Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Myth of Self-Defense

I'm pissed again. This is why I don't attend martial arts classes any more, why my answer to "what martial arts have you done?" is "oh, this and that."

Because most martial arts talk is posturing and pretense and ego, not much to do with effective self-defense. Which I do care about.

I'm not going off on a rant how most martial arts practices have little or nothing to do with self-defense, or how most MA teachers haven't a clue how little they know about what they think they're teaching. Heck, I'm barely going to touch on how much worse than useless most "women's self-defense" training is. All that would take a book. This one is a good start.

But I will say this: if someone you care about really needs self-defense, give them a few critical basics:

1. No matter how much experience they say they have, your teacher can be oh-so wrong. They don't know what you know about your body, your mind, or your self defense situation. And gosh, if they aren't listening to you, they know even less.

2. Anyone who won't talk to you about why they teach specific moves, who can't answer "but why not just walk away?", does not know what they are doing.

3. Belts don't matter. Martial arts lineages don't matter. The name of the school doesn't matter. All those weapons on the wall? The big, lovely Japanese kanji? Irrelevant. Absolutely irrelevant.

4. You don't need lots of fancy moves. More techniques isn't the answer. You need one move -- just one -- that works. Okay, maybe two. Listen: if it's hard to do when you're calm, on flat ground, in a well-lit room, how hard will it be to do in the rain, on slippery pavement in the dark? Those moves should be simple.

If you want a good teacher, find someone who doesn't need to convince you that they're a good teacher. Find someone who teaches out of their garage. Find someone who, when you learn a bunch of moves, won't give you a belt.

And to the guy who tried to teach me women's self-defense tonight, who is probably nearly as annoyed as I am by the experience, who thinks pain and damage are the same thing, who told me that if I raise my arm over my head I'll be taller than my attacker:

I hope you find out how how little you know before you teach this stuff to any other woman who might actually need to use it. But I bet you won't.

We don't really live in a very violent place or time. Most of the women who learn these "self-defense" practices will never need them. I console myself with that.

And yet, somehow, I'm still pissed.


  1. Self Defense should be simple, and easy to follow for everyone. When your life is in jeopardy, nothing else matters. There are over 20 million crimes committed against women in the U.S. each year. Self defense training is more valuable than martial arts training in learning basic moves that can be vital to your personal safety. Going back to basics is always best in any of the martial arts disciplines. You didn't need to read any books to learn how to sit, stand, walk, clap your hands, grab objects or climb up some stairs? You can learn to transfer these basic physical skills into effective self defense moves today, regardless of your current fitness level. Using common household props to learn the physical skills, bringing up good self defense prevention information, and understanding how to use the motor skills you already possess to remove yourself from danger is the purpose of "WITS (Whatever It Takes) Self Defense Workbook.

  2. Self defense and music have one thing in common: everyone's afraid to try them because they're sure these things need to be formally taught.

    But if you pick up an instrument and you start playing with it, you'll start learning to make music. If you start moving your body around, you'll learn how it moves. If you poke yourself in tender places, you'll learn that they hurt.

    Sure, there's stuff you can learn from experts in both cases, no question. But in both cases you can teach yourself by practicing. And getting over the idea that an expert has to teach you for you to learn anything.

    So I'm sort of agreeing with you. I'm also saying that women can learn to defend themselves by working out physically with other people rather than studying systems.

    Interestingly enough, Rory Miller is coming out with a drills manual that gives practices that people -- you know, including us women -- can use to teach ourselves. I'll let you know when it hits the stands.

  3. Rory is so cool. I have his book "meditations on violence", and it explains everything that i've been trying to get through to my students....still, many people are so concerned about the "right" way to do "moves" that it completely clouds the actual concept of self protection. When the sh*t hits the fan, the attacker won't give a flying f**k what belt someone is....pardon my french. :)

    I agree that much can be learned by self practice....only you know your body and mental capacities in dealing with the adrenaline dump. However I also believe that getting used to such stress is an important training tool, which is why Rory's curriculum is so cool. No belts, no hardwood dojo floor or Kamiza in the corner....just you and the bar or concrete floor. And working with other people helps, I believe....I can practice all my hard edged attitude and stuff on a punch bag all I want, but for me its not so much of a substitute for slamming on (protected-armored) people to get that feel of hitting moving targets that tend to fight back.

    I'm guessing, that the problem is, that for some students, the ability to differentiate "art" from "application" is a fuzzy line. Forms and fancy weapons are one thing (I love the art part for that), but applicability *concept* many times, is not taught by teachers. I've visited classes where the self defense is something that works for that particular instructor only, and not necessarily the general populace. I feel your "pain", Sonia.

  4. I just bet you do. You have no doubt run into many more self-involved (MALE) "teachers" who want to explain to my nice, little girl-like self how i can deFEND mahself if I just do as they say. This guy -- how do I say this nicely? Oh, right, I don't -- this arrogant snot wanted me to lift my arms over my head to make myself taller, and wanted me to make fancy moves when I could just hit him. ErK?

  5. Not that I'm still pissed or anything.

  6. Striking the elbow while maintaining the other hand up to block.Its best for self defense.
    Karate Lessons