I consider myself first and foremost a self protection instructor, it’s the subject area on which I spend the most time, but in my regular evening classes I’m teaching Karate, a martial art.
On one of the nights I teach there are two other clubs running alongside mine on neighbouring badminton courts: one teaching a Kickboxing system, the other teaching Krav Maga. These clubs aren’t teaching self protection either and (in the main) neither are teaching self defence.
What do I mean?
Self defence is the physical aspect of using force to protect yourself or others. It is a term given to the legal use of force that might otherwise incur criminal charges. It is however commonly used as a catch-all term instead of self protection; the broader umbrella comprising the more important aspects of crime prevention through personal safety awareness, avoidance, deterrence, threat negation (running away, de-escalation through language and body language), psychological preparation (to improve both the ability to avoid force and to use force), physical control (where necessary and appropriate) and self defence.
I am teaching a martial art in my evening classes. My students learn techniques, they practice forms to rehearse techniques and footwork, they strike pads and they spar freely with one another. But because every drill and training method has been analysed from a training safety perspective, has been assessed as the necessary and reasonable response to the levels of potential injury concerned in the attacks concerned, and I include habitual acts of violence in addition to ‘martial arts techniques’, I make sure that what they do also falls into the legal category of self defence.
Introducing the concept of self defence into martial arts classes is not that hard. It just requires a little work. The broader the repertoire of your chosen art, the easier it is. It is mainly selecting appropriate responses to stimuli and understanding when to stop.
Is the teaching of martial arts skills as self defence a problem? Self defence is a legal construct rather than fighting skills and as such is not a fixed item. What qualifies as self defence will vary according to circumstances, personal perception, and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It’s not always easy to say that this part of this system is self defence while another part is not, it’s not always that clear cut. But there are some skills often taught that cannot be self defence because they are designed to maim or kill a person when they are no longer in a position where anyone could reasonably claim that they believed they still had the potential to do harm. Teaching such techniques and leading students to believe that they are learning self defence is a problem, and it is one that is prevalent in both the RBSD community as well as traditional martial arts. The teaching of techniques that are quite simply fantastical in the context of application in non-consensual violence is a problem that is prevalent in both RBSD and TMA, but in martial arts is not an issue if they are competition rule-set appropriate for the club concerned.
Introducing self protection into martial arts? That’s harder.
People often come to martial arts looking for self protection, but what they want in their regular classes is a physical workout, not a series of lectures, group discussions, story sharing and introspection. Regular classes also tend not to lend themselves to accompanying physical attacks with realistic elements such as verbal abuse, de-escalation opportunities and decision making.
I have what I feel is a good working solution that allows me to teach self protection through martial arts. It all comes down to my syllabus.
My syllabus document keeps changing and growing. Like most martial arts syllabi it contains a list of what I expect to test at each grade along with martial arts vocabulary, but that’s just the first 18 pages of a 152 page A4 document. Most of the syllabus is dedicated to personal safety advice, the theory that underpins our training methods, legal information, self protection book recommendations and real crime reports. I’m always adding in more material and I still haven’t included every element that I used to discuss in my self protection lectures.
While I enjoy discussions and talks on the many-faceted elements of self protection, I am particularly fond of reading information since the written word affords the opportunity to stop to analyse and absorb information that is often lost in live presentations. I thus feel it is important that all my students have access to written resources that they can revisit as often as they like.
This does raise an important point. How can I be sure that my students will read the information that I have provided? That I am providing self protection rather than a self defence focused martial art? To do this I use written exams for the majority of my gradings. Students are asked questions on the syllabus to ensure that they know the underpinning theory and personal safety material I want them to know (either through reading my syllabus, reading books, attending courses with me or others or just general life experience and emotional maturity). I recently moved from paper exams to online questionnaires where students can attempt to answer multiple times (each time having to re-read questions and answers) until they get perfect scores.
This is a balanced holistic approach to giving students the exercise that is good for their physical and mental health, skill sets that will give them an edge should they ever be in a violent incident, and ingraining information and personal habits that will help keep them safe. It’s also a ‘non-intrusive’ approach to self protection teaching in martial arts that I would like to see as a template for more clubs that advertise themselves as providing ‘self defence’.
In this manner my students get constant access to high quality information from me and other sources and have the opportunity to question me further in person or through email discussion. I also provide further opportunities for them to test their decision making, conflict management and martial arts skills under pressure in my Sim Day scenario training outside our regular class schedule with debriefs involving a discussion of tactics, ethics and legal considerations.
You can combine martial arts with self protection.