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They're offering fantasy solutions
to fantasy problems
                Marc MacYoung

Fantasy self-defense

On this page:
The nature of fantasy | Self defense fantasy | So how do you tell?| Undermining or disproving the effectiveness of the system | Instructor's agenda | Pre and post violence issues  | Reality of crime and violence| Fantasy-busting

Peyton Quinn and I roared with laughter upon discovering  that we were both saying the same thing about much what is being taught as self-defense. Mine is  "fantasy solutions to fantasy problems." His version is "They are offering ingenious solutions to nonexistent problems." 

It doesn't matter which version you use, both point out a serious, if not life-threatening, flaw common to both self-defense and martial arts training -- especially if the martial arts training is strongly advertised as being good for self-defense.  

Simply stated, before you can come up with a working solution, you must first understand the problem. If you don't, then you are engaging in fantasy, or worse, willful ignorance.

Unfortunately, most training that we have seen is  ineffective for dealing with the realities of violence. The underlying reason for this is both promoters and participants actively refuse to seek -- much less, acquire -- a practical understanding of the dangers, variables, complexities and other issues involved with violence. Now this may seem like a bizarre statement in light of the nature of the training. After all, isn't it 'martial art' and/or 'self-defense' training?

Well, that's what they claim. And boy howdy will they spend all sorts of time telling you how effective their style is for "self-defense."

The problem is expertise in one area does not automatically instill expertise in all related fields. Training is specific. That is to say: Just because you have a black belt does not mean you know everything there is about crime or violence, much less combat. It only means that you know a particular style. Yet, this does not stop them from promoting themselves as having expertise in other fields or conducting themselves as though they are qualified to teach you everything you need. Furthermore, many people (both instructors and students) tend to have skewed and fuzzy definitions of such terms as self-defense, fighting, combat etc., etc.. As such the instructor's version of self-defense training tends to lack key elements necessary for legal self-defense in civilized countries. In fact, their emphasis, is almost entirely on physically defeating an attacker (and that translates into "fighting"). Very little time is spend on  non-physical concepts, concerns and factors.

When we say this we are often met by indignant squeals of "We teach that too."  Well, tell us that you are not over-emphasizing the physical aspects after you have taken a stop watch into a class and timed how much attention is spent on each subject.

The reason we say that what is commonly being taught is ineffective for dealing with the realities of violence is that it tends to be one dimensional (e.g. oriented entirely on the physical). There is a cartoon characterization of the issues involved. We're not even talking about solutions yet, we're still back at the defining the problem. Without this understanding of the problem, then there is no way a viable solution can arise. If you don't understand the problem, you can't fix it.(1)

Another saying we have is "Do you know the actual problem or are you just guessing?" Unfortunately, many "solutions" are indeed offered based on guesses, guesses based on  fantasies, movies, myopic training and limited experience with high school violence, not live-fire experience or understanding of the full spectrum of violence. Violence is not a simple problem. It doesn't just come in one pre-packaged form. Violence can occur in many different forms, levels and methods. It can also be the result of countless different courses of actions. It can be the extreme end result  or it can be used as a tool in a larger, long term strategy. And through the entire process, the actions of both parties are critical to both the escalation and de-escalation of the process. As such there is no one answer that covers all contingencies or possibilities.

That puts you, the buyer, in danger, because a pre-packaged and 'complete' answer is exactly what most schools are trying to sell you. Even if they offer a "cross training" approach, they tend to be monochromatic in as much as they only deal with different physical approaches (e.g. Mixed Martial Arts are almost uniformly oriented on acquiring different fighting styles).

It's a known scientific maxim "that you can't get an accurate answer if you don't ask an accurate question." On this page we will take a look, not at the solutions they've coming up with, but what's wrong with the premises they used to frame their questions. This takes out of training. It even goes beyond the questions they asked to come up with those training answers. Before we even look at the answers we want to know: What went into the questions?

We want to review the process they used to come up with these ingenious answers, but by starting at ground zero. Namely: What are they defining as the problem that they are trying to solve?

Why? Because before you pay your money for a solution that could get you killed or thrown into prison, make sure the person offering a solution has done his homework. And that he isn't selling you fantasy solutions to fantasy problems

The nature of fantasy
When we use the word fantasy, we are often met with strong negative reactions. (How's that for a nice way of saying flaming hate e-mail, threats and vicious attacks on internet forums?)  In our experience, the ones who react worst are the  people who  tend to engage in it the most. Which leads us to conclude the lady doth protest too much -- especially among those who stress the "reality" of their training. Just to clarify things a bit, the Random House unabridged dictionary defines:

Fantasy: n 1)  Imagination, especially when extravagant and unrestrained. 2) The formation of grotesque mental images: She was powerless to to control her fantasy of death  3) a mental image, esp. when grotesque: a nightmare fantasy. Psych 4) an imaginative sequence fulfilling a psychological need: day dream 5). a hallucination 6) a supposition based on no solid foundation 7) a caprice, whim 8) an ingenious or fanciful thought, design or invention.

