Tag Archives: Self-Defense

Q&A: Self-Defense Curriculum

(1/2) Hey, experts! I have two different questions, I hope that’s okay. I’m writing a story about a young guy (no older than 22) who gets mugged and decides to take a self-defense class because he doesn’t want to feel helpless again. What kind of knowledge would he have with only two months of classes (weekly) under his belt?

Eight weeks is enough time to cover an entire self-defense curriculum. This will vary based on the instructor and the course structure, so this isn’t an exhaustive list. Also, the sequencing will vary depending on the instructor’s goals.

You’ll learn threat assessment. This is a mix of different pieces of information, and that will be tailored to the situations your instructor expects you to be in. This includes simple things, like staying aware of your surroundings, which in turn, makes you less appealing as a prospective victim. This the most important component in self-defense training, and it is not a combat skill at all.

Learning how to avoid being in a situation is worth far more than knowing how to get out of it. Now, realistically, that is not always an option, which is why the rest of the training exists, however, anyone who has been through self-defense training will have a dramatically improved ability to assess potential dangers. That does not mean they cannot make poor choices, simply that they’re less likely to blunder into a bad situation because they didn’t see the potential threats.

You’ll learn some basic stances, though this really isn’t the focus. It’s more a necessary component for the other things you’ll learn. For someone from a traditional martial art, this can be really mind bending. Stances are one of the most important components in martial arts, but self-defense quickly covers them and moves on, without putting a lot of focus on them.

You’ll learn how to break out of holds, joint locks, and throws. Breaking out of holds is something that will probably be useful, and several transition fluidly into throws. Joint locks are very useful when you want to restrain or subdue a foe. Each joint can only move in certain directions, and your entire body is connected. Joint locks rely on pushing one joint to its natural limit, and then using that to lock down the rest of your foe.

You will probably learn ground fighting. This is combat from a prone position and primarily involves maneuvering using your hands, while striking with your legs. This has some significant advantages for a fighter with limited experience. Because self-defense doesn’t spend much time on stances, you’re going to end up on the ground, and training for that eventuality pays off in that situation. Being able to retain mobility while on the ground means you cannot be knocked down, and you can drive a lot more force with your feet. Ideally, you’ll position yourself with your legs between yourself and your foe, lashing out if they attempt to close the distance.

You’ll learn some basic hand to hand, including some kicks. This will be far more advanced than you’d get from a non-practical class, and the priority will be on being able to actively use these strikes. These will, probably focus on knee and elbow strikes, rather than hands and feet. It’s much easier for an inexperienced fighter to accidentally injure their hands while striking, and full kicks are more challenging to execute (unless you’re already on the ground.)

You’ll learn how to create an opening and escape. This sounds a lot more involved than it is. “Creating an opening,” simply means inflicting enough harm on your opponent so that they cannot pursue you right now. Escaping may be as simple as bolting and running while your opponent is trying to get their breath back.

At the upper end, creating an exit plan is something you should start doing, whether your training really sets that up for you or not. I know, I didn’t really get into the head space of keeping exit plans in mind until years later. The basic idea is, if you’re going into a place, you should have plans for how to get out if things start going wrong.

Finally, you’ll probably learn to deal with armed assailants, including ways to defend against knife and firearm attacks. Worth remembering that gun and knife disarms are extremely dangerous, and have no margin for error. It’s very easy to take a bullet or get carved up trying to take a gun or knife away from an attacker. However, the training is included in the event that you really do not have a choice. If someone is going to kill you anyway, it’s better to know how to get that gun away from them and have a chance of living, than not.

I’ve said this before, but it is important to remember, the goal is to hinder your foe long enough to make an escape, not to, “win the fight.”

It’s also important to remember, a lot of this training is simply presented, “as is,” so unless you’re consistently practicing, you’ll lose a the more demanding techniques. Throws, in particular, require a lot of finesse, so your ability to execute one in a combat situation is very dicey.

