December 29

The Shocking Truth About Self Defence Instructors

35  comments

The self-defence industry often makes me sick to my stomach.

Not because people make money, no, I want and expect self-defence instructors to make a good if not a great living from teaching people to protect themselves and those they care about.

No, the self-defence industry makes me sick because the vast majority of people teaching are actually hiding behind a lie.

And in this article, I am going to break this lie down and explain what it is and how to fix it.

Ready? Dive in.

The Shocking Truth About Self Defence Instructors is.....


90% Of Them Couldn't Protect Themselves

Social media has grown even larger around martial arts and self defence with the growth of Facebook video. 

The result was that the mainstream media asked several self defence instructors to make videos and guess what, the self defence 'community' went mad and 'slated' every one of these videos as terrible, dangerous and a waste of time.

Sadly these responses were incorrect and whilst I am not going to go into detail here about the videos, I will explain in depth why 90% of self defence instructors simply cannot protect themselves in a real fight or self defence situation.  

To achieve this I will first lay out the 5 biggest problems with the self defence industry today.

Problem 1.

Too Much Theory Backed By Play Fights 

I was a policeman for 17 years and have been a life long martial artist. I have competed in boxing and Judo, trained in MMA/ Vale Tudo and numerous other martial arts including Keysi and Defence Lab, Submission grappling and Russian Sambo.

And I have had real scraps on numerous occasions, given evidence in court and investigated real life acts of serious violence.

So whilst that is not a bragging right, it places my opinions and perspectives well and truly above people who have had zero real life incidents and earned their instructors qualifications from 'their mates' who they happen to pay money to each month.

You can take or leave my advice but I assure you it comes from a position of experience.

So, when I see the way people are training these days I gasp because it will fall apart under real pressure and here's why.

"People are pressure testing like toddlers play fight!"


I see a lot of people doing what they call/ refer to as 'simulations' or drills. This usually has people dressed in padded training gear playing an attacker and the 'victim' has to fight back.

Or we see everyone training in padded gear and going 'half power' with their attacks.

Both of these training situations are disasters waiting to happen when faced with reality because you are training incorrectly.

The first issue is in the victim based scenario usually seen in female rape defence  training. Here we always see the attacker stop after being gouged in the eyes (headgear with a visor) or slapped a few times.

Get real folks, the scenario should always end with the attacker still attacking!

You might be wondering why?

Simple, because a face rake or eye gouge is not going to stop them attacking you, contrary to what people are teaching or saying to earn a few quid. How do I know? Because I personally have had this done to me (in real life) and it did not stop me! 

I have seen the drills, got the DVD's and understand the concepts and yes eye gouging, shredding and face raking has its place and time and I do teach it.

However you cannot base any strategy on its use as a primary tool of offence/defence. I know there are people including friends of mine that teach this method and to them I say this;

We all know that pulling a persons ear off or causing severe retina trauma is going to hurt like hell, and it might stop an attacker but in the UK we have a legal concept called 'reasonable force'.

The second you use a technique like that on anyone you do so knowing that your intention is to gain control of them via causing severe facial injury and that was the intention regardless of the type of attack of the gravity of the situation. 

I do know that those words will not matter to anyone who trains this, they say I am wrong etc but one day (if it ever was used) and it came up in court, good luck trying to explain it in whilst being cross examined by a £300 per hour prosecutor.

But in all honesty face raking, eye gouging etc while painful, can still be countered.

For that reason the attacker should always keep on fighting the victim until the instructor deems it time to stop the scenario. The only time it should stop is if the victim genuinely escapes.

The role of the attacker is not to 'roll over' when the victims fingers touch the head guard, you are just installing a false sense of confidence here.

The scenario should be as realistic as possible because that is what sparring is all about, practising under pressure and there should never be a winner in sparring, even if one person comes off slightly better. 

So what would I suggest as effective training/ skills in these situations?

In the female focused rape defence I have never come across anything more effective than Judo/ BJJ/ Ju Jitsu in these situations.

By adding grappling skills and escapes to any training like this you are really giving valuable skills.

Now I do know in the self defence world we  will have people shouting' but an older lady with bad hips couldn't do that!' 

