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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This is much easier with combat sports since the instructor/school either produces successful competitors or they don’t. When it comes to unarmed self-defense, it’s going to be much more difficult to sort out for a beginner wanting to learn some effective unarmed self-defense to determine what instructors are truly teaching effective methods. So, what should someone with little to no experience look for in an instructor/class?
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 · (Edited)
If self-defense is the only concern, the first thing I would consider is safety. I rarely see this discussed with any degree of serious emphasis when debating the merits of this vs that, but it honestly can’t be overemphasized.

I’ve seen many people suffer some pretty horrific injuries in the martial arts over the years that present them with lifelong disabilities. I’ve regretfully even inflicted some. That seems completely contradictory if the goal is purely self-protection. So, we have to determine what will yield some functional skill while still allowing us to avoid risk of serious injury. There is some level of risk in anything you do, the key being finding the right balance of what’s acceptable to you, which may differ from person to person. However, if self-defense is honestly the only goal, it doesn’t make sense for anyone to engage in training that comes with a high risk of permanent or serious injury.

Doing solo drills and working partner drills offering passive-resistance obviously offer the safest approach, but do they actually build any actual ability? That’s really hard to say, since a whole lot depends on the individual, their natural physical ability, and how well/fast they learn, and what perceived level of preparedness is considered an acceptable balance between intensity of training and risk of injury. And there’s no reason to undertake training that doesn’t actually impart some useful skill and may instill a false sense of confidence. Plus, ineffective training can be detrimental and actually leave you less prepared than you were prior to having no training at all.

Things can get pretty complicated when determining what’s safe, effective and relevant(applicable to the context of self-defense) when it comes to some form of live-training, pressure-testing against resistance or “FOF/Force-on-Force”, which many people are adamant is necessary to develop functional skill. There’s not even a consensus on anything resembling a precise definition of those terms, what constitutes appropriate resistance or is a realistic simulation.

Interesting piece here… The Myth of “Pressure Testing” | The Martialist

I don’t think taking a traditional martial arts class is necessarily the best idea, because most will focus on and train things that don’t really have much to do with self-defense….



The most important skills for self-defense, would actually be the “soft skills”(avoidance, deescalation/verbal judo, managing unknown contacts etc. and any good self-defense school would incorporate them into the lessons, but I want to focus more on just the “hard skills” here and how to sort them out.

My parents pressured me into taking martial art classes as a kid, in which believed I was simply learning a form of “self-defense” and that was my primary goal. However, I was mistaken and a lot of other people are also misguided without even knowing it. I originally had no intent to ever wear a gi, acquire rank, compete, but that all changed and I was sucked into a world I wish I had never got involved in if I had to do it over.

I think a system taught in a “Combatives” type framework is pretty much a nearly ideal approach for developing an acceptable level of functional skill quickly, devoid of all the unnecessary elements, but you have to evaluate each class individually since there is no standard methodology or curriculum. And it has to provide routine, consistent practice, as well as a way to measure and gauge progress. All conducted in a safe manner and environment. The question again being how does the beginner with limited experience make heads or tails of it all?
 

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In earlier times studios/dojos commonly offered a 30-day self defense class for $14.95 (usually meaning 4 weeks of 3 classes per week). Telephone and newspaper advertising was bought to promote such short programs. The "self defense" course could include a smattering of techniques from various styles/arts, focused more on simple and practical self defense than the traditional style being taught at the studio. If the prospective student wasn't pleased at the end of that month, they could try another studio/dojo and see if that one offered anything that seemed of better interest and value to the student. the incentive for the instructor(s) was to give the new students the best bang for their buck.

If the student felt they were getting something of practical value for their money during that introductory month, they could sign up for another 60-90 day program, with defined expectations of what they were looking to receive, and could reasonably be expected to learn. Students that stayed longer than that were typically looking to advance into whatever style was being taught.

Yes, lack of attention to safety and resulting student injuries are counter productive. Doesn't help attract students, nor pay the rent.