The mental image of defeating a gang of thugs gang of thugs in a whirling blur of bone breaking, blood spattering martial arts skill certainly qualifies as grotesque (definitions 2 &3). At least to someone who isn't having that fantasy. As does a neurotic obsession of being assaulted.(1,4,6 and 8). Unfortunately addressing the implications of of number four are beyond the scope of this page. But one should keep that point in mind when thinking about taking up with any particular self-defense group -- especially ones that claim to be "reality based," hard-core or claim to be able to make you into an  unbeatable streetfighter. There is a definite fixation on violence that ropes people into these kinds of groups. (Much of what goes on in those groups is about fulfillment of dysfunction, not about self-defense).

When we use the term "fantasy" on these pages we also apply another definition. That is: A one-dimensional representation of reality. One that  involves careful editing of factors that do not support or coincide with what you want to believe. With this extra definition of fantasy comes a particular connotation. This is: It is taking an image of reality and editing the parts out that you don't want so it reflects what you do want. This extra definition can be used to "power boost" definitions 1-8 from Random House

The best explanation of this idea  is found  in a basic sexual fantasy. Let's pick having sex with a gorgeous model or celebrity as an example. The person you are imagining having sex with is real and, in all probability, sexually active with someone. In order to imagine them in a sexual scene with you, you have to peel away facts like: You don't know that person, that you are in different locations, personality issues, marital status, etc., etc. Realistically these factors would prevent  you from finding yourself in a sexual situation with that person. But in fantasy, somehow all those factors -- that would prevent you from having sex with that person --  magically disappear as you imagine yourself doing the big nasty with her/him.

So, from the start, you are editing "reality." And by doing that you are not letting the complexities of reality enter into the fantasy. But since we're already in fantasyland, let's take that a step further. Here is this gorgeous woman who -- in your fantasy -- is hot and passionate for you at any time of your choosing. Realities that might interfere with this ideal are eliminated, such as: she's sick, has her period, is stressed about money, has just had a fight with you, is tired from a long hard day at work or simply doesn't feel like having sex right now. These are very real issues of life, but not part of your fantasy. And how many times as part of your fantasy, is wild sex with a hot, passionate woman interrupted by the kids barging in? Probably not very often -- but as any married couple with kids can tell you, it  most definitely happens in reality.

That's the difference between fantasy and reality. Complications, that are part of reality, are deliberately edited out of fantasy to achieve a specific, ideal end. The image of reality  is "tailored"  until the fantasy matches what you want it to be. Return to top of page

Self-defense fantasy
This brings us back to "Fantasy solutions for fantasy problems." It is the removal of these complicating components -- whether intentionally or unintentionally -- from the very definition of the "problem," that makes many of these  so-called self-defense programs  less than effective. Critical parts are missing -- both from the assessment of the problem and the supposed solution

If you don't know these factors yourself, it can be difficult to spot when this has occurred. How do you know what you don't know? And, by extension, how do you know what someone isn't teaching you about a subject?

By at least having a passing knowledge about these factors, however, you can begin to sense when something isn't quite right. As we said earlier, much of what is being taught  is quite literally the cartoon versions of much more complex and deep problems. But for people who don't like to think, they are extremely convenient versions of reality. Simplistic answers do have an appeal to certain mindsets. If you do not look any further into the depths of the problem,  what these programs are offering will seem to make sense. In fact, they most often will support your pre-existing assumptions. As will their interpretation of the problem. This really sets you up for being taught incorrect information.

Why do we say this? To begin with, the best way to lie is to tell half of the truth. These carefully crafted interpretations of the "problem" sound good in women's self-defense seminar or the dojo because they *do* have  elements of truth in them. Carefully selected, tailored and, in some cases, purposefully misinterpreted elements, but they are still true -- as far as they go. The problem however, is much larger than these carefully edited solutions (2)

It is when you start to look at these "facts" from a perspective outside that particular context/clique/ideological approach or school that you will begin to see the complicating factors that have been ignored/lost. A prime example of this idea is the women's self-defense courses and their stand on domestic violence. To begin with, in those circles,  there is an overwhelming assignment of blame. Massive amounts of work has been compiled on this subject from a  fundamentally "feminist" perspective (more specifically "gender feminist"). Their conclusion is  that it is all the man's fault. They routinely dismiss the female participation, creation and escalation of an incident.

From that carefully crafted and protected perspective a solution arises, namely: If a woman feels threatened, she is given carte blanche to "defend herself" without restraint or responsibility. In fact, women are often actively encouraged to "tap into their anger" in order to fight. And that is in essence what they teach women to do.

Yet, when you look at domestic violence  from LEO, legal and psychological perspectives you will find a myriad of other complicating factors. To begin with a  majority of domestic violence is participatory (a fight), a significant amount of domestic violence is directed at men and women are the perpetrators of a majority of child abuse. Women can be as violent as men. And they can be just as wrong about it as men. Contrary to what those who would encourage women to tap into their anger would have you believe, in areas where "mandatory arrest" is required for physical assaults the arrest rates average 54% men and 46% women. So much for the simplistic idea that the men are always to blame and a women are always justified to engage in violence to 'defend' themselves. The raw truth is women are just as legally accountable if they misuse violence as men -- especially lethal force.

