“This sort of people.”

“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.


9 thoughts on ““This sort of people.”

  1. There’s what the instructor
    A- can teach.
    B- wants to teach,
    C- thinks he/she teaches
    D – is actually teaching, and
    E – is forced to teach by the market’s expectations/demands

    Very seldom do these actually line up


  2. I mentioned the cerebral side of self defense to an instructor, and received a puzzled look and a second later a look of “oh that”. It seemed to be an uncomfortable area for him; talking about self defense by avoidance, de-escalation and early detection. Maybe it seemed timid or just did not match up with his picture of how these things are done.

    The conversation had been going great. We had just finished a hard Muay Thai class and were discussing the art and philosophy of surviving out in the world. It seemed like the correct moment for me to mention the topic, but totally was not, and put a damper on the conversation.


    • I think, but I’m not sure, that some instructors are worried about instilling a “loser mindset” in their students. It make sense inasmuch as it’s hard enough to get some people involved in physical self-defence, so it may be all to easy to scare them off it. There’s also the risk of getting accused of victim blaming if you mention any kind of tactics that can be used prior to the event, which angers me more than I can convey without swearing.

      I tend to look at things from my point of view, which is roughly a foot lower than anyone else’s. I don’t think it makes me scaredy, but it surely makes me aware that I’m at a high risk of getting stomped on, and it definitely affects my preferred self-defence options.


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  4. Self-defense? It is all very simple and as a proponent of Musashi’s Book of Five Rings, I can honestly say that the problem here is the ego driven nitwit martial arts instructor who is under the impression that everyone is capable of understanding and applying techniques that have no reality outside of a controlled class setting. Too many instructors are trapped by their own lack of understanding reality in that they themselves have never been ‘into the shit” though they do invariably have idiotic high ranking belts that suggest they may know something.

    When it comes to teaching the elderly it is essential to understand their own motives, (the elderly) and work to free up a survival mechanism that may be dormant, but is in everyone since the cave days, and with fundamental encouragement is readily brought out to function according to the specific individual.
    After all, what is the purpose of self-defense? It is to get out of harm’s way with as little effort as required and to do this an intelligent system of safety awareness is the prime objective. then, of course, stabbing some son of a bitch in the eyes with a pen or a key works as well.

    With an attitude of nothing to teach these sort of people .. you are a fucking idiot.


  5. There are robbers for whom injuring the victim is at least as important as the property they steal. Passively surrendering your valuables isn’t enough to satisfy them.

    A crime victim has no duty to avoid the situation. It’s the criminal’s duty not to commit the crime. Avoidance is something the victim does purely for his own benefit.

    Overturning laws that forbid self defense requires public pressure on the politicians who enact them.


    • I’m not entirely sure I’ve conveyed my meaning to you. This has precisely nothing to do with laws forbidding self-defence, duties of a victim to avoid situations, or anything of the sort. This is about people who, due to age and infirmity, are incapable of safely and reliably using many or most physical self-defence options, and about instructors who believe that there’s nothing useful they can be taught.

      Re. the “Avoidance is something the victim does purely for his own benefit.” Yes, and?


  6. Pingback: Anna Valdiserri: “There’s nothing you can teach this sort of people!” |

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