Image by hashmil via Flickr
On 14th June I took the final part of what I considered then to be the most important qualification in my martial arts/self-protection career. 2011 saw the publishing of a Btec level 3 Advanced Award in Self Defence Instruction, created by Mark Dawes's company, The National Federation for Personal Safety. The whole experience that began with an intensive week of coursework that I crammed prior to the examination/presentation/assessment day was a learning experience in more ways than one.
For as long as I can remember the combatives world has struggled to get official recognition and accreditation in the UK. Despite big controversies and association-splitting politics, the combat sports have fared comparatively well against traditional martial arts and systems designed specifically for modern self-protection. Judo led the way in this respect. However, being approved as a sport and having a qualification in a system or art that is directly awarded by a government body are not necessarily the same thing.
In 2006 I qualified as a level 3 OCR assessor for NVQ and QCF. It was around this time that I spoke to Martin Gatter from Shi Kon regarding the new NVQs for martial arts. Prior to this the closest accredited vocational qualification a martial arts coach could gain was the Activity Leadership qualification. I was also shown the great work that the likes of Shi Kon/MASA (Martial Arts Standards Agency) had done in developing in-house qualifications based on the NVQ model. These were clearly borne out of frustration at the lack of styles being recognized by City and Guilds (the governing body for NVQ). Styles are the major issue and also part of the fundamental problems relating to the politics of martial arts. I am not so naive as to say that they are the only problem. At the time when I was discussing assessing candidates there were only four styles available, karate, ju jutsu, aikido and Chinese martial arts. How they came up with this selection baffles me and the definitions have got to be interesting too. Anyway, to date, I haven't assessed anyone and there appears to be "problems" with the qualification.
When I saw the new Btec qualification come out I jumped at the opportunity to take it. This relates directly to my job description and was a step in the right direction. Prior to this I was only looking into teaching qualifications, such the 7303 City and Guilds and qualifications in conflict management and control and restraint. These are still important, but this new one was a much needed specific piece in the proverbial standardization jigsaw puzzle.
Mark Dawes has successfully run a security training company for over 25 years and made a strong reputation as an expert on the legal side of self-defence. He, like many others, rarely shows up on the typical Reality-Based Self-Defence radar despite producing a "must-have" book concerning the use of reasonable force. Dawes's secondary interests include studies into the primitive response system and, more recently, a somewhat more esoteric view of teaching. The qualification, written by his National Federation for Personal Safety, is made up of four areas. Firstly there is health and safety as it relates to teaching a self-defence lesson. This is a strong requisite of EdExcel, the qualification provider, and anyone who is serious about teaching any form of physical activity needs to under the basics of writing a risk assessment, designing a lesson plan and understanding their responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. In addition to this there are units on the law relating to the self-defence, understanding the primitive stress response as well as "The Science and Psychology of Combat" and effective teaching methods. This was supported in the form of an instruction manual and several excellently produced online resources. These resources consisted of complete presentations with appropriate diagrams, lectures, interviews and footage.
I handed completed coursework handed in on the final day, where Keith Butchard, a qualified NFPS instructor and assessor for this qualification, led a lecture, gave a practical workshop from own chosen combatives system, Tony Blauer's "The SPEAR" (Spontaneous Protection Enabling Accelerated Response), conducted a formal exam on the material covered in the coursework and finally supervised a practical assessment of all candidates' ability to teach a hard skills self-defence workshop.
Overall I was impressed with the way the whole qualification was set out. The course is information dense and contains some excellent units, particularly those relating to health and safety, the primitive stress response and, Mark Dawes's niche subject, the law relating to self-defence. The manual was well-written and the online resources are of a very high standard, and an idea others should take note of when writing any form of qualification. I found Keith Butchard to be an extremely helpful instructor, providing pre, in and post support of the course. His own background was an eye-opener for me, proving that many can easily bypass the martial arts route in order to be proficient self-protection instructors with a wealth of accredited and "real world" experience. Along with Mo Teague, Steve Timperley and Al Cain, he is further proof of how well ex-military instructors can deliver effective self-defence teaching to civilians. Keith was a consummate professional and a very approachable kind of guy. He was not only open to constructive feedback, but also more than competent at debating different points.
With regards to the qualification itself, it is a definite positive step in the right direction. There is no getting away from this point. Few people have had the patience and insight to deliver what our industry has been crying out for and all those connected to the qualification should be given due praise. I have already discussed the courses strengths; here are my own personal thoughts on where it could be improved. Firstly there is a lot of new science available that updates and calls into question a lot of the information provided by Guthrie's Law and Hick's Law. Anyone interested in these areas is advised to read the essays on W. Hock Hocheim's website.