In the same vein, issues like drug and alcohol abuse and criminal conduct on the part of the female are routinely dismissed by these instructors, as is female domestic violence against men. (try Googling the last four words). Based in the "the man is always to blame" perspective most WSD programs sweep any such misconduct under the rug with the ideology of "A woman has the right to defend herself"  These programs teach that if a woman finds herself in a violent situation it will always  be self-defense -- even if, out of anger, she physically attacked first. This is not self-defense, this is encouraging people to violently protect their dysfunction by removing complications and responsibility.

Now despite all this, do we deny that domestic violence exists? No.

Are we saying that it isn't a problem? Of course not.

What we are saying is that there is no simplistic answer -- especially one where a woman goes berserk and beats the hell out of someone.

Unfortunately, this kind over-simplification  is not limited to the topic of women's self-defense,  it is endemic to the SD world in general. There are countless examples; from the martial arts' common assumption that the student will always be in the "right" and therefore what he does is always going to be self-defense (no matter how much he escalated it). To the extremely flawed assumption that an attacker won't quit attacking so you have to 'go postal' on him. To the knife-fighting trainers and trainees who advocate excessive use of force by teaching multiple cuts as a default fighting strategy. To the Reality Based Self-Defense litany of "there are no rules in a streetfight." and  "I'd rather be judged by twelve than carried by six"  (These are used to dismiss the use of force continuum and the legal requirements of use of force). Once you have even a passing knowledge of these complicating factors you will see countless examples of so-called defensive training based on poorly researched and misunderstood ideas about how violence really happens, what to do about it, restrictions and your responsibilities.

This is why we say that self-defense is not a simplistic issue and you need to be very cautious about listening to anyone who tries to sell you a one dimensional fantasy solution to the problem.

What follows is a much more in-depth look into the problem of the fantasies that plague the martial arts, reality based self-defense and Women's Self-defense world. It is written for people involved in these pursuits. For the average person the following information is not really relevant and would be more  of an academic interest than practical use. If you are interested in how to find a good self-defense course the previous link will give you a working standard by which to judge . Return to top of page

So how do you tell?
Much of fantasy self-defense training is predicated on editing out those factors that 
a) undermine/disprove the effectiveness of the system,
b) disagree with the instructor's or group's  agenda
c) have to do with the prelude to or aftermath of violence

In short, you can tell the presence of something, by the absence of others. Unfortunately, when these symptoms appear, what is being taught is no longer reality, but rather fantasy. Although they may talk about it and train for it constantly, these systems often fail miserably when faced with actual violence and its complexities. And here is why:
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Undermining or disproving the effectiveness of the system
To begin with it is critical to understand that there is a drastic difference between martial arts and self-defense. Through marketing, movies and public perception  the two are often considered one and  the same, they are not. This  divide is just as drastic as the differences between fighting and self-defense -- which is another gravely misunderstood concept.

It is just as important to realize that different martial art systems are designed to fight in specific circumstances -- whether those circumstances be environmental, circumstantial, cultural or against specific opponents and their training.

The significance of this idea cannot be overstressed. Certain arts are indeed designed to fight in specific environmental conditions. For example, Wing Chun's origins are in the cramped, tight alleyways of Hong Kong where side-to-side mobility was significantly hampered. This art excels under those conditions. The larger movements and low stances of  many northern Chinese styles are designed to work in wide-open, more mountainous areas where movement is not as restricted, but footwork can be treacherous and uneven. Whereas, the low crab-like movement of Hari Mau silat are extremely effective in the slick, muddy terrain that occurs during Indonesia's monsoon seasons. The same can be said of Fukien Dog Boxing

Each art evolved to operate with radically different environmental conditions and how they fight reflects that. If you are willing to do a little research you will begin to see the wide scope of the factors that effect the art you study. A scope that is often way more limited than what your instructor tells you what it is good for. Often because he doesn't know these facts himself. In the same way that a species evolves for existing in particular conditions, so too will a fighting style.

Of equal impact on an art is circumstantial issues. Sports-based "martial arts" are designed to operate under very specific -- and limited -- circumstances. In fact if you don't understand the sports influence on the martial arts, you will not be able to strike effectively as these changes have often sacrificed power for speed. They may be fast, but they don't hit effectively. There is nothing more ineffective than trying to apply sports-based moves in an actual fight(3). One of the major problems is: The rules are different.

In fact, in any physical confrontation, there are rules. Unfortunately they are not the rules of sports fighting. And if you have been unconsciously conditioned to operate along certain rules you are going to be rudely surprised to discovered that you opponent has no such restrictions. You will be unconsciously operating within a box, whereas he won't be. Or, if he is, it will be a radically different box than yours.

Grappling is a prime example of a sport based system being promoted as, not only street effective, but the ultimate martial art. While the wave of the grappling craze has receded, it's residual, the belief  that you need to study a grappling art in order to be competent on the ground remains. While in theory we don't disagree with this statement, we do not encourage people to "learn how to fight " on the ground The first reason is as we have repeatedly stressed: Fighting and self-defense are separate issues.

The second reason is the goal of grappling is significantly different than the goal of surviving an actual assault. They are indeed apples and oranges. Yes, an occasion might arise where you need to subdue someone, but simply stated if you are trying to subdue someone, you are not trying to hurt him. That is not self-defense, nor is it really a fight, it is controlling someone who is out of line. It borders on professional use of force -- which has all kinds of rules and restrictions.

