Friday, May 20, 2016

"I'm Sorry" doesn't belong in self-defense training

Training self-defense no one should ever expect you to say "I'm sorry" when you have done exactly what you have been taught to do.

You are learning to protect yourself. Improve your position, make the Threat's position worse. Limit the damage you take and cause as much damage as you need to complete the mission or accomplish the goal (Rory Miller's golden move).

When I teach self-defense or Krav, and I hear "Sorry!" on the training floor the participants have just served up a teaching moment.

No one is bad or wrong for saying I'm sorry. It's hard core social programming. I'm Sorry is our universal request for impunity.  When we make contact we didn't intend or the contact was experienced as "harder" than we purposed by our training partner, we say sorry. 

The social programming is being applied in the wrong context. Every time someone says I'm Sorry during training they are unconsciously undermining their training and the mindset they are working to wire in.

Maybe it's worse. Maybe all the I'm Sorry business on the mat is poisonous. Little sips of toxic thinking day after day, class after class.

On the mat, this apology gets heard by your brain as apologizing for being powerful. Fuck that.

You hit your partner harder than you purposed, or they took the impact harder than you anticipated. This is a martial colleague, possibly a training partner you like as a person, maybe even a friend. It's a hard glitch though because the social programming goes deep and being considerate is a good habit.  What's the solution? If this is a friend and the take down was rougher than anticipated and you just stare at her because you don't want a poisonous I'm Sorry out there, then the alternative is you look like an ass (and may in fact be an ass).

A couple weeks ago I was at a training with someone who has over 40 years of experience in martial training. He made hard contact with his demo partner while teaching a technique to the group and said "I"m sorry".  He stopped. Thinking out loud, he mused on a better phrase and picked "Excuse Me".  So back home, I dug around a little bit and found that I'm Sorry and Excuse me are fundamentally different.

Excuse me: is short for Please, Excuse Me and is you basically asking for forgiveness for something you're pretty sure the other person wasn't a fan of...

I'm sorry: this is more about what you say when you think you did something wrong.

Excuse Me is about acknowledging the other person's experience and I'm sorry is about feeling guilt for something you feel is punishable behavior. Culturally, what types of behaviors do we punish? Think about it. If a 30 year old behaves badly in public - punches somebody...what do we call that? Oh yeah, assault. And then what happens? We punish it. We call that "a crime".

Are you criminal when you execute a takedown a little harder than you planned or your partner didn't see it coming and didn't effectively execute a breakfall? No. Unless you're an ass and you were doing it on purpose...(may not be criminal but it's something...)

No more Sorrys on the mat. Excuse me will work well enough if you want to make nice.


  1. where I train we have to do 50 push-ups if we say 'try' or 'cant' the floor i still take notice when i use those words in other settings- it works i think!

    1. Punishment is one way to get us off a script : ).

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