Trauma-aware self-defence instruction. 8

Of all the unhelpful beliefs about violence, this one is probably my biggest pet peeve. Rory Miller has written some wonderful blogs about and around it. Here’s my version of it, from the new book. Did I tell you I was writing a new book?


6.      ‘Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’

This quote by Lord Acton has become part of our culture’s paradigms, to the point that it is rarely challenged. Whether it is true or not is largely immaterial. What matters is that those who embrace it and internalize it may see power in all its manifestations – strength, resilience, self-reliance, agency, etc. – as inherently evil, and may well choose to reject it.

Self-defense training is possibly the ultimate empowering activity: it gives people the authority and power to use force to protect their own lives and those of innocent third parties; it can make people stronger and more confident. Until people can accept that power is not evil and acquiring it will not corrupt them, they are unlikely to truly embrace the essence of self-defense.

Rejecting strength can also cause people to stall in their recovery. Recovery takes strength. Recovering builds strength. If people believe that becoming stronger will inevitably turn them into overbearing bullies, they are likely to sabotage their own recovery.

Students need to be not only told, but shown that developing strength and force-use skills can actually reduce people’s need or inclination to use violence by giving them more options. The stronger and more skilled people are, the better able they are to scale force.. This concept can’t be conveyed by words if actions and attitudes support the precise opposite. Students need to be able to trust that while it takes strength to be dominant (or domineering, which is not the same thing), it also take strength to be truly gentle and kind.

˜ ™. . . 

These six core beliefs are common contributors to much of the psychological pain suffered by survivors of violence. Anything that changes or destroys these beliefs causes a major paradigm shift. A single act of interpersonal violence has the potential to destroy all of them in one go. It’s a nuke shattering the cornerstones of the way people look at the world. It’s massive. It’s painful.

For those of us who don’t hold those beliefs, it is important to remember how critical they are to those who do. We need to remind ourselves that, although they may be obviously incorrect and unhelpful in our eyes, they are incredibly important to the people who hold them.

If we are not careful, if we don’t remember that our view of the world may be radically different from the one the survivors held prior to whatever incident they have gone through, we can end up discounting a major issue. A lot of self-defense instruction either assumes that we are all on the same page regarding these core beliefs, or that people will gladly give up their existing beliefs when they are proven to be incorrect. These are huge assumptions that have little basis in reality.

Ignoring the mismatch in belief systems, or the struggles inherent to major paradigm shifts, creates a barrier to true communication and understanding. It’s a barrier that, if it’s not overcome, can either deprive students of a meaningful context for their self-defense skills, or alienate them altogether.


And this is all you get. If you want more, you need to get the book. Did I mention that I wrote a book? I wrote two, in fact. They’re brilliant. Honest.

Veni, vidi, marketed. We shall now be returning to our regular schedule of whatever I feel like writing. 


2 thoughts on “Trauma-aware self-defence instruction. 8

  1. This is a great book. I am not an instructor, and still found it helpful. For instance I now have a guideline to use in addition to my own sense.

    I do think this book could be valuable to people who have experienced trauma. After reading a person would have a sense of what to hope for in terms of self defense instruction. Also a indicator of what to get the hell away from, and perhaps a gold standard of the gym to stick with.

    By way of metaphor or comparison my comment is kind of like saying that a person with food allergy might benefit from reading a book on how to run a restaurant that is allergy compatible. The end result is that the person might have an additional perspective on what to look for.

    On the other hand… This idea sounds ok to me now, but at this moment my world is perfectly fine. During a crisis I might be more focused on information that helps right now – and not interested in information that helps me to get better information.

    All of this made me wonder if picking a gym can be a daunting task.
    When I took Krav I saw people who seemed interested in simply learning general skills (right place for that). At a Muay Thai gym I saw a couple people where it seemed like they had interest in learning to defend themselves (great for sport but totally skips other areas).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I’m really, really glad you found value in it!

      Re. finding the right gym… I found it quite hard in the past. I find it easier to tell people how to spot the red flags, what to run away from, than how to find the right place for them. Too many variables for that, I think, or maybe I haven’t developed the right evaluation skills yet.


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