And just for the record, I can guarantee you that the ground is the *absolute* last place you want to go if your opponent has a weapon -- and I don't care what someone tells you. They are selling something. Still that and other myths promoted by grappling proponents about the effectiveness of their art in "real fights" persist even though grappling occurs in an open, padded ring and with rules. Although it may seem like we are picking on grappling, this kind of self-deception is just as -- if not more  -- endemic to other kinds of sports- based martial arts training claiming to be effective for self-defense.

There is, however one question that undermines all claims about sport arts value for self-defense, no matter what their source: If these systems are not a game, and are indeed, so effective for self-defense, then how come their matches last so long? 

Why isn't their opponent down with broken bones and severe concussions within mere moments? Fights may last a while, but self-defense is an immediate need and requires an immediate solutions -- self-defense action does not drag on. If it does, odds are it is a "fight," not self-defense.

The cultural aspect is important as well. Simply stated, combat is a matter of survival. You use the most effective means available to ensure success. The only country in history to ever reject a weapon advancement wholesale was Japan...who closed it's borders to outsiders and functionally ignored guns, returning to the sword (and it's feudal social structure). However, this does not mean governments have not limited what weapons their citizens (or conquered people) could carry. For hundreds of years, Japan, savagely suppressed sword possession by any caste except the samurai and weapons possession by any invaded peoples (hence the myth of the Okinawan weapons defeating trained samuari). Japan is not alone in this tendency, Ancient Rome did it, as has many other regimes through history and many current government still do it today. In short, most traditional fighting styles are based in the fact that they were limited to the most effective means left to the people by the government. Not because they particularly wanted to fight that way.

Are you so limited? More importantly, is your opponent? That seriously complicates things.

There are other elements that are involved regarding the cultural influence on martial arts, but as each would be worthy of a PhD thesis on their own, they are beyond the scope of this Web page. What we will say is that often cultural and socio-economic standards effect the nature and extent of conflict. Therefore you cannot assume that the standards you abide by will be the same ones that your opponent will have. In short, do not assume what your opponent will or won't do, based on what you will or won't do. And training as though your opponent is always going to be willing to fight you one-on-one, mano y mano is a massive assumption.

The point about specific opponents and training is hardest to explain if you have not studied several diverse martial arts styles. By diverse  we don't mean several styles of karate, but rather cross training in systems that use significantly different means. Simply stated, different fighting systems use radically different strategies, techniques, muscle tensions and manners of power delivery. More importantly, however, particular fighting styles were developed to fight opponents who fight a certain way.

When you think about it, it makes sense. Prior to a hundred years ago there was not much travel, martial arts were largely limited to their country of origin. Local styles worked to effectively fight both each other and people from the next province over. These styles tend to strongly influence each other. When everyone  in an area is, in essence, fighting the same way "traditions"  and styles develop. These styles are effective for fighting their neighbor's styles.

The point is that styles from different locations and environments fight differently. That doesn't mean that they do the same thing slightly differently, it means there are radical differences. Certain styles just don't work against other styles. Does it mean they are ineffective? No, that is too broad of a statement. Instead think of them as a rock/ paper/ scissors affair. One strategy will defeat another, but be defeated by still a third. A third, that in turn, will be foiled by the first (4).

Assuming that you live in a metropolitan area, however, all bets are off about what you will encounter. There is no "this is how they fight in the next province over" in the modern world. You don't know what he knows, how he fights or what he is going to do. The only thing you can safely rely on is that if he didn't have something up his sleeve that he thinks will work to put you down, he wouldn't be there in the first place. Will it work? Well it kind of depends on a) what it is, b) if you can spot it in time and c) if you have something that can effectively counter it.

These three issues seriously effect whether or not what you are being taught will work when you are attacked. Unfortunately, these - -and many other important elements that effect the outcome of a physical altercation -- are often ignored or minimized by the proponents of particular styles or self-defense systems. Often because they don't have a good answer for the problem, so they simplify it, by removing those elements they cannot control. This is an example of the reducing reality to conform to a solution that we were talking about earlier.

Many systems will either totally ignore how attacks actually happen and train against fantasy attacks, or they will insist that the kinds of attacks they train for are far more common than they actually are and train for them exclusively -- functionally ignoring other ways of attacking. Where this becomes a problem is when students assume that this is the *only* way that they will be attacked or that this one response works against all opponents.. Unfortunately, this misconception is often actively encouraged by the instructor -- if he himself even knows they exist (5).

And unfortunately, when this misconception is pointed out, such practitioners become defensive, insisting that what they study is realistic and would work. Rather than investigating limitations, they often withdraw further into the belief of the system's effectiveness. This is called an escalation of commitment. "It has to work, because I spent so much time, effort and money learning it."
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Disagree with the instructor's/organization's agenda  
Martial arts and self-defense organizations often tend to be extremely cliquish. That is to say that they are often built around a particular
way of thinking or more often, one person's persona. In fact, these are indeed cults of personality. These programs often fall into three basic categories. One, because the "founder" of the system, or current grand poo-bah is thought by the disciples to walk on water and be the messiah of the martial arts. Two is the person presents himself as some kind of killer kung fu commando streetfighter who has used his devastating fighting system to defeat hordes of attackers in countless combat situations. The third mess is a combination of the first two.

