Posts tagged martial arts
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:

Violence prediction: 

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.


Diana Rathborne

Competing with Your Instructor, By Diana Rathborne

I wrote this article in 2003 and realize that many changes in our world have brought the martial arts and a quest for self defense into more of the mainstream than it was 14 years ago.  The message (ok, rant) is still a pertinent one, so I’m sharing it. As I forge my own path as an independent instructor, this concept is a good reminder and perspective check. Enjoy. Train hard, have fun, stay safe.


Competing with your instructor:


Martial artists develop in an infinite number of ways. Our instructors are there to inspire, motivate and give us information. After that our work begins. There are a few students who, because of their physical and mental gifts and their life circumstance, have put in the time and have gained a high level of skill in a short period of time.  Unfortunately, some of these talented students have missed the attributes of character that every martial artist should develop: humility, respect and gratitude to name just three.  As they approach the level of their instructor, perhaps gaining instructor status themselves, they believe their instructor has nothing left to teach them.  The physical ability, time and availability to train with your instructor and the personal closeness that comes of that time can lead to these destructive ideas:  you are no longer a student of your instructor, you do not need to pay your dues and that compared to your instructor you are both a better martial artist and a better person.  I think it is arrogance, lack of respect and delusion that leads a student to the belief that their instructor is a competitor that they are on level to compete against.  Not only does this seem to limit their time in the art, it is damaging for the student, the school, and by extension, the instructor.  It seems, however, to be a phenomenon that every school owner experiences at least once.


I have seen many people transform their lives through the lessons that training the martial arts can bring.  A student who gets started on the path of development only to detour onto this false path of comparing themselves to and competing with their instructor is wasting their talent and could be doing much, much more for themselves, their art and their fellow students. Luckily, I am not burdened with the kind of talent that would enable me to physically compete with any of my instructors, so for me, as a student, the point is moot.  As an instructor, however, I do run into it from time to time.  In my opinion, all things being equal, if a fit, athletic, younger student who’s put in some training time can’t outperform me (a short female on the wrong side of 35 years old) in a training drill there’s something wrong.  It has absolutely nothing to do with my capability or my ability to instruct, guide, motivate or add technical information to his/her base. 


Over the years I have had the benefit of watching my instructors handle many weird situations, questions and possible challenges.  They have always done it with grace and an amazing variety of the most “appropriate” responses imaginable.  I am lucky to now have their answers in my arsenal to pull from.  The new guy walking in the door giving the instructor the once over and all but saying "I could kick your butt", the student who "fights" a technique in a demo, and the student who interrupts a class or seminar to say "that wouldn't work" or "what would you do if I...." are a few examples of scenarios I've had the opportunity to watch.  Had those situations been mine to solve they certainly would not have been handled so well. 


My primary instructor, Sifu Rick Faye of the Minnesota Kali Group in Minneapolis, has a humorous perspective on the dynamic of students competing with him. He finds the fact that some of his students have seen fit to compete with him both sad and annoying. “If they want to compete with me, they can compete with me at 7:00 on a Saturday morning when I’m mopping the weight room” he comments.  Those who enter the martial arts and end up in the role of an instructor do so to impart many of the personal qualities that martial arts brings to others: humility, respect, honesty, loyalty, dedication, kindness, etc.  These are people who have chosen their profession because of their passion for it, their belief that it can improve the lives of those involved and as a way to support their families.  They have put in an enormous amount of time and energy into their students' development as martial artists and decent human beings.  Personally, I don't see where the desire or ability to kick your instructor's butt should fall into this equation. Sifu Pete Hetrick's staple answer to a student who challenges him and says that he could kick his butt always is: “yes, but I can teach you to kick my butt faster and more efficiently.”


Each and every instructor I have learned from is excited by the accomplishments of his students.  Each one has handed us his or her art and, as a result, we are already starting ahead of where he started.  I believe that the number of times Guro Dan Inosanto was hit on the head by his instructors to bring us his art (without the contact) should speak for itself.  I was recently reading a book on an aspect of the Filipino martial arts and the author took the time, in the first two pages, to put down one of the greatest instructors in the Filipino martial arts. Why? Because he got his ego in a bind. Big deal. Isn't there room for more than one authority on the art? What is your purpose for training martial arts? To be the biggest bad ass? To be a killer? Enlist..they’re hiring.  You can go see what it is to fight “for real”. Now is a great time for that. 


For the rest of us, the martial arts are a self development vehicle. For your instructor it is also his livelihood and that of his family.  The “my instructor can beat up your instructor” mind set has no place outside of kindergarten. I’m sure most boxers could beat the tar out of their trainers, but you don’t see most of them wasting their training time and mental energies on that focus.


As instructors we need to remember two things. First, that we are still students of our instructors. Second, that a student’s urge to compete with us is completely immaterial to our own art. It is a pain in the rear end, but it is also an opportunity to try to find and utilize the most appropriate response to a challenging situation.  Etched in my mind is a class where Rick told all of us that his personal martial arts ability was none of our business. That it was between him and the mirror.  At the time I was shocked by the statement. On further digestion I realized he was right. My personal capabilities have absolutely no bearing on my ability to teach others or to help others.


Each of us has to take a hard look at why we are in the martial arts and where our personal defensive abilities lie.  Look around your class and ask yourself the question “If ‘Big John’ Doe flipped a gasket and came after me, would I be able to survive it?” Gauge where you are and where you might need to be to answer ‘yes’ to that question.  Assess the areas you need to develop:  mobility, strength, speed, power, technical base, impact and functionality of your techniques, etc. Then get to work. Then put it aside. There is so much more to developing as a martial artist and to longevity in your art than looking at everyone as either a threat or a possible attacker. 


