In early 2015, I was contacted through my website and asked by a young lady to schedule a women's self-defense course for a group of her female friends / coworkers. I agreed and we began working out the details and scheduling. Once a tentative date for the course had been selected, I told her that I needed her to confirm the commitment of the group before we continued. Several days had passed and the start date they had originally selected was growing near. I had not yet heard from any of them so I canceled the class and that was that. This failure to commit is not uncommon when scheduling these type classes. Everyone is all gung ho up until the point it's time to do something about it and then fear sets in. In my opinion, these are some of the most important and needed classes that I offer. Residing in South Carolina, a State ranked at the top of the list for criminal domestic violence and violent assaults toward women, one would think the desire to do something about it might be greater. Sadly, it is not. Women self-defense courses are the absolute hardest to schedule for failure of ladies to commit. I do charge for my women’s self defense courses however in my experience, I couldn't give these classes away. It takes actual tactics to get ladies to show up for the class that they themselves requested. Therefore, I require students to prepay for the class, which means now most will feel more obligated to attend because they have already spent the money. Even then, I will still have some not show up. It is also very rare that we finish a class with the same number of students that we started with.
Around late Spring early Summer of 2015, I received several more emails from individual women requesting information about women's self-defense. At this time, I as well received a follow up email from the lady who initially attempted to coordinate the class earlier that year. She explained that everyone backed out at the last second, which again is not uncommon for these classes. This particular young lady was new to the area and had just moved here alone from out of State. Within her first couple of weeks, she had two attempted break-ins while she was alone in her home. This really motivated her to again try to set up the women’s self-defense class. She contacted friends / co-workers again and we were finally able to put one together with a decent turnout.
At the first class we have an orientation where I explain to the ladies what they can expect from the course over the next 4 to 6 weeks. We discussed the importance of what they were going to experience, how to dress for the classes, and how the training would progress. During the orientation class, I asked for each lady to share the reason(s) why they decided to take the course. Some ladies had never experienced an assault and felt they had been lucky and therefore just wanted to become more prepared. Others ladies expressed incidents where they felt they narrowly escaped a potential situation and therefore that was their source of motivation. In this group, one particular lady had been sexually assaulted on two separate occasions and another lady shared details of her recent rape. At the first class I also discuss the dropout rate of my classes due to fear. I explained that there was nothing fun about what we were about to undertake and expressed how seriously the training should be taken. As always, I challenged each of them to complete the class and not give into fear but to use it as a motivator. After the lecture was completed, we began the first part of the physical training and two hours later we had successfully completed the first class. Everyone did a good job and seemed positive.
This first class took place on a Saturday morning and on that following Monday afternoon I was approached by one of the women from the class. She arrived unannounced at the dojo before the start of one of my kid’s classed and asked to speak to me. I did allow her some time before my next class and she proceeded to request a refund for the women’s course. Initially her reasoning was just simply that she could not finish the class. When I asked why she then proceeded to tell me that she felt the teaching was “over the top” and “unnecessary” as it was "too real". She explained that she was under the assumption that the class would be taught by a female instructor and that she was uncomfortable being taught by a man. There actually was a female instructor there, my wife. My wife holds rank in my regular dojo classes and she assists me in all of the women’s self-defense classes. I had been here before and I knew it was actually fear of the unknown that was preventing this young lady from wanting to continue with the course. I tried to explain to her that she was just intimidated by the upcoming training and if she would just give it a chance she could do it and there was nothing to be afraid of. I explained that teaching it this way (in a realistic way) and working with a male was very important. I also asked her to think realistically about how and what kind of attack she would face and tried to explain that working with only female instructors would not be a realistic representation of what she might face in a real sexual assault. She claimed that she had already consulted with a female black belt instructor who agreed that I was taking it too far and that she would provide her with the training she needed. When I asked her if she had done any research, looked over my website, or read any of the information that I sent out explaining what the class was about and what to expect she acknowledged she had not. She expressed a desire to just “learn a couple of moves” and, in her opinion and with the advice of a female black belt instructor, she felt that was all that she needed. This young lady was in her mid-twenties and was actually one of the ladies who admitted that she spent a lot of time traveling abroad and that she has had several “close calls” while traveling. The personal accounts of the two other ladies who had been assaulted still did not waver this young lady’s opinion about her own personal safety. In her opinion, it was still pointless to take it any further than learning a couple of moves - she was done and I was wrong. I still encouraged that before she made her final decision to do some research and think about it until the next class, which was that following Saturday. I was hoping she would see things differently after a few day. I told her if she still felt the same by Saturday then I would gladly give her money back however, I never saw nor heard from her again. Unlike many other lessons in life where we have to learn from our mistakes, I prey she never proves herself wrong on this one.
