self defence skills, in all their facets, is the obvious answer, but is it the first one and the only one?
Usually the argument will then go to discussion about technique, or scenarios, or the level of contact or how long it takes to get a black belt. These are all valid discussions, but often miss one important point.
Read more to find out what that point is!


Giving the student what they are after – self-defence skills – is indeed the most important outcome, without a shadow of a doubt. Where many people disagree is what those are, so let’s discuss this briefly:

  • Your technique doesn’t matter: Ok, that’s not quite true. There’s stuff that works and stuff that doesn’t, at least for the most part. But the discussion that most martial artists get stuck on – which technique is best for what – is often totally irrelevant if other more important elements of conflict are not addressed… and those are the ones listed below.
  • Pre-conflict – avoidance, de-escalation and communication, boundary setting, target hardening, situational awareness. Don’t teach it? Then it’s not self-defence.
  • Post- conflict – recovery, first aid, trauma management, litigation (both criminal and civil), retaliation, etc. Don’t teach it? Then it’s not self-defence
  • Scenario training – is a crucial piece for realistic self defence training. It must be included on a fairly regular basis if you are to be prepared for a ‘complete’ attack, as Professor Mike Belzer would say. In other word, this is a way to tie the ‘pre’ and ‘post’ together with the ‘during’.
  • Conditioning – being fit, strong and healthy is a great way to make sure that you are better prepared to handle an attack. Obviously, this is relative and changes from person to person. But at the end of the day, if your ultimate goal for self-defence is to live a long, happy life then looking after your health should be a part of that strategy. If your self-defence classes are not helping people get fitter and stronger, and are nothing but light, technical workouts they are probably not helping much.
  • Adrenaline management – a by-product of most of what is discussed above, but needs to be understood, discussed and trained.
  • Survival mindset – fighting spirit and a mindset of survival, without which none of the other stuff matters.

The next step is to understand how people learn. We need to understand how people learn physical skills and the processes they will go through. I’ll leave this discussion for another time. But there’s still a key ingredient that’s missing.
All of it – literally ALL of it – doesn’t matter in the slightest if the student doesn’t want to come to class.
I’ve attended workshops by very competent Krav Maga and self defence practitioners where the instructor acted as the proverbial ‘drill sergeant’ from the word go. They used extremely foul and aggressive language from the get-go. Their reasoning was that real attackers will use this kind of language and so students have to get used to it. I’ve seen exactly the same thing happen with instructors who use very hard contact from day one.
The vast majority of these kinds of instructors, from what I’ve seen, end up with a small group of dedicated, yet often unhinged, students. The majority of people don’t stick around.
If the goal is to help as many people as possible, then this method is counterproductive. In all likelihood those who will stick around are those who are already tough, already strong, etc. These are the ones less likely to be selected as a victim.
The flip side to that, and more importantly, is that this puts off the people who need the training the most. For example, people who have experienced trauma, the elderly, kids and teens and other more vulnerable sections of society are much less likely to stick around.

So, what does one have to do to make sure that they stick around?
Simple! It must be FUN.

Yes, you read it correctly. Fun. If you want to make people safe, you have to make your classes fun.
Let’s unpack that a little bit.
The dictionary definition is something that is amusing, entertaining or enjoyable.
That’s fairly accurate in terms of what a self defence class should be, with enjoyable being the key ingredient there.

If students enjoy the class, they’ll come again. If they enjoy the next class and the one after that, they’ll continue coming. 
If they keep coming, they’ll get better. If they get better, they’ll be better equipped to deal with a situation if and when it occurs.

Yes, there are time limits and we want to give people skill as quickly as possible. And yes, there obviously has to be a serious tone to the classes. But expecting people to pay money to do something they don’t enjoy is unrealistic. Would you go a restaurant where you hate the food and the service is crap just because the food is healthy? Of course not. You’ll go get your burger where you know the food is tasty and the service is good. Same logic applies here.

Let’s summarise and review:

  • If our end goal is to make sure that people are safer as a result of our training, they have to actually be there to train.
  • For them to want to be there to train, the training has to be fun – engaging, enjoyable, encouraging, empowering and interesting.
  • The populations that need the training the most are also the ones that are less likely to stick around for training that isn’t enjoyable.
  • Fun doesn’t mean easy.
  • There needs to be a balance between fun, challenging and serious.

I hope you have fun in your next class!

Stay safe, stay tuned. Osu/Oss

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