In my previous article, I discussed some statements that we often hear in martial arts marketing. Those statements can often be misleading. Alternatively, they can also limit your growth as a martial artist. As such, they are statements that should ring alarm bells when you are trying to find a new place to train. Today I’m going to be a bit more specific, and look at five more statements that you need to be careful of when looking at self-defence training.
These statements are relating specifically to self-defence training.
My experience in the self-defence world has been that there is much ambiguity with regards to what is ‘best practice’ and whether such a thing actually exists. I feel there is a lot of energy being spent on areas that may not be as important. There is also a huge misperception of what self-defence actually is, and what it looks like. Spoiler alert – self-defence doesn’t look like what you see in the movies.
So without further ado, here are five statements we often hear in self-defence classes that should raise red flags:
Don’t go for a run with your headphones in
This is the classic tip we hear every time an instructor starts talking about environmental or situational awareness. Unfortunately, it often starts and stops with that one tip. Alternatively, there may be a couple more classic one-liners such as ‘always sit with your back to the wall’ and ‘don’t walk into dark alleyways to take a shortcut.’
If you’re smiling while you are reading this, then you probably heard these as many times as I have. The problem with this is not these are bad pieces of advice. They are not – they are legitimate safety tips. The problem is that it often stops with these pieces of advice. The huge, important topic of awareness is reduced to one or two sentences that, while valid, don’t actually teach you anything you didn’t already know, as if taking your headphones out will make you an impervious target. Most of us have been told this, whether we do martial arts or not. Let me ask you, and be honest – do you still run with headphones?
I’m willing to bet my bottom dollar that 99% of you reading this would answer ‘yes.’ So why is this a statement to be careful of? This is the equivalent of giving the man a fish instead of teaching him how to fish. Such statements need to be reinforced by ongoing training and education so that you can be safe all the time, not just when you go for a jog. If you are not being taught this stuff as part of your overall safety plan, then you should ask to learn more. If you get the same answer again then I advise you to do some independent research or have a chat with your instructors about why you can’t get more specific information on this.
When the attacker does X, you do Y
They attack with a punch like this, you block like that. They grab like this, you release like that. And so on and so forth. This is not a bad thing. We need to learn techniques, no doubt. We want to have a good technical base to work from.
But the problem with the ‘when X – then Y’ model is that it is entirely reactive in nature.
This is a problem for several reasons. Firstly, it puts us in a defensive, rather than offensive, state of mind. One of the hardest things in a real violent conflict is to switch from the defensive state to the offensive state. If you are not already in an offensive state, then you will find it very hard to attack the attacker. Secondly, it greatly reduces our chances of success. An action is faster than reaction, and if you are reacting than you are on the back foot and may already be taking damage before you start acting (and therefore have to transition from defence to offense).
Much like everything else in life, if you want to achieve something you need to take initiative.
If you know an attack is coming and are waiting for it in order to execute your move instead of taking the initiative, your chances of survival are dramatically reduced.
We need to learn using the ‘when X – then Y’ model, but we also need to include a more predatory/offensive/proactive/ pre-emptive approach (circle the one you like best). In other words, how do you stop them from doing X in the first place?
It didn’t work because you didn’t perform the technique correctly
Another one that scares me. In this article, I talk a little bit about the need for an adaptive mindset when looking at training for specific outcomes. It’s important, and here’s why. This happened to me, but I know plenty of people who have gone through the same experience. I attended self-defence classes but when I needed the skills, they didn’t work. When I asked why I was asked to demonstrate what happened. I was told that it didn’t work because the technique was incorrect. I recall an extreme story of a lady who studied self defence in the US. She trained for a while. She was raped, which is horrible. She went back to the her school wanting to know why her training didn’t save her. She was told it was because she didn’t train enough and needed to train harder. She trained even harder. Horribly and unfortunately, she was raped again. She was again told she wasn’t training hard enough or she did the wrong technique. Is that ridiculous, or what?!
There needs to be room for assessing the flaws or pitfalls of the approach that was used. At the end of the day, if something doesn’t work for you when you need it – and I would argue that rape is certainly a case where you need it – is it your fault, or is it a problem with how you are being trained? If you’ve been coming to training, working hard, listening to your instructors and doing everything as you are told and then the skills fails you, I believe you are being taught the wrong skills. Or maybe you are not being taught how to apply them correctly.
Either way, if something that you are being taught doesn’t work when you need it then you need to do some hard thinking about the who, what, when, where, how and why you are training.
You need to learn more techniques to deal with all of these different attacks
This is especially relevant when you are just starting out. If you are being told that you need to memorise several hundred techniques in order to defend against every possible type and angle of attack, then you may be training somewhere where technique is more important than the application. You can read more about this here. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it just depends on what you are training for.
If we are looking at functioning under extreme adrenal stress, then all the evidence suggests that you need to focus on learning the smallest number of techniques that’ll cover the largest number of possibilities. More on this here. Dr Gavriel Schneider highlights this in his book Can I See Your Hands. Under the most extreme adrenal stress and with fully resisting opponents, only about 5% of what we think we can do actually works. 5%! That means you better know your basics inside and out and test them over and over, because most of the fancy things you think you can do won’t work. It also means you’re better off practising a small arsenal of basics. As Bruce Lee so eloquently said, ‘I don’t fear the man who practiced 10,000 kicks once but the man who practiced one kick 10,000 times’. Obviously as you advance and gain experience, you want to add to your repertoire, but you need to make sure that it never comes at the expense of combative efficiency.
Better to be tried by twelve than carried by six
One of my least favourites. Every time I hear this, it makes my skin crawl. It shows a blatant disregard to some of the crucial real world factors that one must consider in a self-defence situation. Specifically, I’m referring to the legalities of being involved in a violent confrontation.
Sure, there’s a time when the chips are down and it’s you or him. If that’s the case, do what you gotta do. But to assume that every situation is life or death and that every solution must be extremely violent is not only silly but also dangerous. We need to learn that most situations have more than one potential outcome, and those outcomes often involve different levels of force. As such we should be presented with options for different situations, rehearse them and test them out in scenario training.
If you are repeatedly being told this and are provided with no alternatives, be careful. If something happened, you may end up hurting someone or going to jail even though it could have been avoided.
This may sound contradictory to the previous point about not wanting to learn too many techniques or have too many options. I don’t think it’s the same thing. If what you learn allows you to control the force you are using, then you still only need the one option. You just need to choose at which point you’ve done enough damage to warrant stopping.
So there you have it. Five more statements we need to be aware of, if we are training for self-defence.
These statements are not always bad, and are not always wrong. But if you hear the same one repetitively without a reasonable explanation, then you may want to question as to why that is the case.
Questioning things seems to be the overarching theme in most of my writing. I’m naturally inquisitive and rebellious. In the martial arts world, as per Jesachi’s last piece, this is sometimes perceived as a bad thing.
I agree that there has to be some ‘just do what I tell you’ in martial arts. Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and trust that you are being told the right thing. But at the end of the day, if questioning your methods of training helps you achieve better outcomes, then I think it’s worth it. I’m not saying that you should question everything your instructors are saying. However if something doesn’t make sense, sounds dangerous or simply doesn’t sound right, then ask! The point to be concerned, in my opinion, is when you ask a legitimate question but don’t receive a good enough answer.
Stay safe, stay tuned.
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