One of the key issues I face in the realm of teaching self defense is the misconception that self defense equals violence. Given that we are a society that abhors violence of all stripes irrespective of its occasional necessity in our lives, recruiting students for a self-defense class becomes difficult at best and impossible at worst. If people equate self defense with violence, the natural outcome of recruitment is classes with one or two students who, we hope, will stick around for the duration of an 8-week 16-hour course. Avoiding violence is preferable to learning it.
There is, however, a problem with this public perception: self-defense is actually about 98% non-violent. Violence is what happens when self-defense fails.
I assign blame for this perception to the over-zealous self-defense instructors who bill their programs as a pathway to stopping any attacker with devastating techniques. They promote the violent aspects of their course – the knockout blows, the knees to the groin, the shattered eardrums – without acknowledging what actually constitutes self defense – awareness, self-restraint, and the ability to suppress the ego and walk away.
A legitimate self-defense course is going to spend the bulk of its meeting time covering ways to AVOID violent encounters. Regardless of the bunk being spewed by liberal institutions nationwide (here in the US, anyway. My international readers can otherwise inform me if their countries perpetuate a different narrative), there are relatively simple methods to avoiding violence. There are ways to prevent being raped. There are ways to prevent getting your ass kicked. There are ways to avoid being the victim of theft or carjacking. And all of them involve changing – and sometimes restraining- personal behaviors.
So let’s talk self defense for a bit. How do we avoid violent encounters? There’s really no secret here; it is a simple matter of common sense.
Pay Attention – this is not a particularly complicated subject. Look around wherever you go. That does NOT mean skulk around in a paranoid state all the time. Instead, take occasional quick looks around and behind you as you walk. Don’t stare at your phone as you walk. Don’t listen to music through headphones as you jog. Of course there is more to awareness than this short paragraph, but these are some simple first steps.
Talk Less – few things will get you in trouble faster than your mouth. Sounding off on someone for what you perceive as annoyances or insults will have a fairly predictable result. Smart-assed comments hurled at others will gain unwanted (and usually hostile) attention. Thus, when that guy takes ‘your’ parking spot or bumps into you at the mall, keep it quiet and move along. If you find yourself on the wrong side of an aggravated soul who has decided that you have wronged them, just remember that there is no winning in having the last word. Let the bigmouth say what he wants to say and be done with it. The more you talk, the more you run the risk of giving the actual aggressor a self-justified reason to beat you senseless.
Apologize, and Mean It – If you have earned the unwanted attention of an aggressor, apologizing is a legitimate tactic for avoiding potential violence. Men are particularly territorial, so challenges like, “What are YOU looking at, butthead?” are fairly common. Responding in kind is the start of a potentially violent encounter. A better response? “Sorry, man. I just had a long day at work and zoned out. Nothing personal here. Can I get you a beer or something?”
Have Fun, but Control Yourself – I went to college. I know what the party scene is like. I also know that the parties are just as much fun (sometimes more fun) without getting falling-over drunk. Any time you lose control of your faculties, you run the risk of experiencing harmful fallout. This is true for both men and women. Men get sauced and feel inclined to engage in games of social dominance. Women get sauced and become the targets of men who see opportunity in weakness. (An aside: Spare me the lecture about how ‘men should not rape’. I agree entirely, but until we live in a world where men do NOT rape, let’s exercise some natural protections, shall we?) The obvious solution: don’t get sauced. Over-consumption of alcohol is a disaster waiting to happen. I have seen the most austere and respectable people turn into a complete asses when that one glass of wine turned into 4 glasses of wine. Couple that with other people who have been drinking, and the table is set for trouble. Drink in moderation, enjoy yourself, but be ready to leave should others not show similar restraint.
Don’t Go Places Where Bad Things Happen – If a place has a history of trouble, why in the world would you go there? There are bad parts of town where I live. I don’t go to those parts of town without a damned good reason. I also don’t walk through dark alleys. Or go to seedy bars. Or 24-hour convenience stores. Or ATMs at night. Some places just have a reputation for being dangerous. The simple solution is to avoid being there.
Self-defense isn’t a physical act. Violence is. A decent self-defense class will include instruction in the nuances of the above topics. A class being billed as personal protection or self-defense that fails to cover these topics is actually a class about fighting. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – fighting ability is a valuable skill to possess and a great form of exercise – but it is not true self defense.
If you exercise a few simple habits of restraint in your everyday life, you will find the potential for violence is reduced dramatically. Most of the violent encounters people experience can be avoided. It is the relative minority of events that actually require someone to engage in violent physical defense.