The other major point of failure is that if you don’t internalize your self-defense training, when you’re presented with a situation a lot of this stuff just gets lost. It’s not that you don’t remember how to do it, you don’t remember your options in the moment. I know; it’s happened to me.

So, looping all the way back to the original question, there’s a fundamental scenario here that’s entirely realistic and plausible, but self-defense training won’t do what you expect. More specifically, it will be what you’re asking for, but not in the way you’re thinking.

Self-defense combat training is something you use when you have no choice. Self-defense is useful when someone will kill you. They will rape you. They will disfigure you. They will abduct you and do any or all of the above.

Self-defense combat training is not something you use when someone is asking for an item you can easily replace. If someone wants your wallet, give it to them. Don’t carry cash. Keep everything on plastic. Call the bank, shut those down, and they get nothing. The plastic is meaningless. If someone wants your smart phone, hand it over. One conversation with the carrier and that phone is unusable. They can’t fence it, they can’t sell it, and if they try, they’ll get the cops knocking on their door. More than that, if your phone is insured, you lose nothing. Same with your debit and credit cards. You can replace those without cost.

You won’t feel as helpless. You know they can’t escalate to violence without opposition. But, the safe answer when someone asks for your money is to hand over your wallet. Random muggers are pretty low on the threat scale. They can be managed. You can never be completely certain that it will be a safe interaction, but you can minimize the threat as much as possible.

Taking self-defense classes and then interpreting that as the ability to go hunting muggers is a losing proposition. It will end with you face down in a gutter.

Taking self-defense classes does mean you won’t feel that powerless again. It’s just not for the reasons you were expecting.

-Starke

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Q&A: Self-Defense Goals

I have a 5’4. 110 lbs woman who knows self defense. She gets in a bar fight with a guy who is much bigger than her. (Think 6ft, 250) Would her training trump the guy’s size and strength? (And that he doesn’t know self defense) My beta reader thinks not. They also think that whether the guy is drunk or not doesn’t matter. True? If it is. What kind of training would she need to make her winning plausible?

There’s a lot of detail here, but there are two questions you need to ask yourself, something that needs to be remembered and one error that needs to be addressed.

First, does she actually remember her training, or was this something she did six years ago and mostly forgot? If its the later, her training isn’t going to be that helpful. We talk about the importance of updating your training, but you also need to practice. Updating means you’re also getting refreshers on a regular basis. If you don’t have access to that, you’ll lose things. Stuff that requires a partner will go first, though, it is possible you’ll eventually file a lot of your training away and forget about it. You can get this back if you take a moment to recall. In a fight, you don’t have a moment to dig up your training; you need it already there.

Worth remembering that combat training is the least valuable thing in a competent self-defense course. Most situations can be averted long before they turn violent.

Being drunk is significant. Remember that intoxication is a spectrum from slightly buzzed to barely able to stand. However, unless they already had ingrained hand to hand training, it will quickly render them unable to fight, with rare exceptions.

Second, is she willing to use her training? This sounds similar, but there’s a real social stigma against engaging in violence, particularly for women. It’s easy to think, “Hurting people is bad, and makes you a bad person,” even in situations where a violence is appropriate. If you feel it is important to be “a good person,” it can create a serious dilemma. Her self-defense course should have addressed this, and gotten her comfortable with the idea of using her training, but it’s not guaranteed those lessons took hold.

Self-defense isn’t “a martial art.” It’s a combat objective. This is how you want to use your martial arts training. In the US today, most “self-defense,” is a modified form of Judo. This form only dates back to the mid-twentieth century. That doesn’t mean it’s the only option, as a lot of martial arts can be adapted for use in self-defense. I specified, “a competent self-defense course,” before, because you will find less scrupulous schools billing their normal classes as, “self-defense.” You miss out on a lot. You don’t learn threat assessment, how to manage escalation, or how to create an exit. Worst case, you may not even learn martial arts that will be useful in a live situation.

