I am an accomplished traditional martial artist with over 30 years of experience who has also taught the occasional self-defense course on the side. While there are one or two obvious crossovers between the two disciplines, the fact is that a responsibly-designed self defense course looks nothing like a martial arts class.
Too often you get hot shot martial arts masters eager to show off big, flashy moves for the women taking the classes. The common type are young, tough but emotionally immature men who may be talented and who may be karate champions, but these guys don’t necessarily make good self defense instructors.
Your much better off with mature, adult professionals in the fields of law enforcement and/or rape crisis. If you are a woman looking to protect yourself, the best case scenario would be to find a female instructor who understands what kinds of situations can arise, and what is reasonable to expect of those who are selected as victims.
Anyone seriously interested in learning how to effectively resolve violent situations while minimizing injury should look for the following qualities:
First of all, the course should be taught in a workshop style over a period of at 2 to 4 hours, or even longer. Why is so much time necessary? Because, simply put, there’s a lot of ground to cover.
In order to be fully prepared for an unfortunate situation and ward of a predator or assailant, you need an instructor prepared to give you clear and comprehensive material and research statistics explaining what potential confrontations look like, and how well various responses succeed. Violence can occur anywhere–in the home, on the street, in the car, etc. It can also occur with anyone–you could be attacked by a stranger, by an acquaintance, a trusted friend, or a loved one. You need to be given a sense of the psychology and logistics of self defense which accounts for all these variables. In other words, you need to be intellectually prepared first and foremost, and this preparation takes time.
Additionally, you need to be truly physically prepared. It’s not enough to hear self defense tactics described to you, or to practice them once or twice. You need repeated rehearsal of simple, effective movements until these tactics become second nature, until you don’t have to think about it.
When it comes to self protection, there are three lines of defense. The first is learning how to minimize the risk of being put in a compromising situation in the first place. A good self-defense course should raise your consciousness of different situations that can potentially occur, and give you a methodology for avoiding these situations.
The second line of defense occurs when you’ve been put in a risk. You’ve already been chosen as a victim and now it’s time to deescalate the situation with correct awareness and practiced, psychology. A good self defense instructor can teach you how to humanize yourself, how to call for help, how to get free without panicking, and how and where to run to get assistance.
The vast majority of conflicts can be avoided without any physical confrontation, provided you have the right mindfulness. But in cases where the first two lines of defense don’t work, you have the last line of defense–physical tactics designed to injure your attacker enough to incapacitate them.
Many instructors teach extreme methods for neutralizing an aggressor, such as gauging out eyeballs or ripping off ears. While these methods may be effective if done properly, the fact is that when these situations arise, victims often don’t have the stomach to carry out such extreme measures. We all have a very strong survival instinct, but not many of us have the killer instinct required to do this much bodily damage to another human being, even when our own safety is at risk.
A good instructor knows what students will actually be capable of in the real world, and teaches a variety of other techniques that incapacitate attackers just as effectively without all the blood, such as strikes to weak points on the face, in the neck, or around the ears. And that instructor will give the students plenty of time to practice these quick, simple strikes until they can do them unconsciously so that when the time comes, the students won’t experience tunnel vision and freeze in fear.
This reminds me of an anecdote. A few years ago, I went sky diving for the first time without an instructor. Before I jumped out of the plane, it was explained to me that because your speed of descent is so quick during free fall, three fourths of first-time divers black out temporarily, just for a few moments, right after they jump (in fact, this did happen to me the second I left the safety and stability of the plane).
What’s more, if your main parachute doesn’t deploy correctly, you have to cut it loose and free fall again before releasing your emergency parachute, and during this second free fall, you’re at risk of blacking out all over again.
Luckily, instructors know this and they take the time to teach beginners the sky diver’s mantra–”Look, Grab, Look, Pull, Pull.” In other words, you check to see if the your parachute has deployed correctly. If not, grab the rip cord, make sure you’re ready, and then in one fluid, release the main chute and deploy the emergency one before your brain has time to black out.
It took a lot of repetition, but eventually it became an automatic part of my muscle memory, and I’m confident that if a sky diving emergency situation arose, I would not only know what I’m supposed to do, but I’d be able to execute. That’s the goal of any self-defense class. If you’re going to spend the money, make sure you’re getting the knowledge and training you need.