Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Way off the mark; Women's Self Defence Training

Every single member of our team believes that every woman has the right to live free from un-necessary fear and worry, and that they have the right to be empowered with the confidence and skills to know that they can stay safe from predatory violence. We have helped thousands of women achieve that through our courses, classes and seminars. But still we are only scratching the surface as so many more women live with an attitude of apathy about learning to protect themselves and their loved ones. When we work with survivors of past assaults, so very often we hear the comment “I wish I had known this before...” as they realise that the skills that we are giving them to recognise, avoid, de-escalate, or physically protect themselves against male aggression could (in many cases) have helped provide a very different outcome for them.

So then why is there such a resistance to attending a self defence course? Money is not the concern, we have a community support programme to enable people who can’t afford the course fee to be able to attend. We have done courses and talks for free and had only 1 in 3 women who could have come actually attend, even though we are the nation’s leading experts (I don’t like that word) on this subject. The people who do attend give us overwhelming positive feedback, so what stops the rest from attending?

The biggest reason is a complete misunderstanding of what women’s self defence entails. As we wrote about in ‘Every Woman’s Guide to Being Safe...For Life’, most people think of ‘self defence’ as martial arts, or physical fighting, or they remember the ‘self defence’ course they did at high school where they learned how to release from wrist grabs and kick at his groin. In truth, these things have very little, and in some cases nothing, to do with real self protection (especially for women). One of our jobs as the industry leader is to change the public’s perception of what self defence is actually about, or at least what is SHOULD be about, and we are working very hard to do that. The more people who understand what self defence really is, the more people will take action to attend a course and gain extremely valuable knowledge which positively affects all other areas of their lives.

So it was frustrating to me last week when one of our group class senior team members (and friend) called me to say that the news-talk station was discussing ‘Women’s Self Defence’ and asking callers to call in with their opinions. I tuned in and listened for 30 minutes and was genuinely saddened by what I heard. The level of ignorance about the subject was truly astounding. Interestingly the great majority of callers were men. And the entire perception of the subject revolved around physical ‘moves’. In other words everyone thinks self defence is all about how to physically fight off an attacker. One gentleman even called in to share how he used to practise ‘milling’ when he was in the army and thought that was a good idea for women! (‘Milling’ is where your partner puts on gloves or pads and throws repetitive punches at you from multiple angles at close range and you have to cover and/or block and evade. There are some limited benefits from a self defence perspective but they are limited at best and for women even more so.)
The show’s host was the only one to even mention that he thought that confidence was a big part of it, but even then I deduced that he believed that women could attend a course where they learned to physically fight, but it was the confidence that it gave them that would be their biggest asset. And, to a degree that is true, but it is a myopic viewpoint is still like looking through a pin hole trying to see the whole. There is just so much more than that.

The four stages to self defence that we teach are:

1 – Recognition to enable avoidance: This includes developing strong self beliefs and conviction, separating awareness from paranoia, recognising the psychological and behavioural manipulation strategies that males use against females to lure them into dangerous situations, heightened situational awareness, understanding fear, understanding intuition, recognising behavioural cues (what our organisation calls ‘Pre-Contact Indicators’), Predator Types and their methods, Predator motivations, survivor mentality, and a lot more...

2 – De-escalation: We teach conflict resolution skills which work under stress and pressure. These include psychological manipulation and behavioural tactics to enable a situation to be defused (literally ‘talk your way out of it’) if possible, or to set the person up psychologically to enable the effectiveness of your physical response to be maximised if it is necessary. And again, a lot more...

3 – Physical Response: This is when we are left with no other choice but to physically defend ourselves using what we call ‘Protective Offence’. Whatever physical response is given needs to work against a much larger and stronger aggressor, in any environment (sitting, standing, in bed, in car, dark etc), in any situation, while under the effects of extreme stress, fear, and pressure. Fancy moves such as wrist locks, ‘milling’, Jiu Jitsu locks or flash kicks and punches have nothing to do with this. It is just an illusion (albeit an all-too-common one) to believe otherwise. But this is what is passed off as ‘self defence’, basically 95% of what is generally taught is the physical aspect only, and even then 95% of the physical aspect that is taught is usually unrealistic and not functional anyway.

4 – Post event Issues: This stage includes such things as what to do after an event, how to get help, how to deal with Police, court, counselling, PTSD, possible retaliation, emotional effects on spouse and other family/friends, and a whole range of other things.

All of these four pillars have benefits which positively affect most other areas of a person’s life as well, outside of protecting against violence, but that is a completely different series of articles.

This is what true self defence entails. And although it may seem like a lot, it does not take long to learn and more importantly learn in a way that will be retained and recalled when it is required. Contrary to popular belief (and mentioned on this radio show half a dozen times) people do NOT need to train for years to learn to protect themselves. One-day courses do provide a massive benefit provided they teach the right stuff. We have had multiple people who have been training in martial arts or fighting systems for years (even Master Instructors, people who have been training over 30 years, Police instructors, and many more) tell us that they learned more about real self defence in our one day course than in all of their years of martial arts training. And that is not surprising, because most martial arts and fighting systems are NOT self defence systems despite their claims, and never will be. This is not to say they are not good for other things, because they are. Martial arts provide amazing benefits for many different aspects of life, and there are often things that they will teach you that you can use to defend yourself, but they are not self defence systems. (Disclosure: I trained in martial arts for over 20 years and held black belt levels or higher in several different systems)

Unfortunatley until the perception around what self defence is really about changes, more people will refuse to attend a course because they “Don’t want to be scared”, “Did a course at High School”, “Don’t think I could fight off a man anyway even if I learn that stuff”, “Live in a safe neighbourhood”, “Have a big dog”, “Am too unfit”, etc... And other common objections, all of which are completely irrelevant, misinformed, or just plain wrong. But I can see where these come from given what the public are generally sold as ‘self defence’. Most of what is taught is done in such a way as to make reality fit around the technique, as opposed to the other way around. People are not stupid, they instinctively know deep down that that stuff would never really work so why bother going at all. Who can blame anybody for that? It is worrying to me and my team that this is the case, but at least we know the problem and can keep working at changing it, even though we are one organisation swimming against a very large tide. I know that we can do it though, we are doing a little more every day, even if it is just one person at a time.

