Updated: Nov 1
In teaching self-defense, there is a great fear of giving students false confidence. We do not want our students to believe they can use skills they do not have and put themselves in danger.
Many self-defense seminars do a terrible job of this, especially those directed at women. I understand why such seminars have a bad reputation in the martial arts world.
However, we need to be realistic and realize that not everyone will be able to devote years to training Muay Thai or Brazilian Ju Jitsu. We must find ways of bringing simple self-defense techniques to the general population in a more limited time frame.
I try to balance the two. While I hold two-hour self-defense seminars, I hope the people in the class will taste the joy of training and want more. I try to boil down the principles I teach to be effective and efficient, focusing on de-escalation, awareness, and asserting boundaries.
When I work on strikes and escapes, I don’t allow students to feel that this will be easy to overcome if it happens in real life. My classes require students to train realistically under pressure, never allowing them to become comfortable.
I always work to make drills simulate attacks as realistically as safely possible so that they understand that using self-defense will be difficult and they must give everything they have for it.
I am also honest with students about how dangerous specific techniques are and how they need to accept that they are attempting them because their other choice is damage or death and that it will not be like the movies. If they try a knife disarm, there’s a very high probability they will get cut. However, as teachers, we cannot be so afraid to give our students false confidence that we crush their spirits or make them fearful of the world.
Self-defense must be taught rationally and factually. While we may be at the wrong place at the wrong time and encounter terrorism or violent crime, much of the dangers we face can be avoided by staying aware and using common sense. We can turn down the music on our Ipods so we can hear the world around us. We can plan our route to avoid areas we know are more dangerous. We can feel warning signs when our gut instincts tell us we are no longer safe, and we can act accordingly. These principles can be taught in a short amount of time and can save many lives.
Sometimes, basic security measures could have prevented even the most terrible incidents. The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre was one of the most horrifying events in sports history. For twenty hours, Israeli athletes were held hostage by terrorists who had infiltrated the Olympic village. Sadly, after a failed rescue attempt, all eleven were brutally murdered.
This attack succeeded not because the terrorists were exceptionally clever but because of the failure of the Munich Police to demonstrate situational awareness and common sense security tactics. To discuss all of the security failings of the 1972 Olympics will be a feature-length article of its own, but here are the major mistakes in brief and the principle behind them.
●Munich police were stripped of their authoritative uniform and dressed like retirees jogging around the park.
●Munich Police were not armed with weapons, including a personal protection side-arm weapon like a pistol. They could not use force to back up their authority.
●The fences around the Olympic village lacked basic security. Athletes routinely climbed the fence without consequences, and the police never stopped them. No IDs were required. The terrorists themselves were able to easily able to get in. Drunk athletes helped in half, and the other half could walk through an unguarded gate and climb over using a stool left behind by the guards.
The terrorists had cased the area and knew they had a soft target. There was no deterrence blocking them; therefore, they didn’t hesitate to strike.
Had the terrorists know that the gates were manned by uniformed armed guards who would have arrested them, backing up their authority with force?
Imagine if any attempt to climb the walls would have sounded the alarm and locked down the buildings. Eleven lives would have been saved. All of those principles are ones I could cover in a two-hour seminar with time to spare.
We may not be able to teach our students how to survive every single violent crime. But we can teach them how to walk with confidence and not look like easy victims.
We can teach them how to be aware of the world around them. We can teach them how to maintain boundaries and how to spot danger. We can teach them how to deter many predators in our society who are seeking soft targets and easy victims.
This will save them from many of the most common forms of violence. It may save them from some more uncommon and terrifying ones.