What is Self Defense?
A subset of survival, self defense is not a technique or piece of equipment- although those things help. Self Defense is best described as “THE ACT OF DEFENDING ONESELF, ONES PROPERTY, OR ONES CLOSE RELATIVES” (Merriam-Webster); Or “a legal plea of the above as legal justification for deadly force”. It is an ACT not an ART.
To fully comprehend this you must understand the difference between a philosophy, tactics, techniques and strategy; especially how they apply to Self Defense.
Think of Philosophy as the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group. When we talk about the philosophy of self defense we are talking about the basic belief that you are responsible for your own life, your own property, and your immediate family such as your mother or your child.
Strategy is an adaptation or complex of adaptations (as of behavior, metabolism, or structure) that serves or appears to serve an important function in achieving evolutionary success. Strategies such as training, mental preparation, avoidance, and risk management are an important part of securing your safety and providing you with a sense of that security.
Tactics are the art or skill of employing available means to accomplish an end. An example of this in self defense is knowing what to do and when to do it, when not to do something, and what effect one can expect. For instance, if someone tries to stuff you into the trunk of their car, gouging out their eye is acceptable and will have a predictable effect. Doing the same thing in an argument over who jumped in front of you at the ticket counter is not appropriate, but will still have a predictable effect.
Techniques are the manner in which technical details are treated (as by a writer) or basic physical movements are used (as by a dancer); also: ability to treat such details or use such movements. For instance, knowing how to render an individual unconscious, break their skull, or make them let go of your hand is just knowledge of techniques. Knowing when you can, should, and will apply each falls under tactics, strategy, and philosophy.
What is a Self Defense Class or Course?
A Self Defense class or course should cover the basic philosophy of self defense (otherwise why teach it?), The Strategies of the course (which should include avoidance and non-violent solutions), Tactics (these may be specific to the course- an armed self defense course will teach marksmanship and weapons retention), and techniques (such as how to hold a pistol, how to break a limb, or how to use pepper spray). Unfortunately many classes you will find will tout themselves as the “be all-end all” of self defense when they are in actuality designed as a sport or art form, or merely address one aspect of the concept of surviving a violent attack. Just like I don’t want Michelangelo to paint my house (it costs too much and takes too long), I don’t think taking kickboxing classes for the rest of my life will save me in a straight out assault tomorrow. I am not saying that studying a martial art, or training in and participating in a sport is bad- I encourage it! It doesn’t hurt to understand and improve on your physical capabilities. You should understand though that the focus of an art or sport is different than that of Self Defense. In many cases Law Enforcement Officers will learn self defense from their parent organization- and the basic philosophy will shift from self defense to apprehension- in other words you shoot to kill, but you hit a person only in areas that will not injure them with your baton and then secure them for arrest. That philosophical shift has gotten many officers injured or killed, and others in trouble as it is a thought intensive paradigm shift at a time when your complex reasoning is at its worst (high stress and imminent danger).
So when you look for a course, look for one that doesnt depend on you being able to run away (that is an option, just not one you can always depend on) or one that ignores philosophy, strategy and tactics to focus on techniques. Look for a course that teaches YOU how to injure or nuetralize an attacker- not just “how someone could”. Look for a course that understands real violence, and accepts the reality that when a 5 foot girl gets attacked by a 6 foot man, the only effective blows are going to be low blows, and kicking a man when he’s down isnt “dirty” it’s smart- you dont have to lift your leg as high.