Ps. The reason I did not call into the show was because they give a maximum time slot of 2 minutes and there is no way I could put things in context in that time so it may do more harm than good. Give me an hour though and look out...:-)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Hi all!

I hope you all had a great break over Easter.

I had a call last night from one of our group class students (who is also a friend) with an interesting story to share. He and some friends and family were out fishing on their boat on Saturday, over 5km from shore in decent swell, when it capsized. In short, they were in very cold water for over 5 hours before being discovered and rescued. It was a very, very serious situation. I am just so glad that he and his family got through it, as it was very close to having a more dire outcome.

What was awesome though is that he thanked us for giving him tools to get through it. He is a very emotionally strong person so in my opinion although he may have used some of what we teach to assist him I have no doubt that it was in large part his character and emotional fortitude that played a big part too.
He specifically named four different tools that assisted him, and I thought it was important to share these here because it highlights again that what we teach goes far beyond simply defending ourselves against violence.

We have a training concept known as ‘Protect’s Stress Inoculation Training’ which helps people deal with highly stressful situations and remain calm(er) and maintain the ability, at least as much as possible, to respond rather than to react under pressure and stress. Although when we train it it is specifically against intra-personal human aggression, development in one area helps to bridge the gap a lot quicker in any other area of high stress/ high pressure situations as well. We have countless examples of where our students, course attendees, or ourselves have used this concept in situations such as motor vehicle accidents, personal accidents, natural disasters, as well as dealing with aggression and/or violence. In this situation, a serious boating accident, it was again used to help him remain as calm as possible, make rational decisions, and control the actions of the group which ultimately led them to being found.

Additionally, there were also four distinct tools that he used to help get through the situation:

Autogenic breathing – We teach this highly effective method of breathing to help to lower the heart rate in situations of high stress or pressure. It has multiple benefits from reducing panic, to enabling a clearer decision making process, to reducing the degree of emotional trauma suffered after the event, as well as many others. In this case he used it immediately upon surfacing while he worked to keep the others as calm as possible, and also after several hours in cold water he was shivering uncontrollably and his breathing was labored so he again used it to help gain control over his breathing and autonomic functions.

Positive self talk – The importance of positive self talk can not be over-stated. It helps control the overall state of the mind, and since the ancestor of every action is a thought (and taking the right action in these situations can be the difference between life and death) it is important to ensure that those thoughts are controlled and condusive to a positive outcome. He made the conscious decision that he was getting through this no matter what, and so were the others. And in this case, he not only used positive self talk for himself (constantly, for 5 hours!) but also for his group. He kept them focused on the future, what they were going to tell everyone at home about this, what they were going to eat for dinner, what they were going to do later in the week etc. The discussion helped him and the others stay focused on a positive outcome, and reduce panic (panic is a killer, especially in the water).

Choice speech – We train constantly on de-escalation and defusion to enable us to talk our way out of situations or psychologically and behaviourally manipulate a situation to stop it (if possible) escalating into physical violence. And these skills are transcendable into all other areas of life too. In this case, he used our basic principles to ensure that his speech patterns helped to keep the situation as calm as possible, define a leadership role, and stop any unhelpful discussion early.

Fitness – Although fitness is not necessary to be able to protect yourself, it can certainly help. And because we train for the ‘total defence of the self’, our group classes include a fitness component to them. This undoubtedly helped him physically manage in the water for so long, even though his legs were cramping and he was shivering uncontrollably.

He told me that if this had happened a couple of years ago, before he started training, he knows it would have had a very different and far worse outcome.

In my opinion he did a brilliant job, and may have saved the lives of others in his group by his actions.

Additionally, he has known what to expect from an emotional perspective after the event because we constantly train and discuss ways to manage the effects of high stress situations. He has been prepared for it, and taken the steps to help to reduce the effects.

We receive emails and calls all of the time from people who have used our training to help keep themselves safe. When it relates to an act of aggression or violence against them, the vast majority of the time the person shares how they managed to recognise, avoid, or de-escalate the situation allowing them to avoid physically defending themselves. As this is what we train for it is always brilliant to hear. Sometimes the situations could not be avoided and they have had to physically respond in order to ensure their safety, which is unfortunate but at least they have the tools required to get out of it. Just as frequently though we get the emails or calls like the one I have been talking about here today; the ones that say that the tools they have learned have helped them survive an accident, or manage a highly stressful work situation, or helped them become a more patient person in general, or helped with the communication in their relationship etc. These emails/calls are often the highlight of my day. Self defence is about empowerment, when I hear about examples like this I know that what we are doing is making a big difference.

Ps. Thank you for the amazing support and feedback for our new book 'Every Woman's Guide to Being Safe...For Life', it has been awesome. It is available at or by clicking here

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wellington Charity Fundraiser Event Announced!

Wellington Ladies!

Check out the awesome Charity Fundraiser event on the 5th of March! This is a women specific (and women only) Personal Safety seminar, with all funds going to support Wellington Rape Crises.

This will be a great seminar supporting a great cause.

To book visit our events page by clicking HERE.

See you there!