When we designed our Personal Safety and Self Defense courses, we were always looking for better ways to teach students to reduce their risk of becoming a victim of violent crime and be better prepared to protect themselves in case of an attack. This is no small task given the fact that in any given year we have a 5% chance of becoming a victim of crime. The fact is that there is no silver bullet to end crime or the factors that motivate criminals to commit them. Through a great deal of trial and error and many years of research we discovered a training method that makes sense and provides students with the skills they need to survive a violent encounter.

Our police forces are undermanned and under funded and in most cases responding to the aftermath of a crime, not preventing it’s occurrence. It is our responsibility to protect ourselves and our families from the wolves of society. We have the right to use force to protect ourselves and others from harm. The Canadian Criminal Code explains your rights and responsibilities in detail. It also grants citizens a great deal of leeway regarding your legal rights to defend yourself and your property.

This month I wanted to talk about the importance of Reality Based Training methods for teaching Self Defense. There is a lot of hype surrounding the use of Reality Based Training, and unfortunately, there is not a standardized, quantitative definition or training standard for the use of this term in the Self Defense industry. I would like to discuss what we at StreetSense feel is important to the design and delivery of a program that will give student’s access to practical training that will work in combat situations.

The first element that affects the design of a quality Personal Safety and Self Defense course should be safety; safety for the student and safety for the instructors. It is imperative that course design and instructor training includes a detailed safety plan to ensure the physical and psychological well being of those participating in courses and the ability for instructors to be able to push their students to 100% effort. Instructors must be mindful that dangerous teaching practices and the uncontrolled use of experimentation cannot be condoned or utilized.

Equipment must be kept in good working order and checked before and after each training session for any sharp edges or wear and tear that could cause injury to a student or instructor. Instructors should discuss the Safety Guidelines that will be followed during the course. This should not be rushed through and all questions should be addressed in detail. Instructors should maintain control of the course at all times and ensure that students are not engaging in dangerous practices such as experimenting with new techniques, uneducated practice and unsupervised role play. This type of activity can lead to injury and is counterproductive.

It is important for both students and instructors to understand both the physical and psychological dynamics behind Reality Based Training. Uneducated instruction during this type of training can damage a student physically and psychologically. Instructors must know the balance of “playing bad guy” and “killing students”. Instructors often forget that it is their roll to safely simulate an actual attack and let the student learn how to apply the Self Defense concept being taught under full adrenal stress against a determined attacker. The goal of the attacker is to lose every encounter. The student must always be pushed for 100% effort, but they must never lose.

To understand why Reality Based Training works so well one need only look at why it was developed. It was originally designed to allow police and military personnel to learn how to survive violent situations and practice in a manner that closely simulates the realities of combat. This type of training places students under the same mental and physical stress they would experience in an actual attack. Learning to function effectively under adrenal stress load allows for the development of combat ready skills in actual circumstances. It also allows students to develop the “Mental Toughness” that is imperative to surviving an attack. What this means in English is that “You fight like you train!”

Training must be facilitated in an environment that utilizes realistic props, settings and situations. This provides the student with experience in dealing with all aspects of a violent assault, not just the physical attack. A properly facilitated Reality Based Self Defense program places students under an enormous amount of psychological and emotional stress. Last month I discussed the four reactions to the Adrenal Stress Response (Fight, Flight, Submit, and Posture). It is imperative that students be placed in Adrenal Stress during training. The Adrenaline Response plays an important role in Self Defense situations. Students typically experience the “Freeze” response the first time they are faced with the Padded Attacker. Fear causes a rapid increase in heartbeat and breathing. It also causes dry mouth, tunneling, distorted perception of time, and a massive release of hormones into the bloodstream. Tunneling is a distortion of ones perception of the world around them and complete focus on the object of fear. It is important for instructors to be well educated in teaching students how to minimize the Adrenal Stress Response and overcome their natural dominant response to fear.

Courses should be set up to capitalize on the student’s success and build on their knowledge base. Instructors sometimes forget that there is a difference between “simple” and “easy” when it comes to teaching students to defend themselves. Techniques taught should be “simple”. By this I mean a lack of complexity to the technique. One of the primary side effects of the Adrenal Stress Response is a loss of fine motor control. Self Defense training should focus on techniques that require a Gross Motor response.

Teaching complicated techniques and expecting pinpoint accuracy sets students up to fail. We have had veteran martial artists attend our courses and they are surprised to find that much of what they have spent years developing in the dojo does not work during an attack. This has nothing to do with the effectiveness of their techniques. As a practicing martial artist for over 25 years I can tell you that these techniques do work when used in the proper circumstances. The loss of fine motor coordination due to the Adrenaline Response negates their ability to utilize these techniques effectively in combat. By repeated exposure to the Adrenal Stress Response and practicing those same techniques full contact and at full speed and power, those techniques would become accessible during an actual attack. Most of the time unfortunately you can’t train full contact, or full speed and power in the dojo due to the risk of harm to your training partners and yourself.

Instructors must be sensitive to the emotional and psychological stress their students are being placed under. They must be trained and experienced in dealing with the psychological and emotional meltdowns that will occur in students as they learn to work through the emotions and fears surrounding an attack. Instructors should also be well trained in dealing with Sexual Assault Trauma Syndrome, as a portion of their students will have been victimized in the past. Instructors with no training in these areas can damage a survivor psychologically and emotionally, rather than providing them with the self confidence and skills to keep themselves safe.

It is important for instructors to watch their students for signs of emotional and mental stress and help them overcome these barriers to succeed. The focus of training should be teaching students to conquer their fears and insecurities and learn that they can effectively defend themselves from attack and reduce their risk of becoming victims of crime. Nothing breeds success like success. The goal of all Reality Based Training is to have the student succeed. In a real Self Defense situation success translates to survival. There is a great deal of trust placed on the instructor and the material you are presenting. After all people are entrusting you with their most valuable possession; their lives. It is important to build on existing skills and successes. Teach from the simple to the complex to ensure that students have a firm grasp on the basics. I generally find that once your provide the basics, most people discover their own natural flow and rhythm quite naturally.

Although Reality Based Training is a simple way to provide students with combat ready skills and teach them how to survive a violent attack, it is not easy. There is a lot of education, preparation, training and experience required to provide students with the skills they will rely on in a potentially life threatening situation. My bench test has always been to ask “Can you rely on what you know to keep you safe during a violent assault?” We do every day, do you?

Until next month stay safe.

Author's Bio: 

Kerry Sauve is a veteran Peace Officer with over 17 years experience in maximum security prisons and over 25 years experience in the combat arts. He is also the Director of StreetSense Safety and Security Inc.