At the risk of making the qualification theory side over-long I think that a section on tactical awareness is a must. With this in mind, I am not 100 per cent sure about the title of the qualification containing the term "self-defence". Admittedly the distinctions given between self-defence and self-protection are the artificial creation of those in the industry e.g. Peter Consterdine, but it would be good to see the terminology better understood by a wider audience. Self-protection is a term we use to encapsulate both soft skills or personal security and hard skills or self-defence training for the prevention and dealing with interpersonal violence.
The next area I am concerned with was the criteria needing to be met during the physical skills section. Students were expected to show defences against a list of specific physical attacks, a slap or punch, a front strangle, a kick, a head-butt and so on. These types of attack were justified by a list of statistics showing their commonality. This is totally contrary to efficient self-defence teaching. In line with the legal side of the course, pre-emptive striking can, in some circumstances, be justified. The Beckford versus the Queen 1988 example is the classic case often cited in the UK. Furthermore, as I proved during my teaching assessment, blocking at the interview stage of an interpersonal conflict has a low percentage of success. I was intrigued by the way so many self-defence instructors, despite understanding the legalities of pre-emptive striking, despite teaching how close a range a real fight occurs and despite being supportive of the various texts that champion pre-emptive striking, still drill most of their techniques at unrealistic and unlikely long range. A key point about dealing with any interpersonal violence – and I am talking about dealing with wild non-human animals too – is controlling everything. To use a corporate self-help buzzword here, the person being targeted for violence has to adopt a “proactive” stance. Everything is about taking control. How can one teach taking control if everything is derived from a mind-set?
Furthermore, although I may have some issues with Hick’s Law, I do agree that end-users of any basic self-protection programme should not be given too many physical options. As the course notes for this qualification dictate, we are to assume that someone with below average fitness and average intelligence should be able to apply the techniques being taught. We are not teaching dedicated martial artists or special operators, but a civilian that feels they need a skillset that will better prepare them in the unlikely event that they might be violently assaulted. There is an implication that a different type of response is required for each type of listed assault. This slightly contradicts the mandate in the course notes. My attitude is to train people how to counter-assault at every stage, using adapted variations of the same primal techniques. I don’t expect them to have too many techniques to have to maintain on a regular basis to get into muscle memory and to refine so that they will be effective when under pressure. Whilst on this matter, I am grateful to Keith Butchard’s indulgence and humility in my roundabout way of fulfilling the criteria. He is a very common-sense and pragmatic minded instructor. I won’t speak for his opinion, but I felt we were on the same page on most matters.
Finally, let’s look at how this qualification stands. When I submitted it to a security training company I am employed to provide seminars for on a regular basis in regard to the possibility of being able to use their venue as a centre, the response wasn’t what I anticipated. I was told it was “not accredited” and not “nationally recognized”, but only “endorsed by EdExcel”. Accredited is a definition up for debate and not as definitive as I once thought, so I won’t belabour that point. However, NFPS clearly state on their website: “This is the only BTEC / National Vocational Qualification of it’s [sic] kind worldwide. This means that by attending this course you will be able to attain the only Nationally Recognised Instructional Qualification of this kind in existence today”. Given the undeniable legal background of NFPS’s founder and the stiff competition from other security training places, I strongly doubt that such a statement would be made without substance. When I put the question to a NFPS instructor this is the response I received:
"The Btec Level 3 Advanced Award in Self Defence Instruction, was designed by NFPS
Ltd and then sent to Edexcel to be accredited to form a nationally recognised
customised qualification. What this means is it holds the value of a level 3
qualification, but has not been put on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).
The reason for this is, if it was put on the NQF, NFPS Ltd would lose all control of
the course, as any Edexcel centre can apply to run it, so there would be no quality
control from NFPS Ltd on whose is delivering it, and who has obtained the
Self-justification for my investment aside, I think this makes the qualification worth undertaking. The bottom line is that it is a recognized Btec qualification and that holds a damn site more official water than your average fifth degree black belt. This was a more than worthwhile experience and it provided me with yet more insight into the diverse world within a world we work in. The course attendees included an interesting cross-section of some of the most popular global combatives systems – krav maga, systema, SPEAR and jeet kune do – and I was interested in the similarities and differences in approach they all had. They all thoroughly nice guys and open to new ideas. This provides me yet more food for thought on an article on self-defence subculture.