Tag Archives: self defense training

Q&A: Anxiety

This might an odd question but I hoped you could give me advice. I’m currently in grad school for counseling and hope to work in a prison. I know I’ll have to pass a self-defense course in order to work there (and probably to intern there as well in two years). I’m less than 100 pounds and not very strong at all and have lots of anxiety about not being able to pass the class (more than the actual internship and potential job). Would it help to get a personal trainer to relieve the anxiety or no?

There’s a couple parts to this.

First, you’re going to get a variant of police hand to hand training. Probably very similar to what I got twenty years ago. When you’re done, if you keep up with that, you’re going to be able to defend yourself against 95% of the people you’ll encounter in your day to day life.

Most modern American self-defense courses use an adapted version of Judo, with a few tweaks. This focuses on leverage and momentum to control a fight. Size and mass only really help in the ground fighting component of that, and even then, your training will include means to minimize those weaknesses. Things like the throws are remarkably easy, with the appropriate training. Size works to your advantage here because a lower center of gravity makes the throws easier.

The anxiety is something you’ll need to address. Being able to project confidence is absolutely critical to maintaining control of a situation. and, probably, a major part of why this is in your curriculum.

Any combat training helps with self-confidence. It might be as simple as knowing you have a little more control over your environment. So, in a counter-intuitive way, your self-defense training will probably help with your anxiety.

There’s a number of ways to deal with it. Understand that everyone faces some anxiety in unfamiliar situations, and simply walk in. You can get to know the instructor outside of class before starting that class, during office hours is probably for the best. At that point you can decide if you’d want to broach your anxiety issues there, based on your read of them. You can audit the class, which is another opportunity to interact with the instructor, if meeting with them during office hours doesn’t appeal or is difficult to schedule.

I’m not sure a physical trainer would help with your anxiety. A psychiatric therapist may be a better option if you truly find this anxiety debilitating. If you don’t, then it’s probably helpful to remember that everyone experiences some anxiety. Anxiety over the unknown and unfamiliar is a normal experience. At that point, you may simply need some tools to help manage it. Ironically, one very good method is martial arts training, and the best way to become exposed to something unfamiliar is to dive in.

You’re not the first person who’s had anxiety about learning to fight. You’ll be fine.


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In my story, one of my main characters must learn some fighting techniques in a short period of time, but my secondary character (who will teach the main characters) would prefer to teach mainly self-defensive moves. I guess, what I’m trying to ask is, are there any martial arts that are either easy to learn, mainly self defence moves, or possibly even both? Thank you so much in advance!

Self-Defense techniques are among the easiest techniques to learn quickly. That’s by design. You have someone for a few hours, at best a few weeks, and you need to instill in them training techniques which are simple, easy to do, and easy to remember. More importantly, the best of them usually make use of the body’s natural movements such as Michael Janich’s self-defense variant based on Silat. The body learns it quicker, it becomes easy to remember, and you fall back into it fairly naturally if taught correctly. This is most, if not almost all, Self-Defense strains of martial arts. Some strains can be overly complicated or are just bastardizations of techniques which will end up being less than helpful if you haven’t been practicing them at least three days a week.

For example, I remember the theory behind most of the wrist locks I was taught to do and I can sort of do them. The only one I can do quickly and reliably enough to aid me in a combat situation is the first escape, where you roll your wrist against the thumb, twist your wrist, and yank free. Why? It’s simple, easy to remember, and doesn’t involve a lot of complex/complicated movement or control over someone else’s body.

Comparatively, the simpler self-defense techniques I was taught, the ones that are simple movements, those I remember. Striking the top of a closed fist along the bone with my knuckles, driving my first knuckle below the belly button and turning in order to empty the bladder, pushing apart two hands testing each other’s grips by applying pressure to their thumbs, etc. That stuff I remember. You also learn faster if your teacher explains the why to you and what the techniques are used for rather than just letting you figure it out for yourself which is the more standard top down approach in some Eastern martial arts.

However, what is most important to understand is self-defense does not equal combat training or having the ability to fight. Self-Defense is not give you the power to kick lots of ass, it’s gives you techniques, methodology, and ways of understanding a bad situation so as better to extricate yourself from it. Self-Defense doesn’t teach you how to fight, it teaches you how to get away.

