by Ph.D. TK Logan
I have heard this statement numerous times, and wrestled with it myself. Can you really teach someone something about defending and protecting themselves in just a one-shot, few hour session with no other follow-up training? If not, was the time and money spent on that class a waste of resources?
You see, I want to reach people who have never considered a self-defense class, not people who already live in a world where they think and plan for their safety regularly just like they decide what clothes to wear every morning. That means I have to straddle two worlds. In one world I work with people who rarely think about their safety or how to respond in the face of a threat as well as with women who have been sexually assaulted, stalked, and abused and yet, they don?t want to be responsible for harming another person or don?t consider themselves capable of fighting back. In the other world, I see self-defense or martial arts instructors who have relatively simple answers for aggression-be more aggressive, plan, and train, train, train. Two different worlds, two different ways of thinking about safety. I should make clear that I think of self-defense as bigger than just combat.
One thing I really want self-defense instructors to know is that when someone from my world thinks about going to the other world, even for a few hours it can be intimidating and scary. This month I saw a seminar on knife defense from a group I haven?t interacted with before. I debated for two weeks about signing up. I really wanted to do it but I have so much anxiety about going to a new place, interacting with big guys with potentially big egos who really won?t want to partner-up with me (how would I challenge them?), whether or not I am worth the trouble for this instructor, whether or not the seminar will be worth my time, and whether or not I am going to get hurt. I am no shrinking violet, but the anxiety is overwhelming. Self-defense instructors need to understand that even getting there, to that one class, for people from my world is a huge step.
So when I get there and I am told that one class will not make a difference unless I keep training, I feel hopeless. I have limited resources and limited ability to commit to ongoing classes even once a week. Then I begin to wonder exactly how much is enough training before I should feel confident in protecting myself in their mind? Then I just get overwhelmed and feel like not even trying to go to another class-what?s it going to matter?
I?ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to integrate these two worlds because I want to help people be safer, especially those who have already been harmed or are being harmed in a 24/7 reign of terror (for example those being stalked). I have been stubborn in my pursuit of bringing some self-defense training to those who, in my opinion, need it the most. But I feel like my progress has been as slow as molasses.
I know that small things can have profound impacts on people?s life. Haven?t we all heard a story, had a conversation, read something, or had a near miss that has had a profound impact on our life? For example, I hate looking for my keys. After a couple of frustrating mornings years ago, I learned to always put my keys in the same place and have been doing that now for over two decades. Think about this-being victimized, even in a small way, can have a profound and lasting impact on someone?s life. Just yesterday a student told me about how someone tried (unsuccessfully) to break into her home. She lives her life completely different today. She has a plan now, she has various devices hidden around her house to carry out the plan, and she has the mindset to fight back if anyone tries or succeeds in breaking into her home again. She has never taken a self-defense class. That one event for her probably only lasted 5 or 10 minutes but it will have a lifelong impact on her.
So when I hear self-defense instructors say?they don?t believe one class alone can
make any difference, I think that if they don?t even believe in themselves or in what they are doing, then why should I or anybody invest time and money in their class? Don?t get me wrong, I do agree that continuing trainings and practice is better. But I also know that if self-defense instructors reach out beyond the people in their own world, they may only get one-shot. Does that one-shot matter?
So here it is, yes, I believe that one class can absolutely make a difference in at least four significant ways: mindset, empowerment, tools, and new mental maps. First is mindset. If you are from the self-defense world you know mindset is the key principle, the foundation for all self-defense. I have heard many women say they didn?t think they were worth fighting for. I have also heard from both men and women that they just don?t think about their safety. And, I also know men who believe they can solve every problem with being more aggressive which potentially increases their risk of harm. Creating awareness, talking about safety as a priority (rather than always being nice and cooperative OR upping the ante with aggression for ego reasons), helping them realize that the first step in self-defense is deciding to protect themselves is life changing.
The second thing you can do for students in a one-shot class is empower them to prioritize their safety. The word empowerment gets thrown around a lot. For a long time I wasn?t even sure what it meant. What it means to me today in the self-defense context is: (1) helping people identify choices in how to respond to a threat; (2) giving people confidence in carrying out that decision; and (3) showing people how to control their reactions and how to take control of situations that make them feel small, vulnerable, and scared. If people think their only choice is to be rude or to submit to a hostile or harassing person well?that really isn?t much of a choice. And when you show people that they have options and give them opportunities to practice in a reality based situation, you just changed their world.
Third are tools. Even simple tools like teaching people how to avoid or deter a threat before it becomes a problem, knowing how to identify and listen to their intuition, a phrase to use when setting boundaries, how to have powerful body language even when they are shaking with fear or anger inside, how to protect their head when being hit, teaching them that if their arms are both being held they have their legs free as well as teaching them how to get off the ?X?, how to physically create space, how to claw the eyes and face, and how to employ a good palm heel or knee-can make a big difference. These are tools that will stay with someone forever. I believe there are more tools that can be conveyed in a one-shot class as well but this may be where I am entering into a more controversial component of the overall argument about whether a one-shot self-defense class matters or not.
And, fourth, self-defense training can give people a new mental map. In other words, self-defense training can provide a new way of seeing the world-a survival map. This includes a new language or way to talk and think about safety and ?hardening the target?, a new way of understanding the survival instinct through intuition, and new ways to read ?signs? like what to look for or be aware of. It gives people, who have been told all their lives to give others the benefit of the doubt, permission to pay attention to their gut instincts. ?It also provides ideas about how to sustain and further their newly discovered power. These new mental maps, I believe, are the part of the one-shot training that lives beyond the class. It is the integration of the information, skills, and confidence learned in the class into situations that were never even discussed. It is also the development of habits. Protective behaviors work best when they become regular habits like buckling seatbelts and locking car doors. For example, teaching people how to set and maintain personal boundaries and encouraging them to practice this in little ways every day can help them when they cross paths with someone who is targeting them for something bigger. This is, in a way, an ongoing continuation of training even if not necessarily done purposefully.
In summary, I believe people who have never taken a self-defense class deter and fight off (potential) attacks every day and that is clear evidence to me that even one class can make a difference. I believe the four things listed above can be conveyed in a one-shot class to both men and women who live outside of the self-defense world, people in or out of shape, young and elderly people, and for those living with disabilities. Not only will can these four things make an immediate difference in someone?s life but will last a lifetime even for someone who will never take another class.
The key questions though is ?What can we give students in a few hours?? However, in order to answer this question self-defense instruction has to involve two-way communication. There isn?t always time in a short class full of people to respond to every personal concern or question. Even if there was time many students would not feel comfortable bringing up their questions, concerns, or personal worries. However, instructors can still get input about how they are doing with regard to conveying the four foundational things listed above. In addition, I would suggest asking a few more questions anonymously like: ?Did we work on and talk about what you wanted to talk about?? ?Was this class a good approach or fit for you? ?Was there something missing in the class today?? And asking them to expand on their negative and positive answers.? This type of exchange may just be the start in getting more people from my world into interacting with people from the self-defense world-a continuation of more formal training.
FAST Defense does all of these things brilliantly. I am ever grateful to the FAST program. And I am especially grateful to the people who have taken time to patiently teach me, debate with me, and frankly put up with me along my journey. I know that those of you who are devoted FAST instructors are changing lives every day with every class you do.