To these people I say this; 'Go and learn some grappling before lecturing others'. There are endless techniques that are simple yet effective and can make a difference, you might not know them but there are!

This is  when you add some distraction focused eye gouging, shredding and face raking that supports your grappling skills to enhance them!

Now onto the group training scenario where we see everyone wearing padded suits. Whilst I hate to see this it can also be effective when trained correctly. By correct I mean using as much power as the suits allow (varying quality exists in the market now). 

When you have padded suits this is the time to go the extra mile and 'dig in', I recall training in these type of suits with some tough lads and we were slamming each other into walls, using full force elbows and kicks etc. It was a lot of fun but it needs to be real! 

The core issue with problem one is that people have an idea of a technique or how a scenario 'would go down' and they support their view with 'play fights'.

This leads to poor teaching and then false confidence.

My general rule of thumb is this, train as if every self defence situation could see you seriously injured or worse and you should expect to be seriously injured or worse so you will fight hard!

This is key, it is not about teaching people 'do this and you will escape' it is about crafting a desire and belief that they will give this attacker the fight of their lives!

You will not give in easily and it is your job as an instructor to teach them the most effective techniques possible! (more on that later)

Now you might be thinking 'hey he is contradicting himself there because he said it would be tough to justify eye gouging, shredding etc'.

OK let's clear this up too. I personally do not believe that eye gouging etc is an effective strategy to base any self defence system on, but if I was to use it, you better believe that my thumbs are going knuckle deep into the eyes.

Fish hooking and eye gouges have long been a tactic of old school fighting but as part of a more complex fighting style. The aim of these techniques is to cause serious injury, therefore when you do use them you must have the circumstances to back up their use.

But if you are learning self defence I think you really need to have a more rounded skill set because eye gouges, face raking etc are ridiculously easy to counter.

Problem 2: 

A Total Underestimation Of The Attacker

A massive issue now is that 90% of self defence instructors seem to think that the opponent is a weak, crack addicted rapist, a meth head car jacker or a drunken idiot. 

Reality check time!

Most criminals have grown up around violence, they are experienced in what they do, have committed multiple offences and often grown up in the worst conditions life has to offer. Along side this we also know that most rapes are committed by people known to the victim!

With this in mind why are so many instructors training to face the lowest danger standard of attacker!

You should be training to face an experienced attacker, who is fitter and stronger than you and has more fighting skill, all whilst being enhanced via drink and drugs that make them immune to pain, oh and add in some metal health issues to boot. Simple eh!

One of my favourite scenes in a film is the one in Training Day with the bath tub. If you haven't seen it please do.

However just before the famous bath tub scene we see the key characters Jake and Alonzo walk up to the house full of gang members having a party. The way they look at the cops is not the look of  a weak attacker, these are predators! Check it out below:

I have been in situations just like this, walking to an address surrounded by nasty, violent people and trust me they would fight me hard if provoked or given the chance.

The problem is that most people are training for the easy fight and these fights never exist.

Most attackers are either skilled or experienced and often both.

So when I see videos of training that resembles a country walk, I know the students are going to be well out of their depth in reality!

Problem 3:

Creating Training For The Audience And Not For Reality

'Come and take our 4 hour self defence course'.... we see this all the time. It is a staple of the industry desperate to sell their services.

Can you learn self defence in 4 hours? No, but you can learn some effective crime prevention tips and introduce some physical skills.

I have taught countless 4 hours courses, some paid and some for free but they are always just an introduction and not a solution. I used them as lead generation for regular classes.

Sadly we see people trying to make a living from these courses but this is selling both the industry and the instructors short.

If you have truly learned self defence skills the right way, you will have spent years and a  lot of money on your training, so why would you cheapen it by selling that skill in 4 hour bundles?

Never let the audience dictate the terms. You would never go to a mechanic and tell them your car needs repairing in 4 hours. You might want that but in reality the car is fixed 'when it is fixed'. 

Conducting these courses should be part of your marketing strategy for your weekly classes and not your daily business.

