Over the past two days, we were invited to give self-defense seminars at the high school across the street. We had a fantastic time and we always enjoy an opportunity to share what we do and love with new people. High school-aged students have a lot of energy and interest, while being old enough to think of things skeptically and ask great questions. As is my experience, they are good at asking questions that get to the heart of the issue.
While some of their questions were silly – things like “is curling into a ball good self-defense” or “what if you just got naked if someone tried to attack you; would you want to fight a naked guy?” – others had questions that elicited less laughter. Of course, you get the usual questions that revolve around a hypothetical scenario and how I would deal with it step by step. Most of these questions come back to a lack of the fundamental understanding of the goals in self-defense. I’d like to take a moment and explore some of my thoughts and observations on this topic and contrast them with what some other programs cover in their self-defense seminars. My hope is to educate interested people on a general approach to self-defense that is practical and independent of stylistic opinion – something as objective a view as I am capable of conveying.
Before any self-defense seminar begins specific strikes or grabs, it is important to explore the goals of the meeting. No self-defense seminar (in our case, a 50 minute class) is going to give you enough information to give any kind of comprehensive view into self-defense in terms of technical proficiency. While technique is vital, there are many other things that need to be considered before venturing into specific techniques. One needs to look at the elements necessary for an attack to occur, the typical way an attack unfolds, and what considerations one should have when dealing with an attack. From this basis of understanding, techniques and stylistic approaches will have a better context with which to be learned.
In order for an attack to occur, three elements must be present: a target, an opportunity, and an aggressor. If any of these three are missing, then the attack will not occur. For the student of self-defense, being a confident and healthy person can make you appear less of a suitable target to would be attackers that may be cowardly or unsure of their abilities. Some attackers are like predators; they look for the weakest individual, isolate that person, and attack. Along with that is opportunity – being in a well-lit place, being in control of your faculties, and generally reducing your exposure to questionable situations and people will reduce opportunities for being victimized. While it isn’t a victim’s fault when it happens, an attack can sometimes be thwarted simply by removing yourself from the role of target or by removing the opportunity for attack. These two ideas alone require the least amount of energy to do – no special training is needed and no risk is had by people practicing these precautions. While it might be less flashy or entertaining to discuss than technique and style, it is my opinion that failure to discuss these first two ideas is doing a grave disservice to the people attending a seminar on self-defense. After covering these first two ideas, it then is relevant to discuss how to deal with an aggressor – and only then.
When talking about techniques for dealing with an aggressor, it is important to understand that aggressor’s goals. If those goals are to cause harm (i.e. not just an attempt to get money), then striking (kicks, punches, knee and elbow strikes), standing grabs, and wrestling or ground-fighting need to be addressed. Volumes on these topics have been written (and will continue to be well after I’m dead and gone most likely) on these topics that is very worthwhile and useful. If you’re interested in self-defense, then learn as much as you can about it. We live in an age where information can be had about anything by talking into a little machine in your pocket. Study many things and learn from knowledgeable people. Hopefully, you’ll pick me for that team. Still, pick someone and get involved. Good things will come of it.
The only caution I would add on the topic of learning techniques in a one-day seminar on self-defense is to stay away from complex techniques. Simple and direct is best; elaborate techniques, submission holds, and chokes are typically not best for this setting. While these are great techniques to learn for a sincere student of martial arts, they are not the best idea for a one-day seminar. For the untrained person dealing with an attack, it is best to get away from an attacker. Trying to get a submission or a choke is tactically a bad idea – submissions have to be applied precisely to work and fully commit you to one opponent. While submissions may be fun, they leave you susceptible to a flanking attack from a second opponent. Escape is preferred. Another consideration is, in the off-chance that a choke or submission is taught and learned correctly, the audience hasn’t had the sufficient training on when to use these techniques. Correctly teaching a dangerous technique to a high school student who may not understand the gravity of the repercussions of using this kind of technique is equivalent to handing a loaded gun to a 5 year old. While the intentions may be good, this is a bad idea to my way of thinking.
If someone reading this has the unfortunate experience of being attacked by someone, then it is important to keep three things in mind. First, you must survive. This seems obvious, but many times people make choices that run counter to this idea. If the attacker’s interest is to get money from you, then drop the cash and walk away. Most people have cards that can be quickly cancelled (and be helpful in catching the attacker should they be used). So, most people carry less cash. Spend the $40-ish dollars to not have to deal with an attacker or their weapon. Second, work hard to not be harmed seriously and not to harm the other person any more than is necessary. Again – escape is ideal. While this may not feel good to the ego or not make for a bombastic story, it does mean you’ll have a greater chance to be alive and whole to tell the story later on. Also, being abusive to an attacker will not bring about justice. While it may also soothe the ego in the short term, violence is a very ugly thing that should be avoided when possible. People that have had to harm others in self-defense know this to be true, you will relive the moments you harmed someone else for the rest of your life, even when that was justified. Healthy people just want to go about uninjured in life without injuring others. Be healthy. Lastly, it is important to take the time to recover after an attack. Make sure to contact relevant authorities to allow you to get treatment medically and for any evidence collection. Talk to loved ones about what happened and let them help you through it. If the attack was particularly traumatic, then contact a professional to help you through it. It is important to heal because life is valuable and shouldn’t be lived in fear and misery. Take care of yourself afterwards, learn what you can from the incident, and be there for other people that have gone through a similar thing. In that way, you can take a very ugly thing and bring something really wonderful out of it for yourself and the people in your community.
So please, keep these things in mind. If you took one of my seminars this week, then I hope you enjoyed it and had a good time. If I had to choose between specific techniques or the ideas I’ve discussed here to be the things you remembered from it, then the ideas are by far the most useful thing I can give you. If you are seriously interested in appropriate self-defense training, then you are in luck; you live in a community with many different choices in terms of style and approach to match your goals. Find one of us and study with sincerity and passion. I hope you choose us, of course… but any of the instructors here in Damascus will do their best for you!
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