That’s a very critical and crucial distinction, one that is often ignored.

If you have a character who prefers to teach another self-defense moves rather than combat, it means they’re intentionally truncating what they know in order to focus on one very specific aspect of combat. That very specific aspect is called how to run away.

It’s also How To Avoid Fighting 101, How to Get Away With Your Body Intact, How to Fuck Up Your Opponent So They Can’t Chase You, Did I Mention You Can’t Fight? Run, Idiot.

Otherwise known as: I Didn’t Train You So You Could Go Out And Get Yourself Killed.

If you want that approach, consider it carefully because the teacher’s intentions here are going to be very important. You could very easily end up with a self-defense instructor like the Sheriff’s Deputy who taught Starke when he was thirteen, where the self-defense moves were just standard police training joint breaks. Then, you’ve got martial arts like Aikido which have an inward focus and place an emphasis on peaceful resolution to conflict.

It can go either way, self-defense can either be very violent or not violent at all. Either way, it’s focus is usually on survival, on assessing the situations you’ve found yourself in, on avoiding danger, on using body language to drive off predators, on figuring out that you’re in danger, and assessing how to get out of it. This may involve violent means of resolution, but not always. The true goal of self-defense is to make yourself “not worth it” as a target, thereby ending the danger before it begins.

For women, the best self-defense focuses on threats which begin within an extraordinarily close radius. While a predator popping out of the bushes is a threat, they’re more likely to face trouble from someone they know or someone who has managed to get within their physical comfort zone.

You will get a lot of arguments over what the “best” method of self-defense is, in the same way that they’ll argue over the best martial art, but most everyone can agree that it’s the one which works.

The most basic point of fact is: this character of yours is trained
in what they’re trained in, they choose what they impart to their
students. You can have a character who is trained in a very deadly
martial style but refuses to pass those aspects on to their students. In
that sense, it doesn’t matter which martial art you give them.
All martial arts can serve as self-defense when their teachers impart
the basics plus life experience and nix the deadlier aspects or parts of
the training that they don’t feel comfortable passing on.

At the end of the day, it’s not about the techniques themselves but the teacher, the students, and the intentions behind it. The most gentle teacher in the world can train a killer simply on the basis of the student choosing to use the techniques that way. A student can come out of a purely self-defense background and try to use those techniques in ways that they shouldn’t. A student can be trained to kill, but restrain themselves from it.

Who chooses to do what with what they know is ultimately the real question. Pick the martial art that makes sense to the teacher’s background, then truncate it down after studying the perspectives of self-defense professionals.

I’ve listed a few below in order to get you started, hopefully they’ll help.


References + Resources:

Michael Janich, you can follow him on Stay Safe Media.

I like Janich as a resource because he’s very informative. His focus is on using edged weapons in self-defense, but there’s a lot of helpful information in his videos. They are truncated and a bit of a taster for his DVD series. The first link takes you to Black Belt Magazine’s YouTube channel where you can find a lot of other martial arts professionals featured.

Kelly McCann

McCann has been popular. I don’t agree with him about everything, but different voices are helpful.

Geoff Thompson

Geoff Thompson has a lot of interesting information about street fights versus martial arts, both he and McCann will talk about mindset. I’d go through his videos and listen to him talk. He talks a lot about it from the perspective of personal experience and the unexpected. Other people, improvised weapons, the importance of preemption and posturing, etc. If you like what he has to say, you can check out his website.

Here is a list of martial arts from Black Belt Magazine. It’s an opinion piece so take it with a grain of salt if you disagree or it doesn’t help.

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How well would someone training in an unarmed art with an emphasis on learning self-defense be prepared if they found themselves in the middle of a gunfight? What about if they were training an unarmed art with an emphasis on sport/competition?

I’m inclined to say, it would make them less likely to panic, and that’s about it.

Most self defense training should hammer home the idea that you do not want to go toe to toe against someone with a gun.

If they have a gun, and that’s your question, it’s not really going to help them at all. There’s no overlap between firearms handling and what you’d get in most self defense classes.

The same should be true of sport and competition martial artists, though, it is possible a sport fighter would think they’re good enough to take on someone with a gun. They may also have had training in some of the disarm techniques. I’ve heard of a few cases where this did happen, and none of them ended happily.

