Toward a Complete System of Self Defense
What would a well rounded system of Self Defense include?
Many of us enjoy the activity of training itself. We look forward to our next training session and can’t help but talk about training with our friends who share the same passion. There is great pleasure in learning and making ourselves better, but we don’t do it for the fun alone. We do it so we can protect ourselves. We do it to protect our families. We do it so we will be ready when there is a threat. Because this is our primary purpose for training, we want to be sure that what we are training will actually work.
Beyond evaluating the effectiveness of individual techniques, I really want to know what other disciplines, training methods, skills, and education I need to add to my current knowledge. I also want to know how to put it together to be effective. In short, I want to know what is my overall system for self defense, so I can build it. This is a continuous effort for me because I want to constantly improve my own skills and I want to improve our programs at Tactical Arts. By no means is this post intended to offer a complete list, but more of a broad exploration of the topic.
Understand the Offense
Without understanding the threat, we cannot possibly build an effective defense. It is crucial that we become educated about the many threats we may face. By examining the nature of these threats, we can more effectively prepare to deal with these threats. For example: If I do not know what a punch is, how can I learn to parry it? I would not know where to begin. This is only an analogy. The knowledge we need to seek is much more encompassing and beyond a mere technique.
We need to study real attacks, how they commonly happen, who commits them, and what factors involved we can influence. We must understand the dynamics of attacks with weaponry including both conventional weapons like clubs, blades, firearms, etc. As well as those that are hidden or hard to anticipate, such as drug facilitated attacks prominent in sexual assaults or the use of poisonous substances. We need to study and understand situations that include multiple attackers, active shooters, bombings and other dangerous situations a private citizen may encounter. By becoming familiar with these threats, we can learn to recognize them when they begin to happen or perhaps anticipate them before they do. If we know more about these attacks, we may find insights that will give us more options to stop them.
We need insight into criminal culture, criminal psychology, and other related topics that can help us understand violence. We need to understand criminal motivation and mindset, impulsive violence, target selection and the values of criminals such as how they perceive disrespect. If we know what the attacker is trying to do, what they want, or how they see our behavior, we will be better able to avoid violence with them or undermine their plans to choose us as a victim.
It would also be valuable to study topics such as mental illness, the effects of psychotropic drugs, both legal and illegal and excited delirium. We will be able to act faster if we can identify that someone’s behavior is not rational and possibly just seconds away from a violent episode. We do not necessary need to “why" someone commits an act of violence in order to protect ourselves, but we need to know anything that can help us prevail when under attack. This background knowledge will help us prepare for and anticipate possible attacks.
Well Rounded Strategies, Tactics and Technical Skills
A complete self defense system should include strategies, tactics and techniques that are well rounded, effective, and practical to train and apply. A collection of tools is not enough, we need a cohesive approach that starts with broad principles, simple tactics and techniques that all complement each other.
Develop the “soft" skills. We need to find a way to get along, even when the other guy is an asshole. We need avoidance and deescalation skills, including both verbal and nonverbal techniques. We need to develop situational awareness, learn to recognize pre-attack cues and identify strategies and principles that will guide the decision making process when under stress.
Develop the “hard” skills. We need sound tactics and techniques that offer real advantage with minimal exposure. We cannot rely on techniques that are difficult to apply or require we expose ourselves to unnecessary risk in order to perform them. We need techniques that address a wide variety of situations ranging from an incident requiring only simple low level force to a situation that may require lethal force. We need to know how to use a variety of common weapons and empty hands skills. These should be based on what is appropriate for self defense and informed by a study of what situations really occur.
Have a plan that involves others. We need to coordinate or self defense strategies with family, neighbors, coworkers, and friends who may become involved in a self defense scenario. I cannot simply run away from a threat if I am with an elderly family member or a small child who cannot do the same. We also need to understand how to handle a situation once the police are involved.
