In the past month I blogged a couple of times regarding self-defense, with an emphasis placed on awareness of your surroundings. One of the things that I recommend for anyone who’s serious about self defense is that they take a class, whether it’s a concealed carry class or a martial arts class based around self defense doesn’t matter; the goal of the training should be to teach you a defensive mindset.
With that in mind, I’ve attended (and taught) quite a few self-defense classes; recently I had the opportunity to view an impromptu CCW session at my local range. After this, I’ve come to the conclusion that the majority of the classes I’ve been a part of (and even some I’ve taught – to my shame) would be absolutely incomprehensible to a beginner. I do make an exception for the beginner level classes taught by the pros at Thunder Ranch and Gunsite; as they’re generally well instructed at a newbie level.
One of my biggest pet peeves that I’ve encountered in “beginner” training classes, whether for unarmed or armed self defense, is the overuse of technical jargon. A while back, I was at a self-defense seminar, and the instructed repeatedly referenced the “OODA Loop” without explaining to his beginner level students exactly what the hell it was, or what its significance was. Another example is overuse of the Cooper Color Code, which while I’m normally a fan of it, can be quite confusing if the specific levels aren’t explained to the newbie level shooters.
Another problem is equipment snobbery, a fault which I lay squarely at the feet of the instructors. If someone shows up to your class with a Makarov 9×18 and a Fobus holster because that’s the gear he can afford and carry, doesn’t he deserve the very same quality of instruction as the guy who shows up with the $1700 custom CQB Tactical-Destroyer and the $200 Handcrafted-Ultimate-Leather-Concealment-Rig? Otherwise it’s doing a disservice to yourself as a teacher. I confess that I’ve been guilty of this one on occasion.
My final point of contention has to do with students in these classes, as there are two types of people that really grate my cheese. The first is Mr. Know-it-All, aka Mr. Been-There-Done-That, and also Mr. Too-Cool-for-School. He has seen it all, done it all, got the t-shirts, and therefore finds the need to correct his fellow students at every turn. If he’s really bold, he’ll even start correcting the instructor, sometimes to his face, sometimes behind his back. The other guy that gets on my nerves is Mr. Stupid-Questions, or as we called them at the Academy, Mr. Bore-Ass. As in “quit bore-assing my time, swab.” This guy is the guy that doesn’t listen for whatever reason, and then finds it necessary to ask a question that the instructor has already explained. Imagine the instructor saying “Here is the safety on a 1911” and then five minutes later this guy will raise his hand and say “Where is the safety on a 1911?” Drives me nuts.
I realize that this is just starting to turn into a gripe post on self-defense, and I don’t want that. Sure, a lot of classes have problems, but there are plenty of good quality instructors out there that teach valuable skills that are accessible to people of different skill levels.
That’s the key right there. I want more people to have a defensive mindset – to realize that they’re responsible for their own safety. To accomplish this, the training must be accessible to a beginner. If someone walks into a dojo or gun class basically off the street because the sign says “beginner self defense” that class should really be taught in such a way to make it easy for a beginner to understand. Making the defensive mindset into some mystical zen ninja skill isn’t going to help, and it’s probably not going to make a teacher very much money either.
My advice to folks looking for a good class on self defense is pretty simple – although it does involve some work on your part. The first thing you should do is research. If you’re looking into a dojo or other self-defense class, look them up on the web to start with. You might have a tough time sifting the chaff from the wheat, but it’s worth the effort. If the class is local, ask around and see if anyone you know has attended: they might have some valuable insight on the quality of instruction, etc.
The second thing is to not try and train above your level. There isn’t anything shameful about being a beginner – in fact admitting that you don’t know much and going in with an open mind puts you ahead of 50% of the class right there at the start. I don’t know anything about golf, I certainly wouldn’t attend an “Intermediate Level: Chipping to the green” class.
As I stated above, my primary goal for beginners taking any self defense to teach them a defensive mindset. Without using any jargon, that means “Your head is out of your ass and looking around”. The key to a defensive mindset is being aware of your surroundings. A good defensive mindset applies in a lot more places than “self defense”. A perfect example is driving. Since you’re about a million times more likely to be involved in a car accident than you are in a gunfight; the “defensive mindset” is an excellent tool to apply to the road. Being aware of your surroundings such as lane position; or what other drivers are doing around you will greatly enhance your ability to avoid an accident. In the same way, it enhances your ability out of the car to avoid a violent confrontation.
That’s ultimately the goal of my defensive mindset. Avoidance. “The best gunfight is one that never happens”.