“Oh, and by the way, my wife tried
that choke defense you taught her on me and it didn’t work. Guess
you need to do your homework.”
The husband of a recent Women’s Self-Defense seminar participant uttered these words to me with more than apparent satisfaction. My reaction? I was not the least bit surprised; I was, however, greatly dismayed that one of my participants had lost a bit of confidence gained, not because of an inherent flaw in the technique, but because of interpersonal partner-training dynamics.
Of course it didn’t work. Physical self-defense techniques are hard enough to master without the added interpersonal implications of practicing on someone who you don’t particularly wish to harm and isn’t posing a significant threat to your health. This reason alone explains my repeated insistence that a student seek out a specific self-defense class with a supportive environment to practice techniques. In my classes I have a very firm rule: “DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. No student shall practice any self-defense technique with anyone other than a fellow instructor, student, or trained martial artist who understands the dynamics of the particular technique in application.”
The successful execution of a physical self-defense application greatly depends on any number of variables, some of which are wholly beyond the control of the victim. Two factors, however, can greatly enhance, or diminish, the chances for successful execution of a technique: (a) an absolute willingness to harm your opponent and (b) the element of surprise.
Given that women are most likely to be attacked by intimates (current or former husbands, boyfriends, partners), willingness to harm can be a very difficult obstacle to overcome. While contemplating hurting those whom we love can be extremely difficult, even traumatic, these very same people are the ones most likely to cause us harm. At some point we must make a conscious choice that our individual lives are worth defending against anyone. This action requires 100% commitment to the physical and psychological ramifications of a self-defense technique. Lack of this total commitment ensures failure of the defense.
Enter the element of surprise. If an attacker knows in advance what the defense to his/her attack will be, then pre-empting that defense becomes much easier. While the element of surprise is missing from many self-defense classes, your partner in this arena is trained to assume surprise rather than combat what he/she knows is coming. When working with a spouse, partner or boyfriend, not only is the element of surprise gone, but he/she is not trained to assume surprise and “go with” a technique. In a class, uncooperative partners often find out just exactly how painful a technique can be when executed at ¾ or even full force if necessary, a dynamic that is missing from practicing with “untrained” individuals where “all or nothing” takes over. Add in the fact that many male partners will try to add their own expertise or attempt to prove why a technique will not work and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
For these reasons, practicing any technique, especially one that has yet to be mastered, with an intimate only sets the student up for potentially traumatizing failure. Because she can’t commit 100% to the execution of the application for fear of hurting him, and because he knows not only that a defense to his mock attack is coming, but also exactly what that defense entails, the technique inevitably fails. Practicing with fully trained and trusted partners in a safe, supportive and structured environment ensures that a technique can be practiced at near 100% commitment levels without the fear of harming your opponent. Ultimately, it will save you some unnecessary heartache and frustration as well.