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I’ve fielded yet another call about teaching a self-defense workshop and delivered what has become the ultimate bummer comment to workshop organizers: I don’t teach throws in self-defense workshop. Yes, I say, I understand the women would like to learn throws. I’d be happy to do a class on throws, but not if it’s marketed as a self-defense workshop.

I don’t teach the use of weapons as self-defense, either. Weapons—including pepper spray—can be dropped, misused, or taken away. They must be in hand before the situation occurs to have a decent chance of being effective. This also disappoints some people, because we’ve been conditioned to believe tools are superior to self. Honestly, if someone pulls a knife on me, my first priority is not cutting my attacker with my own knife. It’s not getting stabbed.

Folks who train in martial arts—which I do—sometimes confuse what’s learned in a dojo with actual self-defense. Yes, there’s a great deal of cross-over. But self-defense isn’t sparring, where the goal is to find out who is the fastest, toughest, strongest and smartest fighter. Self-defense is much simpler. Its goal is to completely avoid a confrontation or, if that isn’t possible, to end the confrontation as quickly as possible, while avoiding as much personal harm as possible.

Martial arts techniques are great, but it takes more than a workshop to teach them effectively. I’ve trained in and taught throws for almost ten years. Even so, were I faced with an attacker right now, a throw wouldn’t be first choice of defense.

I’ve seen so much crap marketed to people wanting to feel more secure. The most ridiculous is the advice to use a credit card to slash your opponent’s face. Fingernails serve the same purpose—they are, after all, a form of claws—and I’m unlikely to drop them in a panic. And if I’m close enough to slash with a credit card, I’m close enough to do far more effective things. Then there’s the not-really-effective advice about kneeing the groin, the kicks and punches that only work well if you’re conditioned, the strikes that depend upon strength…

The most dangerous advice I’ve heard is purposefully falling to the ground, rolling onto one’s back, and kicking toward the attacker. First of all, as a woman, the last place I want to be in an attacker’s presence is on the ground, on my back. Duh. Second, success is dependent upon the attacker giving up and leaving, thus giving me time to get up and escape. Third, it only works if the attacker doesn’t have a buddy who will kick me in the head while I’m busy flailing my feet at the first guy, or a gun that he’ll use to shut me up before he runs away. Knowing how to fight from the ground is extremely important, but I’m not going to throw myself down, thank you.

So what do I teach for self-defense? We start by discussing the facts and realities, mindset, and why the students want to learn self-defense. We talk about the two sides of escalation, and how it ties in to feelings of helplessness. I let everyone know that, under our state’s laws, a person has the right to use any manner of self-defense believed necessary to protect self and others. No one has to decide, in the moment, what a jury might later consider proportional response.

We do a few wrist-hold escapes to break the ice. Then we start discussing and playing with options. We use the weapons that are attached to us: hands, fingers, feet, elbows, knees and—most importantly—brains and voice. We get creative. Students get the chance to try things and discover what feels most natural for them, what works best for their body type and fitness level. There is a lot of laughter in my self-defense classes, too. Learning to feel confident and in control while dealing with a surge of adrenaline is vital.

Most of the workshops I’m asked to do are for an all-female audience. When I offer them independently, I actively recruit men as well. Rape is not the only situation that requires self-defense. These days, men don’t have many opportunities to learn ways to defend themselves, while at the same time feel obligated to protect others. Some carry around an unspoken fear because they think they should already know what to do, and know they really don’t.

It is of course best to avoid a physical altercation. But sometimes it can’t be avoided. Sometimes you turn a corner and are in the middle of a dangerous situation completely unforeseen. A really great date suddenly goes really, really bad. Buying a cup of coffee becomes a front row seat for a convenience store hold-up. An awesome concert turns into drunken brawl. You become a target of violence because someone else made the decision for you. Bad shit happens.

So, in the end, the organizer and I came to an agreement, despite her initial disappointment. Self-defense workshops will take place in February. And since this post ended up being a far longer ramble than intended, I'll shut up now.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Dec. 16th, 2011 02:06 pm (UTC)
*Nodding here*
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


Blair MacGregor

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