Two Self-defence myths that need to die

Myth #1: Self-defence is about physical techniques

When we think of self-defence, it’s easy to imagine a class that punches, kicks, elbows, knees, chokes, and defences against “common” assaults such as bear hugs and wrist grabs.

While important to practice, over-reliance on physical training can present a myopic view of what is best seen as a continuum: one that includes avoiding risky behaviour, verbal boundary enforcement, awareness, and de-escalation. Even more important steps – such as believing you’re worth protecting or knowing how far you’re willing to go – begin long before any physical intervention is required. And they’re considerably more challenging than mastery of a hook punch.

Broadening our understanding of “self-defence” provides us with a continuum of response options that go beyond physical force. When you engage in the use of physical force as self-defence, you will be expected to articulate specifically why your actions were reasonable under the circumstances. Claiming “self-defence” is a positive defence in which you admit to the use of force and provide evidence to demonstrate why your actions constitute self-defence and not assault or murder. When you use force, you are legally beholden to use only the appropriate level of force in resolving a situation and no more than is necessary. You will be expected to explain exactly why the specific force you used was reasonable and why you had no other options – assuming that you have the training & mental capacity to deliberately inflict harm on other humans, something that does not come easily for most (and that’s a good thing).

Thankfully, most conflict can be resolved through de-escalation, strong boundaries, and a courageous belief in oneself long before physical force is necessary. Developing a range of responses enables us to effectively face violence in all its forms – because physical self-defence strategies are but one important answer to a very specific set of situations. What is right for one situation is wholly inappropriate for another. A crucial component of any robust self-defence strategy is the mastery of a wide range of tools & their progressive application at the appropriate time, rather than relying on a singular response option.

Myth #2: All violence is the same

At first, it would seem absurd to assume that all violence is the same. If you also have that reaction, I commend you for it. Yet, I contend this is a fatal & often hidden flaw inherent in the large majority of “martial arts” and “self-defence” training, and one that can prove deadly for students.

This myth is dangerous because it relies on false assumptions about how violence occurs instead of empowering students to seek deep understanding of the specific threats they face & the range appropriate responses available for them to address those threats.

A mugging in a dark alley and a sexual assault from an acquaintance bear little similarity in intention by the perpetrator, acts committed during the deed, or responses available to individuals experiencing those situation. The types of violence experienced by a women of colour are vastly different than those visited on most white males.

The intersection of gender, sex, race, economics, and social class all combine to create very different experiences of violence which demand different strategies in both prevention and immediate response.

This particular myth is pervasive in the world of “women’s self-defence”: while most self-defence training for women focuses on “stranger-danger”, research and anecdotal experience suggests that the large majority of violence experienced by women includes a level of interpersonal proximity not seen in most “crime” – such as assault by a partner, date, ex, or person in a position of power over the individual. Teaching women’s self-defence begins with an accurate understanding of the threats women face and the development of appropriate strategies in response to those specific threats. Otherwise, we equip students with inappropriate tools to deal with threats they will never face – a fatal mistake we can never make as teachers.

By studying the different ways in which violence occurs, we can become aware of the causes and conditions which give rise to the types of violence and thus prepare appropriate strategies to deal with those types. And an understanding of the difference between crime and interpersonal violence is critical to crafting a robust self-defence strategy.

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