The Shocking Truth About Self Defence Instructors

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?


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. 

Andrew Holland

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