If there is some communication and planning prior to a dangerous incident, there will be a better chance of survival and less likelihood of accidental injury. A failure to plan with others could lead to a family member being shot when accidentally perceived as an intruder. Or perhaps the police should mistake you for the bad guy if you do not know how to behave after a legitimate self defense incident.
Training relevance, Stress Inoculation and Practical Feedback
In addition to the plans and skills we need to have a process to bring our training into context. We need to add intensity and stress, and we need an testing approach that will give us some performance results we can evaluate.
If we practice our skills in the environment where we may need them, then we will move closer to the real application. By doing this, we will remove some of the seams in our training experience that may otherwise cause us to stumble when using the skills in a real scenario. This includes training in our homes, in parking lots, and in areas that, at least, replicate the places we frequent. We need to know how well we can move on concrete, on grass, in the cold, when it’s hot, etc. Training in these unique environments and conditions will help us evaluate when a tactic or strategy may fail. It may help us find a better solution to each situation as well as better suited gear, shoes, and clothing.
In order to improve our self defense skills, and cope with the stress of a real assault, we need a method to develop and test each of the elements involved. We cannot just evaluate our competency at a level of intensity that offers no challenge. We must find the breaking points in order to fix them. These breaking points including physical, technical, cognitive and emotional weaknesses that could lead to failure. Adding pressure though testing and practical drills will help inoculate us against stress. This inoculation will help us perform better when the heat is on. Instead of submitting, overcommitting or freezing, we will be more likely to keep a cool head and apply the techniques we have trained.
A test of athletic performance can be used to evaluate the efficacy of a technique and the capabilities of the individual to use it. The best test is one that mimics the speed and power needed for the application of our techniques. A simple test may be striking a target at full speed for a set amount of time. It would be even better if the time was equal to that of a typical violent encounter that included one or more attackers. The test may include performing a technique at full speed after sprinting 200 meters and doing some explosive strength exercises to get the heart rate and breathing rate up. This physical challenge adds stress and forces us to work harder to apply the technique. It also simulates some of the conditions you may experience when under attack. If someone is trying to shoot you, then your heart and respiratory rate will probably go up. Training to handle that condition is useful.
In addition to testing raw athletic performance, we need to test our ability to perform the technique when there is a resisting opponent. I’m great when you don’t fight back or try to escape my lock. But once that happens, it get significantly harder to perform the technique. After learning the mechanics of a technique we need drills that will help us learn to really apply it. This can include sparring drills that have a specific training or testing objective in mind. It could also include force-on-force drills that narrow the test to a very specific situation. This should be a process, not a leap of faith from slow repetition directly to full contact sparring. Drills using the methods mentioned above could be used at varying levels of intensity to test progress and promote skill development under pressure.
Role playing, scenario drills can test situational awareness, decision making skills, and control. Scenario drills that focus on building and evaluating judgement skills can test both the clarity one maintains under stress. It helps you develop emotional control. Even simple scenario drills when do right can become emotionally intense. If we are unable to think under stress or rein control over our emotions, we lose our ability to be effective.
Good role playing drills can become relevant experience. They should be structured to reflect common situations that occur in criminal assaults, robberies, etc. With this experience we are better prepared for real life because we have not only practiced the physical techniques, but we have practiced appropriate awareness skills, critical thinking skills, verbal responses, positioning, and other actions in a context that is closer to reality.
This is by no means a complete list. Other topics to include in a complete program may be outside of the typical self defense program, but are certainly related and worthy of study. Some of those include health, nutrition, and fitness, CPR and first aid training, a study of legal issues related to self defense, basic rescue, escape and survival techniques, etc.
Finally, we must align our self defense plan with our values, our religion, and our life philosophy. We must define a personal view on violence and life or death issues. If those are not aligned, then everything may fall apart at the last minute.
Ultimately, the effectiveness of such a complete program would depend on how well it was organized, taught and trained. This is a system that is never quite complete. It is building process that never stops.
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