Wednesday, September 6, 2017

minimal input in learning self-defense does NOT equal maximum output

ever hear the saying "you're preaching to the choir?" It means the pastor is giving a spiritual missive to the people who don't probably much need it because they already get it. They are the choir, backing you up every service.

Pretty sure what follows is preaching to the choir -

You can not learn reliable self-defense skills in one class, one day, one seminar or workshop.

You can learn about self-defense in one class. You can get a decent introduction to self-defense in a workshop and if done well, the workshop participants will end the day with a healthy dose of new information including how much they have yet to learn.

Getting clear about what you don't know you don't know is super helpful in personal safety and self-defense.

Take for example, building a hard-drive. If you know you know nothing (poor John Snow) - you at least have the chance to learn. You'll research hard-drives and how they go together and figure out what stuff you need. If you don't know that you don't have any idea how to build a hard drive, you'll grab a bunch of hard-drive looking stuff out of the junk drawers, glue them together and say Ta-Da! ....and be stunned when the damn thing doesn't work.

Applied to self-defense that equates to being stunned as you bleed out. Surprise.

This all seems fantastically obvious. So what I'm noodling on is this: given the obvious nature of the thing, why is it so many average humans are startled by the fact that learning how to defend yourself, is gonna' require time, effort, training, instruction and application of resources (most likely your money - but for sure your time)?

End of July and early August I get a number of inquiries from parents who suddenly see the college freshman orientation date looming and they freak a little. They want self-defense training for their daughters.

Me: okay great, when does she leave?
Parent: in two weeks.
Me: well.....that leaves us with mostly private lessons and we won't get much in but we'll do what we can. When is she free?
Parent: She's going on a trip with her friends for 4 days, and then she wants to work as much as she can for extra spending money, I think we can do maybe one lesson....for about 45 minutes... on Sunday afternoon at 4:30. Let me see if that will work for her though, Sundays she likes to go to the pool.
Me: not so silent face-palm......

This is a not a hypothetical example because the script is pieces of actual conversations mushed together.

I suppose there are people who would watch a prima ballerina and say - I could learn to do that in an hour.  People who are wrapped tightly in a Dunning-Kruger effect universe and never consider that there is a single thing out there they couldn't do with little or no training/experience. But I find it challenging to accept this is true of so very many people or that all the D-K folks happen to live in my county.

What is it about self-defense in particular that creates the expectation of minimal input = maximum output? Is this the hidden byproduct of the burgeoning black-belt factory mentality of dojos focused on after-school programs and black belted kids by the age of 8?  Or, is it deeper than this. Is it a result of our profound dissociation from our basic nature as predators?

I think both factor in. The first contributes through the commercialization of the coolness factor associated with a Gi wrapped with a black belt. The second is more subtle. It's sneakier and more pervasive. It is the perpetual state of Alice on the wrong side of Lewis Carroll's looking glass and when she falls through it - more than just the glass will shatter.

This little rant brought to you today by a phone call. A young woman who will be leaving in several months for a year of travel. Parents say - you need to get some self-defense training first. I'm like, all happy because I actually have some time with this one. Several months! By comparison to the other inquiries I get this time of year, this is a lifetime. While I'm all excited about this lead time - the inquirer is not. She was hoping just a class or two would be good enough.

Maybe we will see her anyway - it's a condition apparently for this adventure she has planned.

In the meantime. I'm losing my patience with the mindset.


  1. I feel your pain! I've been mulling over the reasons (excuses) why people aren't willing to put in the time, make sacrifices for excellence... in anything... much less self defense or martial arts.

  2. Interesting piece and some very valid points, however I find myself respectfully having to disagree with the conclusion; I think you can teach self defence in a day. I think the difference just comes in how we are defining the term.

    I will agree, both students and instructors do often think they can get by on minimal physical training and be good at fighting, the classic student who gets to P1 then quits training because they "know enough". Then, likewise, the instructor who gives a 4 hour beginner seminar and spends the whole time teaching gun disarms because it's cool. Both are wrong. It takes training and dedication to get up to the level of proficiency to do those well.

    Why am I disagreeing then? Because these are the physical aspects of self defence, which is where we, as both instructor and students, get mentally stuck in our definition. It fighting, but fighting isn't self defence. It's part of it, but unlike combat sports, isn't the totality of the thing. In a short seminar I will have extreme difficulty teaching knife, gun, stick, choke defences (etc) to a high degree of competence; what I can teach, however, are the 360/inside defences, I can teach Tony Blauer's SPEAR System flinch conversion or Rory Miller's counter assault strategies and running away to a pretty high degree of effectiveness.

    I can also teach the other two thirds of self defence. I can teach the detection of the signals of the build up to violence, I can teach what to look for and where. I can teach how to avoid the danger by not being in certain places at certain times or by learning to listen to the body's danger signals. I can teach them to be a hard target through body language and awareness. That's self defence - "the ability to choose safety when danger is imminent" (Tony Blauer).

    Teach them Miller's "Logic of Violence" or DeBecker's "Gift of Fear" information. Teach them Tony Blauer's D1 and D2 skills and fear management stuff. Hell, I'd even argue that just putting them through the ConCom course is an effective use of the time because it gives them the mental tools and mindset to detect, defuse and evade the danger before it goes physical. That's part and parcel of self defence.

    I can do CPR. It took me a 4 hour course. Does it make me a doctor? No, of course not, but I can save a life. I think this is the same. No, I can't get to Expert 1 or black belt in 4 hours, but I can learn some effective physical and mental self defence skills. If after that the student realises he/she wants to learn the physical skill to a deeper level then that's great, but if all I do in 4 hours is teach them how to be safer then, yes, I have given them a good class in that short time that may well save their life.

    Albert DeSalvo used to flee from victims who even put up the slightest of fight for fear of being caught, and as Tony Blauer says "there are more people who have successfully defended themselves through sheer will and indignation, with no training whatsoever, than there are trained people who have been attacked and successfully defended themselves". These people don't even have 4 hours under their belt but they did "self defence".

    So, respectfully, that's where I disagree. I agree, I can't teach someone to FIGHT well in 4 hours, I can, however, teach them to fight BACK well and run if needed, and to learn to spot and avoid the dangers in the first place.

    1. Valid point. Writing this post was a response to people looking for the physical skills specifically. The mental and awareness education can be presented in a day - at least at the cursory level. Enough to provide the information and then the student can choose to apply it in daily life or not. Working from the orientation of the expectations that come from the requests - they are looking for the physical skills and are often surprised to learn it is, in fact, a skill and not a product to purchase and "own".

      Case in point, fielded a phone call this morning from a female who wanted to know how to earn a "certificate" in self-defense. Cognitively, she equated earning a certificate as verification she was skilled in the physical aspects and could then turn and teach those skills. When we talked about how self-defense also involved much of what you mention above (and one of the things I love about being part of the teaching team with Rory, Terry etc. with Violence Dynamics) - she was really surprised.

      Most of the phone calls I field along these lines become educational opportunities in and of themselves and it frustrates me that somewhere "out there" someone is perpetuating these myths about learning personal protection skills. Ah well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Thanks for the reply, and yes, I must agree with you once again; for the majority self defence is purely the physical realm of things which is simply not the case. This is compounded by situations you just described where people attend a 2 day cert and teach self defence to people looking to be safer but have no real idea on what they need or who they can trust. I try to give the very best to my students but it can be very frustrating.

    Anyway, thanks again for the response. I appreciate you taking the time to further discuss the points.

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