By Scott Shaw
Author’s note: I've been asked to write another book on the self-defense aspects of the martial arts so I was going through some of my previous writings to get some ideas and inspiration. I came upon this editorial that I wrote for Inside Karate magazine that was published in the December 1997 issue. I realized that it still provides some important thoughts about self-defense training. So, here it is...
I was invited to watch the graduation exercise at a school that taught a widely publicized two-day self-defense seminar. It was basically geared towards women, but there were two men in attendance, as well. The ages of the participants ranged from a fifteen-year-old girl to approximately mid-thirties.
At the beginning of the ceremony everybody got up and gave their testimonials about how confident they felt after the course. Some of the students claimed that they had studied traditional martial arts for years upon years and it proved fruitless, but after this two-day seminar they felt they could truly handle themselves in any confrontational situation.
I was expecting to watch some very interesting and effective techniques but when they started demonstrating what they had learned I was in disbelief. They begin by fighting imaginary opponents and unleashing misdirected techniques that would never work in a real street combat situation. Then, the students went up against the seminar trainers, who wore massively padded suits, and pretended to be affected by their misdirected self-defense techniques. A friend who was with me said it best. He stated, “This is very dangerous, letting these people believe that they could actually defend themselves.”
As a martial artist who has focused his entire career upon the study and development of scientific self-defense, I am one hundred percent behind the empowerment of people -- especially women, learning how to successfully defend themselves. But, what I am one hundred percent against is individuals claiming to teach street worthy self-defense and instead leading people down a road to injury while charging them excessive amounts of money to do it -- whether it be a two-day or a two-year program.
As a first line of self-defense, the instructors at this seminar, taught the students to initially make a strange comment or ask the attacker some bizarre question if they were accosted. This, it was claimed, would distract the attacker.
This subtle psychological technique is, in fact, a good preliminary method of self-defense. By distracting your opponent, even if only for a moment, you give yourself the opportunity to unleash a powerful counter attack. The problem with this method of initial self-defense is, however, most people, particularly women, who have never been involved in a street altercation are not going to have the mental presence to be able to remember to ask a foolish question of an attacker. Instead, they are just going to freeze. The better, more effective, method of verbal self-defense the seminar instructors taught was screaming the word, “No,” in the opponents face. This verbal assault was, however, the end of effective self-defense training that took place at this training program.
The students were taught to unleash knee kicks to the groin and knife hand strikes to the throat. Both good self-defense techniques if they are delivered correctly. But, they must be delivered with exacting precision or they are useless. A knee to the groin must hit its mark exactly or it will have little, if any, effect on the attacker. So too the knife hand strike to the throat.
This is where the long-term training that takes place in traditional martial arts schools becomes invaluable. Through continued training drills you learn how to effectively deliver a knee strike and how to correctly snap the elbow out when you unleash a knife hand.
None of the students at this seminar delivered correct striking techniques; even the one’s who had claimed years of traditional training. Unleashing any strike without the proper technique is fruitless and would only help to further enrage an attacker.
The scariest thing, of the supposed self-defense techniques that these seminar students were taught was, how to get a two-hundred-pound man, who had grabbed them from behind, off of them when he had a knife to their throat or a gun to their head. I don’t care how good of a martial art technician you are, if you have a two-hundred-pound guy on top of you, holding a gun at your head, and ready to use it, prayer is your best option.
The students went through poorly executed self-defense techniques for the aforementioned situations. They uselessly grabbed at the knife of the attacker and effortless flipped the men off of their backs.
If you grab a knife in a street confrontation, you cut yourself. If you try to get a two-hundred-pound man off of your back, without exacting techniques, he remains on your back and tightens his grasp.
The most notable flaw of this seminar was that the students were never taught how deflect an oncoming attack or how to properly disengage an opponent’s grasp upon them. Without these basic skills, street self-defense degenerates to useless grappling on the ground.
The truth of the matter is; you cannot teach anyone how to successful defend themselves in a two-day seminar. What’s worse is that you can, however, make a person believes that they can defend themselves in a two-day seminar.
Learning how to successfully defense yourself is a life-long process; with each new life event and understanding you come to define your own methods of self-defense more accurately. From this, we as martial artists, can expound this understanding onto other people.
This was perhaps the main problem with this self-defense seminar. The people who were training these unsuspecting students were not true martial artists. They had only studied enough rudimentary self-defense to have something to teach and then went out and claimed the techniques to be their own. They never had to truly put what they taught to the test and, thus, may even themselves have believed that what they taught was valid.
The moral of this story is: Number One: Be careful whom you study from. Make sure that your instructors are well trained enough to truly impart viable, useful knowledge. Number Two: Take the time to truly learn what your instructors have to teach you and then put it to the test, in a training environment, so that you will personally come to understand what does and what does not work if you ever find yourself in an actual street combat situation.
Copyright 1997 – All Rights Reserved