If you are full or part time this should not change, you should not water down your skill base and lead people to think that it takes 4 hours  to become Bruce Lee. You have a responsibility to teach them reality. This flows back into the problem of padded suit training. 

Simply put; stop installing a false sense of security and skill.

Problem 4:

Lack Of Time Learning The Trade And Charging Too Little

Two problems rolled into one!

This is a big issue for me,  too many people spend far too little time learning their trade and charge too little to keep growing their own skill base or even run an effective business.

This subject is a tricky one because we now have many systems in place which you can get qualified in a few days so let me clear this all up.

It is perfectly OK to get a qualification and teach after only a few days of training. That is if you are good enough to reach the required levels and also teach. 

Here is where it falls down; if the source material is shit, you are never going to be any good anyway!

However just because you qualify in 4 days it does not mean that you are highly skilled, you are on your journey and you now have enough information/ skill to teach to a certain point. Your journey is always ongoing.

You should spend time travelling, learning from others in all areas of martial arts and  self defence, along with those experts in your chosen system and guess what, this all costs money and as such you should be charging an amount that provides for your family and training.

If you can't get more people to train you need to learn how to market your business effectively and learn sales!

Too many people take a course, get a qualification and think they know it all!

Problem 5:

All Issues Stem From The Instructors

We have come full circle now, having explained some problems with the industry this all leads to one serious issue, the quality of the instructors!

The issue here  comes down to one simple logic; 'people want to be self defence instructors' more than 'people want to become self defence instructors'.

The key word here is become!

Self defence instructors are forged through time and training in the systems, strategies and techniques that actually work. 

Some years ago we saw self defence instruction was the remit of people in the business. Police officers, prison officers, door staff, martial artists and military staff were the go to people for self defence training. 

But what we saw was an off shoot that developed with the emergence of a few systems that allowed people to qualify in a very basic self defence course and teach that. We also saw people gain qualifications in systems and martial arts who just were not ready to teach. 

This problem compounded over 20 years and we see an industry with very little  trust, very little money (not in all cases) and selling a product that is not fit for market. 

The result is that we have an abundance of poor quality self defence instructors that could not protect themselves, teaching others things that will not work based on strategies created in a false training environment. 

So what is the answer?

Back To Basics


Self defence comes down to a few core skills, the ability to not get hit, the ability to strike hard, the ability to grapple, some fitness and of course a bit of law and crime prevention/ awareness knowledge.

So how do you know if you can do these things? Testing of course!

No matter how much you avoid it, breaking your skills down into core areas is a a must and testing/ practising these through actual sparring, competition and knowledge tests is always the best way.

Your training should reflect this via isolation.

If you teach striking then get some sparring in that only focuses on the strikes.

Do some grappling 'rolling' with a live and resisting opponent, do some 'anything goes stuff', knife drills with a blade that shocks or has paint on it and scenario training that is focused on one key performance indicator and not the imagination of the padded instructor. 

A good self defence instructor has a duty to be able to deal with a variety of attacks, age and health dependent. I have always said  the benchmark for a good instructor is that they could go to any martial arts club and do OK in any style.

That does not mean they should tap out BJJ black belts but they should be able to hold their own with the white and some blue belts. They should also be able to go to a boxing/ kick boxing club and be able to defend themselves to a degree and land a few shots.

Regardless of  what your system looks like these are basics, because if you don't know how other people might attack you, how can you defend against this?

Conclusion

This article might sting a few egos, but if it does are you upset because you are lacking skills that you can't perform. Or perhaps it is because you are selling faulty goods with your systems?

No one said self defence training was easy, and if you are teaching self defence then you have a duty of care. Of course this is very different than people teaching martial arts.

The martial arts offer numerous other benefits in addition to self defence and yes not all martial arts are great for self defence, but they don't claim to be either.

So what do you think? Let me know and comment below. 


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  1. I think it’s important to distinguish that if you find yourself in a ‘fight’, then his implies consent. You are willingly becoming violent with someone that could very well have a lot of experience and any true self defense training you have is a joke , because priority #1 to staying alive and unscratched is to avoid confrontation

    Getting attacked unknowingly is a different story and is where self defense training really steps in. This includes mental, verbal, and of course physical training. BJJ randori, boxing matches, etc all fall into fight scenarios which you should never ever find yourself in.