Again, they’re not going to have any advantage in handling a firearm from their martial arts background.

Of course, it’s always possible someone does have a history of sport shooting, which might help them when you put them in combat, (or get them killed, it goes both ways).


Can you guys write an article on training exercises and techniques to learn how to fight BACK?


This is a writing advice blog, sometimes we get our personal pronouns a little confused and we do discuss the realities of combat. But, no. It’s not that I wouldn’t be qualified to teach you, I am, but the lessons I could impart would require you to be in the same room as me. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise. This is also why, for the most part, I don’t really recommend articles or videos for actual self-defense instruction. There is no video or article in the world (though the Michael Janich ones are very good) that can make up for the presence of a flesh and blood instructor.

For a raw beginner, their fighting style will simply generate too many flaws and when those flaws go uncorrected, they can be damaging to the student’s fighting ability in the long run. It’s not enough to know what to do, you need to know how to do it and how to do it properly so that you don’t hurt yourself.

If you are serious about learning how to fight back, then there are steps you can take:

1) Check out your local police precinct to see what they offer for self-defense courses, I know that may be asking a lot depending on who you are, but the truth is that the police do have some of the best self-defense programs available at the best costs and some of them are even offered for free.

2) Look into the different martial arts programs in your area, if your worried about your personal safety, find instructors who put their primary focus on real world application and self-defense training. Many of these sorts of instructors won’t take students under the age of 18 because of the seriousness of the knowledge they are imparting, but that’s the way it goes. Krav Maga, Muay Thai, and Jiujutsu are all solid choices in that arena. But, find an instructor who teaches what you want to learn. It will be time consuming and hard work, but the hardest path is often the most rewarding one.

The added bonus of learning an actual style is that it will make you less of a target. For most predators, the risk has to be worth the reward and picking a style with an established reputation in popular culture can go a long way towards driving people off before the first punch is ever thrown. Ask yourself, which sounds more scary: “Back off, I learned how to fight from a blog on Tumblr!” or “Back off! I skilled in Krav Maga, the style of choice of the Israeli Defense Force!”.

3) Your local college or community college will probably have a martial arts class in the school catalog (or several if you’re lucky). Even if you’re still in high school, it wouldn’t be too hard to talk to a guidance counselor and sign up for classes. Many martial arts professionals also run classes at the YMCA and other similar places (transfer this advice to what’s applicable in your own home country as needed). If you are a minor, this approach may go a long way towards convincing your parents to sign the consent form. I’ve known some great martial artists who got their start running classes at the Y, sometimes you can find a real diamond in the rough there.

Finding a real place to train and practice with an “in the flesh” instructor to learn from will also have a greater benefit of: building your self confidence through praise, give you other students to train with thus the ability to practice with different partners of varying shape, background, and size. Real world experience will make the difference in a tense situation, whereas just spending your time thinking about it or shadowboxing won’t really help when the time comes to hit someone.

We focus on fiction on this blog and post references for writers. This is because concept work is the limit of our ability to assist you. Bad advice can be just as harmful, if not more devastating, than no advice at all. If “fighting back” is something you are dedicated to pursuing, feel free to come off anon and we can discuss your situation in private and perhaps get you started on locating a school that’s right for you.

Until then, this is the limit of our ability. I’m sorry.


[Same Anon who asked about the training]For example, different exercises to learn reflexes, balance, defense, concentration and stuff like that. Sorry, I just thought I wasn’t that clear on the last question.

No. You don’t actually learn any of that in a basic self-defense course. You won’t actually learn any of that in any self-defense course unless your character is actively studying a martial art. The reason for this is that self-defense focuses on three major objectives: deterrence, stopping power, and escape.

The stuff you’re asking for is the stuff they teach in martial arts courses or in general combat training. And while it could be vital, it’s mostly superfluous for what the student actually needs, what they have time to learn, and how to keep them from ending up in jail on charges of assault and battery, even if it was done in self-defense. Please, try to keep in mind that fighting in self-defense doesn’t actually get you off on charges with the police, your character will be liable for any blows they land and any injuries their opponent sustains. So, the answer to what does a self-defense student learn is actually: not much.

