How Self-Defence Classes Can Get You Killed

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Self-defence classes are popular for many different reasons. We all come to them with a story.

I started looking for self-defence classes for a reason I could only properly articulate much later. I knew I wanted to know how to protect myself if I had to. That I didn’t want to feel vulnerable. That I didn’t want to feel powerless in the face of danger or unprovoked (or even unintentionally provoked) violence.

I am lucky that I haven’t ever been a victim of violence. Threats, yes. Violence, no.

I’ve never even seen a real fight, even from afar, which surprises everyone who knows me. I’ve lived in and visited cities and countries where violent attacks, bar fights, street fights, assaults seem to be more common than not. And if I’m honest, I’m not one to keep my thoughts to myself, even in public, so I guess I’m as surprised as anyone that no one has ever tried anything…

In other words, it’s not that I felt threatened by the world or by my world, but I’m not so naïve as to believe my luck would last forever.

I knew that I would much rather be prepared for a situation that never happens than unprepared if the unexpected does.

I guess I found myself where you are now: at the point of choosing what to learn, which martial art would best prepare me to defend myself if I absolutely had to.

The options are many: BJJ, judo, karate, Aikido, boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai…? I read a lot. I tried a few. There are three main reasons I chose Krav Maga:

No rules: David could have used Krav on Goliath…and wouldn’t have needed the rock.

If I’m ever attacked, the attacker won’t fight fair. They’ll attack me or threaten me because they think they will win, not because they believe they will lose. That means they’re likely going to be bigger than I am, stronger, armed with a weapon or object (when I’m not), or there may be more than one of them and only one of me.

Krav Maga teaches how to defend oneself from a position of weakness.The techniques we are taught were developed to work for everyone, on everyone irrespective of the size of the attacker versus defender.

And you know what, if you don’t use your self-defence classes to practice how to or when to kick your attacker in the groin so hard that they’ll need to medically extract their reproductive organs afterwards because it’s an “illegal” move in the discipline you train, you won’t be using it for self-defence when you need it most.

Real-life attacks and defences: Krav Maga is no “boxercise”

I could not find a single other system that would teach me to defend not only strikes like punches and kicks, but defences against knife threats, gun threats, active shooters, escape from common abduction techniques like lift and carry, glassing attacks, chokes (standing and on the ground – the “jogger’s choke” for example, apparently very common – would you know what to do?) as well as how to fall, and very importantly, how to effectively counter-attack in the most efficient way.

For example, boxing teaches great defences from punches for situations where you are the same size as your attacker and, of course, if you wear gloves when you go out and bring a spare pair for the attacker to put on…

Defending loved ones.

The third pillar of Krav Maga is 3rd party protection. Again, I couldn’t find a single other martial art offering self-defence classes that would teach me how to effectively protect my daughter, my family, if it ever came to it.

Jiu-jitsu is fabulous if I would carry around my mat and roll it out, tell my six-year-old to wait for me on the side, and invite the attacker to grapple.

Clearly, the world doesn’t work like that.

What would you do if you were out with your boyfriend/girlfriend, and they started a fight, and you had to step in, and they were so worried about you they tried to prevent you from defending? Yeah. It happens. Krav Maga prepares you for that too.

Realistically, unless you’ve trained a response, it’s a gamble if your intuitive reaction will be the correct one in a highly stressful situation. A gamble that could mean the difference between getting home safely, and not getting home at all.

For example, you’re at a bar and you’re holding a glass of wine when someone bumps into you. This someone attempts to punch you with a broken beer bottle, believing that you shoulder-barged them.

What do you do with your glass? Have you considered that, depending on the situation and your judgement of what is appropriate use of force, you do have the option of using the glass as part of your defence? Yeah, me neither. Not until I trained it.

All said and done, I knew I’d made the right choice in choosing Krav Maga. But I can tell you, in all honesty, I wasn’t yet convinced.

The system may have been right, but what about the instructors?

Bad instructors, just like bad self-defence classes, can literally kill you.

What often bothers me about martial arts and gyms that claim to offer self-defence classes is that they claim to teach self-defence but instead give their students a false, and incredibly dangerous, sense of self-confidence.

