Five Things I’ve Learned About Teaching Self-Defense

1.  People who haven’t fought at speed have no idea how fast a fight moves. In the time it takes to count one-Mississippi, you can be struck quite a few times.  You can be maimed.  You can be killed.  There is no moment to come up with a plan. The advantage goes to the one who doesn’t need to think about what should be done next. (Critical consideration, since the average 911 response time can be around seven to eight minutes.)

2.  The instinct to duck is incredibly hard to overcome, even though it results in losing sight of one’s attacker. The ancillary to ducking–closing one’s eyes–has the same result. Truth is, it hurts as much to get hit with your eyes closed as it does when they’re open. Alas, effective blocking is a difficult skill to acquire, and practice often involves accidentally blocking with one’s face at first.

3.  Folks learning to fight have a seemingly irresistible urge to explain at length why and how what they’re being told to do will never, ever work.  We’re so accustomed to processing everything through language that we assume an idea isn’t valid if we can’t.  It takes awhile for folks to trust the mind will follow the body’s lead.

4.  It’s easier to teach hunters of fast-moving game than it is to teach non-hunters.  It has nothing to do with the psychology of hunting, or gun-carrying, or aggression.  It has everything to do with experience.  Someone who hunts is used to judging, in an instant, things like speed, distance, and trajectory.  That’s an incredible asset in a fight–for both offense and defense.

5.  “I’m afraid I’ll be too aggressive” usually means, “I’m afraid of what the attacker will do if I’m aggressive.”  I hear this often from folks with violence in their past, where fighting back resulted in more severe abuse.  But it’s easier to say we fear our own power than our own weakness, and keeping a clamp on aggression keeps a lid on the fear, too.  In those cases, I’ll often be the person’s partner, or partner them with a student I trust to communicate openly about intensity, force, and such.

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