Self Defense Seminars: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Self-defense seminars, and specifically women’s self-defense seminars,
have enjoyed some popularity through the years. Within the martial arts
community opinions vary: Some say they are of very little benefit, some say they
have no value, and some even say they are counterproductive as they can give
people a false and unwarranted sense of confidence. I would say all three of these
views have some merit and represent what is good, bad, and ugly about self
defense seminars.

First let’s talk about the good. You can’t teach someone to fight over the
course of a 4-hour seminar, but there are some things you can do to help prevent
them from becoming a victim in the future. Let’s look at a few:
Promote safe behavior: If at least some of the seminar is devoted to helping
attendees adopt behaviors that will make them less likely to be a victim – that is a
good thing. Things like, parking your car under a street lamp, walking in groups at
night, always be scanning your environment, keeping your cell phone at the
ready, etc. are all behaviors that can help people avoid becoming the victim of a
violent encounter.
Serve as a starting point: When someone attends a self-defense seminar,
joins a gym, and starts training on a regular basis the seminar has been a
Supplement existing training programs: Maybe you are training 1-2 times a
week at a school that is extremely focused on IBJJF style tournament jiu jitsu and
you would like some more self defense specific training. Catching a decent self
defense seminar once or twice a year may be just what you need.

Now let’s talk about the bad. Most people attending a self defense seminar
where they are shown a handful of techniques are under the impression that they
can then go use these techniques on the street to defend themselves. This is not
possible. There are skills and attributes necessary to prevail in an altercation that
cannot be obtained at a 1-day seminar. These skills and attributes can only be acquired through consistent training that includes “aliveness” and regular
sparring sessions. Let’s look at some of those skills and attributes.
Muscle Memory: Any technique you would use in an altercation to defend
yourself needs to be completely automatic and responses will only become
automatic when they have been repeated 1,000’s of times. Furthermore, muscle
memory is somewhat situational. If you only drill the move in a static
environment, you are likely only going to be able to repeat it in the same
controlled setting.
Fight Stamina: Whether it is because of a person’s inability to deal with the
adrenaline dump or a lack of activity specific conditioning, most people are
completely gassed and unable to continue in a fight within two minutes. Live
sparring will give you the activity specific conditioning you need. If you train and
choose to compete, that will help you get accustomed to the adrenaline dump.
The Ability to Comprehend the Violence: Assaults don’t start with a “slap,
bump, and roll”. Often the victim is caught off guard, starts the fight a step
behind, and never catches up. While we (hopefully) will never feel like we’re
facing sudden, overwhelming, and unprovoked violence, in the gym we’re often
caught with a quick hard takedown, or an inadvertent elbow/knee. This s not the
same as getting blindsided on the streets, but enough of these incidents will help
us be prepared for a more extreme situation.
Spatial Awareness: To defend yourself in a violent confrontation you need
to develop an innate understanding of distance and angles. Ideally, we keep the
attacker in front of us outside of striking range. If we can make that happen, no
fight happens. If we can’t make this happen, we at least want to keep the fight at
whatever range we are most comfortable at and definitely not let an attacker get
behind us.

And lastly, let’s look at the ugly. I don’t want to spend a lot of time here.
The fact is some of these seminars are simple scams – they do little other than
separating the attendee from their money. And worse yet, some students leave
with a false sense of security, and may end up catching the wrong end of a
beating because they now think they can “handle themselves”.

Long story short: Buyer beware. If you (or someone you know) is thinking of
taking a self defense seminar it can be a positive and productive experience if you
shop wisely, find a reputable instructor, and have realistic goals.
Train hard. Train smart. Get better.

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