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...:-)

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