Is a Self-Defense Course for You?

Basic self-defense knowledge can mean the difference between life and death, or assault and avoidance, but is it necessary in suburban America? If so, what is the best type of training for you? How do you find a good course, or even know what to look for? How involved does the training need to be for it to be effective?

Do I really need a course like this? 

There are many reasons we can find to spend our free time doing activities we enjoy, working around the house, or shuffling from one activity to the next, or just enjoying a breather from school/work. Here are a few things to consider when deciding whether or not to invest your time and money into a self-defense course.

  1. Do you plan to travel?
  2. Are you going to, or returning to college?
  3. Do you work a high risk job?
  4. Do you live alone?
  5. Do you reside, or work in a high risk environment?
  6. Do you experience anxiety, or fear over past*, or perceived threat situations?

There are many reasons to take a course like this. No one plans to be attacked and need something like this. Then again, no one plans on drowning either, but most of us still learn to swim. You never really need a self-defense course, until you REALLY need one.

Taking one at least once in your life can make a difference. Know a few basic ways to defend yourself without a firearm, spray, or other weapon in the event of a dire circumstance is sound logic.

*Warning - if you have experienced a traumatic attack in the past, a course like this can revisit these experiences. While it is possible it can help overcome fears and anxieties, and teach you how to solve a problem that still bothers you, it is advised to speak with a medical professional prior to taking a course.

What type of training is best for me? Should I take Martial Arts, or a Self-Defense Course?

Most of us don't know the difference between Martial Arts vs Self-Defense Training, but there definitely is one, and it is pretty significant. 

While a majority of Martial Arts styles do teach self-defense, there are just as many that do not. In addition, the pace to reach competency for real world scenarios can be long and arduous; and not always conducive to the body type, or strength of the individual training in that particular style. 

Some styles of Martial Arts focus predominantly on competition fighting, which does not allow for hitting targets one would normally want to hit in order to quickly, and expediently disable an attacker that is trying to take your life, your virtue, or harm a loved one.

I highly recommend Martial Arts training to those looking for self-defense, if they are also interested in improving their lifestyle, fitness level, and learning to perfect combat skills while also enjoying the process, camaraderie, training and act of improving one's self.

There is an amazing evolution that takes place while studying martial arts, and it is a powerful tool that has improved my life, and many others. However, if someone needs self-defense, they are better off focusing on a concentrated course.

Self-Defense training is recommended for people interested solely in protecting themselves and their loved ones (men, women, adults and teens). Also those in need of skills that will defend them in their line of work, e.g. soldiers, law enforcement, corrections officers, security guards, gas station attendants, etc.

The training methodology and techniques in Self-Defense, are typically streamlined and focused. While it lacks the benefits of self-improvement, personal growth, teamwork, goal achievement, and fun one gets from training martial arts, it is replaced by short term combat orientation that produces effective results - i.e., quick, simple methods to get you out of a bad situation. 

How do I find a good self-defense course?

  1. Look for a course that promotes principles such as - simple, easy, highly effective. Courses that rely on multi-step responses to a bad guy's attack, or the over-reliance on the use of fine motor skills vs gross motor skills, will fail you when you need them most.

    Simple, clean techniques that use gross motor function, and are reinforced through repetition will be reliable under dire stress and an adrenaline dump. Martial Arts training uses repetition to reinforce fine motor skills in combat over a much longer period of time. A weekend self-defense course should rely heavily on gross movements, the type that your body uses under duress.
     
  2. The course should address physical differences such as size, gender, strength, and not rely predominantly on punching. Punching, apart from being a refined skill in and of itself, will be harder for smaller and/or weaker opponents to produce enough power to disable or slow down an attacker (think 115 lbs woman versus 280 lbs male...).
     
  3. Ideally the course offers scenario training with suits and trained attackers, but also addresses the setting of 'verbal boundaries' and how to deal with obnoxious, what I like to call 'space invaders', or the creepy family friend or relative that likes to touch you while no one is looking. These are subtler situations that like date rape, do not always warrant a full on death dealing blow, but rather a lower key response that sends a strong message that you are not a willing participant in their sick fantasy.
     
