What helps with self-defence?

Kasey just wrote a blog that I’m not going to summarise here, because I want people to read it.

The ideas he’s talking about have been floating around my head a lot since I managed to spend a week in Scotland following Rory Miller while he was teaching self-defence and Conflict Communications at various levels. Many of the students I met up there were very much unlike the people I normally hang out with. I’m used to being the smallest, weakest, most broken, and least physically skilled. Most people I know and love could dispatch me bare-handed without breaking a sweat. I’m perfectly cool with that because I know that they would only do so if I forced them to. They’re the Good Guys, not because they have to be due to lack of opportunities or skills to be bad, but because they choose to be. I find that immensely comfortable, because I’d rather rely on people’s moral strength than on their physical weakness.

What I forget is that it’s not normal – and I’m talking from a statistical point of view.

Most people are not in that position – mentally, physically, and/or emotionally. And the people who are furthest away from that position are often those who need to pick up self-defence skills the most.

The problems start when third parties start determining what those self-defence skills should be. Because when you live in a society of happy, balanced carnivores, it’s easy to forget that most people aren’t like that. It’s easy to forget that what some people need has nothing to do with what we think is effective. Some people may simply not be ready for our kind of effective. They might be starting in a completely different place, and they will need to work towards our ideal of training. Some of the skills they might need to work at to get there may look like a total joke to us, but they’re absolutely not a joke to those who don’t have them.

For someone who is completely paralysed by the thought of touching another person, let alone roughly handling them, BJJ may help with self-defence, regardless of what Royce Gracie thinks. For someone who was raised not to say “no”, ever, learning to put the phone down on telemarketers may help with self-defence. For someone who has the posture of a wilted flower, tango can help with self-defence, because it makes you stand up straight. And none of this is “effective self-defence” on its own, but all of it can be a step towards that goal. And if you don’t take that step – if you don’t take each step you need to take, however insignificant it may look to third parties –  you may never be able to move. 

One of the ladies I worked with in Scotland was about half my age, several inches taller than me, and learnt to drop step the first time she tried it. (Damn thing took me a year to pick up, so yeah, I was impressed and a fair bit jealous.) For one of the drills, she managed to get herself out of an 8-people pileup in a corner so quickly I couldn’t even see it. But then we got to practising boundary settings, and all she needed to do was say “stop” to me as I was walking towards her… and she just couldn’t. She scrunched up tighter and tighter and kept apologising and walking backwards. The woman could stomp on me and I’m confident I’d stay stomped, but she couldn’t muster words and posture to stop me advancing on her, in a completely safe place.

And if I tell most self-defence expert that learning to say a vigorous “no” to a middle-aged borderline-midget spinal injury sufferer is an important self-defence skill, they’ll laugh in my face. But if you don’t have that skill, that may be the skill you need to work at.

I understand what self-defence experts are trying to do by discrediting products they think are inferior. It’s important that we teach susceptible customers that these products are not effective self-defence tools on their own, because relying on them could get someone killed. But at the same time it would be nice if they could be acknowledged for what they do achieve. That may help encourage people to take a step, however small, in what is ultimately the right direction.





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