I tend to paint those schools pretty harshly, but it is possible they have good intentions. The problem is that, as I’ve said, the hand to hand component is a small part of self-defense training. It is important, but it’s the act of last resort.

The last part here, and the major issue is a single word in the final sentence. You don’t take self-defense classes to win fights.

If you want to win fights? Take up boxing, Muay Thai, MMA, or any number of other competitive sports.

You take self-defense classes to learn how to extract from a bad situation. Self-defense teaches you how to quickly neutralize an attacker and escape.

Winning is for prize fights. Self-defense is about getting you out of there in one piece. It is not about getting into a stand up fight and beating your opponent into submission. It is about making sure your attacker cannot follow you.

So, if some drunk guy attacked her, yeah she could put him on the ground, no problem. However, bar fights are nasty, and her goal should be to get out of there as fast as possible, not stick around for a Pyrrhic “win.”

It may sound like I’m being overly pedantic here, but it is a very important concept. Combat training (whether that’s hand to hand or armed), sets specific objectives. You don’t train, “to fight,” you train to achieve those goals. If your goal is to kill someone, train to kill people. If your goal is self-defense, train to create an opening and escape. When to train to fight, you’re learning to prolong combat, and wear your opponent down. This does not work when you go up against someone who trained to end combat efficiently.

Pop culture teaches you to fight (badly.) It draws out the engagements, prolonging the experience is for entertainment value. If you don’t have a background, it’s easy to think this is how combat works. If your attacker doesn’t have a background, and is just going off what he’s learned from Chuck Norris films, he’s going to lose. He cared about winning. Your character doesn’t, her only objective is to get out safely, and she can do that without getting into a prolonged fight. In fact, it’s easier for her to do that without letting the fight go on. She throws him and, while he’s trying to get back on his feet, she bolts. That’s it, fight’s over, she’s gone.

-Starke

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Q&A: Self-Defense

Hi I was wondering what martial art or system would you recommend for someone interested in self-defence?

Self-defense. Okay, let me step back and explain that: Hand to hand combat training is, probably, the least important component to self-defense training. Nearly any practical martial art can provide that component. In the US, the most common self-defense style, is a strain of Judo adapted by American law enforcement in the mid-20th century.

So, what is important? Everything else. Self-defense is about managing your risks, learning how to look like an unappealing target, learning how to avoid exposing yourself to danger, and how to extract from a situation before things go wrong. The combat training is a last resort. Your goal is to get to safely unharmed, if that requires violence, then your hand-to-hand training matters.

I wish I could say that dojos that advertise, “self-defense” training are all on the level. Unfortunately, they’re not. A lot of schools will market themselves as teaching self-defense as part of their normal curriculum. When you’re dealing with sport/recreational martial artists, that’s going to have limited application in a live situation. In situations like this, your primary consideration is the pedigree of the instructors. People with a background where they’ve had to employ their training are going to be far better suited to train you.

When you do find specialists who teach self-defense, that’s (usually) going to be expensive. The irony is, the self-defense skill set is pretty easy to teach in a couple seminars, so these guys usually outright bypass the hand to hand elements and focus on the stuff that you can’t get from someone else.

The exception is police. Police use this stuff. As I mentioned at the beginning, their hand-to-hand training makes an excellent base for self-defense, because it offers a lot of options to neutralize your opponents without inflicting much harm. It’s tailor made for your needs. Most officers can offer hands on experience with how the hand to hand components work, and can offer vital insight in how to manage dangerous situations. When you have someone with a law enforcement background teaching you self-defense, you can be assured they’ve used this.

Now, I understand if you don’t like cops. I’ve had one bad experience with a member of the Washington State Patrol. This is the extreme minority for me, but if someone like that jackass was your introduction to police, I can understand looking at the entire profession with suspicion. However, getting past that for the moment, these are the experts, and in many cases they do offer classes which are either free to the public, or much cheaper than what you’d pay a self-defense specialist. They may offer training directly through the department, or it could be off site at a Y, youth center, or someplace similar.

