2020 was kicked off with a 5 hour “When Parents Aren’t Around” seminar for the Oxford School of Martial Arts. This school has been working closely with me in the development of a self-protection module specifically designed for children and teenagers. This edition of my seminar had a fairly broad target audience consisting of various ages. The majority were teenagers. I tailored the course accordingly, taking into account the locality which has seen a rise of 12.2% in violent crime in the last year.
The seminar began with my biography and a discussion on the definition self-protection. As per Peter Consterdine and Mo Teague’s definition we divided self-protection into soft skills/personal security and hard skills/self-defence. Self-protection should have at least 90% of its training in soft skills with a serious student spending far more time getting this part right than the very basic hard skills. We did a series of physical activities to reflect the importance of avoiding and not engaging in a conflict situation as well as a series of lectures/discussions on specific soft skills.
We moved onto the nature of violence with accompanying video evidence of the difference between fantasy depictions of violence – even when the footage is designed to give the appearance of seeming to be real – and the visceral reality of violence as demonstrated in recordings of actual assaults and fights. This is important as I believe even those who think they are training to defend themselves against real-life violence are often being informed by fantastical media. Later training in the day would reference back to the nature of the incidents shown on the video.
In line with my book we looked at “Respect and Attitude”. Here we looked at the underlying mind-set and psychology that needs to adopted if an individual is to make their self-protection training effective. Having a healthy sense of self-respect and respect for others means that unnecessary conflict situations can be avoided. Self-respect is part of target hardening. Being confidence without being arrogant in your outward demeanour makes you a less attractive target for the typical predator that preys on outward signs of either low self-esteem or a potential challenge to their perceived position in a social hierarchy. Knowing you are worth protecting and people care for you helps to reinforce a desire to uphold one’s self-protection training. Furthermore, respecting others allows you to not aggravate certain situations. Having a good attitude correlates with a strong character who is willing to walk away from conflict situations that are only being prompted to satisfy one’s primitive impulses or as a result of social coercion. Having a good attitude also underpins the drive needed when matters do get physical and it is important to never give in.
This brought us onto the difference between a situation that warrants self-defence i.e. an assault and a match fight. The former is non-consensual violence and the latter is consensual violence. Understanding the difference here and justification for self-defence helps inform one’s attitude. We talked about the natural tribal hierarchical impulse to fight an individual in a duel and why it was important to over-ride this or to channel it into a sport. We also discussed how predators, such as bullies, often use this set up their prey.
The first physical exercise consisted of a series of commentary walking exercises that were built upon with various behaviours. The class began with simply walking around, identifying exits, knowing where these exits lead and observing obstacles and potential hazards. I made them aware of how they carried themselves and encouraged them to throw strikes from natural walking without striking stances. We then looked at tactical escaping to safe places. This was made increasingly more difficult with agility ladders and cones as well as changing direction, covering and changing movement patterns (lateral and backward footsteps). Speed was lowered back to a walking pace and everyone was then made aware of decreased cognitive functions and various other effects brought on by an increased heart rate and stress hormones. They then engaged in more rounds of tactical escaping, techniques on the move and avoiding hazards.
Next up the class faced predators in a game of Build-up Tig. This was followed by Predator vs Prey. Throughout the first exercise we looked at different predator behaviours and what worked as successful escape strategies. One predator targeted his closest challenge as might be seen in an alpha situation; this was also largely done as tactical manoeuvre to recruit a strong ally. Another, much younger predator – the smallest in the group – applied a self-protection mind-set and blasted his way into the prey. Four others adopted the very common opportunistic approach, picking off the easiest and most accessible targets. Predator vs Prey progresses this training and makes it all that much more relevant. Here masked predators are required to hold onto prey for a minimum of five seconds. The prey can call upon bystanders to intervene and use whatever means necessary to avoid or fight off the prey save leave the room. After the first round we went through what went wrong and correct procedures for recruiting and instructing bystanders. We also discussed pre-emptive striking and recruiting bystanders from the other prey. Matters were much improved the second time and more people worked together. We also listened to observations made by both predators and bystanders regarding how the prey failed and succeeded. This should provide useful information for future training sessions outside of this seminar.
The seminar moved its focus onto awareness, which had been touched up quite a bit already in these activities. Nevertheless, we tested everyone on the advanced version of the Monkey Business Illusion and I also provided an example of inattentional blindness. This moved us onto the Jeff Cooper Colour Code, providing examples of different phases of awareness. We further expanded upon this with a discussion on situational awareness, breaking them up into people, places, hazards and changes within context. We defined a threat, how places can change according to the people present and the time of day, and the danger that hazards can provide to a potentially violent situation.
Next we discussed the physiological and psychological aspects of fear. This comes under the heading of “Courage”. By promoting a better understanding of fear and how it affects us as well as certain practical techniques we can use to control the effects of the natural stress hormones on the body, students can learn how to better function under pressure. The pre-fight stage of a conflict is hugely important and this is when individuals get hit hard with a chemical cocktail of stress hormones they usually respond to with a lot of emotion that can severely impact on their fight response. Learning to first acknowledge why these hormones have been activated and their function is the first step in controlling these feelings. Students should be encouraged to do their best to step outside of the emotional response. Being conscious of and controlling one’s breathing in a simple pattern is also a great way to put one in the self-control mind-set. Finally, seeing the signs of stress on a predator is also very helpful. It can provide useful behaviour signs that can better inform whether or not someone has the intention of being violent.
We then moved onto the specific subject of bullies. After making a simple definition of a bully, we focused on dealing with verbal conflict. This ranged from recognising manipulation and intimidation tactics of a predatory bully to blackmail and the use of persistence to control another. We followed this up with a role play activity where students played out how fend off likely verbal tactics. This is a great way for helping students to control their emotions when being targeted and to establish social boundaries. Having this in place gives students a good non-physical boundary that can prevent matters from escalating to a physical level.
Going beyond this part we looked at a more serious situation where we considered possible options for a confirmed physical threat before going to violence. Escape, as established at the beginning, was generally the preferred option. However, there can be certain situations where this might not be immediately viable, although it is nearly always where we are headed in our tactics. We discussed situations where compliance, negotiation and assertion would come into play. We also discussed the use of distraction. Finally, we arrived at the fight option.
Here I went through the pre-emptive strike. We first tested the reason why we use pre-emptive striking rather than blocking or a reactive approach. This simple test proves, no matter what level of training a person has, it is very difficult to block a strike from conversational distance. With a threat being confirmed and their violent actions being unavoidable, pre-emption is the most legitimate means for protection and within this context it is justifiable as a self-defence method. We then undertook target familiarisation exercises and discussed different targeting depending size differences, although we did not specifically cover the child fence which is covered in the second day of this course. With the target familiarisation confirmed we moved onto striking the focus mitts. Finally, we introduced the concept of the fence and trained that both as a familiarisation exercise and a focus mitt exercise.
The seminar finished with discussions on “Discipline” and “Open Mind”. The former addresses the importance of regular training and developing regular habits. An underlying theme with this course is to maintain a good attitude and to keep habits that make self-protection a natural part of life. Fences can be tested regularly throughout a normal day as can general awareness of setting personal boundaries. The latter addresses the need to adapt, to be critical and to be always progressive in one’s approach to training.
We then addressed the post-fight experience – the importance of maintaining awareness, first aid, reporting incidents and making peace with the past. This was followed questions.
The Oxford School of Martial Arts are a very forward-looking and hugely progressive school, keen to develop their students and increase their body of knowledge. They are always a pleasure to teach and I look forward to helping them further develop their young person’s self-protection programme.