  4. Course Length - the length of the course should be relatively short. 40 hours of self-defense training is not a bad thing, but if 40 hours is required in order to get you through all the material, then see my previous statement on simplicity and efficacy under stress.

    Usually a two hour focused course is 'ok', but should not be all encompassing. 8 to 12 hours of training is substantial, and if reinforced every few years, can be extremely beneficial.
     
  5. Types of Attacks - look for courses that cover defenses from common attacks such as: body/neck holds, grabs; while promoting the use of weapons you will have on you at all times (your limbs).

    Reaching in your purse, or pocket for a weapon when being caught off guard, takes away the use of your natural weapons that could be better used to defend yourself.
     
  6. Use of Weapons: some courses offer Kubaton training, or pepper spray/mace solutions in their arsenal. Weapons can be great tools, but do you have it on you at all times? Is it accessible? What happens if the attacker takes it away from you? Are you prepared for defending against that weapon now that it will be used against you?
     
  7. No Ground??? The course should absolutely address ground self-defense. Anyone can end up on the ground in an altercation, and many attacks end up here. Does the course offer extensive knowledge and training on how to deal with a larger, stronger, heavier attacker that has you pinned on the ground? Again, with simple, and effective techniques.
     
  8. Verbal Boundaries - As previously mentioned, verbal boundary training is a must. For some people (specifically those that have trouble telling other people “no”), this can be the toughest type of training, but the most rewarding.
     
  9. Scenario Training - Scenario training puts you in a stressful situation against a suited attacker so you can test the material you learned. Stress has an amazing ability to reinforce learned material in the brain. Having the opportunity to use what you learned, gives you the confidence to know that it works, and you can succeed. Make sure the course offers some type of stress testing.

Weapon Disarmament Courses

Weapon disarm courses should be considered with extreme care. Gun disarms are a viable training course and highly useful knowledge to have. While knife defense training is a slippery slope.

Knives are very dangerous, and it is extremely difficult to teach knife defense to an untrained person, especially in a short course. Also, buyer beware, there are many knife defense techniques that will not work, and are based off unrealistic attack styles (Jim Carey’s ‘In Living Color’ skit comes to mind).

Just be careful when seeking these out, and ask around before signing up for one. If taking a gun disarm course, a quick tell on whether or not the material you are learning will work is this: does the move account for someone pulling away while you are trying to do it?

How much should it cost?

What should a self-defense course cost? The field varies from free courses, to expensive courses, and anything in between. We’ve all heard the saying “You get what you pay for.”, but let’s add a little perspective.

Free Courses

Sometimes a person offering a free course is doing so because they believe strongly in helping others to avoid becoming a victim. It is not a direct indicator of low quality. Perhaps they were a victim themselves at one time, and decided to channel their horrible experience into something positive in an altruistic manner. 

We live in a monetary based society, and like it or not, we rate the value of something based on the price. This is good, and bad. Charging money for something does not automatically mean it is of higher quality. It is ultimately up to the consumer to research the courses, or try the free one first, and see if it is adequate by using some of the suggestions/criteria above. If you are satisfied and received a good service, then count yourself ahead.

Paid Courses

When dealing with paid courses, how much is too much? This becomes tricky. Ultimately we are talking about the value of your life, or your child's life, and the value of the material/skills being passed on in order to teach you to protect yourself or your family.

A good course will likely cost more money, but may be unaffordable. If money is no object, what value can be put on knowing your child is a bit safer in life? Or you walking away with the confidence to handle a bad situation? Sometimes a peace of mind is priceless.

We’re not simply talking about life or death, the true cost of living can mean surviving a sexual assault, mugging, or domestic violence, and dealing with the emotional trauma for years or decades to come.

If these situations can be avoided altogether, the savings in monetary, emotional, psychological, and physical currency will be priceless.

Choosing a good course and instructor is above all else. In the end, you will walk away feeling that you can rely on the material you learned, and hopefully never need it!

photos courtesy of Max Kotchouro