So, with all of this in mind, the martial arts style doesn’t matter much. It’s a last resort anyway, but anything that will get you out of danger will do the job. The biggest component is never getting into the situation where you’d need it to begin with. Getting out safely is the real goal, this easiest if you get out before things turn violent. That’s self-defense.

-Starke

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Self-Defense: The Predator is Exploiting You

How practical are those self-defence (the kind learnt in a few lessons) moves being taught to women in a real life situation?

Editing Note: I, normally, never do this, but I’m culling out the rest of this question. There was some additional, irrelevant, inflammatory material tacked on, but this part is worth answering.

The very short answer is, “yes.” When you see someone practicing an adapted Judo wrist lock, or a throw on a YouTube video someone linked to your dash, it probably works. I’ve seen a few that don’t, but a lot of those are functional techniques that can be taught in an accelerated environment over 6 to 8 weeks. (Honestly, most of those can be trained, individually, in an afternoon.)

But, we don’t link those. Without exception, those techniques will not work without training. They’re also not going to be reliable if your only self-defense training was a six hour seminar fifteen years ago.

The most important lessons you will ever learn in a self-defense seminar are not about your body. They’re about your mind and your approach to a situation where you are in danger. People like to categorize this as “men” and “women”, but it’s not. Acts of violence are acts. Violence is about action. It is a choice made by one human being to do harm to another.  In these situations, you’re looking at an actor and a recipient of the action. The recipient is the victim, the recipient feels out of control, they’re startled, frightened, and they’re intrinsically playing catch up to a premeditated decision made by the other party.

This is the advantage of your attacker in any situation. Whether the abuse is physical or verbal, you must understand that they are decisions made by another person to do you harm. Because that decision precipitates the action, the attacker is already ahead in terms of mental calculations. A predator picks out their prey, they find a way to get close to their prey, they choose them. What you need to understand upfront is these acts are choices by an individual, and those choices are where their power over their victim resides. That’s what let’s them control the moment. Control, not strength, is victory.

Once you grasp this, concepts like strength become less important. A woman can overpower a man in a violent situation, a woman can be an attacker and an abuser. This isn’t because she’s necessarily physically stronger than the man, or because she’s an anomaly, but rather because she made the decision first. She got there first, she decided first. That’s her advantage. Those crucial seconds in decision making are the difference between victory and defeat, whether you are doing or having something done to you.

Self-defense is trying to teach the recipient how to be an actor. A good seminar is trying to train you to retrain your mind, the way you look at your environment, teach you how to make threat assessments, and how to quickly transition from paralyzing panic to launching yourself into action. That switch over within your mind is what will ultimately be the deciding factor in terms of victory or defeat. This is the major difference between a trained combatant and a civilian. Trained combatants are primed to go, often to preempt an attack and be ready when it comes. This doesn’t always work, but they’re better at it than the average person. They’re quicker on the mental rollover, and they know those crucial seconds at the beginning of a fight are the difference between victory and defeat. When it comes to male predators, active decisions versus panic, fear, and surprise is often mistaken for physical strength. They feel stronger because they’re attempting to initially overwhelm, and, once you’re overwhelmed, they believe you won’t fight back.

Self-defense training does work. However, like all training,  what you get out of it directly relates the effort you put in.

So, two parts. Simply seeing someone demonstrate a technique isn’t enough to replicate it. Practicing a technique for a few hours in a controlled environment isn’t enough to perform it reliably in a tense situation. This is the problem with those videos, and can be a problem with some self-defense classes.

