Teaching Self Defense, Violence Education/ Survival for the Martial Arts Instructor
I wrote this article after attending the conference listed below. I am re-posting on my blog as even though it’s over 10 years old, the base message and goal of helping martial arts instructors offer the best self defense product to our clients, remains the same.
This spring I attended the Advanced Threat Assessment and Management conference hosted by Gavin DeBecker & Associates. Gavin DeBecker & Associates is an internationally recognized firm that specializes in the prediction and management of violence. The speakers covered managing victim fear, how to fire an employee, the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech massacres, the profile of a
spree killer and much more. I also had the privilege of hearing Lt. Col. Dave Grossman speak at the conference (Lt. Col. Dave Grossman is an internationally recognized scholar, author, and speaker) as an expert in the field of human aggression and the roots of violence and violent crime. His presentation in particular confirmed my belief that the elements of violence prediction, prevention and survival are both intrinsic and essential to our job as instructors in the martial arts.
As martial artists we hope we will be able to defend ourselves and our loved ones should the need arise. For those of us who teach our martial arts to others, we have additional concerns. Regardless of the martial arts we teach and train, there is a much greater depth of knowledge in any art than is necessary for self-defense alone. While we hope to keep our students in the arts for their lifetime, we may have them only for a short time. We can inspire them to educate themselves on how to avoid violence by identifying it’s potential early. We can teach them the physical skills necessary to survive a violent encounter. Also, we can help some of them become determined not to be victimized. Each of our students is a member of a workplace/school/home and as such should be exposed to issues of Workplace/School and Domestic Violence. We have the unique ability to do this.
What we need to do is arm ourselves with as much good information as we can get our hands on, especially if we are teaching law enforcement or the military. The professionals in these areas will be in violent encounters and will go to work each day with the threat of violence as reality. While we can focus the bulk of our teaching on our larger art, we have an obligation to teach functional self-defense
skills to those who want it and will need it.
As instructors we should honestly assess our own self-defense skills and whether they will hold up in a violent encounter with an extremely hostile attacker. Do we have the best information on which of the
body's tools can do the most damage? Do we know which targets are the most vulnerable? Do we have the physical and mental ability to follow up? Are we in condition?
A good self test for the self defense self-assessment was suggested to me by my instructor, Rick Faye. His advice: pick the biggest, scariest, baddest person you know and visualize them enraged and attacking you at the lowest energy part in your day. If you don’t think an effective set of skills will come out under those circumstances, you may need to adjust your own self defense training. Next, is the self defense curriculum evaluation. Will the tools work on a bigger, stronger, focused opponent? Can the skills you are teaching be transferred to your audience in the amount of time allotted? Do you have a spectrum of options? The unwanted grab in a bar and the drunk, disruptive relative should have different answers than an abduction attempt.
Techniques that require a lot of repetition, practice and development are not appropriate for a short term self defense course. For example, if the spinning reverse eye-lid lock is foundation for your personal self-defense, the information on what exactly happens in one's body under stress might cause you to reassess that particular technique. There is a ton of great written material on how to functionalize combat skills. Only in the past decade has much of this research been disseminated to the general population.
We want our students to have the ability to make awareness and avoidance a habit; to assess and reassess a situation as it changes; and to act when appropriate. Here are a few areas your research should include:
How to identify a predator’s behavioral cues, the markers for a school/workplace killer.
Awareness skills, including how to identify the body language of intimidation, manipulation and lying.
Physical Security measures: How to make your home, workplace, school and yourself a harder target.
Victim Education: Study the victim selection process, the domestic violence cycle, and situational andenvironmental awareness. The basics of what to assess and how to avoid potential trouble.
Violence Survival: Good ways to develop verbal assertiveness skills, stress inoculation drills, assertive body language, functional defensive skills and ingrain the survival mindset.
Each group we are contracted to teach has elements specific to that group. What is appropriate for a police officer may not be appropriate for a bodyguard. Curriculum presented to traveling sales people traveling to Dubuque, IA should differ from those traveling to Mexico City. Here again is an opportunity to do some research. Include everything from what someone may be wearing to the specifics of the threats they may encounter.
I’m often asked to teach how to “use an attacker’s force against them”, how to “disable” an attacker, and even the “one shot” ultimate self defense move. While these things might be accomplished over many years of training and by naturally superior athletes, usually those asking the question don’t fall into ‘superior athlete’ category and they want to learn the skills right away. Unfortunately, the media has created the belief that there is a predator around every corner, that there is a nonviolent way to handle violence and that our intuition is unreliable. Navigating these myths is where our many years of teaching and learning will come into play. As instructors we must leave our students with enough confidence to act effectively and urge them to continually develop their self-protection skills.
The ATAM conference underscored how important it is for me as a martial arts instructor to teach those around me to pay attention to their intuition and surroundings, to think for themselves, to be
responsible for themselves, to speak up when something is wrong and to help others. While the long term development of the martial arts is more fun to teach and definitely less stressful, we have an obligation to put forth the best self defense information we can.
Thank you for reading.