What does self-defense teach?

Escapes. These are completely pre-cooked technique strings that you can’t break apart unless you are martially trained.

They’ll teach things like: how to get out of holds, clinches, and chokes. Knees to the groin, then grab the head and ram it into the knee. The forehead slam into your opponent’s face. How to make a fist without dislocating your thumb. They’ll teach you how to drop your weight if your grabbed from behind in a bear hug. They’ll teach you throws, usually the most basic ones. You might be familiar with this one: grab the wrist and toss them over your hip. They’ll teach you wrist releases. Ground fighting (kicking from the ground and basic strikes) and ground escapes (the shrimp and twist), but nothing fancy. As in, no chokes, no arm breaks, and for the most part no jiu-jutsu style grappling. The basic self-defense student wouldn’t have the flexibility for most of it anyway and usually lacks a practice partner to make it effective.

If your self-defense teacher is competent, they’ll generally dedicate a portion of the time to talking about predator and prey behavior, how to avoid dangerous situations, and what to do when you get mugged. Different teachers will give different answers.

What they won’t teach:

No wrist locks, no joint breaks, no conditioning, no stretches, none of the stuff built around creating a better fighter. They don’t need that, self-defense doesn’t teach you how to win fights, it teaches you how to get away from them. In fact, self-defense training doesn’t want you fighting at all unless it’s necessary.

They also don’t teach weapons, unless it’s a special course. No knife disarms and no gun disarms. The advice I got from my self-defense instructors were: “If they’ve got a knife or a gun, give them your wallet. The money is replaceable, you’re not.“ The only time they advised against doing what the attacker said was if they wanted you to get into a vehicle, because if you do, you’re going to be dead anyway. Don’t get in the car.

The droid you may be looking for:

1) That said, I really do recommend you looking up Michael Janich and Stay Safe Media. His stuff is a little more advanced, but it’s a very good example of what you can get out of a martial arts style that’s billed as self-defense. The bite-size chunks that are available on YouTube really are worth the watch and they’re very educational, they go into what you need and with visual examples. He’ll have techniques and different exercises that you may be able to incorporate for your characters. When I have the money, I actually intend to get his videos. He’s got some really great advice on how to keep yourself safe. So, really, look him up on YouTube.

2) Check out Aikido, Jiu-jutsu, Taekwondo, Muay Thai, and Krav Maga. Aikido is often billed as self-defense style, I don’t personally find it practical but a lot of people do. It’s going to have the spiritual element and the focus on balance that you may be looking for. It also puts a primer on techniques that will not injure the opponent. Taekwondo with it’s focus on balance and precision, Muay Thai’s practical brutality, and Krav Maga as a fighting form are also worth looking into as common self-defense styles. Jiu-jutsu is where the really solid joint locks, throws, and arm breaks come from. This will fill out your education in the places where the others might be lacking.

The thing of it is and I’m going to be bluntly honest here: the training you get from a basic self-defense course and the training you get from martial artists who teach martial arts billed as self-defense courses is utterly different. Each comes with an individual mindset and the two don’t cross-thread. It’s frustrating I know, but like I said in response to your first question: self-defense training isn’t The Karate Kid, where the student learns martial arts from an old master over the span of a few weeks and months in order to defend himself from bullies (bullies who happen to be training in the same martial style). Though, cliched as they are, both the original and the remake may actually be helpful to you in that respect.


Do you have a post showing how to write the different steps in training (basically, from zero) to learn self-defense? If not, could you please post one? It’s very important to the story I’m writing.

Since the question is in two parts, I’ll answer this one in, well two parts. I can do a post talking about how to train someone in basic self-defense. The problem is that the question of “basic self-defense" is actually not clearly defined. There are a vast number of different approaches to training someone in self-defense, so many that it’s actually a lot easier to break them down into separate schools of thought than it is to talk about their step by step training regimen. Every single program is different, most of what the student learns in them depends on their instructor and their instructors approach. But I’ll list most of what the programs should cover in my answer to your second question.

The first thing you should know about most forms of self-defense training is this: self-defense training won’t teach you how to fight, it will teach you how to fight back.

