The first of two workshops I taught today for Keiryu Practical Karate in Maldon, Essex: “When Parents aren’t Around” – Child Self-Protection. Lee Mullan joins a growing number of teachers in Europe and Britain who have embraced a genuine need to teach practical and self-protection skills to children. I had the privilege of working with both enthusiastic child students from Lee’s club and other visiting martial arts schools as well as wonderfully supportive parents and teachers. This makes the world of difference in both delivering the material in an enjoyable way and retaining it for real-world application.
Approach to Teaching
One of the most effective ways to deliver non-physical material in self-protection seminars is to break it up into small discussions. I layer these throughout the training, allowing participants to listen to the information and become engaged with it before getting involved in a physical activity. The students then get to discuss the purpose of the physical activity before learning more soft skills information and moving onto the next activity to repeat the process. Longer seminars and courses involve more forms of media and also ground-up interaction with st
udents actively feeding the development of the training.
My self-protection method is hung of five fairly universal tenets – respect, awareness, courage, discipline and open mind. Respect addresses general attitude to life and to training. Both need a genuine commitment in order for any other material to be worth anything. Here a student learns about spatial awareness and respecting one another’s space. They also begin to understand certain boundaries that should not cross and should not allow others to cross. Awareness deals with situational awareness. Here students appreciate what it means to be switched on and the way various levels of awareness should be chosen in accordance with people, places, times and hazards. Courage teaches the understanding of fear – the fight/flight/freeze response. Once a child or any student can take a step back from the body’s natural reactions to a threat they can begin to take a detached view on how to handle these feelings in a crisis well beyond social conventions. Discipline is more than just doing as one is told it is about embracing learning, regular training and the will to adopt skills as learned behaviours. Finally open mind is about adapting and critically assessing received information.
We discussed listening to one’s instincts and being wary of the deceptive predator. We talked about surveying new environments and looking for realistic exit points. The myth of Stranger Danger was also addressed. It is important for children to take charge when they are at risk and have no direct help from an adult. Not allowing bullies to pull them into a fight was a prime example of exercising control over their decisions and understanding the meaning of self-defence. They need to be looking for potential allies to recruit or go to for assistance whilst recognising potential predators. There are various exercises that parents can have their children do when they out and about with them to empower them for just such situations. Likewise, they need to be made wary of even people they might know crossing certain boundaries. The bystander effect was also an important point of research for parents and teachers in attendance. This was all part of the target hardening processing. Finally we discussed reporting incidences and never granting the power of secrecy to a predator.
I had everyone run around the training area and then gradually put in various concepts for aiding escape. The children identified and moved towards real exit points. They learnt about tactical escape methods rather than just random running. It was at this point that I explained the importance of using escape and agility as the number one weapons of small people.
Predator Vs Prey Games
These are a series of traditional children’s chase games that often go by the titles “It”, “Tig” or “Tag”. I have used a build-up format that means the designated “It” player, who pursues the others, recruits a new member to his or her side when they have tagged someone. In the end there is only one person left being pursued. The game is then immediately discussed (this is crucial). We then progress the game into an anti-abduction game
that pits a small group of designated predators to wear protective clothing (usually a head cage) and to mingle amongst the prey (the rest of the group) for a period of time before attempting to abduct. Predators are only permitted grappling and have to hold onto the prey for five seconds. The prey can use whatever techniques are at their disposal to fight them off. Those who are “captured” sit out for the duration of the game, but should be coached to watch the game in order to see what tactics work for either side. This is done for several games, each time more feedback is brought into the group and it helps illustrate aspects of human behaviour in predator/prey situations.
Predators fed back their most likely prey. We also noted how quickly these activities (like all training) can start becoming a game in the minds of participants rather than a simulation. Equally the exercise prompted discussions on the bystander effect, the importance of keeping in observant groups willing to work together and the need to take charge. With the added inclusion of adults as the games progressed, various distraction and engagement tactics were used, prompting discussions on the dangers of deception.
The Child’s Fence
The fence is a method taught to control space during the pre-fight stages of a conflict. Although anything can be used as a fence, we typically train it using hand and arm gestures. A boundary is set by using one’s arm or arms as sensory tentacles to assess the intentions of a person deemed to be a risk. When it comes to teaching adults there are certain given points on keeping a safe distance from a would-be attacker. However, children develop distance perception later on and their far more physical lives with both adults and other children makes a practical understanding of personal space a difficult lesson to absorb. Add to this the inherent problem with the limitations of a child’s physical fence. The length of a child’s arm up until their teens is likely to be shorter than that of the average adult. Therefore, the child self-protection teacher has their work cut out of them to reinforce lessons on awareness and the behaviours of others.
From a practical lesson perspective, the children trained dealing with what came towards them. Rather than aiming for the head, they struck outstretched hands and accessed exit points. This was trained both on focus mitts and as a direct application.
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