I get inquiries from all over the world, from people trying to source authentic self defence and finding instructors who can teach it. They’re telling me the task of finding a school or trainer to learn from, that resembles authentic modern self defence, is confusing and often if they do sign up a big disappointment and waste of time.
It doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re keen enough to know why you’re teaching, you need to stop mixing and matching sports-based and traditional martial arts (UFC tough guy mindsets) into what you believe resembles a coherent system. It’s not. Teaching authentic self defence can take more time and brain power than you care to admit.
Here is some advice from my over 50 plus years of experience. First off, are you organized enough with the experience to lay out your training in realistic tactical detail, or are you ready to dive into full “certification training,” the best solution is going to cut down your current training drastically, until you’re left with just a handful of tactically correct physical and mental essentials.
That’s because one of the biggest culprits of course design, that turns creating simple training into a stressful intimidating chore, is an overabundance of sport or traditional stuff that has no value on the street. It’s called the ‘Tachy Psyche’ effect – How you train is how you react. Basically Tachy Psyche tells us training that does not give you an edge, physically, tactically or mentally and the mind/body to use it under pressure creates decision fatigue. I do not see much street based training today that is minimalist in nature therefore most students reach ‘decision fatigue’ just doing classes and training that have no tactical value and the ones who contact me have all but given up hoping they’ll find the ‘real deal’.
My guidance on the subject of authentic self defence comes from real time spent on the street learning from the school of hard knocks and decades of expertise putting together programs about how to solve the training short comings, while making sure its usable for the military and police units I served in. My 40 years of operational military and police experience helps with the course design. Contrary to what you might expect, my job as a planner mostly involves getting rid of techniques, not adding more. I would say 60% of martial art instructors that come to me want a more authentic approach to their training then what they teach. About 30% specifically request to use my programs. In fact, adding to their curriculum out of frustration yet another system usually aggravates the problem of teaching realistic self defence. I call it “fad mode teaching,” it lays out the vicious cycle it creates: the problems of what to offer.
The better solution is to decrease your options. Here’s how to do it based on over 5 and half decades in the business:
Step 1: Ask yourself, ‘How often do I want to keep recreating the wheel?’
How many systems have you jumped on board in your quest for real self defence mastery and what have you really gained from them – and how many times have you switched up your training as a result and what have you and your students really learned from doing that. Did you add more on top of what you’re teaching now or did you drop some ‘less is better than more’. That’s why, strange as it sounds, the key is to polish a more minimalist training wheel. “It isn’t how many techniques you’ll have, it’s how often you’d be practicing the ones that actually work”.
I’ve been polishing the same old wheel for a very long time because the system is already built on a very realistic standard of proven programs. For most of my clients who attend instructors training with me this often means attending an eye opening one week very intensive instructor based course teaching a very workable street-based program. These 5-days offer a very simple, and a minimalist program, that offers up a ‘turn-key self defence course’. You can receive an even more in-depth instructor certification in the form of a 14-day course if you want a complete system. I always recommend attendees should stick to my course recommendations because they are based on street experience and not martial art school training protocols; tradition, sports-based and current training fads or politically correct dogma.
Keep in mind, not every program needs to be adjusted every time if it’s tested and works. For me years of street application prove the programs work so why not just polish it?
Step 2: Decide how many levels you need
Too much training today is based around the belt system because far too many instructors feel students need the ‘belt incentive’ or theyneed the ‘test fees’ to add to their profits. The USMC Martial Art Program and Krav Maga are good example of re-creating the wheel and using the Asian belt systems.
My system for example is based on 3 levels where I have taken 65 tried and tested fighting techniques and prioritized them for the ease of student learning. It’s a very K.I.S.S. based concept. The cement that holds the system together is the very modern and realistic mind/body training offering mental and tactical components within each level that is so important to street proofing. I have no belts but I do conduct testing built into the programs and these are conducted in various forms.
This pared-down course design provides important basics you can repeat often, such as striking, and upper body grappling to alternate between training sessions, as I have found most regular students can only give me about 2 hours a week to train. It also includes enough sweat equity in each class to build that combative mind/body connection. It also factors in a buffer zone as well, because the reality is most people will get bored at some point and miss training. So I include scenario based training to keep the training tempo fresh and exciting therefore students make a point of getting to training. I have also designed a personal level template so it can be adjusted according to students needs and training experience.
Make sure the training matches the tactical street requirements. If you are too sports-based and train to rules that no street thug will follow then your training has already failed the client. ‘Ring deadly is not street lethal’ even the military seems to have forgotten that.Make sure you don’t. Have techniques that are multi task-able whether standing up or on the ground. But you must remember you’re training for a street confrontation. Bad guys have no proper code of conduct but your training must – training without discipline is a waste of time.
So make sure when you sit down to design your training you use some fact based research on violence and its effect. Before you start I might suggest you let go of your ego and perhaps in big bold writing above your work station write, “You can’t fix stupid”. The aim of course is disciplining yourself to not keep repeating the same old stupidity. My approach to this process is to use a western military programming format with a large dose of modern police science thrown into the mix and then about 4 decades of operational and teaching experience. This is also aided by a 2 year police research study into street violence and what is required to train police officersto meet the current street threat level.