When everyone returned to class that next Saturday I shared our conversation with the other women and I used it as a teaching tool about how as females, their mindset must change in order to find the strength to stand up. I explained how predictable it was and that she would not be the last to give up and quit before the end of the course. I didn’t say this to belittle anyone. I wanted them to realize how important it was to not to give up and to finish what they had started no matter what. When asked what they thought about what she had said some were confused by her way of thinking, some were offended / pissed that she would think it couldn’t happen to her, but for the most part her opinions motivated the two assault victims. As predicted before the end of the class I did lose a couple more students. When it got scary they gave up.
Facing yourself, your limits, and the realities of the world we live in can be terrifying. For some it's just too much so they avoid it and act as if it doesn't exist or it's not happening. They feel there is nothing they can do about it anyway and would rather not face the truth. They prefer to continue to live unaware of their true selves, their available options, and what their life could be like. I have had similar conversations with both males and females many times over the years. Living in fear is not much of a life.
I'm sure, like most, she expected our class to be just like any other one-hour, one-time, self-defense class that is held at the YMCA, a gym, or at a church social hall. Personally, I believe many of these classes are giving women a false sense of security and that they avoid the sensitive subject of reality. Just going through the motions and striking shields will not give you a real understanding of how to apply the technique properly to an actual person while under stress. At most, the class may allow their female students to smack around a person wearing an unrealistic giant helmet who gives little to no real resistance. In many of the videos I have seen on YouTube the students usually appear to be having a good time, laughing, smiling, cutting-up, etc. I rarely see the urgency of the material being covered.
I have been asked to teach these type classes involving little to no physical contact. Each time I was asked, I refused. I cannot teach real, self-defense, training while being censored and limited to the point the material is no longer realistic. Years ago a local church group requested I teach a seminar but they made it clear that they did not want me to make any mention concerning my training system having ties to the Japanese martial arts. I refused to teach that seminar as well. I will only teach that which I believe in and I refuse to do it any other way than what I believe to be the right way.
As I mention above, I am often approached by sexual assault victims seeking to regain some self-confidence and the abilities to cope with what they have gone through. None of them found my training to be fun. In many cases, it was a very emotional event and much like stepping back into their own personal hell and getting a do over. I vividly remember one woman screaming to her assailant all the things she wanted to say as she fought back the first time. You could tell she went back to that very moment. With tears in her eyes, she beat me with everything she had letting go of all of the emotion. There was nothing fun about any of that. The women watching were in tears as the entire room could feel it. I truly believe knowledge is power and I'm sure many of these classes may give a few good tips on how to avoid placing oneself in a bad situation, but what does that do for the women who did everything in their power to avoid and not place themselves in a bad situation, yet it still happened?
Going back to that moment and feeling the emotions you felt while being assaulted but then experiencing that feeling and knowledge that you do have the command within you to fight back is a very powerful thing to experience. This is the problem I have with many of these classes. No one is willing to take them there. No one is willing to go back and revisit those events and provide those women a “do over”. Or, for those who have never experienced it, to take these ladies to the point where in their minds it becomes real and allow them to feel the emotion, the fear, the rage, etc. is a powerful teaching tool.