For example: Yes, you can roll your hand out of someone grabbing your wrist, reverse it, and then use that as leverage to force them to their knees. Without checking, do you know where to put your thumb to make sure the second part of that actually works? Do you understand how to do the first part? Because it is simple, but it relies on an understanding of how the human grip functions, and which parts are strongest. You won’t get that from simply watching a couple in a .gif screwing around. That’s the technique you watched, but what do you do next? Because you don’t have much time to get your next action in motion before they’ll respond. It’s a good technique, and as part of a larger strategy it can, absolutely, save your life. However, it also requires you know what you’re doing, which you won’t get from watching someone from a video in 2014.

The second part is you need to practice your training. If you don’t practice until it becomes second nature, you will have to think about what you’re doing in combat. This will slow you down, and will get you seriously injured or killed.

Let me give you a concrete example of this: I can’t do throws. I mean, I understand the theory, in some cases I remember pieces of the technique, but I don’t actually remember how to do them. I can’t remember enough of it to make them work in a live situation. Now, if you’ve been around here long enough, and paid enough attention, you probably know my background is Police Adapted Judo. This is a martial art with a large number of throws. This is a martial art that will happily send someone to the ground, and then follow them there. Most martial arts won’t intentionally go to ground fighting and stay there, but this one will. I can’t remember the throws. I didn’t practice them after I learned them, and now, 20 years later, that’s gone. I could relearn them, and it would probably be easier than starting from scratch, but I cannot actually use those in a fight.

(To be fair, this isn’t entirely true, there are one or two Judo throws I still remember, but the vast majority are effectively gone.)

The entire reason why traditional martial arts training is slow, is because the goal is to “rewire” your reactions. You’re learning entirely new kinds of movement. You’re training new responses, and then working them in, until you get to the point where you can simply, “do,” the thing, and you don’t have to think about doing it. There’s no shortcut for that.

Self-defense, and a lot of accelerated combat training, turn the expectations around. Instead of working these new patterns into your movements first, and then learning to apply it, you start by teaching someone how to use this training, and then you get them to work it in on their own time. This results in a shorter turnaround, but you sacrifice versatility. You train to specific attack patterns rather than learning to assemble what you’re doing on the fly. It also results in training that is more volatile, meaning it’s easier to lose it if you don’t keep up with practicing what you’ve learned.

The end result is that, yes, the stuff you learn in those courses can be highly effective. Given time, training, and commitment, it can result in a martial artist who has an excellent skill set for ensuring their own safety.

There’s another, far less sexy, part to any comprehensive self-defense course: Risk assessment and avoidance. This isn’t about learning how to throw someone over your shoulder, or run your knee into their face, it’s how to avoid getting into those situations in the first place. Some of this is physical, for example, but a lot of it is teaching someone how to avoid being profiled as a potential victim. We cover some details of this from time to time. Things like maintaining situational awareness may not sound as cool as talking about how you could potentially break a dude’s wrist, but it is infinitely more useful in ensuring you can effectively avoid situations where you’d need to. These skills keep you safe.

Things like being able to quickly formulate an exit plan are also very useful , and any good self defense class will include them. As with the rest, this is an excellent survival skill, but it’s not about the violence; combat is simply one tool that you can employ to affect an escape.

As with all martial arts, the quality of your instructor will affect the quality of your training. However, assuming you have solid training, and you’ve kept up with it, this stuff can safe your life.

I mentioned people linking videos before, and honestly, there’s always something heartbreaking to me about those post. Someone always chimes in saying something to the effect of, “reblogging, because if I’d seen this, I could have prevented X.” I’m sorry, I really am, but, when it’s couched like that, it’s almost never true. If they’d known how to do that, then it might have made a difference, but watching an 8 second .gif is no substitute for training.

Training is not a panacea, but it does offer more options. It can keep you safe. What they’ve seen in a video is one of those options, usually an option of last resort that’s already somewhat risky, but it is an option.  However, taken by itself, one technique is not a universal solution.

Something else happens with martial arts training (doesn’t matter if it’s traditional, or accelerated) which can make you substantially safer: It builds self-confidence. This makes you less appealing prospect to people who are looking for potential victims. It will not eliminate all threats, but it is a major boon for giving you the ability to maintain control when others are trying to take it from you.