Make sure your courses match the research. If you have never been in a street fight you’ll need to find out the following; ‘the lead up phase to violence, the holding mechanism, and then the aftermath phase. In sports events, even the UFC, there is no ‘fear load’ where the possibility of serious grievous bodily harm or death might be the consequence of a criminal act. Here you’re going to have to swap in some realistic fact based tactical training. You will also have to replace your ‘art of war’ samurai spiritual training for some good old fashioned western military mental training that will address a little thing called ‘the terrible risk trio’ that untrained or improperly trained victims face on the street. The beauty of my instructors training is that it offers a template you can easily customize for yourself and your clients. It is modern training that makes teaching authentic self defence exceedingly easy to do.
Step 3: Now pick the right skills, tactics and mental training
However you adjust your training, there are a few characteristics you’ll want in the training that makes it authentic.
I would suggest you start with an equitable training pyramid. Ok what is that you ask? In my experience any self defence program must be based on equal parts fighting skills, tactical skills and mental skills with the goal that the training creates the mind/body connection tobe able to use all that under a huge ‘stress load’. Therefore a huge component to this concept of training is designed to use the physical component to create an ‘indomitable fighting spirit’, that authentic warrior spirit that keeps one tactically rational vs. the normal emotional hijacking which is the common trait these days. As for myself I also avoid any aspect that helps create sport-based ‘blood lust’ which often occurs on the street in crowd dynamics. Breaking down ‘poor habitual habits is one large part of the mental component because after interviewing hundreds of victims of violence as a cop, it was often their habitual bad habit that put them in harm’s way. So in authentic self defence we need to address all physiological weakness not just the physical. For me since I know it’s so effective I like to build on this western military spiritual aspect I mentioned above because it is really the cement that holds the other components together. I have found out the hard way that under real pressure, if you leave out even one of the parts, the pyramid will collapse especially the levels of physiological pressure you’ll face in a street confrontation.
Importantly, you should choose techniques that are basic and easy to use. More important than anything “Keep it simple and savage”. I have incorporated about 65 high-value techniques in my 3 levels of training within the Wolfe Combatives System. So it really pays to pay more attention to better quality training, in easy to obtain logical levels that address a street-based foundation that will interlock all parts of the training system as one effective combatives system. That should be your goal!
Step 4: Get rid of the rest
Once you know what will be in your program(s), what’s getting tossed out and what you’re adding, get rid of the rest. This de-cluttering process for most of you will not be easy. One main reason, your ego will get in the way.
But shedding that unrealistic stuff can have the added benefit of being genuinely cathartic. And that is good for your ego!
Guard against being moved by the next big martial art or sports-based fad coming down the pike. You’ve done your research and that should confirm your program has the right balance. So don’t let the fad affect what you know is right, even if the sales pitch is reallygood – after all you’ve most likely been down that road before. In my 5 decades of doing this stuff I find that today everyone in the business is an expert. But very few of these ‘so called experts’ have done the research you’ve just done, so start polishing your training before you set out to teach it.
Step 5: Feel—and look better – be professional
It may take you some effort to figure out what your professional image is going to be. But once you get rid of all the clutter in your head that will simplify the decision-making involved in how you will present your programs and to whom. Of course you’re going to have to decide simple things like what your target market is. First step I would suggest is have a look at the resume (CV) you’re going to throw out there for the world to read. I get instructors sending me these all time and most don’t really sell in the real world. OK what do I mean by that! Most of you are martial artists and that is a very small percentage of people in this world. Most of the public images of martial artists are based on Hollywood movies, UFC and the local kids’ dojo down the street. They do not understand the language in the resume, or what styles of martial arts do or don’t do or what all those titles/ranks means nor do they really care. Basically I think most instructors write a resume to impress other black belts because the larger majority of end users ‘the non-martial art types’ who might be interested in the training you just created won’t get it. So re-think your resume and move it away from the standard images you think sell like; the little old Asian man beating up all his students or the muscle bound BJJ/MMA fighter with the fierce tattoos and figure out how you’re going to compete as a trainer in a world where most of the fitness dollars go to yoga. Most of my clients, 80% of them, have never done martial arts nor really had any interest in it, nor do they follow UFC. Frankly, we martial artists have not done a good job packaging our product or created a good adult based culture to promote it compared to what yoga has done in the last 20 years. Moving it from less than 1% of the population, getting involved with it to where now yoga in some areas, like where I live, draws 26% of the population and just about everyone wears yoga gear whether they do yoga or not. So this is what I suggest!
Start by writing a simple bio of yourself and why you are moved to teach people authentic self defence. Then change your image to match that bio. Feel the passion for your training, look safe and fun and be more professional than everyone around you. It may take some time and effort to decide what that professional image is going to be and of course what works for you, but once you got it, get out and sell it!