Self-defense is a big thing in martial arts, because it sells better than ever. Everywhere self-proclaimed self-defense experts emerge. Hardly a martial arts school that does not advertise – up to a 21-year-old, who after a few years of practice, sells an online course. It is a sad mirror of the Angst that is found in the population.

In workshops it seems inevitable to touch this issue. There is a short and long answer to the question of “self-defense” and the art we teach and practice. The short preliminary: “Whoever learns and exercises a martial art will definitely be able to defend himself better physically and with a high probability fall out of the patterns of victimization and victimhood. Personally I teach Historical Martial Arts but no self-defense.” If you want to know why, read the long answer.

Self-defense effectively, practically (from an advertisement)

To deal with self-defense, the legal situation is first of all to be known. Effective self-defense often involves a lawbreaking action. This means that you have to break a law when you are in need of defense. E.g. by fleeing into a house, you can legally commit housebreaking without being legally guilty. Likewise, if you are fighting an attacker, the accepting of his possible death in this action is a violation of a criminal law, of which one may not be found guilty. Guilt and law are separate legal concepts. It is therefore important to know the legal situation.

The laws on self-defense / emergency relief are very different in every country. In Germany the starting point is the Strafgesetzbuch, Allgemeiner Teil (§§ 1 – 79b), 2. Abschnitt – Die Tat (§§ 13 – 37), 4. Titel – Notwehr und Notstand (§§ 32 – 35 + Bezug auf § 49 Abs. 1).

Tip : This also makes it easy for non-professionals to see which provider of courses has seriously dealt with the topic. If the lecturer does not know the few lines of the law, or do not understand the concept of guilt, turn around!

Fear is an advantage – learning self-defense ” (from an advertisement)

If fearful you are, don’t learn fighting (from a fencing poem from the year 1418)

In my opinion, every human being has the right to move through life without anyone affecting his freedom. Actually, having a right and getting the right is not given equal. Therefore, real experts teach to a great extent violence prevention, both for potential victims as well as for potential offenders. The aim is to convey legal understanding. Less experienced “experts” convey a so-called “situation awareness” among the potential victims and so create a fear that has a positive impact on sales. This is why there is a defense against the currently common “dancing-trick” on a number of commercials for self-defense, although it is a trick for theft and is usually not a threat to physical well-being. Although the defense of property is quite self-defense, it would hardly be justified to punch a ball-point pen into the neck of a pickpocket. The technique of Fabian von Auerswald to the hackle from the 16th century (picture on the right) is more appropriate.

Graduates of such nonsensical self-defense courses are supposed to move through life with the awareness of being a potential victim in order to recognize potential perpetrators in other people. Nothing else means “situation awareness”. That this is often associated with racist and xenophobic prejudices is, unfortunately, not superfluous to emphasize.

Naturally, fearful people can not learn self-defense in this way. They will always see themselves as potential victims. Such self-defense courses intensify this effect, since normal and non-hazardous situations are subsequently seen as potentially dangerous.

Tip : A provider of courses should not only give vague common places, but they should tell exactly what is the danger to be expected (if there is one). Participants should ask the course leader in advance, where the most dangerous corners are in the city where they get the course. If he has no answer with street names, he is badly prepared, turn around!

“With self-defense to more self-esteem” (from an advertisement)

Avoiding foolhardiness (from a fencing book from the years 1389-1420)

In contradiction to the “situation awareness”, other or sometimes the same self-defense course supposed to convey an increased self-esteem, since in the few hours of the course you have learned to successfully defend yourself against physically superior opponents. This false self-esteem is not helpful because it is based on erroneous assumptions and will lead to increased panic in case of emergency. Torn between situational perception in the potential victim role and the defective perception as a fighter, a conflict arises that prevents correct self-perception and perception of reality. Fear and arrogance are ill advisers.

Real self-perception means consciously recognizing what your own mind and body are capable of. It is already difficult enough to overcome the inhibition threshold to violence; to have the skills of successfully using violence in such situations also requires much more practice. Use of violence without success can in the worst case increase the escalation.

