The Self-Defense Class Myth: A Little Does NOT Go a Long Way

I can defend myself because I took a self-defense class 5 years ago.  A red belt in karate ensures you can defend yourself.  I feel confident I can defend myself because I watched a video on YouTube.  I will be fine if I get attacked because I put pepper spray in my bag.

Learning self-defense takes constant, consistent practice
Learning self-defense takes constant, consistent practice

On their own, all of the above statements are false.  Unfortunately, many people feel that taking a self-defense class or being in karate for a few years means you can defend yourself.  There is a lot more to the equation.

There are actually some people out there that are better equipped to defend themselves with zero training in self-defense or martial arts than someone with training.  Some people are just born with the confidence and fierce demeanor that is required to overcome being attacked.  These people will just naturally fight nail and tooth in order to get free from being attacked.

In the fight, flight, or freeze frame of reference, these people are fighters.  But what about the flight or freeze folks, the people that are not natural fighters?  These are the people that are most likely to take a self-defense or martial arts class.  In fact, these are the people that need this type of training.

Now, I am not here to say that martial arts classes or self-defense courses are useless or a waste time.  If that was my stance I would be out of business.  I own a martial arts studio and obviously teach classes as well as stand-alone self-defense programs.

What I am saying is, don’t think that doing something once or even for a few years means you can defend yourself.  This mindset can do more harm than good.  If you every take a one-time self-defense course and the instructor says that after this class you can defend yourself, run out the door.

If you take a martial arts class or a self-defense program you need to consistently and constantly practice what you have learned if you ever want the confidence to be able to use those skills.  Most people will forget 50%-80% of what they have learned one day after learning it.  After one month, plan on forgetting 97%-98%.

Practice what you learn so you remember it when it counts
Practice what you learn so you remember it when it counts

So, that self-defense class you took last year?  Unless you took notes and practiced, don’t plan on relying on that information being there if you ever need it.

The real question then is, how long will it take for me to learn to defend myself?  If anyone claims to have the answer to that, they are lying.  It is different for everyone.  There are different theories on how long it takes to remember something, but I have read that it takes someone 30 recalling something 30 times before they remember it.  And this was in reference to facts like names and dates.

Self-defense skills and techniques are far more complex than a name or a date.  You may practice something over and over, but you have one detail incorrect.  You may also practice with a single practice partner only.  There are 100s of variations in size and strength amongst people.  You would need to practice every single variation in order to be competent.  Even using the 30 times rule, you are looking at several hundred if not several thousands of reps before you have a single technique down due to variations and intricacies.  Then, when you think about all the different techniques, we are in the tens to hundreds of thousands of reps.

You may be thinking at this point that all hope is lost.  If that is the case, you are missing the point.  The point is, do not think you ever know enough to defend yourself in any situation, especially if you took a one-time class.  If you took a one-time self-defense class, take notes and consistently practice.  Remember that if you stop practicing, you will lose that information over time.

Whether you train in martial arts or took a standalone self-defense program and continue to practice what you learned, the moral of the story is to keep training and practicing.  No one can tell you the point at which you have it and can now be confident in defending yourself in any situation but know that every day you train you get one step closer to that point.  You won’t even know when you’ve reached that point so just don’t stop training.  Ever.

You cannot learn self-defense from taking one class or seminar

Knowing that you continue to get closer to being able to defend yourself should be a source of confidence.  Just be sure that confidence does turn into overconfidence, arrogance, and a false sense of security.  Thinking you know more than you actually do is very dangerous.

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  1. Oh so true. It’s amazing how many people truly believe they can defend themself after a single self defense class too. That attacker (using the knee strike pic as an example) probably won’t cooperatively go along with that neck pull, could block the knee strike with his shin, and could sling her around and throw her to the ground.

    I personally never got a black belt. School closings, personal financial troubles, etc… I did overall study for almost 17 years though. I felt like I could hold my own against the average mugger IF I had to. A really hardcore street fighter looking for trouble or an advanced martial artist though… Nope.

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