Why do many self-defense training scenarios start with a gun already at your head? Or an assailant threatening you with a knife to your throat? What happened in the moments prior to that situation and how often is that time frame covered in any depth in much of what passes for self- defense training? If you Google self-defense classes you will likely get info on a bunch of local martial arts schools and maybe a course or two offered through a Y or community center. While many of these courses will mention the need for awareness, assertiveness and in some cases de-escalation most will quickly shift the focus to physical techniques – some better than others depending on the program and the instructor.
First off let me say that I am not against training in physical self-defense techniques. I think they are useful and I love combat sports and martial arts and have done them in one form or another for most of my life up to this day. I also don’t mean to imply that there are not good self-defense teachers out there who also teach awareness, de-escalation and other non-physical proactive measures as big part of their curriculum, because there are. Our focus here is on the more common training programs that cut right to the physical with little regard for the components that lead up to a violent incident occurring.
Now – with that out of the way – let’s look at some of the real limitations of focusing exclusively or mainly on physical self-defense:
- Many self-defense courses are taught using techniques and elements from traditional martial arts. While some traditional arts have aspects or tools that may be useful in a real confrontation for the most part many of the techniques are not applicable for a real world violent confrontation.
- Many are taught based solely on combat sports. While this is perhaps a better fit than the traditional arts in most respects, if not properly modified there can be real shortcomings such as not considering multiple opponents, weapons, etc. We previously discussed the pros and cons of both approaches here: http://protectiveconcepts.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/combat-sports-traditional-martial-arts-and-defense/
- Regardless of the physical techniques used many self-defense systems require a great deal of training to become proficient. There are some practical combative systems that can be learned relatively quickly but frankly they are not widely available to most people. Given the level of interest and competing commitments many if not most people will not devote the time to become proficient.
- To train realistically requires training with intensity. This means against a resisting opponent with some level of contact that approximates a real situation. There must be enough intensity to get your adrenaline flowing as it would in a real violent encounter. A large segment of the population is not willing to train at this level.
- Despite what many people think – size and strength are a factor. Unless you are at a very high level you will be at a disadvantage against a larger, stronger opponent. Especially if that opponent has training and experience with violence – which most assailants will have.
- As you age your ability to be physically effective resisting a determined attacker is decreased.
- Your assailants will choose the time and place where they attack you in most cases. They will choose a situation where the odds are in their favor and you are in a disadvantaged position.
- Your attacker has likely committed similar violent assaults, has a game plan and knows what to expect. For you it may be the first time.
- In many if not most cases there will be multiple assailants, weapons or both.
- Carrying firearms or other weapons may be of no help or even counterproductive unless you train to use them under duress and have bridging techniques that allow you to get space and draw and deploy your weapon if suddenly attacked. We discussed this in our piece on the 21 foot rule: http://protectiveconcepts.wordpress.com/2012/11/25/the-21foot-rule-and-over-reliance-on-firearms.
The fact is criminal assaults don’t happen in a vacuum. There are always indicators prior to the attack and with the possible exception of some ambush-style assaults where the perpetrators are well concealed and lying in wait for a victim, you can usually detect these indicators. The key factor is you need to be watching for them and you need to be trained or have trained yourself to recognize them.
Personal security and self-defense needs to start before an incident ever begins and way before any physical techniques are needed. You need to:
- Recognize times and areas where you are more vulnerable or at risk and raise your level of awareness accordingly.
- Be able to read an environment and detect aberrations and potential threats in it.
- Understand adversary tactics and mindset – when and where possible specific tactics for the area where you are living or operating
- Understand enough about human behavior to read others and assess the level of threat, if any they may pose to you.
- Recognize indicators that an assault may be about to occur
- Be able to identify exits or escape routes as you go through your day so that you have options if you detect a threat.
- Have considered and mindsetted potential responses to possible threat scenarios.
- Training to physically respond to a violent attack has its place but also its limitations. Training for personal protection should focus heavily on detecting and avoiding potential threats. These are things everyone can do – especially with a little training and practice – regardless of age, physical condition and so forth. It’s also completely scalable based on the person’s perceived threat level and degree of interest. Many aspects of this approach were covered in previous articles which are linked here for those who want more information and a greater understanding.