Putting it bluntly when you encounter this you have not found an effective self-defense system, you have found a church.

You have found a religion without an afterlife -- because many of the same dynamics that occur in religion occur among these "true believers."  And often, like religious leaders through the ages, the heads of these "worldly churches" will send their fanatical followers out to war with other "churches." In fact, in order to reach the "inner circle" of these organizations, you are expected to take on the same bigotries, paranoia, rivalries, agendas and opinions of the leader. But more importantly, you are expected to swallow whatever the grand high mucky muck says or does as the gospel (6)

But what if you don't want to check your brain at the door?

You're not going to get too far up the organization. Of course, it won't be called that. In fact it will be presented as you will not learn "closed door teachings", "advanced techniques", "deeper levels of training" or any of the countless other terms the group uses to describe those things they think make them better than anybody else.

Don't worry, because nobody "owns" the  truth  about self-defense or martial arts. And with a little bit of research you can find the same information elsewhere and with far less hassle.

But if you aren't interested in just leaving one clique to find another, maybe we should stop and determine what kind of thinking leads to these situations. Basically, just because you get a black belt tied around your waist doesn't automatically bestow PhDs in psychology, sociology, criminology, anthropology political science and philosophy. Nor does it automatically mean you have passed the bar or the medical board. The only way to learn these disciplines is to go out and do your time  studying and doing them. Not an easy thing to do because each is a field that one can devote an entire lifetime to and never fully know -- much less master -- all the details, issues or problems.

But there is often something about the kinds of people who participate in these kinds of cults of ego who desperately want to believe it does. They often fixate on this one area (i.e. the martial arts) so they can convince themselves of their superiority to the rest of the world. Or to convince themselves that they live a Clark Kent double existence, during the day a mild mannered office worker, but at night a master of a deadly and mysterious fighting art. That's one spin, there is however another.

Self-defense alone is a complex issue -- there is no two ways about it. In fact, it goes beyond complex and ends up in a dangerous can of worms. One that the best answers involve research into several fields independent of any school, organization or style.

This becomes important because quite often individuals use martial arts/self-defense as a vehicle for other agendas. These agendas become deeply entwined in the school's "culture" to the point that it is almost impossible to separate them from the teachings. Often these are personal crusades (such as feminism, New World Order or hatred for another instructor), but  just as often it is simply about greed and power. Then you get the real "fun" ones where it is both.

Agendas tend to be based on fantasies -- that is to say, the person has a one dimensional interpretations of reality. And he/she often strives to replace that one-dimensional version with another. They want others to accept their angry, outraged or idealistic philosophy about how life "should be." Usually at the expense of others or denial of how things really work. That is why, people who are agenda driven can cause you such discomfort. You know that something is "missing" from what they are saying, but often you can't exactly put your finger on what it is. Other times, you do know, but when you mention an important factor -- that you know for a fact, has significant influence on the subject -- they minimize or reject it out of hand; again returning to their one-dimensional fantasy version of the problem.

It is here that you must honestly sit down and ask yourself "is the intent of this organization self-defense or is it really more about something else?" Very seldom will you find a large organization that is only about teaching self-defense. That is because you don't stay in business this way. It is the host of other personal issues, socialization, agendas, politicking and perceived powers that the organization really serves to satisfies among it's members.
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Pre and post violence issues
Not too long ago I was sitting having lunch with a black belt who -- in all sincerity --  asked, "Hasn't awareness and avoidance always been part of martial arts training?"  I roared with laughter. One of the advantages from having done martial arts from when we had to hop from foot to foot while the earth's crust cooled is that you do see how things change over the years. The thing is, this black belt has only been in the martial arts for seven years and during that time, yes, some version of these issues have been commonly taught.

In no area have the "traditional" martial arts changed more than in this topic. Back in the days when we rode mastodons to the dojo (i.e. the early 70s) the thought was, if you knew karate, you knew how to fight. That meant, if you could do your kata and were willing to spar full contact, that was all you needed to defend yourself. And in truth, just the act of taking off your shoes was often enough to intimidate the uninformed...who also felt that "knowing karate" meant you knew how to fight. (It was also often assumed back then that just being Oriental also meant that one knew the martial arts and by extension could fight). If you go back ten to fifteen years and the ideas of awareness and avoidance were practically unheard of. Go back any further and you are in the stone age where you would be laughed at for the very idea, if not challenged to a fight.

These days however, not only do the students assume that these issues have always been taught, but many instructors pretend they were.

The reason that we bring this up is to show that change has indeed happened. Now that you know that these changes are recent, your next question needs to be something that we have learned from computers. That is: What version is this, how new is it and have they worked the bugs out of the program yet?

In the same way that when the grappling craze hit the martial arts world all sorts of hitting arts suddenly revealed that they had hither fore "secret" grappling techniques that teachers were now willing to teach (or the ink was still wet on their diploma from an obscure grappling congress), with the new movement towards awareness and avoidance, you *need* to ask "what's your sources?"