This may not sound like a big distinction, but it’s actually a pretty huge one. The goal of almost every self-defense program is to give the student access to a limited set of basic techniques that can be used and the body can easily remember. The intention is to teach the student just enough so that they can extract themselves from dangerous situations and be aware of their surroundings. The assumption of those programs is that the student will be facing someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing: like the school bully or a street fighter. The vast majority of training isn’t preparing them to take on someone who knows what they are doing like a cop, a martial artist, or a marine.

Most self-defense courses last anywhere between a few hours to six weeks of training before the student is turned loose. The problem for describing self-defense training is that your character could be picking up their training from whoever got called in by the college rec center or they could be getting it at their local precinct, the results for both will be very different.

So let’s go over the three basic schools of self-defense and that ever elusive fourth one, which is probably the one you’re looking for.

1) The Martial Arts School

This one covers a lot of bases and a lot of techniques from a lot of different styles. I’ll also say this isn’t Mister Miyagi teaching Daniel ala The Karate Kid. This is the most common of the self-defense schools, the instructors who teach under it are usually martial artists themselves and their either working with a home-brewed concoction of different techniques or under a single corporate banner and style. That is to say: your character won’t be learning martial arts, they’ll be learning cherry-picked techniques that the instructor has deemed appropriate to be taught in the limited amount time the student has. For the most part, all they’ll be getting is techniques and not much else. What they do learn is certainly useful, but it is hodgepodge. Most of the stuff we usually associate with martial arts training, a student won’t learn here. They just won’t have the time. Like I said, it’s not The Karate Kid.

2) The Police:

The cops (at least in America) have their own brand of self-defense that they’ve designed for civilian use. Every local precinct and Sheriff’s Office should have a listing of seminars that you (or your character) can sign up for if you wanted to get some actual on the ground experience of what it’s like going from zero to sixty. This approach isn’t for everyone, but if you live in America and can stand the idea of being around cops for a few days it might not be a bad one to look into. Since the Police are government subsidized, some of their self-defense programs are free.

If they do cost money, they tend to be cheaper than the Martial Arts and Military ones, because again these programs are usually subsidized. They’re also cheaper in the short run than signing up with a traditional school for some sort of conventional martial arts training.

Police Self-Defense training is not the same thing as Police Hand to Hand training though, this is the style that’s for civilians and is designed to do the least amount of damage to the opponent. Regular Police Hand to Hand is much more lethal and, unless you get “lucky" with your instructor, you won’t find programs teaching that unless your character signs up for the Police Academy.

3) Military Training:

The styles under this header go to the Military taught professionals who leave the Military and then turn around and go into the business of civilian self-defense. The self-defense training under Military professionals is a little more conventional and usually a lot more brutal. These are not self-defense styles that focus on the preservation of the enemy, but on stopping the enemy and eliminating them as a threat. They won’t advocate for lethal force, usually, but everything up to that point is usually fair game.

An example of more military minded self-defense styles are the Michael Janich Martial Blade Concept videos on YouTube, some are posted under the “Michael Janich" tag on this blog. The Michael Janich videos also fall under category 4 of Self-Defense training, for the most part.

4) Training in a Martial Art:

This is when the student says they’re training in self-defense, but are actually training in one of the many Martial Arts styles. This is a student who goes to classes or studies with a single instructor three to four times a week, whether it’s in a traditional school or their own backyard. Their training involves months or years, instead of hours or weeks, and they get all the extra conditioning, balance, and stamina training that the “normal" self-defense courses absolutely 100% lack.

There is a big difference between training in self-defense and training in a style for self-defense. It’s an important distinction, because it keys what gates of information your character will have access to in their training. Self-defense isn’t the quicker version of learning how to fight and someone trained in self-defense while less handicapped than a street fighter can share some similar weaknesses.

Some articles that may be useful to you:

Anything under our self defense tag, the Michael Janich videos in particular.

Our article: How to Choose A Martial Art, which includes a list of martial arts based around “subdual" the main mechanic of self-defense training: http://howtofightwrite.tumblr.com/post/50682766604/fight-write-how-do-you-choose-a-martial-art

And our article: Unusual Martial Art: Street Fighting for some thoughts on what self-defense training is, for the most part, preparing your character for.


In answer to your second question, I will post the basic concepts and techniques that most basic self-defense courses cover.