    Good article. Just thought I’d add something that bothers me quite a bit in today’s training.

    1. Hi Christoph and thanks for taking the time to comment. Ok I will try and be fair here. Way too many people are getting hung up over the ‘fighting is not self defence’ wording and it is holding people back.

      I know of a very well known self defence training group that focus on providing self defence that is totally reliant on being a victim. Self Defence is a really just a legal term to justify using physical force against another person.

      When you defend yourself then you are in a fight! Plain and simple. This is key because you used force in self defence rather than used ‘self defence’.

      So if you walk home tonight and a group of lads block your way and you can’t avoid it, de escalate it and one of them starts to fight you, what are you going to do? Run home, say ‘I only fight in self defence’? What is he hits you then takes you down and you are on your back what are you going to do? You are in a fight, you are still in a fight even if there are 5 lads around you. The girl who gets approached by a guy that won’t say know, she is in a fight.

      You enter into a fight the second you decide to use force against another human being. BJJ, Judo, boxing etc are all arts/ sports which have a skill base that is highly applicable in real life self defence situations. In fact I would have little worry about a person experienced in those arts surviving an attack when compared with a self defence instructor.

      I totally agree with you that the number 1 priority is avoiding confrontation but it is a real mistake to think that a self defence situation does not become a fight! Which is a major issue I have with drills that last a minute and always see the victim survive and walk away. Sparring, groundwork etc is all about developing your skill base.

      My ultimate test is this, go to any martial art school and see how you do, because if you can’t handle these guys/ girls in training, what would happen if they were to attack you, and not everyone doing martial arts are nice.

      We are living in an era of MMA and with that comes an increase in skills

  2. Great article – and absolutely right, for adults.

    Training kids is another matter, but I didn’t comment to go into all that…

    My bugbear, and something I’d love the author’s comment on as a fellow ex-police officer, is that oh so many ‘anti-rape’ feeds target the stereotypical ‘stranger rape’ scenario (which accounts for, maybe, 5% all rapes), rather than acknowledge that 95% (at least) are committed by men the woman knows and trusts in a place she considers one of safety.

    For example, the old ‘don’t wear high heels’ (as if rapists care what you wear), or ‘don’t walk down dark alleys alone’ (an ex girlfriend of mine was raped by the guy – a friend she’d had for years – as he walked her home!)

    My research into training for female self defence has been led by fellow police officers with actual real-life experience dealing with rape victims, and the techniques they ‘wish they’d known’ (there are less than 10), rather than all this ‘fighting off strangers’ crap.

    1. Hi Marc thanks for the comment and happy new year. Totally agree, we know that most rapes are conducted by people known to the victim. Even if they only know the offender for a short amount of time, it is rarely the stranger lurking in the dark alleyway. Yes and also agree that training kids is a totally different ball game than adults.
      My view on the training tends to remain largely the same. I think if you are teaching women self defence it should not be ‘rape’ focused but can address this as part of the training.
      But I think that any self defence class should deliver the same syllabus for both sexes. Hammer strikes, punches, ground work etc. Sure there are a few tactics you can teach for situations. I think this comes down to the old ‘trying to sell self defence’. Rape defence might put a few more people in the class but will they stay? Getting the right people into a class is essential for the growth of the student base.

      My personal view is that too many people focus on trying to split self defence and fighting. This is largely due to trying to sell self defence to people that are just not interested. So instructors have taken the stranger attack and built courses around this as this tends to sell “come and learn how to escape when being raped etc etc”.

      This is a real issue that self defence instructors have failed in, the ability to find people that truly want to learn how to protect themselves. That is a marketing issue to be fair Krav Maga has solved very nicely (mind you a lot of krav schools have failed in this as well).