Considering the dramatic increase in the number of places that offer some type of training nowadays (compared to the 60's-80's), a prospective student probably needs to develop an idea of what they wish to achieve, and then visit the competing places to see what there is to see. Not everyone has realistic expectations, though. ;) If some place claims that their beginning and lower level classes can't be viewed by prospective customers, I'd walk out the door and keep looking. Sure, many beginning students don't wish to be put on display, and how prospective customers are allowed to watch can become an issue that needs to be considered. Watching the students and instructors during a class may be informative to prospective students.

Self defense, physical development, learning to "fight" (competition, nowadays), learning a traditional art, self improvement through discipline ... and, at the farther end of many arts, elevation of mind and spirit.

Not everyone desires the same goals, and many people may not realize their initial purpose for becoming a student may be discarded as a new purpose and goals are revealed during their early training. Hell, even in some of the ranked systems some advanced beginners (think shodan & nidan) may not come to terms with realizing their ultimate goals until they decide to dedicate themselves to further training and self development. No particular shortage of students who, for whatever reason(s), decide to plateau and stop advancing once they reach the early dan rankings.
 
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Not everyone desires the same goals, and many people may not realize their initial purpose for becoming a student may be discarded as a new purpose and goals are revealed during their early training. Hell, even in some of the ranked systems some advanced beginners (think shodan & nidan) may not come to terms with realizing their ultimate goals until they decide to dedicate themselves to further training and self development.
That’s a good point. I guess you could say that’s somewhat what happened in my case, but more a matter of being talked into things by my instructor in addition to my family.

To speak again to the safety aspect, the martial arts are a magnet for unscrupulous characters of all types. Guys just looking for a way to legally dominate, abuse and hurt people, rapists, pedophiles etc., it’s actually much more common than one might think.

Parents need to be very cautious who they trust their children with, but I would also advise adults to exercise a fair amount of caution as well. The problems are similar and just as ugly as they are in the entertainment industry and the political arena. It’s widespread, event at the highest levels. It boils down to money, power and control.
 

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...

To speak again to the safety aspect, the martial arts are a magnet for unscrupulous characters of all types. Guys just looking for a way to legally dominate, abuse and hurt people, rapists, pedophiles etc., it’s actually much more common than one might think.

Parents need to be very cautious who they trust their children with, but I would also advise adults to exercise a fair amount of caution as well. The problems are similar and just as ugly as they are in the entertainment industry and the political arena. It’s widespread, event at the highest levels. It boils down to money, power and control.
You think it's been any different at any time in the last 50-60 years? (Other than having more schools offer more opportunities to attract more people?)

I'd have offered (and did offer) much the same warnings to people back in the early 70's.

People haven't changed. I knew a lot of bullies in the late 60's who were proud of having taken martial arts training. One of the heaviest handed school bullies I knew at the end of the 60's was proud of having received a brown belt in one of the Kenpo dojos.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
You think it's been any different at any time in the last 50-60 years? (Other than having more schools offer more opportunities to attract more people?)

I'd have offered (and did offer) much the same warnings to people back in the early 70's.

People haven't changed. I knew a lot of bullies in the late 60's who were proud of having taken martial arts training. One of the heaviest handed school bullies I knew at the end of the 60's was proud of having received a brown belt in one of the Kenpo dojos.
I’m sure most of the problems were pretty much the same. Violent people, rapists and pedophiles are nothing new.

I guess what might gave changed in later decades is the increasing popularity of martial arts in movies/TV, sport and the very large chain schools. If you were capable of competing on a national or especially a world class level, it made you very valuable to a lot of people who viewed you as a disposable commodity to exploit for their ego and profit.
 

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One of the most impressive martial arts schools I attended was run by correction officers and ex-convicts.

Block building, concrete floors, no heat. Really bad neighborhood. No contracts either.

Got some broken fingers and cracked ribs during my studies. Great school.
 
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