AMSTERDAM, 29.03.2021 – Lots of martial arts schools offer “self-defense training”. Few of them actually deliver anything resembling something useful. A spot-on observation on starting self-defense training was recently published on Facebook by our fellow Kalah instructor Pascal Bourrassé, head of Kalah France and Kalah France Tactical Division. Read his article before you make your first (or next) step in martial arts/self-defense training.
Original Facebook post (in French) by Kalah France, translated by Kalah Amsterdam instructor Jair Stenhuijs: source
Here is our response to the endless discussions with various “experts” on the web on self-defense training. The next time I engage in a discussion where the ego stands in the way of reason, I’ll just post the link to this article.
Let’s say you want to start training self-defense and you don’t know anything about it. As if you wanted to learn to play the piano. What are you going to do? You open the internet because Google is your friend. You can find several self-defense schools in your town, the majority of which are Krav Maga schools (as these are the most widespread). If all you are looking for in self-defense is to sweat a little, make new friends, feel (tacti)cool during training, and brag to your friends: Stop reading now and take your pick.
This article is for those who really want to learn something useful. In this case, before choosing a school, ask yourself several questions one by one. This article will help you answer them.
QUESTION 1: What is the main reason why you want to train self-defense and not something else (e.g. kickboxing or MMA)?
QUESTION 2: What is self-defense?
By definition, it is “a way of defending (yourself) against bodily harm inflicted by other people”. The term “self” means that you will have to do it yourself, although in the defense process you may also have to defend your loved ones (if you are that type of person).
In conclusion, self-defense is clearly a defense against real attacks. It is neither a “traditional” martial art (Taekwon-Do, karate, kung fu, etc.) where preservation of the art is essential nor a sport (MMA, boxing, etc.) where bettering the competition is the main goal. This leads us to the next question.
QUESTION 3: What does real aggression look like?
Open Google (it’s your friend) and do a video search on “violent attack CCTV”. You can combine this with terms like knife, gun, rape, rifle, shooting, stabbing, kicking, death, victim, bar fight – or other words related to this kind of situation. Then open Google again and do an image search on “injury after violent attack”. Now you have enough material for several evenings of viewing. Best of all, you’ll never run out of new things.
Remember what these images look like. You will need this knowledge later.
QUESTION 4: Knowing the reality, do I still want to train self-defense?
QUESTION 5: What should self-defense training look like?
Now that you know what reality looks like, you should understand that a good self-defense system will increase your chances of survival (of course everyone claims that – don’t worry, keep reading).
The reality is that a good system will only marginally increase your chance of survival.
No sane person can guarantee 100% success. You automatically filter out certain “experts” if the promise of a self-defense system is that it will significantly increase your chances of survival. It must unconditionally fulfill a long list of criteria, but most of all: it must be as close to reality as possible.
This leads us to several conclusions about effective self-defense training:
Why should training be like this? Because the reality is like that. You can’t defend yourself (or someone else) if you don’t respect reality. Training should mimic reality as closely as possible, safely. Read on to understand this point.
Training shouldn’t take us to the hospital either. Safety rules must be established. These safety rules on the other hand CANNOT interfere with the main criterion of closeness to reality out of compassion. If your instructor never tells you to attack realistically for your safety, go elsewhere.
QUESTION 6: So what’s the best self-defense system?
Everyone calls themselves an expert! Now you know what reality looks like and what the training should look like. With this knowledge, you can begin to judge the systems available to you. As a layman, you will hardly be able to recognize the quality of YouTube’s techniques. But I will give you general rules, to simplify your decision-making.
If he’s open-minded and survived the majority of your attacks, you might have found a good system. Congratulations! You have just won the lottery! But remember – never stop asking questions and always try to physically PROVE if something isn’t working. There’s no other way.
The challenge I just described to you is what many instructors at home and abroad (and world-famous systems) will never accept. Because deep down they know they’re teaching bullshit. They rarely question themselves. They prefer to say openly that you are not performing the attack properly (see Jim Carrey’s sketch as a self-defense teacher, it’s quite close to reality on the subject.
For most of them, teaching self-defense is more about profit, prestige, and/or vanity. How many students will return to class for another round of bruises, scratches, kicks, punches, slaps twice a week? How many of them will have the mentality and determination to suffer in training to reap the benefits? Frankly not a lot. But it is a real pleasure to know these people, to work with them – and in most cases, to consider them as friends.
That’s why self-defense can’t be about money – those few people who stay in reality-based classes may be able to just make one local self-defense training school viable. This is why you can easily see 30 to 40 people, sometimes more at Krav Maga lessons. Happy to hit the pads with a smile; and the instructors give them a friendly pat on the shoulder. “If you make it difficult for them, they will leave and their money with them.” They are the ones who would choose the second answer to our first question.
I don’t blame them. Self-defense is (or at least should be) really hard work. I blame the systems that sell themselves as “the world’s most realistic self-defense” and when you watch their classes you see completely unrealistic techniques, ego, and a bad boxing class instead of self-defense. All I want from them is to tell the truth: “The World’s Most Realistic Homeopathic Self-Defense”.
A self-defense instructor who teaches bullshit (whatever the reason) is a criminal and should be jailed for selling dreams to his students. An illusion that can easily get you killed when you try to put it to practice. This is your real life. If you are reading this as a self-defense instructor and feel offended, maybe you are part of the problem?
That’s why self-defense isn’t a sport. Losing a boxing match won’t leave your guts hanging out on the sidewalk!
REMEMBER! The only way to prove if self-defense works is to TEST it. Several times, under stress, at full speed. The success rate in self-defense is not a matter of opinion (as is the case with most instructors), it is a matter of statistics!
QUESTION 7: Ok, so what are the benefits? What am I getting out of all this work?
Now you have all the elements to go to practice while respecting your goals.
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