  3. A good and fair article and some good comments particulary David Hallford who I can identify with. I grew up in the centre of Liverpool then had the honour of policing that same city during the Toxteth riots, Miners strikes and the ‘normal disorder’ of the Friday and Saturday night. Lots of stabbings, serious assaults, serious disorders but all had to be dealt with within ‘the law’. I then joined the Military Police so dealt with people, 80% of whom were trained killers lol and Belfast and Londonderry. Left the Army to join another Police Force so have a total of 36yrs dealing with crime and prior to that dealing with life. The problem I have with most SD Instructors is that they have no ‘life’ experience. By that I do not mean to insult them by saying that they have never been involved in a fight or a martial art but one of my ‘jobs’ was to evaluate evidence prior to it being submitted to CPS. Where does SD stop and assault start? Is is ‘OK’ to steam an assailant but where do you stop? Eye gouging, groin striking, throat stabbing? all legitimate if in self defence when threatened but not after that certain point. Krav Maga is very aggressive and is taught as such but, depending on the Instructor what is the point you should stop? I have experience in Krav, BJJ, jiu jitsu and various others and if pushed as to what I would train in to become proficient in SD would choose judo and Muay Thai. Not fashionable I know but would be ideal for all occasions! My most relevant point is despite all my so called ‘experience’ don’t feel that I am qualified to open my own school without years of training in one ‘art’ which gives me credibility. The most important factor when dealing with training people to save their own lives and others.

    1. Hi Mark

      Thanks for sharing your valuable experience and viewpoint. Funnily I believe Judo and boxing/ Thai Boxing are the two best things you can train in, however both are very hard on the body. I have really found Defence Lab/ Keysi to be the best alternative for training.

      I know what you mean, the fact you are not qualified in one art makes you feel that you are not qualified to teach. I have had this feeling myself as well, infact I no longer teach.

      What I would say is that a qualification in a single style or system is more about branding and marketing. When people see a poster for example and it says BJJ on it they know what they are getting and can read a lot of articles/ watch videos. On the other hand if you start Mark’s Self Defence School it really can put people off because they are not sure what they will get. This can be combatted by images, logo’s, websites, article and other types of content but going on your own can be tough.

      My view is you clearly have the background to teach but the marketing is something that is going to hold you back, especially if in your own mind you do not feel you can open you own school. This is where a single style/ system has a great advantage!

  4. It’s a great article, I used to do shotokan years ago, but stopped due a rough time in my life, these days I deal with situations on daily basis, not so much physical but confrontation, I have read loads of books on self defence, such as Geoff Thompson, Rory Miller, Dave Grossman, understanding reasonable force by Mark Dawes, been searching for the right art or class, then defence lab came along and I liked the way it was all put together, been waiting patiently to get to go train at a defence lab opening near me. But after reading this I am now unsure if I should continue or invest in starting BJJ.

    1. Thanks Ash. Defence Lab is awesome and I love it but Defence Lab instructors also train in other arts including BJJ. Personally when it comes to self defence Judo is better than BJJ in my opinion because they focus on throws into groundwork and it is tough to get up off the concrete after a solid throw! But more and more BJJ schools are taking Judo lessons and bringing the art into BJJ training. It is a case of finding a school that has the right balance

  5. I went to a Krav Maga school which practiced “real life situation” training, they would try to imitate real-life scenarios as much as possible, in relatively difficult conditions. That resulted in me getting my spine almost broken 3 times, my neck almost broken twice and one concussion. And when I say “almost” I mean a VERY close call. I don’t mind the pain, but I had to stop if anything to not end up in a wheelchair. To clarify things, as a 55 kilo woman I was regulary up againt 90+ kilo men with no training, very little self-control and apparently a great deal of personal frustration. I really wanted to learn self-defence, I have a rather high pain tolerance, but it was becoming far too dangerous (and I didn’t even mention the young lady who got her head kicked on to the pavement or the guy who got his knee cap broken). Again I understand that pain is an integral part of training, but there’s really no point in all this real-life-situation training if you risk ending up in crutches or a wheelchair, is there? Maybe you need to train people to be “good” attackers (capable yet self-controlling) as well as good defenders.

    1. Jane, thanks for taking the time to comment. OK so here is my take on your situation; you had a shockingly bad instructor who has no clue! Feel free to tell them that from me. The instructor’s job is to make sure that the safety of the students is paramount at all times. I have friends who teach Krav Maga that are excellent, I also know and have seen instructors that are shockingly bad. You have clearly experienced the latter.

