Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Truth About "Self-Defense" Workshops…

I have been training people in physical skills since I was 15 years old – at the time of this writing, that’s 25 years of teaching experience.  Some of the people whom I am privileged to teach are professionals who require physical skills as part of their profession – military and/or law enforcement personnel generally.  Others are physical skills/martial arts students who have a professional approach towards their own training.

This month, The Midwest Academy provided a 120 minute “Women’s Self-Defense Workshop” at a fundraising event; we wish to pass along some of the general lessons learned from that workshop. While conducting research into current “Women’s Self-Defense workshops”, we looked at many of the already existing training platforms and discovered they generally had the following aspects in common:
  • They advocate that a woman strike an assailant’s “eyes, throat, & groin”;
  • They advocate the use of elbows, knees, & head butting; and
  • They presume a single male attacker as the only assailant.
In order to validate the workshop training, many of these programs dress the mock assailant in a padded suit and basically allow him one attack after which time he remains stationary and the student uses him as a “punching bag”.  A significant number of these programs also have some "gimmick" that the course is based upon - for example, the 'high heeled shoe' as a weapon.

This is excellent marketing in that it allows people to leave with a sense that they have some solutions with which to defend themselves, but is that really the case?  From an anatomical perspective, while these are "soft targets", the “eyes, throat, & groin” are the most instinctively & reflexively guarded parts of the human anatomy.  In addition, in order to directly strike these targets, the defender places herself directly in front of the attacker - a position that the Academy refers to as “work-space to work-space alignment” – in this alignment, the defender has no advantages and the position is most favorable to the larger, stronger, & more aggressive person.  In addition, the defender’s eyes, throat, & groin are as equally vulnerable as the attacker’s.  Finally, as if that’s not enough, the strategy advocated by these programs requires the defender to be at a distance close enough to perform an elbow strike, knee strike, or head butt (which, if incorrectly performed, can cause the defender to lose consciousness).  And while those anatomical weapons are formidable by all accounts, even trained fighters do not stand and strike at that distance while in that position (work-space to work-space alignment).  The formulaic approach clearly has marketing advantages, however, it likewise lacks integrity with regard to the welfare of the student.   

The Truth…

Almost all of our attendees were likely surprised during the workshop introduction where we simply stated that they would not leave the workshop with any applicable skills.  This is not a reflection on our curriculum, teaching ability, nor any such factor – the statement is based on an understanding of how humans create utility with regard to physical skills – utility is the ability of the skill performer to effectively perform the skill in the environment and under the conditions for which the skill is designed.  Utility is the process of moving from a knowledge set – knowing what to do given a set of stimuli – to a skill set – doing what you know given a set of stimuli.  It is often described as the path from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence - we have previously made the skill building analogy with how one learns to drive a car.  How long does that take? There are a number of factors some of which include: the existing skills of the learner, the complexity of the skill being learned, the methodology being used to teach the skill, the frequency in which the skill is practiced, & the intensity of the training. 

The two points, however, to always keep in mind when learning a physical skill are:

·         No physical skill can be internalized (unconscious competence) in 2 hours, 2 weeks, 2 months, or probably even 2 years; and
·         There is a direct relationship between practice and skill development – the more you practice (assuming correct practice), the better you will get.

Anyone that tells you otherwise is doing you a disservice.

It is not the Academy's position that there is truly a difference between “men’s self defense” and “women’s self defense”; there may be a case for beginning the training process at different points as, based on empirical data, men & women tend to be attacked for different reasons/purposes and thus are attacked differently.  Most attacks on women are initiated with some type of control as most women are attacked by attackers that wish to control them.  Most attacks on men are initiated with some type of strike or weapon since the objective is to remove their ability to resist the attack.  However, eventually, regardless of gender, a quality training program must address all categories of attacks.

Therefore during this workshop we focused on a principle based solution that achieved the following objectives:

  • Moved the attackers control further away from the attacker’s body core (thereby weakening him) and closer to the defender’s body core (thereby creating a relative leverage advantage in favor of the defender);
  • Forced the attacker to maintain the control with “limb strength” while allowing the defender to release the control with “core strength” (creating a relative strength advantage in favor of the defender);
  • Moved the defender into a “flank” position on the attacker making it more difficult for the attacker to continue attacking and easier for the defender to strike, control, or escape (creating both a relative position & speed advantage for the defender).

 We used a few variations of the same attack, but the above principles and movements are basic solutions to almost any control from any position.

A final thought on the 120 minute workshop was that by using a principle based approach, students were leveraging Hick’s Law to their advantage.  Hick’s Law states that the greater the number of options, the greater the reaction time needed to employ any of them.  Since students essentially learned one principle, their reactions will eventually be very efficient.  We say “eventually” since it still requires practice to internalize the mechanics of this principle.

The Midwest Academy's goal in providing workshops is to educate the public on the role of awareness in personal protection. With regard to physical skills, it is our objective to provide a realistic overview of what a usable skill set is as well as to provide the foundation to recognize what utility-oriented training looks like.  

For information on this or other programs offered by The Midwest Academy, please visit our website.

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