OK, so you’ve decided that you need to do something for your personal safety and you want to learn some self-defence. That’s a good decision, but where do you go to? Do you just sign up at the closest martial arts studio? Does it matter what martial art you train and do martial arts even teach you proper self-defence? Once you type self-defence on your search page, you will discover that there are actually a lot of different providers offering some form of self-defence training.
There will be all kinds of martial arts schools and combat sports clubs that are advertising that you can learn self-defence when signing up for their classes, some might even boldly claim to be the only “real authority” for self-defence out there, (marketing and ego you know 😉 ) Your search will most certainly also bring up some independent self-defence instructors (like myself) that offer self-defence courses and training both for professionals and civilians, some maybe even offering specialised courses for women. On top of that, I am sure that the “only real” search engine will start bombarding you now also with all kinds of “online” self-defence courses, that offer the newest, absolutely secret, never seen before, only used by Ninjas, most lethal self-defence systems that you can learn in just a few hours while comfortably sitting on your couch at home, and without dropping any sweat at all. Are you confused yet? No worries, let me try to guide you through this chaos.
What kind of self-defence training should you look for?
When I started this blog my intention was to give free advice, to be unbiased and objective, so people could make their own choices based on concrete facts and insider knowledge. I know that most people first associate self-defence with various martial arts they might know from movies, TV, sports they eventually came across or they know someone is practising. I mean who doesn’t know Karate kid, Ninja Turtles or some good old Jacky Chan movies? For those who are not very familiar with martial arts, you would be very surprised how many of them actually exist, probably even in your neighbourhood (at least if you live in a big city). Since the question here is what kind of self-defence training would be the best and most efficient, I will not go down the rabbit hole to analyse how effective one or the other martial art is, I do however have an opinion when it comes to learning self-defence through practising martial arts. There is a clear difference in the purpose of training, as martial arts aim for so much more than just simple self-defence. Some are passing on centuries-old traditions and therefore include all kinds of rituals, forms, weapons, techniques in their training that are not at all related to any efficient use in a self-defence situation, but rather reflect cultural, artistic and sports values. Passing on these old traditions and skills, usually also requires that techniques are trained and executed to perfection, which requires a lot of discipline, dedication and usually takes years to master. The purpose of the training in self-defence should however specifically aim at teaching you how to defend yourself fast and efficiently without all the traditions, rituals and the need for perfection.
Self-defence has to be easy to learn
One of the most important criteria for me is that it can be learned relatively fast, as most people are simply not willing to invest years of hard training to learn these skills, even though they are potentially life-saving. I consider self-defence being an essential skill-set comparable to first aid, something absolutely everyone should have at least a basic understanding of, as you never know when you might need it to save your or someone else’s life, yet hopefully, you will never find yourself in the situation to really need it. In fact, I believe that good self-defence training should have you going home from your very first lesson, with the confidence that you have already learned something useful, and I am sure you will agree that this is what you would expect as well, right? Practical (hands-on) self-defence training should be kept simple but the information provided during training or a course should definitely also include prevention strategies and tactics on how to avoid, escape and de-escalate conflicts, hopefully additionally enriched with some real-life stories and anecdotes from your instructor, that can help you to better relate to all this. It should also be clear to everyone, including your instructor, that you are probably an absolute novice to all this, that you might have never hit anyone in your life, and that violence might be something you absolutely hate and only might have experienced not voluntarily on the receiving end. That makes self-defence training very delicate as it not only has to teach you the physical skills how to successfully resist an attacker and fight back but also help you to develop a completely new mindset, to actually be able to physically resist someone in the first place and eventually also overcome traumatic experiences. Self-defence training also needs to be 100% efficiency-oriented, there is no room for fancy or unnecessary moves. If someone shows you a technique that seems overly complex, and even after a detailed explanation you do not understand how it is done, skip it, delete, forget.
The secret to efficient self-defence lies in simplicity
The purpose of self-defence is to instantly respond to an, in most cases, unexpected violent attack. That means that at that moment you are going to be shocked at first (especially if you have no awareness), then your body will respond with the release of Adrenalin to give you an extra boost, but that reduces your ability to think clearly. Your vision will be narrowed to focus on the attacker (tunnel vision) and the brain will initiate some kind of emergency program (If there is any). You might have heard of the term “Fight or Flight” reaction, and I have a separate post explaining that in more detail. Important to know now is that in such a situation you will be under extreme stress, probably in shock and fear and that makes it almost impossible to perform any complex movements or techniques. Hence, what you need is the most simple solutions possible, basic movements and techniques that are easy to remember, that feel natural and are simple to perform even under such stressful conditions. Therefore all you really need to learn are a few basic ways of hitting, and kicking, what body parts to target to make the most damage or to imply pain to your opponent and how to block and defend yourself from being hit this way. This should not be too excessive, you do not need to know 20 deadly ways of the fist, or a variety of 10 different kicks like spinning, jumping, flying… On top of that, you just need a few principles and techniques that will teach you how to escape some chokes, grabs and holds either while standing or also on the ground. And the most important tactics of all escaping to safety!