Someone who has done his or her homework will be able to rattle off their sources like a machine gun. The books they have read on aggression, de-escalation, negotiate, communication, body language, psychology, criminology, cultural anthropology, etiquette and sociology should just flow from them like a river. They should be able to tell you the seminars, classes and training they have taken *outside* a particular martial art that taught them these non-martial art issues. Someone who has done legitimate research into these topics will freely admit to having reliable, accredited sources for their information and will -- without hesitation -- freely tell you who those sources are. And these sources will be easily found.

Where you need to be suspicious is when someone tells you that they figured this  out all by themselves. Another point you need to be  careful about is when everything comes from the same source. This person is quoting one person or group on all issues -- ranging from violence de-escalation, boundary setting, negotiate, post trauma psychology and legal repercussions. Excuse me, but how did this one source become all knowing? And does anybody from those particular fields agree with those assessments? 

Usually someone from one of these disciplines will have a slightly different opinion about the value of the information being provided. Often you will find that many of these supposedly monolithic sources that are being quoted so often are, in their field, highly controversial or have been downright discredited for "junk science" methodology, biased reporting, spin doctoring and questionable practices. Return to top of page


Reality of crime and violence
I am very unpopular with many self-proclaimed self-defense "experts"  because of my habit of telling them  "the difference between theory and practice is in theory there is no difference." In short, just because you have read a book or two doesn't make you an expert on all facets of  crime and violence.

This is the same difference between someone who has graduated from business school and someone who has succeeded in business. While they both may "know" the same information there is a vast difference between just knowing and being able to apply that information. Just as there is a world of difference between the "known facts" of business and the thousands of other critical factors that make for a successful businessman.

And this extends to the researchers themselves. One may have an academic knowledge of the subject, but that is not the same as being able to do it. -- nor is it the same as understanding *all* the phases of the process. That is because as complete as one might think one's research is,  it will always be a compilation of second-hand information -- gathered after the fact and often from someone who isn't being totally level with you.

Then one must factor in the researcher's bias and agenda; as well as if the findings are published in an academic journal or by a mainstream publishing house. This is important because academic journals and university presses insist on "peer review." This process will often question or debunk the author's findings and research techniques. Corporate publishing houses don't. The reason peer review is important is that prevents the researcher from just picking the facts that supports his/her contentions. In short, peer review prevents spin-doctoring and "junk science."

It is a common misconception in Western culture that being a martial artist means you know how to fight. Not even close to true. In fact, there is an entire hub of this Web page dedicated to disproving that idea and clarifying what martial arts are and aren't good for. What leaves "misconception" and heads into blatant and dangerous lies is that having a black belt in a martial sport system (i.e. Tae Kwon Do) automatically qualifies you for teaching self-defense. Much less instills in you the knowledge of how real crime and violence occurs.

Compare this, however, with someone who has actually "faced the beast." Someone who knows first hand, what it is like to be assaulted by someone intent on causing you harm --  not by collecting data. That is the person who "knows" things about the realities of violence that there is a very good chance he cannot articulate. And if he can't communicate these points then the person who is collecting the data won't know about them.

Having said this however, let me also point out that first hand experience, while important, does not automatically instill in a person omniscience regarding fighting.

There is no way that such a person can have so much experience that he -- or she -- knows everything about violence. There is absolutely no way that such a person could get that much first-hand experience without suffering serious physical damage or death. That's because there are a whole category of lessons that come from  having the experience of going up against those who are either equal to, or better than you. And there is no way you can have "hundreds" of altercations against such opponents without them doing serious damage to you.

Those who have read from the book of having gone up against equals or betters -- and learned those lessons -- teach a different course than those who have, often purposefully,  only fought lesser people. Simply stated, those who teaching promotes aggressive-fear-no-man- swagger-with-confidence -because-you-have-the-ultimate-fighting - style  among their students have never faced anybody nastier than themselves -- much less someone who was truly dedicated to killing them.

Therefore the idea that by having some experience with violence, a person is  automatically all-knowing about it is just as much of a fantasy as assuming that because someone has  read some books on the subject by "experts" that person knows everything.

So if academic study alone is not the answer; if research alone is not the answer; if live fire experience alone is not the answer, if martial arts training alone  is not the answer and if consulting with experts isn't the answer...then what is?

All of them.

Before you accept anybody's advice about these important issues, make sure that person has truly done his or her homework. That means they have looked into everything and asked experts from dozens of different fields. And by experts I don't just mean academics, I mean cops, martial artists, prison guards, bikers, criminologists, psychologists, mental hospital ward orderlies, streetrats, lawyers, DAs, judges, doctors, parole officers, victims, victim aid activists, counselors, truckers, musicians, renegades, rebels and rouges -- talk with them all and learn from them all. It is only by exploring these vastly different viewpoints, listening to what those who live with, deal with and contest against violence every day with just as much rap attention as one listens to "experts" that you begin to see what  huge and complicated subjects crime and violence really are.

There are no such things as "cookie cutter solutions" and every source has important lessons to teach you. Which is why you need to be careful of any instructor who cannot -- or will not-- immediately present a wide and extremely diversified set of references and resources about where he learned what he knows. That bit about "wide and diverse" is especially important...someone who has studied 10 different martial arts styles and taken lessons from all sorts of masters, shihans, pendekars,grand masters and gurus is still talking from fundamentally one perspective...that of the martial artist. There are hundreds of other sources out there...many of whom have much more experience with crime, violence and violent, criminal people.

