Anna Valdiserri wrote a really good blogpost – this happens a lot. If you don’t read her blog, you should start – which you can read here: https://godsbastard.wordpress.com/2015/12/30/no-training-for-you/ .. Read this first, I’ll wait. Ok, you read it? Cool, now here’s my take:
(Note: this was initially a calm examination of the issues. It turns into a profanity filled rant near the end. Oops.)
The issue is self-defence instructors refusing to teach people who come to them with an immediate, tangible threat hanging over them, for a number of “reasons” (I use the term loosely, they’re rationalisations). I want to look at a few of the issues surrounding this, and one big huge problem they miss: that of permission.
First off instructor refusing to teach someone who has an actual, immediate problem is not a good thing, generally speaking. There may be exceptions. There are a whole lot of martial arts instructors I’ve come across who advertise teaching self-defence who I pray to god never have someone with an actual problem walk into their class. And if they do, they are probably doing the person a favour by not teaching them.
Similarly, martial arts instructors who do not actually teach self-defence might legitimately say that what they do may not be appropriate for that person. Note that there is a big difference between this and saying “I won’t teach you”. They might also give the person an overview of what they do and do not cover, as well as the nature and time frame of the training, and let them decide for themselves. This I consider fair enough, provided the instructor does not at the same time claim to be teaching self-defence. In addition, if the instructor is good, they might still have some helpful advice, or even better the contact details of someone actually willing and able to help this person. The general reluctance of people in the martial arts world to refer potential students to others better able to meet their needs is a whole different rant for another time.
Ok, but Anna mentions a forum for self-defence instructors specifically, so the people there should not be in the above category in any case. What about the “reason” that the person should not be looking for self-defence training but instead doing “the right thing” to reduce their risks? Well, superficially this Is correct, but there are a few problems with the logic. First of all, as Anna said the person may already be doing all of that, but it might not be enough. Secondly, depending on their background, the person may not know what risk reduction strategies to take. And seriously, are you claiming to teach self-defence and NOT teaching these things? In that case maybe your should take of your cammo pants, or at least change your advertising to “costume party for wanabe badasses” instead. This is no reason whatsoever. At the very fucking least you should be able to have a serious conversation with the person explaining what you actually teach and asking what other measures they have taken. We might also have a list of resources for students to get more information on such things, organisations to contact etc..
Now there is one actual problem with teaching someone with an immediate need, related to the progression in self-defence. Normally you start out doing emotionally non threatening things, and then progress to more challenging mental/emotional issues, since self-defence is largely an emotional skill. Thing is, that takes time. If someone has an immediate problem, you may have to shorten (NOT ignore) that process, which depending on their personality may put them off. However, one would hope that the need to actually solve the problem would override this a little bit. Ultimately there is a trade off, and harsh as it sounds, if someone is looking to be coddled or to “feel empowered”, a gentle reality check though a considerate conversation may be needed. And if you immediately though this relates only to women, wrong. There are plenty of guys who go to classes to feel empowered, we just use different words and are much less likely to admit it.
In my opinion biggest single issue with refusing to teach someone with an immediate need, and ultimately the reason why I consider it damaging, is different than all of the above. It is the issue of permission Permission is one of the big factors in self-defence. A very large chunk of actions we need to take to successfully protect ourselves, physical or otherwise, are things we have been told or conditioned not to do (or that we can’t possibly do) at some point. Don’t be rude. Don’t hit people. Don’t injure your partner. Don’t make a scene. Good girls don’t do that. Real men don’t walk away. It’s not your place to make those decisions for yourself. You can’t walk out of your tribe/family/friends/church/cult. You couldn’t possibly hurt someone bigger and stronger. Don’t get the police involved in personal matters. And so on. The extent depends on our specific background and experiences. Many times what people need is to give themselves permission to act. One of the most helpful things in a good class is having and environment where the other people present encourage us in this. Especially initially it can also be very very helpful to have the authority figure (aka. the instructor) help us with this. And now this person, who has a serious problem, walks into our class. Where we, as instructors, have the mantle of authority. And they have decided to take action. Maybe other actions as well, we don’t know yet. But one for certain, they made the choice to seek training. To go to a strange place with violent people and learn to protect themselves. And the first thing they get told? “No, you can’t, you don’t have permission”. By said authority figure… How messed up is that?
No, no you poor delicate creature, you can’t make this decision for yourself, you just go away so I can go back to teaching fit young martial athletes who will never ever need my training and feel good about myself. And then I can go on the internet and complain about all the stupid sheep who are in actual victim profiles and are too stupid to seek training.
No, seriously, if you do this, FUCK YOU! If you claim to teach fucking self-defence, step the fuck up. Or refer them to someone who can help at the very fucking least. Yes, if someone like that walked into my class, it would make me uncomfortable. Big fucking whoop. I would still do my job, to the best extent of my ability. If I thought for a second I wouldn’t, I should really stop teaching this stuff. Aaargh! Rant over now.