Sometimes, an almost throwaway comment or observation can really get you thinking. Such was the case last night, when someone made the observation that they had mentioned my club to a few other people and the first question a lot of them asked was, not where is it or what day/time, but rather ‘how long is the course?’.
Now this got me thinking, about both the expectations of a self defence class from the perspective of someone who hasn’t previously trained in martial arts, and about what I would call the ‘quick fix’ attitude that seems worryingly prevalent in today’s society.
I have seen various things advertised over the years, from ‘self defence open day’ to ‘6 week self defence course’, these sort of things appeal greatly to those of the quick fix mentality, minimal investment of time and money to make oneself feel safer and more empowered, surely a good thing right? Yes and no, as an open and inviting doorway to longer term training, these sort of things are great to introduce people to concepts of self defence and get them interested in further training, but if advertised and presented as self contained one off things, then I’m less convinced.
It’s contradictory in a way, good self defence should not be the sort of thing that takes decades of mastery to become useful, it should be simple and accessible, but at the same time the idea that you can learn something once in a controlled environment and retain it in the long term is just foolhardy. To make a comparison, if you went on a one off track day and learned how to drive a racing car, didn’t drive again for a year, then someone called you up and asked you to win the grand prix tomorrow, would you really remember sufficiently what you learned on that track day to competently drive in a competitive race, let alone come anywhere close to winning? By the same token, if you were to take part in a one day or even a 6 week self defence course, no matter how good the material might be and no matter how well you understand and perform it at the time, if you then don’t train again afterwards, do you really think in a years time you could remember everything you had learned and utilise it effectively if you were to suddenly get attacked without warning?
Now there’s an argument that any training is better than no training, so surely doing a short term course is better than never doing anything. Maybe, maybe not, on the one hand yes if you learn even one thing that you do manage to remember, it could save your life, but there is a danger that a short term course is going to give a false sense of security. I’ve seen it before, people walk out of a martial arts class having learned something new which they were able to do in class against their training partner, and they feel great because they think they’ve nailed it, but then when tested a week or two later under greater pressure, they go to do the same thing and it doesn’t work. This does not necessarily mean what they’ve learned is worthless, merely that learning something once and getting it right against a training partner in a safe environment, is not the same as training that something over time to a level of competence where it works reliably against all comers under greater pressure.
Fortunately most people are realistic enough to realise this, but it would be easy for people who didn’t know any different to develop a potentially dangerous false sense of security. A person who has never trained a day in their life will most likely be well aware of the fact that they’re not equipped to deal with a violent situation, and therefore is probably less likely to make a bad situation worse by attempting a self defence technique they learned and thought worked, only to find it doesn’t work the same when the stakes are higher, the assailants unpredictable, and they’ve only learned the move, not trained it to a level of competence. A lot of this simply comes down to quality of instruction and how things are presented, I have seen some really good weekend courses where people leave with useful information, but under no false pretences that they’re somehow set for life after one weekend, and I have seen examples of some terrible ones which could leave people feeling invincible and liable to get themselves in trouble if they tried to recreate what they learned with no further training.
I have no doubt that many people have perfectly legitimate reasons for wanting to do a short term self defence programme rather than sign up to an ongoing class, maybe they genuinely have limited time and funds (although it never ceases to amaze me how many people can’t find the time and money to do something to benefit their personal safety yet have no trouble finding time and funds to go to the local takeaway or pub), maybe they want to feel safer in the world but simply have no active interest in what is essentially a form of martial arts training (hey it’s not for everyone, the world would be a boring place if everyone was interested in the same things) so don’t want to sign up for a regular class if they’re not going to have fun with it. I do however also feel that some people have this misconception that if they can’t do some sort of quick fix programme, then they would have to sign up for years of classes for it to be worthwhile and are put off as they don’t want to make that kind of commitment. Now within traditional arts you’re never exactly going to earn a black belt if you don’t commit yourself to training for the long term (and frankly if any club claims they can get you to a black belt within a year you should walk away because you’re talking to a mcdojo), and even in reality based self defence you can’t exactly go from zero to hero in a few weeks, but at the end of the day, most instructors are realistic enough to understand that life happens, people’s circumstances or interests can change over time and just because you sign up to a class doesn’t mean you’re obligated to stick it out for years to come if something changes and you can’t or simply don’t want to train any more.
So what am I getting at in all this rambling? If I was aiming this at people who are contemplating doing some self defence training but are reluctant to sign up for a regular class, don’t be suckered in by promises of zero to hero weekend courses or short term programmes, by all means use such things as a doorway to see if you enjoy and get something out of the training before signing up to a class, and hey if they’re run by reputable instructors you may well learn some useful stuff. Be honest with yourself though, if you don’t have the interest, time or funds to continue training at least semi regularly, don’t be fooled into thinking you can do something once and still be competent enough to utilise it effectively in years to come. And if you are genuinely interested in self defence, simply get yourself down to a reputable class and give it a go, you’re not going to become invincible overnight, but equally you’re not committing yourself to a lifetime of servitude, and who knows, even if you don’t already love martial arts, you may find that you enjoy it more than you expect.