Unfortunately, all the preventive safety tips in the world will not do you any good with no understanding of what to emotionally expect when you have been pushed to the ground and someone is on top of you ripping at your clothes. The reality is you will most likely be in shock, paralyzed, and disoriented from the fear due to the adrenaline dump. If you have ever heard the term "being paralyzed with fear" it means just what it says. Having not prepared and never experienced anything that would stir these emotions your body just shut down, freezes, and does nothing. In cases of ongoing domestic abuse where it is allowed to happen over and over the will or desire to fight back eventually destroys the person’s spirit. Self-worth is lost and it becomes all they know. Once someone's spirit and will to survive is broken, in many cases, it's all but over.
Not long ago I interviewed a potential student. She was approximately 60 years old. She had been in an abusive marriage for about 15 or 20 years. The abuse was both mental and physical. She said she was commonly told that she was worthless and she had come to believe it. She had left him on a couple of occasions yet she cried as she told me that he always found a way to make her come crawling back as she was nothing without him. At the time, I had met her she said she had left him for the last time. This time she had absolutely nothing that belonged to her and was now residing with her elderly parents. She told me her family isolated her from her grandchildren because she kept going back into the abusive relationship and the grandchildren were starting to act like their grandfather. I told her the truth and made it very clear that the only way that I could help her is that if she knew in her heart it was over and that she would never go back. She had to break the cycle of abuse before she could begin to heal. I also told her that without complete commitment to taking a stand and fighting back, not only mentally but physically, it could actually make things worse. She may try to fight back but without that mindset and determination, she may take a beating that she would never recover from. I never heard from her again.
My job is not to entertain my students but to tell, show, and prepare my students as best I can for the hard truths of self-defense. For those who have experienced abuse or rape, my job is to help them take back control of their lives and deal with the scares of the past. I take this as a great responsibility and in no way take it lightly. Many well-intentioned instructors tragically transmit the wrong information all together and leave women unprepared and vulnerable in the event they find themselves in a bad situation.
Many years ago I was contacted by a survivor of one of these minimalist self-defense classes. I say survivor because what she was taught nearly got her killed. She attended a women's self-defense class and was taught that in a rape situation to just “lay there” and “let it happen”. She, and who knows how many other women attending this class, were instructed to NOT fight back as they were led to believe when the assault ends, their attacker will let them go and not harm them. I'm sure to some this may seem to make some kind of weird sense. Moreover, even if there were some validity to this theory, how is a survivor supposed to cope with what has happened after that fact? Are they teaching women how to deal with the emotional scars after the fact during these classes? Doubtful. Horrifically, at some point in her life, this young lady found herself in a rape situation. She fell back on her training and did as she was taught. She laid there and took it for what probably felt like an eternity hoping he would do as her instructor said and let her go and just leave. Sadly, this was not the case. Once her assailant was finished, she told me he shot her five times and left her for dead.
This is exactly why I teach the way I teach. I tell each student that this class is not going to be fun because there is nothing funny about any of the subject matter covered in my class. I push each of them as far as I can in order to help them discover what they are willing and capable of doing in order for them to survive. I hold myself accountable for the material and theories that I teach in all of my classes. My students come into my dojo, put their lives in my hands, and trust what I say will protect help them. This is something I wish all instructors should understand before they decide to teach what they call “self-defense”.
Taking a single class, regardless if it is one hour, one day, or 6 weeks, it will never be enough when your life is potentially at stake. Many of the ladies who have taken my classes, who do not already attend my regular class, have returned time and time again to brush up on their skills and remind themselves of its importance. Through the years, I have met people who told me that they do not need to take a self-defense class because they had already taken one in the past. I remind them that my regular classes are all about self-defense and that I, and many of my students, have dedicated our entire lives to its study. The only way to learn it correctly is to make it real, yet so few are willing. For those few students who find my dojo I want you to know that I feel very passionately about what we do here and promise to do my best to prepare anyone who asks for my help, regardless of what others may think is over the top or too real.