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.
Do you plan to travel?
Are you going to, or returning to college?
Do you work a high risk job?
Do you live alone?
Do you reside, or work in a high risk environment?
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 traumatic experiences. While it is possible it can help overcome fears and anxieties, and teach you how to solve a problem that still plagues 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! Significant ones at that.
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 to apply your [insert style of martial art] for real world scenarios can be long and arduous; and not always conducive to your body type, or strength capacity in that particular style.
Some styles of martial arts focus predominantly on competition fighting, which does not allow you to hit targets you 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.
Martial arts is phenomenal (insert biased opinion), But this approach is better if your self-defense goals are less ‘urgent’, and if they also include lifestyle improvement, fitness level, perfecting combat skills; while also enjoying the process of learning, camaraderie, training regimen and overall self-improvement.
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.
While I do highly recommend martial arts training to you if you are looking for self-defense training, if you require this skillset with any sort of expediency, you are better off focusing on a concentrated course, rather than martial arts.
Self-Defense training is something I recommend for you if you are interested solely in protecting yourself and/or your loved ones. It is for men, women, adults and teens of any size, shape, and fitness level. It should not require you to be at a certain level of fitness.
On the job - a self-defense course is especially relevant to you, if you are in a line of work that requires skills to protect you in the line of duty, e.g. soldiers, law enforcement, corrections officers, security guards. Or, those frequently by themselves in remote locations - gas station attendants, convenience store clerks, real estate agents, those working after hours in small numbers, or solo.
The training methodology and techniques in a self-defense course, are typically, and should definitely, be streamlined and focused. While it lacks the benefits of self-improvement, personal growth, teamwork, goal achievement, and fun, that one gets from training martial arts, it is replaced by short term, combat oriented training that produces effective results - i.e., quick, simple methods to get you out of a bad situation.
How do you find a good self-defense course?
S.E.E. - 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 ‘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 warrior style self-defense course should rely heavily on gross movements, the type that your body uses under duress.
ZERO PUNCHING - This is so important. Your course of choice should address physical differences such as size, gender, strength, and not rely predominantly on punching. Punching, apart from being a refined skill that takes months, or years of practice in and of itself, will be harder for smaller and/or weaker opponents to produce enough stopping power to disable or slow down an aggressive attacker. Think 115 lbs woman versus 280 lbs male.
Keep in mind: the human skull has evolved over millions of years to protect the brain inside of it. It's hard, and not meant to crumble at the first hint of danger. Quoting a bike-helmet study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics,
"235 kg (520 pounds) or 2,300 newtons of force would be needed to crush a human skull, almost twice as much force as human hands could possibly muster."
Punching the head can lead to breaking your hand. There are better ways to defend yourself.
Strength Not Required - (don’t read this if you are sensitive) there are great self-defense oriented training programs out there. Krav Maga, an Israeli armed forces program, is an example. For what it was designed for, it is amazing! Who was it designed for? Highly trained, physically fit, special force commandos caught in hand-to-hand combat situations against an untrained, unfit, and often surprised, indigenous combatant.
Much to their chagrin, and this will likely get me in hot water - it is NOT, a suitable form of self-defense for college women, high school girls, suburban housewives, etc. I do not deem it fit for women in general, because that is NOT who it was designed for, and it’s success criteria will not work if you are smaller, weaker in stature than the opponent. Before you send me hateful comments - it is not fit for ME either. I’m a smaller male, and I found it problematic using the techniques against larger opponents.
I don’t sugar coat things when it comes to defending people’s lives. There are obvious anatomical differences ‘in general’ between women, and men. Knowing this, and choosing a course that takes this into account, no matter what your gender, is important. Know your strength/condition before undertaking a specific style of training. While I respect the Krav Maga training methods, this style ‘requires’ strength, speed, and highly aggressive bursts in order for it to work. Smaller, out of shape - find something that uses solid techniques/principles to work, rather than 2 years of combat training.
Scenarios - 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.
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.
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.
Weapons - some courses offer Kubotan 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 your own weapon if it is taken away from you? Weapons can be excellent tools, but in civilized nations/environments, how likely are you to be able to access it when needed?
THE GROUND - I can’t stress this one enough. The course you take should absolutely address ground self-defense. Anyone can end up on the ground in an altercation, and many attacks end up here especially in sexual assault situations. Make sure the course offers 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!
Verbal Boundaries - For some of us (specifically those that have trouble telling other people “no”), this can be the toughest type of training, but the most rewarding.
Ideally a you take course offers scenario training with suited attackers, but depending on your goals, and situation, you may want to address 'verbal boundaries', and how to deal with obnoxious, what I like to call 'space invaders'. Think creepy family friend or relative that likes to touch you while no one is looking. Or the person on your commuter train that puts their hands where they don’t belong. These are subtler situations that much akin to ‘date rape’, do not always warrant a full on death dealing blow. Rather, a lower-key response that sends a strong message you are not a willing participant in their sick fantasy.
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!!! Buyer beware. It is extremely difficult to teach knife defense to an untrained person, especially in a short course. Also, there are many knife defense techniques that will not work, and are based off of unrealistic attack styles (Jim Carey’s ‘In Living Color’ skit comes to mind - see below). Be careful, and skeptical when seeking out knife defense training. 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 the gun away while you are trying to perform the technique?
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.
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.
When dealing with paid courses, how much is too much? This becomes tricky. 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 avoiding the emotional trauma for years or decades to follow.
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 priority one 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