How I became a self-defense teacher

Some who teach self-defense say they are qualified to do so due to their martial arts credential, and some talk about their law enforcement credentials. In each case, some tell the truth, and some over-inflate. I’m going to tell you the truth and let you decide for yourself how qualified I am.

I have no law enforcement credentials; so, I don’t teach law enforcement. I teach civilians. I have martial arts qualifications (one 5th degree black belt, one 6th degree), but martial art and self-defense are surprisingly unrelated. Many people don’t know this. I didn’t know it for many, many years myself. I thought all of the taekwondo and all of the hapkido moves I learned prepared me to defend myself from dangerous people.

I thought if I learned more moves, I would be better prepared. I thought if I made myself physically stronger and mentally tougher I would be better prepared. I thought, if I practiced each move more times, I would be better prepared.

I tried to help my students learn more moves, become stronger and tougher, and practice harder because I wanted them to be better prepared to defend themselves. Then I realized self-defense is not all about moves, so I began to study it’s other aspects. I read . . .

  •  The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker,
  • Tom Patire’s Personal Protection Handbook
  • Bouncer’s Guide to Barroom Brawling by Peyton Quinn,
  • Turning Fear into Power by Bill Kipp,
  • Beauty Bites Beast by Ellen Snortland,
  • Verbal Judo by Doc Thompson,
  • How to Say No to a Rapist and Survive by Frederic Storaska
  • Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller
  • My Life Tracking Serial Killers by ?

And several books about bullying that I’ve forgotten the names of. I also attended a terrorism awareness conference held for local law enforcement and studied information made for children about preventing abduction including the “Safe Side Stranger Safety” video by John Walsh and Julie Clark and a video made by martial artists that paled in comparison.

Besides teaching my students (of various ages and levels of athleticism) martial arts moves, I taught them what I learned from these sources. Then, I started to look again at the moves I taught my students. I wanted to make sure I taught the best moves I could teach. I began to study what other, not-so-martial-arts-related physical self-defense teachers teach. I took an IMPACT women’s basics course (the course material for the 20 hour course developed from Matt Thomas’ Model Mugging program in California in the ’70’s). I also signed up for FAST Defense instructor training through the internet. FAST stands for Fear Adrenal Stress Training and was started by Bill Kipp, who worked with Matt Thomas years ago. FAST defense teaches martial arts instructors the special methods that Model Mugging, IMPACT, and other non-martial-art self-defense classes use to make their students able to remember and apply moves they have been taught even while adrenaline, which is produced when a person realizes they must protect themselves from danger, affects their body and brain.

I also worked through some books about Krav Maga. Krav Maga is an integrated, tactical self-defense and combat system created for the Israeli military years ago. “Integrated” means that the moves a student learns for use against various attacks relate to each other as much as possible. That makes them easier to learn, and remember. “Tactical” means–(to me, anyway)–that the moves included in the system take into account the situations that they might be used in. For example, a response to a person grabbing one’s hair is not a very good response if it doesn’t work whether the grab is intended to give them a chance to punch you, knee you in the head, or pull you into a dark alley since, when the hair grab begins, you probably have no idea which of these three your attacker plans to do. “Combat” means a situation where a more than one person willingly try to harm each other, like “taking a fight outside.” After my first work-through on a particular Krav Maga book, I no longer study the combat aspects, just the self-defense aspects. (Self-defense here means a situation where one person attacks and the other did not volunteer to participate.)

When I say I “worked through” the books I mean I learned the moves in the books and practiced them with people who were interested in learning Krav Maga. Then, I practiced the moves with people who were not interested in learning Krav Maga. So, they had no subconscious desire for the move to work well, but rather wanted me to fail so they could prove the superiority of the move they had previously practiced for the same situation. Then I taught the moves to people of various ages and levels of athleticism. Then I did it all over again with the same books a few more times.

Every time I read a section of Darren Levine’s “Complete Krav Maga,” his “Krav Maga for Beginners,” or “How to Defend Yourself Against Armed Assault” by the founder of Krav Maga, I find a deeper understanding of the moves and theories behind them.

Some people feel like Krav Maga is a martial art: It is commonly taught in the same ways martial arts are taught. People who feel like this might think I did something wrong by learning it from a book instead of a person, or by teaching some aspects of it (self-defense) and not others (combat). But, let me tell you a story of something that happened in one of my classes one night.

We had a person trying class who trained in Krav Maga elsewhere, but had a disagreement with her instructor and considered switching to my class. We were on the first day of a four-class focus on defense against a knife. The first drill I had the students practice was lifting a chair and using it to “back away” their partner who was pretending to be a dangerous potential attacker with a knife.

