Sunday, 10 June 2012

Self Defense Classes

Practise with uncooperative partners builds real confidence


iuex’ comment on Thursday’s post regarding self defense classes in the Toronto area finds me in a bit of a quandary.

The question I ask myself is – how far can a single self defense workshop (or a series of classes) go in preparing someone for the trauma of a self defense situation?

Repetition builds real skills


Whenever I teach a self defense course, I try to prepare my students as best I can. I teach them tactical awareness; everyday weapons; defense standing up and on the ground. I provide them with simple and direct techniques that can be used in a variety of situations. We go through common attacks. I share with them the concept of “a person of value”, trying to give them the fuel for self defense.

But still…

If I were to describe self defense I would say: “Self defense is your legal right to respond to an assault with proportionate force in order to escape that attack if you feel that you may be in danger of bodily harm.”

Unfortunately, self defense is slightly more than that…self defense is fighting.

Take for example a basic manual of self defense. A man chokes a woman from the front. She responds with a strike up under his nose using the heel of her right palm followed by a knee kick into his groin. That’s the  knowledge she will take with her out into the street.

Attackers don’t attack text book style. Let’s consider what would happen if that text book situation suddenly came to life in an underground parking lot – or in a domestic situation where the husband is abusing his wife.

The choke has so much force behind it that the woman stumbles backward…or she endures such  sudden terror that she can only cling to his arms. If he shakes her throat back and forth or from side to side, she will probably be about four or five beats behind the rhythm of his attack before she can remember any technique she read in the manual. And by then, it’s too late.

Or if she does manage to strike him under his nose and he recoils to the side, she may find his groin blocked or out of range. The strike to the nose has only partially hurt him; he hits her with his right hand. She moves to her right and kicks his left knee.

That’s self defense…and that’s fighting.

I equate a self defense class with the proverbial small town law enforcement officer who learned to shoot in police college but hasn’t fired a shot since. Suddenly, in a career filled with the normal day to day duties of a rural constable, she’s confronted with an armed attacker who threatens to take her life or the life of an innocent bystander.

How does she reacquaint herself with her sidearm – and expect to make critical decisions – in the matter of a few seconds after a hiatus of 10 years?

Combat is fluid, unpredictable and brutal.  That's what I tell my self defense students. And then I give them the choice of learning all they can in a few sessions or joining a regular class.

Karate legend Mas Oyama


I think real physical and mental self defense preparedness comes from repetition. Karate legend Mas Oyama said that only after 100,000 punches does a Karate practitioner begin to know what a punch is all about.

I find that all techniques must be adaptable – and you can’t learn to adapt without repetition and experience. And real confidence comes only with time.

Having said all this, I’ll now go on to recommend that everyone not involved in martial arts should take a basic course in self defense!

For various reasons –

1.  The majority of people just don’t have the time (or inclination) to attend regular martial arts classes. A figure I read several years ago estimated that up to 5% of the population of North America are currently involved or have been involved in martial arts at some point in their lives (which is a surprisingly large number). Most will probably have been exposed to the arts as children.

2.  Most students I have taught want to learn to avoid or escape a violent confrontation…but not make that practise a major commitment in their life. The majority of these students have a great distaste for violence. They feel they have a right to defend themselves but beyond that, they want no part of regular training. They feel that regular training is too violent.

Repetitive training on a makiwara board.


I have a few suggestions –

1.  If you don’t want join a regular martial arts class, then do take a self defense class with the proviso that you re-certify your self defense knowledge ever so often as you would your standing in First Aid or CPR. Just as someone with accreditation in Standard First Aid doesn’t have to become a physician, so you as a student of self defense do not have to become a Black Belt.

2.  For people who may want to pursue martial arts but can’t stand the idea of practising violence, come to martial arts from another angle: study the traditional arts like Bagua, or Tai Chi, or Aikido from the standpoint of their deep meditative and philosophical foundations. In other words, come to the martial arts for all the reasons other than self defense – health, fitness, longevity, confidence and a deep spiritual awareness of the harmony of mind and body and the self and the environment. Like the old saying: “Learn to use the sword in order not to use the sword.”

I hope that this has been helpful. These are just my opinions. My thoughts about self defense may be different from those of other teachers. Please let me know what you think.

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