Once you know that, start looking for more as-diversified sources. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but the wider your understanding, the better your understanding. And you only get that by being willing to step outside of your box. Self-defense training far, far supercedes simple martial arts.

Your greatest tools for determining the quality of the instruction is  independent research. Go out and read up on the problem before you seek "expert" training  from commercial organizations. Being familiar with a subject from a wide variety of different kinds of sources will assist you in determining if someone is leaving out important issues. These issues can literally be a matter of life and death. If not your then the person you end up going to prison for wrongfully killing.

Therefore, it is an understatement to say: It is important that you have a pre-existing and wide knowledge base regarding the subject before you seek training. For example, one has to wonder why, when it comes to dealing with violent crime, the local police department's community relations department strongly advocates a radically different course of action than most so-called reality based self-defense courses. What do the police know about crime and violence that these others don't?

Try asking them.

Your second greatest tool is the old newspaper motto "If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out." Check into how far this person has studied this subject. Ask the instructor for credentials, not just martial, but also academic and other -- as related to that field. And then ask about first-hand experience. Not of victimization, but rather putting into practice, what they preach. Not what their circumstances were before they learned this information, but how often have they successfully used it since?

This is not to encourage a brag-fest. In fact, the direct opposite. It is instead a way to check for balance in the presentation of the information. Individuals who have successfully dealt with dangerous situations over a long period of time behave differently from people who haven't. More specifically, someone who has come through long-term dangerous situations understands and practices patience, restraint and moderation. This is because they've learned that a) the other side shoots back, b) the other side are often good shots, c) that you don't want to do things that draw fire from people who are good shots and d) that the other side can be awfully creative in coming up with ways to come at you that are hard to counter.

Knowing this, they talk about mitigating circumstances, the need for caution, complications that you will face before, during and after the incident and countless other topics that 1) Don't have easy answers and 2) Are very practical and rooted in provable and mundane factors of daily life (like the likelihood of your actions being captured on security  cameras and how that can affect your court case). Therefore, someone who proceeds to engage in a brag-fest, regaling you with a long litany of their sterling victories, lurid tales of the violence that they overcame or explanations about how their deadly fighting style "has never been known to fail" should make you cautious. Namely because: How did they survive behaving that way when the world of violence  is filled with entirely too many dangerous and competent people? Who were they confronting that they didn't encounter this kind of competence in their opponents? The same applies in spades  when you ask about their qualifications and they (or their students) become aggressive and intimidating. If these people are as competent as they claim to be, why are they intimidated by mere questions?

Or, when asked about personal experience, do they  try to distract you by tales of lineage, the system's warrior tradition or stories of abuse that they were able to over come because they studied this system? While that's a very interesting story, it doesn't answer the question about experience and success using what they want to charge you to learn. This response is just as much a dodge from answering difficult questions about "How do you know it works?" as brag-fests

Ask for the source of the information that he/she is promoting as legitimate. It may not be legitimate at all. Someone who has not done research will answer in a rather vague  manner or answer with unsupportable claim ("I've studied the martial arts for fifteen years!" " Okay, but how does that make you an expert on legal use of force?" Martial arts and law are separate issues, how much homework has that person done in each?). How does studying the martial arts make one an expert on how criminals attack, much less think? Another common tactic is to refer to a third party's unverified credentials ("I studied under grand master so-and-so") or claim affiliation to a group (e.g. "I belong to  AWSDA"). Groups that you might not ever have heard of or know much about. These kind of deflections are an attempt put themselves under another person's/group's  umbrella of credibility.

The problem is: Who are these people and what makes them qualified?  The same questions apply. How do they know this stuff and what is their agenda? People who are trying to spoon feed ignorance have often been spoon fed themselves. If a group is used in this manner one should always ask "Is that a for profit business" or if it is non-profit, ask who is supplying their funding. This is not to say the information itself is bad, but rather that it is very likely to have been spun for a particular bias or end. Another point you seriously need to consider is that a common cult tactic is to  provide seemingly workable and useful information in the beginning to get you to trust them. This is why you must compare the information out against outside sources. If a group says it is so, what do other experts in related fields have to say about it?

We would also like to address the use of "experts"  by these groups. Unfortunately, there is a lot of "junk science" out there. Worse yet, it is promoted by many so-called "experts." What few people realize is that scientists are, in fact, a contentious bunch. An ingrained aspect of science is "peer review." This is literally like your theory getting "jumped in" into a gang. Before a theory is accepted, you have to fight everyone, you must protect your theory against all comers. And the people attempting to tear down your theory are themselves intellectual heavy hitters. This process and meeting many other critical standards are how a "scientific theory" becomes a "scientific law." In short, an idea is "put to the test."

Unfortunately, "junk science" doesn't undergo this process. It instead attempts to by pass this process and prove itself in the "court of public opinion." (7) Unfortunately, when it comes to promoting unproven agenda driven information, most social sciences tend to land closer to junk science than hard science. Even so, legitimate experts will be able to explain their points as well as the counter points against their theories. As should someone who is expecting you to take that 'expert's' word. Not just a general "that other person is wrong," but line out a detailed list of point counter-posts. Someone who has done research will be able to rattle off a machine gun litany of references and credible sources. Such a person should also be able to discuss these sources, strengths and weaknesses. That indicates a familiarity with the actual work, not  a "Cliff Note"  version or what someone else told them.