      Reality scenarios need to be realistic but safe! This means that often the instructor is best placed to be the attacker and there should be a second instructor watching to ensure safety.

      That being said reality scenarios are actually optional and you do not need them to become skilled at self-defence. Isolation sparring, drills and other activities are equally satisfactory. But in any case the students of any martial art/ self defence course have a massive responsibility to keep their fellow students healthy.

      It seems that you went to a school that has a combination of poor quality instruction and students with attitude issues which is a serious issue in itself.

      Thank goodness they are not all like that, but again it highlights the problems I raised in the article

      Thanks for comment and I hope you recovered from your injuries

      Andy

  6. I’ve had a few articles published on some of the issues you raise in your article. I’m also writing a book on the psychological/emotional aspects associated with preparing a person to engage in a violent encounter. It integrates the theories of fight-or-flight, stress, emotion, and cognition to understand our natural and learned responses to a threat. It goes far beyond Siddle’s work. I apply my work to understand fear, stress training, Siddle’s work, women’s self-defence, and with constant reference to the military, law enforcement, and martial arts. One aspect of WSD is that I don’t start off with scaring the bejesus out of women. I explain that that have the capabilities to defend themselves with no training. Training can improve those capabilities. Nature provided a very effective defence system which has proved effective over millions of years. It includes a ‘radar’ system which is instincts and involves the interaction between cognition and emotion. It also raises the issue if self-defence is teaching survival skills or a subset of survival skills, if survival skills at all.

  7. Honesty is the best policy in regards to Self-Defence. This article addresses that. Self defence isn’t as complicated as many assume but it is unpredictable. I think many instructors sometimes and if I’m honest including myself over analyze physical conflict. In recent years I have stripped back a lot when it comes to Self-Defence as well learn and teach to my students the legal aspects.

    Well written Andrew.

  8. Some very sound advice for anyone that wants to stand a chance of defending themselves in real life. I’ve practiced Ju-Jutsu for over 20 years, teaching it for around 15. One of the most important lessons I learned from my sensei’s was ‘no pads’ ‘feeling is believing’ & in a training fight it only stops when I say it does or as you say the victim escapes. Of paramount importance is to gain experience elsewhere, training with your mates is really limiting, I regularly pressured tested my techniques at other clubs with their knowledge of course & found that some of the techniques I genuinely believed in were in fact almost useless. Grappling knowledge & practice is an absolute must & if you put yourself up again western boxers you really need to know how to defend or you’ll be sparko before you’ve got near enough to apply your first wrist lock. Good article, much respect

  9. Having been involved and teaching martial arts, self-defense, and police defensive tactics for over 50 years, I have pretty specific ideas about self-defense. First: SD doesn’t start when a bad guy is right next to you pounding on you. It starts when you notice him as a threat before he approaches you. Then you tell him not to come any closer (setting the stage for legal SD if he comes towards you after that. Two: Know how to evaluate the threat so you can match your response to the threat. Three: Know control techniques, stunning techniques, and crush the guy’s head on the concrete techniques — legally. Included in any SD program should be discussion and handouts on what is legally acceptable in your state for SD. Knowing all that allows you to train for proper responses to specific threats so there is as little hesitation as possible when faced with a threat.

  10. Great and honest article!!!
    Now a day there are a lot of “Instructors” are teaching martial arts and self defense in the WEB… and whe somebody face the real life (a real figth) many things change and some people die because lack of reality (they are dreaming with persons who are waiting their punchs).
    Self defense is quite more deeper and with your article I hope these semi-instructors take concience about what they are deploying in WEB and change for a responsable humanbeen.

  11. I find your post very refreshing sir!
    I am training to be a self defense instructor and have been doing do for five years now!
    My instructor is very good and has military experience. Reading your post makes me understand why he is not rushing me and why I have only taught basic stuff thus far. I agree that workshops should be nothing more than an introduction and that you must train regularly to perfect your skills.
    I wish you well and look forward to your next post.

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