“There’s nothing you can teach this sort of people!”
A self-defence instructor muttered that to me, in exasperation, about three older ladies who’d come along to his seminar. He’d grown exasperated because, when asked to practice p̶a̶t̶t̶y̶c̶a̶k̶e̶s̶ knife disarms, the ladies in question had baulked.
They had a damn good reason not to play: they all suffered from severe arthritis and osteoporosis. One could barely use her hands even for everyday tasks, and when she did, it hurt her. The others were still relatively functional, but their ability was declining. For them to practice what he was teaching would not only have been unpleasant, but severely unrealistic. If their lives depended on them being able to use their hands to disarm an opponent, they were dead, and they knew it. In the meanwhile, their main focus was not to accumulate unnecessary damage to their already damaged bodies.
He tried to jolly them along by reeling off the standard stats for knife attacks in the UK, which are horrendous. This was successful in worrying the ladies in question, but not in shaking their resolve. So he got annoyed and muttered off, and I stayed on to talk to them.
By that point, they were genuinely scared. They’d never felt particularly in danger of a knife attack, being upper-middle-class people living an upper-middle-class life in an upper-middle-class area. Having heard the “truth” about knife crime in the UK had shocked them. They’d been given a new problem and sold as the only solution something that they knew they could never make work.
So we spoke about their lives; about how they weren’t planning to engage in criminal activities, or join a gang, or get sent to prison. We talked about the places they routinely went to (mostly church, posh restaurants, and the theatre) and the places they always avoided (pubs, clubs, sport events). We talked about the situations that made them feel vulnerable, like walking back from functions to their cars, late at night, when the town was virtually deserted. It seemed to me that the feeling was perfectly reasonable, and the best solution was to avoid the situation. Could they get a cab instead? (Yes, they could, but they hadn’t in the past because “they thought they were being silly”.)
We talked about the most likely situation in which they might meet with a knife. To me, these ladies looked like money. Muggings may not be common in their areas, but they seemed like a more likely possibility than many other crimes. We talked about pepper spray being illegal here, and how long it’d take for them to dig out anything out of their handbags, even if it was… And I told them that it seemed to me that the best solution to that particular problem for anyone, let alone people with poor mobility and at higher-than-normal risk of severe injuries, was not to fight over their stuff, anyway.
We had a really good chat, really; I think (or hope, at least) that it was useful for all of us. They helped me work out the details of a problem I don’t currently face, but most likely will, if I live long enough. I hope I helped them work out the difference between threats that are possible (all of them) and threats that are likely, and plan for the latter.
What I didn’t manage to do, that day, was tell that “instructor” what I thought of him, which is this: if there’s “nothing you can teach” to people like these, then you ain’t got shit. If taking away your physical skills means taking away all of your self-defence, you ain’t got shit. You might be a great fighting instructor, but everything you have only works when most good self-defence has already failed. Also, it’s all perishable. It won’t help you if you manage to get old enough, and realise that all your skills and techniques are as perishable as your body. So I hope for your sake that you realise that self-defence is a much broader beast than you currently believe; because the only other solution is growing to feel powerless and hopeless and frightened, as you were making those ladies feel. And although after this I can’t claim to like you, I wouldn’t wish that even on you.