I take no issue with gyms, systems or instructors that tell students that training is great for their health, that they’ll make lots of friends and find a community, that they’ll learn discipline and focus by entering competitions and winning. That’s all fantastic and valuable, and yes, just like any other type of sports, most martial arts are great for all these things.

not self-defence class
Please boxercise for fitness, not self-defence.
But, I have a big bone to pick with gyms, systems and instructors that tell students they are learning to defend themselves, when in fact, they are learning an “art”.

This sort of message means that two things have happened and will continue to happen:

A student of kickboxing is accosted in an alleyway by a man holding a knife. Kickboxer student tries to defend themselves and gets stabbed. Probably stabbed repeatedly, since the attacker is now angry.

Or, BJJ student is at home when someone breaks into their apartment holding a baseball bat. BJJ student attempts to wrestle them, and their brains end up painting their own kitchen walls.

Instead of learning and training de-escalation techniques, students of Martial Arts like Muay Thai and Jiujitsu typically acquire a cocky self-confidence that they can shelf and slam anyone they please. Students get into altercations, students get hurt. Because, let’s face it, no one likes a brag.

And while that may sound sort of funny and largely facetious, it’s an issue I care deeply about because me, I imagine it is a woman in a dark alley who is grabbed from behind by someone, while another tries to assault her while she’s being held.

There is no system other than Krav Maga that will help her get out of this safely. And I get so sad thinking that she won’t be able to defend herself, even though she took self-defence classes with the very distinct objective, and belief that she could.

All said and done, when I started, I wanted to test things out.

Literally, everything and all the time. Whenever our Head Instructor demonstrated a technique, I had “but what if the attacker…?” questions.

When I was satisfied with the answers, I would always approach someone twice my size in the class and ask them to attack me so that I could test out the defence. I wanted to be sure, you see.

I wanted to know if what I was learning was actually going to work.

I don’t know about other gyms, and I don’t speak for them. But I can tell you that at SGS, there is a focus on not only safety in training, but a concurrent realism of an attacking silhouette that if your self-defence classes instructors don’t give you, you simply won’t cope with when (and if) it happens to you.

For example, notice in demonstrations, if the arm that punches remains extended. You’ll notice this a lot in YouTube promo videos.

The fact is, no one punches and leaves their arm out.

Note the force with which a knife stab is demonstrated – is it a prick or is it a proper stab aiming for what’s under your skin and behind your ribcage? If the attack is defended once, does the attacker try to stab again? Because, realistically, if someone wants to stab you, they won’t stop trying to stab you. You must render them unable or unwilling to try again, and not a second before.

Granted, you may not have seen many stabbing attacks happen. Our Head Instructor kindly made us a very instructive video reel of them. They are violent, and determined, and telegraphed, and very intentional.

Notice too, that when the defence happens, how is the attacker responding? Do they just stand there like a punching bag and take the counter-punches and kicks? Or are they trained to respond appropriately to give the defender the correct silhouette?

All these details matter because if you don’t train correctly in self-defence classes, you won’t defend correctly.

Just like it matters whether a gym that teaches Krav Maga realizes that there is supplemental training required to truly be effective at self-defence: namely, dynamic striking and on-the-ground grappling.

SGS Krav Maga is the only gym I know of that has supplemental classes to improve striking power and technique, as well as Sambo classes. And everyone knows that Sambo wipes the floor with BJJ on the ground.

Combine the quality of instructors with the Sambo and the striking and the focus on realism and you have yourself the best self-defence gym in Sydney, if not all of Australia.

That’s a throwaway claim, of course. I haven’t been to every gym so I don’t know how they compare.

I can only strongly recommend that when you’re looking for someone to teach you something as important as self-defence, that you do your research, keep your standards high, and ask the questions you need to ask to be confident you are learning what you think you are.

Of course, at SGS Krav Maga, we all train with the hope that we’ll never, ever have to actually put our training to practical use. Frankly, I’d much prefer it that way. I think we all would.

But training here I get stronger and fitter both mentally and physically, the community is amazing, I learn something new in every class, I am getting better and better, and we have an awesome time together.

It’s an investment I make in myself, as a person.

So, as you’re researching where to take a self-defence class, whatever your reasons for it may be, please – ask all the questions, do your research, make sure you’re being taught what you think you’re learning.

And pass on the McDojos. You don’t need a sensei. You need a skill-set.

It really, really does matter.