“When Parents Aren’t Around” Children’s Self-Protection Seminar in Denmark (Part 1)
Today saw the debut of the latest, most advanced edition of my “When Parents Aren’t Around” seminar. Although I have added new material, especially to the soft skills section, progress in this course should largely be seen as a drilling approach rather than surface expansion. In short, I haven’t added a lot of techniques but rather broken down certain areas to improve partner-training and to better ingrain principles.
We began with a quick discussion on the definitions of self-protection, self-defence, personal security and violence. This included a test to see how much value should be distributed between soft and hard skills. I then gave examples in the form of video footage to illustrate the difference between fantasy violence – the type that is typically watched through media – and real violence. The former also included drama that was made to look real yet consisted of unlikely violent predator behaviour patterns. The latter showed the consistency of pre-emptive striking, constant forward pressure, grappling and the realities of multiple attackers.
With a healthy motivation to be switched on (both to ourselves and the changing environment) we warmed up with a series of tactical escape exercises. We began with simple commentary walking, observing posture and taking in the surrounding area. I tested prior knowledge of the venue – Where did the exits lead? Where did the other doors lead? Not only did these drill in the importance of accessing safe places but also awareness of obstacles, and we layered in agility training and some basic combative techniques (striking, covering and sprawling). Throughout this extended warm-up the class were made conscious of their breathing and how increased heart-rate affected their performance. We regularly brought down intensity and then suddenly increased it before bringing it back down again. An underlying point of these exercises was about maintaining composure and control under stress, being mindful of behaviours and retaining focus. This aerobic activity helps mimic the conditions a person would experience when facing an interpersonal violent crisis.
We then proceeded through the tenets of the self-protection system – Respect/Attitude, Awareness, Courage, Discipline and Open Mind/Critical Thinking each area consisted of soft and hard skills relevant to self-protection. These are all regularly referenced in the book that forms the basis for this course.
The Predator versus Prey exercise has become a standard of my children’s self-protection training. From a self-defence perspective it is an effective asymmetrical pressure test that teaches students the importance of a sense of urgency. From a soft skills perspective students got their first taste of the bystander effect. They were permitted to call for help from adults not playing the roles of the predator but stationed behind a line. Later it was revealed that help would not be recruited if the students did not look the bystander adults directly in the eyes. Prior to the test I was delighted when one young child asked if they were allowed to help one another. As a form of long-term self-protection this is very encouraging and helps build the basis for better recruiting techniques. The exercise always involves having the predators mingle with the prey, making them feel more comfortable with the threat and switch off prior to being attacked. It is a great way to bring these behaviours into harsh focus. Hard skills from the tactical escape training at the beginning through to any combative skills they have are also put under pressure.
We discussed the importance of self-respect, respecting others and what it meant to have a good attitude. This brought the subject of avoiding unnecessary fighting and dealing with insults. We did a series of role-play exercises where students used effective verbal skills to allow themselves not to be drawn into fights or be manipulated by others or to feel bad about themselves. We also talked about the importance of never giving up should a person have to defend themselves.
After a selective awareness test we looked at Jeff Cooper’s Colour Code and discussed situational awareness. Situational awareness can be defined through people, places, times, hazards and changes. Here we looked at the example of a school. A normal daytime work day is quite different to an evening party despite being the same building and having mainly the same people present. Various other factors present new dangers at the latter event.
We defined a threat using the Threat Triangle – capability, accessibility and intent – and began looking at the concept of the fence. This is all about setting boundaries and keeping them. A good foundation starts with the mind before we moved onto the tactics of the pre-emptive strike.
Before setting a fence we tested the pre-emptive strike. This simple exercise is a good way for students to realise why being reactive is largely inefficient and blocking has severe shortcomings at the close range facilitated by typical interviewing predators. Then we drilled target familiarisation and trained the response to strike when person space is breached. Target familiarisation is very important when conditioning for self-defence. Full contact work is done against the pads and controlled contact can be performed in pressure tests, but target familiarisation ensures that students know where their strike is intended to land. Technique can be assessed here and ensured that it is carried over onto the focus mitts. Using the hands as a fence was then layered in and we worked on keeping gestures as passive and normal as possible. Students are taught to be on balance but to not “stance up” in an obvious manner. Strikes were performed with palms but other target areas were struck using the fist. This was then trained on the focus mitts.
Focus mitt holders were given the role of “coach”. Putting people in charge is an underlying theme of “When Parents Aren’t Around” and the more students can be put in positions of responsibility the more likely they will take a proactive view of their self-protection. Targets are only struck once a boundary is breached – in this case the lead fence hand is touched – and the target moves backwards once it is struck. Focus mitts are covered to confirm the threat has been subdued and the defender them immediately makes a tactical escape to a safe place. The tactical escape element can be further coached with the coach running after the defender. We then added on referencing/setting a datum with the non-striking hand once the first strike has been thrown, removal of obstructions and incidental combinations.
Courage addresses fear which we explained will have a huge impact on performance. Fight, flight and freeze responses were discussed. We looked at ways to combat the negative effects of fear and to turn it into a fuel. This included understanding what was happening to the body, helping to separate subjective fears from the sensory responses created by stress hormones, and techniques such as controlled breathing.
Discipline helps convey the importance of regular, intelligent training for the best results. This includes everything from integrating good self-protection behaviours into daily life to pushing yourself regularly in physical training. The Open Mind tenet relates to being adapting and critical thinking which are essential skills if a child wishes to be realistic in their self-protection education.
The first day was finished with post-fight information. We discussed the double-tap and maintaining awareness, getting to a safe place, first aid, reporting an incident to adults that can be trusted and dealing with the psychological aftermath.
I was very impressed with the overall standard of the children, parents and instructors who attended “When Parents Aren’t Around”. The course has developed considerably since I last presented it in Denmark in 2013, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that so had martial arts/self-protection culture. This meant material could be better absorbed and far more work could be done during the seminar. We had some interesting discussion points and the physical drills were enthusiastically embraced by all participants. I was able to coordinate a lot of relevant work during the pressure testing that ensured a healthy balance of safety and realism. Tomorrow I would see just how much had been learned and was being put into practice. All of this was achieved with a wide age range of children. It confirmed a belief I held many years ago when I ran my own club that parents and children can train serious matters relating to self-protection in an effective way without defaulting to the stereotypical “Family Karate” diluted training environment.