A Self Defense Seminar

I’m not making fun of the seminar with this image, although I do find the image amusing on several different levels. It’s just that when I was searching for “self defense” images most of what I found was 1) white ladies beating up black men (racist), 2) ladies kicking guys in the crotch (um, there’s more to self defense than that), and 3) ladies attacking guys who are wearing outfits that match their own (black tank tops mostly).  Apparently rapists try to find ladies whose outfits match theirs – so don’t dress like a rapist and you won’t get raped.

A couple of weeks ago the community college where I work shut down all normal operations for Professional Development Day. Faculty and staff members ate free food, listened to a speaker, and then ate more free food. After lunch we had our choice of one of several seminars. Most seminars were geared specifically towards faculty, but there were a few that weren’t. Among the choices was a self defense seminar.

So why would I need to go to a self defense seminar? Surely by now I can at least manage to give someone a bloody nose, right? I have any number of really brutal techniques hammered into my muscle memory from practicing kata (forms). I’ve hit and kicked bags using my fastest speed and all the power I have.  And I’m a brown belt – that’s right before black so I should be pretty badass already, right?

It’s true that I was hoping to pick up at least one new technique. I did – swiping thumbs across an opponent’s eyes in lieu of gouging.  I also learned a combination of techniques that could very well work “in the street.”  I had Japanese names for nearly every technique the instructor taught and most of the other techniques were very slight variations of what I’ve already learned. I felt free to expand on a couple of things – for instance swiping thumbs across the opponent’s eyes (from the opponent’s nose outward) led very nicely into the double kidney strike featured in the kata (form) named Bassai Dai. On the surface it looks like I didn’t get much out of the seminar.

I remember being at a seminar on leadership and the speaker said that if he spends hundreds of dollars to spend four hours cooped up in an airplane, spends hundreds of dollars more on a motel room, food, and transportation, then sits through five hours of a seminar that cost him a couple hundred more dollars and all he learns is just one thing that sticks with him for the rest of his life… It’s totally worth it. Yes, that one combination of techniques will stick with me, as will my expansions and improvisations on other things that were taught. But that is certainly not all that I gained. I gained a lot more.

My main objective in attending the self defense seminar was to learn about one-off self defense seminars. I’ve never been to any self defense seminars. Teaching self defense seminars is something I might want to do in the future.  There are huge differences between studying a traditional martial art and taking a one-off self defense seminar. This was an alien world to me. I’ve taught new beginners in Karate with the presumption that they’ll stick with the Karate class for at least a month or two, if not longer.  I lead them through a gradual progression of skills.  Teaching people you might not ever see again is a whole ‘nother ball of wax. I wanted to learn how it’s done.

I was very glad that we didn’t line up in rows as we would for a formal Karate class. The instructor had us standing in a circle. This meant that I could observe everyone in the room. There was a glaring gender disparity – a male instructor, one male student, and about twenty female students. The male student was smirking a lot – I would like to think he was smirking at the thought of how much well-deserved pain an attacker would receive but I have to admit it’s entirely possible he was mentally mocking the proceedings. The women showed a wide range of emotions. Some were a little nervous but warmed up nicely, and a couple of these turned out to be quite ferocious later. A few women had perhaps taken a self defense seminar before – this was familiar territory. One woman was overconfident and later ended up hurting her foot against the punching bag. And one woman was silently soaking it all in and evaluating absolutely everything (that would be me).

I paid attention to everyone, not just the instructor. I listened to the questions that the students asked. I evaluated the answers the students gave to the instructor’s questions. I myself stayed silent – this was my time to learn. I asked myself later how I would reach the students, “where they were at,” so to speak.  Because I picked up on techniques and combinations quickly I was able to look around to see how well the students were learning them. When students rotated through stations to practice on punching bags, a BOB (man-shaped Body Opponent Bag), and a kick bag there was plenty of time for me to observe others as I stood in line.

I surmised that even the students who were not generating much force with their techniques would still hurt a real person with what they were doing. More force, of course, would be ideal but the main point of a one-off self defense seminar is that even just “stinging” one’s opponent can give one an opportunity to escape or follow up with another technique. This wasn’t a continuous marital arts class where ideal body mechanics could mean a tournament medal or moving up in rank. This one-off seminar was about giving people a few tools they could use to save their lives.

After class the instructor spent time with me to answer my questions and to give me pointers about learning and teaching self defense.  I really appreciated that.  I have a lot to think about, research, and learn in the years to come. As I’ve said before, my vision of my Karate future is kinda fuzzy right now. Perhaps teaching one-off self defense seminars is something I can specialize in after I earn Shodan (black belt – and along with that the credentials to teach without in-person supervision).  I treasure both male and female sensei (instructors), but not every woman shares my sentiment. Some women prefer to learn martial arts and self defense from other women. Maybe that’s a need I could someday fill.

Aside from all that, this seminar was just plain fun.  Most of you who are reading this understand the “weird little obsession with acquiring bruisies for funsies” (as Modern Arnis blogger Jackie Bradbury puts it).  So you know how much fun it is to try empi uchi and teisho uchi out on a BOB. You know how much fun it is to try something new, or to put familiar things together in new ways.  Some of you teach so you know the satisfaction of watching first-day beginners learn something (even if they’re not your students, LOL).  You know how fun it is to pick up new teaching ideas. And yes, it was fun to hit things and yell.  That never gets old (in the proper context, of course).

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P. S. – I have the opportunity on Saturday to go to a more advanced self defense seminar.  Different instructor, so this will provide even more learning opportunities.  All I have to do is get over this stupid sinus infection that has been plaguing me all week.  Stay tuned!

Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

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