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Defy the Doubters: The Importance of Learning Self-Defense: Part 1

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

"The right of self-defense never ceases. It is among the most sacred, and alike necessary to nations and to individuals." - James Monroe

In the world of self-defense, there is a multitude of “experts” out there, and most are eager to flaunt their “knowledge” and make sure that everyone knows why they are right and everyone else is wrong. One of these “experts” recently posted a comment online that we stumbled across that informed the readers of how pointless it is to even try to learn self-defense because it takes years of training to master. Generally, we let these comments pass but this one stood out to us because of how dangerous, if not lethal, this mentality is.

To his credit, yes, it does take years of training, time, and dedication to master self-defense - as it does with ANYTHING but where did all experts begin? Well, they definitely didn’t heed the wisdom of the online “experts” and instead, they started by taking that first step. But that’s not what this post is about - we aren’t here to talk about how to become an expert, we are here to boldly resist the idea that learning self-defense is futile and that striving for preparedness, self-improvement, or acquiring new skills is pointless because most people won’t reach a proficient level.

So, let’s delve into how this “why bother” perspective harms everyday people and actively fight against it. We’ve got a lot to say on this topic so for this week, let’s just discuss the first two dangers of this mindset.

Danger #1: Promotes victimization through apathy

Danger #2: Ignores and minimizes the importance and power of the fighter mindset

Next week we will discuss (so make sure you subscribe!):

Danger #3: Incorrectly assumes that learning self-defense can’t prevent violence

Danger #4: Removes a powerful healing tool for survivors of violence

Alright, let’s jump in and start breaking this down.

Danger #1: Promotes victimization through apathy

At its core, this mindset creates a false belief that tells people that their role is and will always be, that of a victim not the victor. We have seen this play out across history - in any oppressive regime, in any abusive relationship, in any human trafficking trade. If you consistently tell someone long enough that they aren’t good enough/strong enough, they will start to believe it.

Dr. Zimbardo’s 1971 Stanford prison experiment highlights the phenomenon quite well. In this well-known study, participants were divided into two groups of prisoners and guards and were observed as they began to role-play their assigned roles in a simulated prison environment. This study aimed to measure the effect that labeling and social expectations had on behavior. As the experiment unfolded, each group began to quickly adopt their assigned identities including the behaviors and actions that naturally (or learned) come with being in power (or powerless), being the victor (or victim). On day 2, the “prisoners” staged

a rebellion which was quickly shut down by the “guards” with fire extinguishers, physical punishment, and solitary confinement. The “prisoners” quickly fell back into their role as subordinates and after just 6 days, the experiment was called off because of the dangerous mistreatment of the “prisoners” and the traumatization that occurred. If this occurred in just 6 days in an experiment, you can imagine how this plays out when someone in real life is told over and over again that they have no power, that they aren’t valued, and that they aren’t strong. We see this victimization through apathy in real-life scenarios when we analyze videos of actual attacks on individuals. Frequently, victims succumb to their assigned role, making little effort to defend themselves or others. We see this in abusive relationships and families where the oppressor uses their power to control their victim(s) and remove their independence and agency. Placing these limitations on people is dangerous but is a common tactic used to keep the vulnerable weak while reinforcing the strength of the already powerful.

Learning self-defense is truly one of those tools that can level the playing field, not necessarily in physical strength and technique, but in mindset. Building that inner fighter takes time but denying individuals this basic right to even take the first step under the pretense that mastery takes too long or that physical limitations or identity stereotypes are too much of a barrier, only increases the divide of the strong vs the weak, the powerful vs the oppressed.

If you find yourself falling trap to this mindset and are nervous to take that first step in learning self-defense because “what’s the point”, we challenge you to be brave and ignore the naysayers (even the one in your own head). Be selfish and put yourself first because you are worth defending.

Danger #2: Ignores and minimizes the importance and power of the fighter mindset A common belief we hear from folks who start learning self-defense and struggle is that they just might not be cut out for this. If this is you, please don’t give in to that belief! Most people who start training in self-defense feel awkward, mess up, and feel defeated at times. Most people who get to a high level, if they are being honest, share that they didn’t get there without a lot of tears and a lot of emotional turmoil. That is where resilience lives and where we would argue, the most important part of learning self-defense starts to grow. Dr. Richardson’s Metatheory of Resilience and Resiliency Resilience teaches us that when we are thrust into turmoil, how we navigate and cope with that disruption, can lead to us coming out of that experience in a few ways: with a loss in resilience (learned helplessness), back to normal (net zero change), or with growth. Coming back for that next class, embracing the struggle, and celebrating the small wins - that’s where the growth is and the impacts on our psychological well-being are invaluable.

Especially for individuals who have lived a life of feeling victimized, learning self-defense can be a powerful healer and foster opportunities for growth-promoting experiences that build confidence and a fighter mindset. Nurturing this growth allows us to develop the life skills we need (and desire) to live a more full life and helps us to more fully step into the person we want to be. Building resilience and confidence gives us the skills we need to cope with life’s challenges in a healthier way and allows us to thrive in adversity. Developing that inner fighter takes time so don’t let the critics steal your peace or damage the commitment to yourself and your well-being.

Stay tuned for our Part 2 next week!

Brittany Gleed, PhD(c)

Joseph Gleed, MSW


Operation BRAVE ● KO Self-Defense ● Unified Krav Maga

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