Each lesson should build upon what you have already learned, progressively going deeper, showing you also variations to the learned techniques should something not work for you. Your instructor should be able to give you a good understanding of all potential outcomes of every situation, including the legal consequences. Usually, within a few weeks time you should be able to acquire already a very solid foundation, and repeating these training sessions with increasing intensity, stress drills etc. over a period of a few months should really show already very good results for anyone, no matter where you started at. Talking about reality in training there are also a few other things to look out for. One of them being that if you learn how to fall, it should not be trained on mats. From my own martial arts experience, I have to say that the softness of a mat or Tatami gives you a false sense of understanding how to go to the ground without hurting yourself. Even many seasoned martial artists wouldn’t need the attacker to do anything to them after taking a fall on concrete as it would simply knock them out. Also very important is to rather practice in regular street clothes and shoes, I don’t go that far to say that you have to show up in class in high heels and a tight dress, but if that is your average working outfit, then learning how to fight barefoot and in a Kimono or Gi, does not really reflect that. Another fact that serious self-defence training has to take into account is that most people who train in self-defence might have a physical disadvantage if the adversary is bigger, stronger and more aggressive. There are no rules in self-defence, meaning you are allowed and encouraged to use any means necessary to prevent someone from hurting you, which includes also biting, scratching, eye gauging, as well as using any kind of available objects to hit and hurt the attacker with. The goal however is never to win the fight by defeating your opponent, it is to end the fight by escaping to safety.
How stress drills pressure test your skills
The things that self-defence training absolutely has no need for are rankings and tests. If any tests, they should be rather pressure tests, or so-called stress drills, where attacks are simulated in aggression and intensity to match real-life attacks, for the purpose of reinforcing your ability to apply the learned techniques under pressure. The most effective way to achieve this is by using a special method used to memorise things that are to be used in high-stress situations. Allow me to describe this process for illustration purposes in a bit metaphoric way. Picture the human body as a biomechanical machine that is controlled by a computer, the brain. Like any other computer, it has an operating system that runs all critical operations in the background without your conscious interaction, but everything else is controlled by specific programs. You are the sum of your experiences, what you have learned over your lifespan defines who you are, how you think and respond. Every experience is like a little program uploaded in the brain. Those programs can be changed and overwritten. I assume that most of you currently don’t have an emergency program as you lack any experience of how to efficiently defend yourself. So, we need to write an emergency program, telling the brain if such a situation ever occurs, this is what I want you to do. And the most effective programming is done by actually simulating these situations as close to reality as possible. Once the brain recognises the pattern that leads to a successful resolution of the situation, it will start using this automatically. Therefore good self-defence training always has to include some sort of simulation training, stress drills and conditioning of your mindset under high pressure.
Developed for combat, not for show
These are training methods that have been developed for the military and law enforcement and they have proven to work very efficiently for any kind of self-defence training as well. It is mainly law enforcement, security services and the military, who actively train and use hand to hand combat for maintaining their ability to defeat adversaries or control and restrain individuals by force in real violent situations. Everyone else more or less practises martial arts or combat sports just for recreation purposes. This usually reflects in the way they train, often practising certain moves or techniques with a compliant opponent who knows exactly how to attack for your technique to work and with force and resistance applied that suits you. This is by no means realistic training, it might be good for starting to learn more complex techniques like that, but then you have to progressively increase the pressure and put that to a test, not knowing when and how you are going to be attacked, simulating the force and aggression a real attacker would use (without compromising safety in training). It is not easy to apply the things you have learned under these conditions, and therefore it shouldn’t be easy in training either. Even simple things like escaping, running away, using obstacles in doing so, also using any type of available tools to help yourself in a critical situation, requires to be trained and conditioned and therefore has to be part of your training. If your training does not reflect the mentioned escape tactics, if you are not being attacked by multiple opponents eventually being armed with knives, bottles, baseball bats, etc., if you are not being punched or kicked by others while on the ground fighting one opponent, then you are not training for reality. That is the main difference in the purpose of the training, it is one thing practising for demonstrating perfectly executed artistic techniques or for competition within a boundary of set rules and another thing to train to survive. There is an often used saying in the martial arts world, “You fight like you train” and that is the simple universal truth. It also means that you do not know how to defend yourself in situations that you did not train for, period
Is online training a real thing?
This will be a short one 😉 , I understand that the world is changing and everything is getting delivered online nowadays. For some things that does work perfectly, including the education sector, I don’t see why one would not study online as long as it concerns theoretical knowledge, in fact, I have done that too recently. However, if you need hands-on experience in something, I guess it will be difficult to get this delivered online, correct? The same applies to self-defence training, I see a lot of benefits in providing the parts of theoretical self-defence training in an online format (working currently on it). I could reach a much wider audience than I could ever in person, which holds exciting opportunities. Even teaching you my self-defence curriculum online as well, might even work to some extend, at least as preparation and assuming you have at least a partner to train with. But when it comes to the part where you need to overcome your fears, step out of your comfort zone and transform from the victim mentality into a survivor, I believe that part still requires a good coach. Maybe I am wrong. I will put it to a test and see if I am wrong with this. Now I have been talking mainly here about my own course being delivered online, I have not really considered anyone else’s online offers here. I did come across a lot of videos online and they are like most things online, some are great, others are OK and a lot of them are BS. Now what I have seen so far from courses that are being advertised, I am very sceptical about them. Whenever someone advertises as being the only “real solution” out there, or they use language like “never seen before, never released to the public before, etc.” this should trigger your consumer “self-defence awareness” as it definitely stinks like BS. Maybe I should do a real review of such programs in the future, if you think that this might be useful, drop me a comment so I can see what the interest is like for that.
I hope this was informative and useful, if you want to find out more about personal safety and self-defence training check out some of my other posts on the subject in the Personal Safety category.