self defense training

Growing up in the 60s and 70s, karate, kung fu, and judo all seemed mysterious and mystical. The term “martial arts” wasn’t used much then.

In 1975, I was a green belt and the rumors of me as the “karate guy” started to circulate in middle school. I distinctly recall standing in the lunch line. The kid behind me, sincerely asked, “Is it true that to get your black belt you have to pull the heart out of a cow with your bare hands?” 

I wasn’t sure whether to say that’s not true or to let him keep thinking that maybe I was trained in instant organ removal.

I went to a rough school in a rougher neighborhood, but once I was the karate guy, no one messed with me. After all, maybe I could pull a guy’s heart out and show it to him before he dies.

I knew I couldn’t do that, but I was convinced that I could defend myself. It seems the other students were as well. Thank goodness. In hindsight, all a kid had to do was tackle me, and I was a fish out of water.

In our first white belt class, my instructor Walt Bone explained that we were learning tae kwon do, an art that emphasizes kicking which makes it the superior martial art. 

He said, “The leg is much longer and stronger than the arm plus an attacker would have to get past these deadly kicks in order to get close enough to punch or grab you. We always have the advantage.”

My 13-year old “empty cup” of a mind consumed every word and begged for more.

Once I started teaching, I advertised self-defense and presented myself as a self-defense expert. I look back and see a classic martial arts case of unintentional misrepresentation. Unintentional because, “Ya don’t know what ya don’t know.”

Like most of you, I repeated the party line and taught our “self-defense” techniques. To be truthful, they were not bad it’s just that they were narrow in scope. 

It was the defense against a headlock, a full nelson, a wrist grab and a few other grabs and attacks. The only non-contact strategy was in controlling distance and turning your body to the side, which is all fine advice. It’s just terribly insufficient.

To be clear, I’m not picking on TKD. Any system where the “attacker” stands still while holding his or her hand out while the “defender” slaps tiny pressure points or reigns thundering hammers down is in the same picture as our deadly TKD kicks.

I point this out for a few reasons best illustrated by recent events. In preparing some anti-abduction segments for TV shows, it was clear to me that 99% of what we were teaching had nothing to do with martial arts. 

Can martial arts help in escaping an abduction? Of course it can. Some studies show that fighting back or simply making it hard to hold on to the victim improves the odds of escaping. Is that enough? Not even close.

If you are a martial arts school asked to teach an anti-abduction seminar, odds are the class will be mostly knees, elbows, wrist escapes, etc… Essentially, the playbook from our tae kwon do school; narrow in scope and insufficient. 

Will your audience know this? Unless you have some law enforcement experienced parents watching, most will be happy with what they see. Ignorance is bliss.

We’re also doing Real Estate Safety Seminars. Again, 99% of the content has no basis in martial arts. If a school gets the call to teach a local Real Estate Safety Seminar, most instructors will be limited to deadly karate chops, etc…

Anti-Bully programs might be the best example of all. Most martial arts instructors will spend 90% of an anti-bully seminar teaching the well-worn menu I’ve described above. 

The reality is that every bully situation has a story line that typically follows a pattern of escalation starting with verbal abuse, unwanted touching, and eventually more serious physical attacks. Throw in social media abuse all along the way, and you have the storyline of most modern-day bully situations.

The mistake in focusing your anti-bully class around self-defense is that you are intervening WAY TOO late in the storyline. Control of the storyline needs to start long before the first bully encounter.

Again, the bulk of the self-defense has nothing to do with martial arts or physical engagement.

The excuse for unintentional misrepresentation no longer holds up. If you are still teaching one-steps and kata as self-defense, you may be in need of a fresh look at what you are teaching. 

When it comes to learning a style, one is as good as the other. Whatever style the school you join, when your “cup is empty,” offers will be the best in the world as far as you are concerned. 

I’m not talking about learning martial arts. I’m talking about expanding your understanding of self-defense and safety far beyond the narrow scope of simple escapes and distance control to include scenario training etc…

The people you teach deserve more and today, you have the resources to learn what a law enforcement officer (LEO) learns. LEOs spend every day on the front line engaging with the worst of the worst bad guys. It’s part of the their job description. 

Their world in is the middle of the bad crimes we see every day on the news. For every year you and I spent learning kata; they spent learning how to stop a home invasion, an abduction, or an ATM robbery. 

There is nothing wrong with learning kata, but no martial art can touch the day-in and day-out experience of 40 – 70 hours a week dealing with the bottom feeders of the world. 

Military training doesn’t deal with criminals. Martial arts hybrid self-defense doesn’t deal with criminals. The padded dummy training doesn’t deal with criminals. Law enforcement does. Every day.