To the fighters:  If your passion is training to fight and getting in the ring, ask yourself these four questions: 1. Do I still pay my dues? 2. Do I put away my wraps, pads, and gear each and every time I train? 3. Do I own the equipment I train with? 4. Are the other students afraid of me? If you answered 'yes' to any of these questions, your instructor takes a financial loss to train you. You are not so good that you 'deserve' to follow different rules from the other students.  In fact, just having you in the school costs your instructor money. Appreciate that fact and change your behavior.   Martial arts competitions can offer a great experience for those who want to participate in them. Bear in mind that a martial arts competition is just that, a competition. It offers the contact piece of sparring in a more intense venue with more adrenalin. Competitions have rules, time limits, referees, judges and a specific competition arena: it is not self defense and it is not “for real”.  It also has absolutely no bearing on the ability of those who don’t wish to participate in it.  To mentally put your instructor in the ring with you as your opponent is ridiculous and disrespectful. If your instructor does get in the ring with you, depending on who you have as an instructor, the experience may not be pleasant and I would hazard a guess, you will not be as successful as you have imagined. It probably will, however, impact you and shift your perspective significantly.


I’m certainly not saying that you don’t need to assess the functionality of the techniques you are taught. You do. As martial artists we need to look at technique and training method with a critical eye.  We are not learning chess and should have the ability to fight if need be.  I am saying that respect for your instructor’s time in the art, time teaching and time with you is essential for your growth as a student, a person and a martial artist.  I am also saying that your instructor has provided you with a place to train. This fact deserves your respect and gratitude. Your instructor has put in 5, 10, 20 years before you started, and just may have something to offer because of that time.


 How each martial artist develops is unique. There are common threads, principles and development cycles, however.  Our instructors have the benefit of having worked with hundreds of students in varying stages of development to use as a base to help our growth.  He/she is not competing with you. If you are competing with him/her, ask yourself -- why?  What is this going to do for me as a martial artist and as a person?  We have been given a mix of arts that many people have put a great deal of time and development into. We have been given it in a comfortable, well lit gym with protective equipment and the benefit of our instructors’ insight. If you honestly feel that you have nothing to learn from your instructor, then move on.  Make the effort and take the time to be polite, respectful, courteous, kind and adult in your conversations to others about your decision to move on.


If your physical skills have surpassed your instructor’s in an area of the art, he/she will be happy for you if you are respectful and give credit where credit is due.  Once you have reached this level, unless you quit the art, you’re not done.   Enhance the art by being a part of it.  The creation of divisiveness and pettiness isn’t enhancing anyone. If you have a different approach--great, share it but don’t put down everyone else’s approach.  You may have a new twist. Or maybe you just didn’t recognize something that’s been there all along.  Either way, your instructor has guided you to where you are--be humble, respectful and do something creative rather than destructive.  Remember, even if you do surpass your instructor, you are still his/her junior in the art.

Situational Awareness: Hope is NOT a Plan.

Of the many gifts the martial arts journey has given me, the people I’ve gotten to know, learn from and train with is up at the top of my list. This past week, one of my friends and training partners from the Active Countermeasures Group (ACG) volunteered his time to talk to my Women’s Self Defense class at Minneapolis Community Technical College. His presentaion exposed these young women to the highest level instruction and cutting edge information on situational awareness. I've watched them throughout the semester learn and become both aware and proactive in their day to day self protection.

Hope is not a plan. Have a plan!
— Dale O. Applied Countermeasures Group (ACG)

Dale’s presentation taught me a great deal as well. One of my favorite quotes from the lecture was, "If you're hoping something won't happen, you're unprepared. Hope is not a plan."

Two weeks ago, Sgt A. Williams from the Minnesota State Patrol gave the women the same message, differently: "If your plan is to call 911, you don't have a plan." The required reading for the class, Defensive Living by Ed Lovette and Dave Spaulding also highlights the importance of awareness, avoidance and having a plan. It is my hope that having so many great sources say the same thing slightly differently will impress upon the students just how important it is to pay attention and get your mind right ahead of time.

I’ve added two of the elements I learned from the lecture to my every day awareness skill development practice:

1) To take a moment to scan all the way to the left and all the way to the right before entering or exiting anywhere. While I'm attentive and aware of what's going on around me, I do go from one thing to the next at a frenetic pace and do not take that preparatory moment before I barge from location A into location B. I have been looking to add a ‘mindfulness practice’ element to my life, and I think this is where it’s going to fit in: mindfulness in awareness! Lesson: Take a breath and a moment ... to scan for threats, especially when changing locations. (If I do this every time I go in or out of somewhere, maybe I can get one with the universe while I increase my situational awareness!)

2) “When you’re bored in class, figure out how you’d barricade the room you’re in..” led to the second practice I've added to my day. I've never thought about how to barricade myself into the room I"m in. I know my exits and I've definitely thought about what items I would use as a weapon, but I’d never done the mental gymnastics on what is barricade worthy furniture and how'd I'd put it together. Lesson: assess interior decor with an eye to barricade building.

So much great information and concepts in 75 minutes! That it will help those young ladies walk safer through their world.. exciting to watch! Thanks Dale!

If you or your business are contemplating some risk assesment, etc you can learn more about the Applied Countermeasures Group here:

If your plan is to call 911, you do not have a plan.
— Sgt. A. Williams Minnesota State Patrol