The final indicator is that they will refer you to these sources to look it up yourself. They will encourage you to do research on your own. If they don't, if they expect you to take them on faith. Unfortunately, a commonly used ploy is saying "check it out for yourself" knowing that you won't. So if someone invites you to do so, do it! In short, don't believe anyone to be "an all knowing expert" on a subject as complicated as this one who doesn't have a solid bibliography and a wide spectrum of training over and above their physical training.

When a group of people get together who all think the same way, the combination of intensity and consistency in what they are saying can be confusing. They are all saying the same thing, they all obviously believe what they are saying and they are all saying it with confidence. This can be pretty convincing to  the uninitiated and pretty daunting to the uninformed. If you rely on this group to be the sole source of your information you are seriously risking being spoon fed a fantasy. A fantasy that will get you hurt if you have legitimate and immediate self-defense needs.

For additional insights into this issue, you might want to read Violence Geeks Blog

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1) Violence is not like a computer where you can pull out a faulty drive and plug in a new one without understanding how it works. It is both a dynamic and holistic problem that changes and evolves in your presence, AND a process that your actions, attitudes, words and strategies effect. This takes it out of the idea of violence being something that happens to you and puts it into the realm of violence is something you are involved in. That gives you a whole lot more control over what happens. But only if you've spent the time to understand that the situation isn't a cartoon version of reality. Return to Text

2) Stop and think about this for a moment. Even if you "check into" these ideas with other members of the same club these points will be supported. Asking every person in a martial art school about the legal complications of self-defense is NOT the same thing as asking one defense lawyer the same question. And yet, asking lots of unqualified people from the same single source (mindset) is a common tactic for people to tell themselves that they have looked into a subject. This is why such people are often under the mistaken idea that they have "checked it out." As such they will seem extremely confident when they tell you this. Even outside checking can result in this -- especially when you only go to the references such groups supply. Quite commonly individuals use sources that support their contentions. And they will send you to the same sources that support their position. For example, advocates on both sides of the "Gun Control" issue will not only cite the findings of studies but will also direct you to the studies. They do this without telling you who financed these studies. (And if you think that who's supplying the funding doesn't effect the findings, then we have some ocean front property in Arizona we want to sell you). In order to get a more balanced perspective you must look into a wide spectrum of information -- and from many fields -- rather than just the one who is claiming to be able to tell you all about "what's going on."
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3 One should take particular care when a self-proclaimed "self-defense" instructor claims to have stripped down a martial art to make it "street effective." The big question is what standards did he use? If that individual doesn't understand the sports and muscle-based influence then there is no way he or she can effectively "field strip." Extreme care needs to be taken when a small, slight female woman's self-defense instructor claims to have done the same. Often in such cases, she is in fact advocating that her students attempt to stand there and "slug it out" with an attacker...relying on their attitude and anger to overcome an attacker's commitment. While we will be the first to admit, the surprise of unexpected resistance can make some attackers retreat, it is not a strategy that will work every time. Therefore we do not advocate relying on it as a foundation of your self-defense strategy -- especially if your only other tool is sports-based moves that she is teaching. Return to text.

4 This is not to say one style is better than another because the second style cannot handle certain attacks. Often it does come down to the environment the style was founded in, people just don't attack that way where the style was designed. Kicking styles and boxing don't work on ice. You don't grapple where everyone has a weapon. Big wide movement systems don't work in cramped areas. Lightening fast, multiple striking systems from the tropics don't work where people are wearing heavy winter clothing. It isn't until these arts taken from that context and put into others that these "holes" appear. On the other hand, you try to attack that way in the environment they were designed for and you will discover right quick why you don't attack like that there. Return to text

5 A common problem is that systems often train in "what they think" an attack is. This is especially true with empty handed systems training with weapons. Without training or experience outside their system, they try to "guess" what is involved in these types of attacks. The flaw with this idea is that what they are coming up with is their version of such an attack, not how such attacks really occur. As long as they stay in the school they will continue to reinforce this belief until it becomes an ingrained assumption, and by extension a blindspot. Return to text

6 Another critical point is that expertise in one system of martial art, does not automatically instill an understanding of how other arts function. (This is especially true if the person seems to "tack on" new styles every few years. All of a sudden someone who is trained in martial art A, is saying he also knows B, C and D? In those cases what you usually end up with is an "B et all" flavored version of  martial art "A." The leaves may be slightly different, but the roots and stalks - hence the plant - is still the same). And while we are on the subject, a black belt doesn't mean you have survived a thousand battles and know everything there is about fighting, crime and violence. In short, just because you are qualified to teach a particular martial art style does not make you an expert in other fields -- no matter how confidently you pretend to be. Return to text

7 A prime example is global warming. Scientists agree that it is happening. Junk scientists insist it is solely because of man-made pollution. Legitimate scientist suspect it is, in fact, a cyclic trend of the earth's ecosystem. With the strong possibility that mankind is assisting it. One group is still looking for more information, the other thinks they know the whole answer already. The thing is before you can go to the mat with national economies you need some solid science to back it up Return to Text

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