Women’s self-defense: stress test instead of theory ” (from an advertisement)

Young knight / love God and honor the women / thus your fame rises / exercise your knighthood / and learn (from a fencing book from the year 1452)

I do not consider myself to understand the role of victims or perpetrators. In many self-defense courses stress situations are simulated, from which a potential victim has to fight. In this way, victim and perpetrator roles are fixed and practiced before examining whether the respective students are able to meet the challenge of even less stressful situations, or even have already found themselves in this roles beforehand.

It can be a formative experience to get rid of the victim’s role. On the other hand, it may also be that some participants feel comfortable in the perpetrators’ role. This is rarely noticed.

In the end of the day a small success story is sold as a change of personality. But only because one has emerged from the victim’s role in one situation does not result in a fundamentally changed behavior. Practicing these roles is completely wrong. It would be much more correct to negate this role model. No one should be a victim or an offender, especially not in repetitive exercises.

Tip: If the trainer as a trusted person simulates the perpetrator in a self-defense course in stressful situations, then he has the wrong mindset, turn around!

“Three reflexes you should know to never be beaten again ” (from an advertisement)

It may be that a weaker person with art, may win against a strong person with his strength (from a fencing book from the years 1389-1420)

Self-defense courses teach techniques to be used against often physically superior opponents. These are based on techniques to escape from holds, and attacks on particularly vulnerable or sensitive parts of the body of the opponent. To do the latter the inhibition threshold to be overcome varies extremely individually. The will to overcome the inhibition threshold to execute out a potentially deadly act has long been interpreted as an indication of an intent in criminal law (see Hemmschwelle und Bundesgerichtshof, verdict of 22 March 2012).

Talhoffer daggerIf you take a knife in self-defense courses and then stab someone with it, you train to kill. In order to make this a successful technique, one must avoid the inhibition threshold by reflexive action. Reducing the inhibition threshold generally is hardly socially acceptable and inhuman. Logically the technique is to train so often in practice that feelings and reflection does not take place. Such way a person, who is still socially in order, can perform a truly violent act in reflex.

A single technique answers exactly one situation. Related situations may get mastered as well. But it is often enough if the “wrong leg” stands in front, that the painstakingly rehearsed technique fails. Martial Arts techniques are made up of the application of many principles, which are used combined for the particular problem. They must be trained often in various situations and acquire years to learn and practice.

If a course offers “reflexes” and “fixed techniques”, which are intended to “neutralize” the aggressor, the course will convey something that does not correspond to the law, nor to the reality, nor to the teaching of learning motions.

Tip: If the techniques of the course provider are mainly based on a serious injuring of the opponent. Get out.

“Self defense easy to learn & very effective ” (from an advertisement)

Exercises are better than art. because exercises work even without art, but art is useless without exercising it (from a fencing book 1389-1420)

I do not offer self-defense courses because I do not want to meet certain requirements. I offer martial arts. That the regular and persistent practice of this art automatically results in the ability to defend oneself physically is no coincidence and a keen secret. It is an equally fundamental and banal truth: anyone who can fight is far less likely to be physically inferior to potential attackers.

Fighting means that you can master violence. It does not frighten, but is recognized as a means of action but also as a means of defense. A victim behavior is thus less likely. This can never be completely ruled out, as overpowering through ambiguity or overburdening is always possible.

In my training we break with the roles of victims and perpetrators. We practice with great respect for our counterpart. This, together with the loss of fear of weapons and attacks, can actually create a higher sense of self-esteem (it is not my goal but a completely common aspect of martial art). Martial arts also lead to the recognition and awareness of what one’s own body and mind can accomplish. But that is again is “only” a side effect.

Martial art is a good way of being able to defend yourselves better and not to be perceived as a victim. Historical Martial Arts consists a huge amount of techniques related to self-defense. But today self-defense is much more. That’s why I teach only martial arts, not self-defense. 

Finally, I would like to point out that there are quite good courses for self-assertion in social conflicts, or for de-escalation aggression. Information about “Dangerous places” (No-go-areas) at the place of residence or in destinations can be obtained from the authorities. When traveling, you should be informed in advance. Prevention is in my opinion, the fastest and cheapest defense.