She said “Why would I do that? I know how to defend myself against a stab with a knife!” She didn’t “get” the drill and did not join my class. Apparently, her instructor did not study the book by the founder of Krav Maga, or did not choose to teach her the part about “If you can flee the scene or brandish an improvised weapon in an impressive show of strength to make the attacker change his mind, this is preferable to using the techniques explained in the defense against attack with a knife chapter.” Only a good martial artist would need to be taught that the most difficult way to do a thing so important as defending one’s self against an attacker with a knife is not necessarily the best way to do it.

The point of my story is that, although it is possible that I may have missed details of Krav Maga techniques by learning them from books, many, many instrutors who learn Krav Maga from people miss important details of it’s theory such as that the point of self-defense is to make one’s self safe in the simplest way possible.

During my years of learning that there was much more to self-defense than what martial arts people teach, I questioned what I teach my students and constantly made decisions about what I thought were the best moves and ideas for them to know.

Then, one day I began to question the whole basic assumption of martial art which is that, in order to be able to defend themselves, a person should make themselves stronger and tougher, learn more techniques, and practice each move another few hundred times. This assumption leads to ideas like “When you are a black belt, you will understand how to use this move you are practicing now.” and “Don’t quit class because you haven’t learned enough to defend yourself against every attack yet.” It also leads to ideas such as “You cannot learn to use a weapon to defend yourself until you are proficient in defending without a weapon.” and “You cannot learn to defend yourself against a person with a weapon until you have learned to defend yourself against an unarmed person.”

These assumptions and ideas seemed fine when I thought about myself and my able bodied, coordinated young adult students. But then I thought about the older women, and the older men, and the young children, and the terribly non-athletic or uncoordinated students. What if these people were attacked next week? Did I really do the best I could do to prepare them if they need to fight for their life before next class?

For myself, I could have continued to believe in the martial art fantasy that becoming stronger, learning more moves, toughing up, and training harder is essential to being able to face the dangers of the real world. But, when I thought about certain of my students, I wasn’t sure anything could make them tough enough, coordinated enough, or committed enough to training hard in class to give them the ability to survive an attack. So, I started to wonder what was the best this person could do to protect themselves, even as they are limited by the limitations that limit them.

Aside: At some point here I also decided that the performance and sporting aspects of martial art are valuable just as the self-defense aspects are; so, I found a way to strike a balance between performance, sport, and self-defense in my taekwondo classes. But in my self-defense only classes, I try my best to ensure that every time a student leaves class they are better prepared to defend themselves than they were before they came.

Getting back on topic: In any particular area of self-defense that I have studied, there are others who are more expert than I. For example, if you are an able bodied young adult there may be others who can toughen you up and teach you to fight better than I can. If you are an able bodied motivated young adult though, it doesn’t really matter what self-defense you study (martial arts based, law enforcement based, civilian reality based) because you can learn anything, you can make yourself tougher, you can make yourself stronger, you can practice hard, and you probably don’t even look like a good victim for a predator to select anyway. Note though, that I suspect that I am the only martial art or self-defense instructor in my city, and one of the few anywhere, who will put as much effort into teaching you how to stay out of fights as I do. That is much better than winning them. (I mean to offense to other instructors who teach people how to stay out of fights; it’s just that there are not many of us out there who do more than tell our students to stay out of fights.)

As I studied many different aspects of self-defense for my own use (awareness, verbal, attitude, body language, weapon using, voice using, terrorism prevention, and physical defense against unarmed, knife wielding, stick wielding, and gun using attackers) I realized that further dedicating myself to study of any one aspect might be a waste of my time, because I cannot predict what dangerous situations I may be in in the future, and therefore what skills I may need.  So, excessive focus in one area leaves me vulnerable in other areas.

I’ve decided that everyone–even weak, unmotivated, uncoordinated, very young or very old people–deserves to have some knowledge that improves their chances to survive a dangerous situation.  And, no civilian has any way to accurately predict what dangers they are most likely to face in the future; therefore, they can’t decide what one particular aspect of self-defense they most need to learn.

This is why I now make home-study courses on self-defense that teach a little bit about many of it‘s aspects. I’ll leave you on your own to decide if I am qualified to do so. But, I have decided that someone has to do something about all of the people in the world who deserve to protect themselves but, for whatever reason, haven’t made the decision to become self-defense experts or even take a 20 hour course in it. I’ve decided it might as well be me.