If those, “if I’d seen this,” comments resonate with you, either because you’ve been there, or you’re afraid of being there; I would strongly recommend finding a reputable self-defense class in your area and enrolling. Many colleges and community centers offer classes. Even your local police may run one as an outreach program. This stuff does work. It can save your life. But, you do need to learn the full skill set. Some local martial arts schools may offer effective self-defense training as well.

Self-defense and martial training in general are trying to drill into you the skills necessary to take the power back in a situation where your life is under threat. Those begin, first and foremost, in your mind. Your power lies in your control over the situation, in taking back the control from someone trying to wrest it from you, in taking ownership of the situation, and pushing back. To do that, you have to believe it. You can’t fight yourself and someone else at the same time. This is, ironically, where the quintessential Yoda quote comes in: “do or do not, there is no try.” There is no room for second guessing, for questioning, or wondering whether this will be possible. You must do. When you are in the middle of battling yourself, battling cultural conditioning, battling the inhibitors put on your behavior to prevent you from actively taking control, you won’t be able to effectively defend yourself from someone who has already made the decision to hurt you.

The difference between you and your attacker is in the Sun Tzu quote, “Thus it is in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.”

When you believe you’ve lost, well, you’ve lost. This is what the predator is banking on. They believe they will win, and you will accept that defeat is inevitable. When you begin with the assumption they’re stronger than you, you’ve let them fool you. You’re already well down that road to losing the fight before it ever began. After all, violence requires commitment. The predator is relying on your inability to make that commitment in the moment, to give up, and ultimately cede them control over what happens to you. The human predator is like every other. They aren’t here for a fight, they’re looking to exploit their victim for the easy victory. That doesn’t mean their victim is weak, either. A predator is looking for an easy victory because they are ultimately weak. They’re searching for a safe win. They want the odds stacked in their favor. They don’t want to deal with resistance. They want the situation to be under their control from the beginning to end because they don’t want to take any real risks.

After all, this isn’t about strength. This is about someone exploiting the way the human mind works under pressure, and the societal conditioning already in place. The predator isn’t stronger than you. He’s exploiting your natural behavior, he’s exploiting societal behavior, social norms, and expectations. He is structuring the situation to specifically put you at a disadvantage. The playing field is not level by intentional design. This has nothing to do with natural differences in physiology, and by thinking that way you cede them an advantage they don’t deserve.

They’re not stronger than you. They’re not better than you. They’re not smarter than you. They just made the decision before you did; knowing they could exploit your immediate, natural reaction. If you ever have to question what base instinct looks like in a human being, this is it. The predators are actively exploiting your fight or flight instinct with the expectation you will take the third option and freeze.

Before techniques, the the first truth you need to accept is that the scales are weighted unevenly by human hands; not by nature’s. Which means, you too have the potential to go and tip them right back into your favor. Or just break the scales.

You don’t have to fight by their rules.

-Michi and Starke

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I have a female character in her early twenties. How realistic would it be for her to be skilled (enough to hold her own against larger opponents) in hand to hand combat in under two years? If not, what would be realistic for her to master?

It’s realistic, sort of. There’s a few minor issues that don’t
really fit together here, making it (at least seem) unrealistic as written.

Practical martial arts training intended to put someone into
combat lasts far less than two years. You can learn effective hand to hand
techniques that you can then apply in combat in an eight week course. If you’re
coming out of the military or from a police background, your hand to hand
training took, at most, a couple months. Then you go back every six months to a
year, and update it, meaning you learn what others have developed to counter
your training, and how to deal with their counters.

Practical training isn’t so much about spending years
learning how to fight, as checking in often enough to see what’s changed. When
you’re dealing with untrained opponents, it really doesn’t matter. Most people
haven’t been in a fight since high school, and even basic police adapted Judo
from the 70s will take them down.

As we’ve said many
times
before, most martial arts apply to larger foes without missing a
beat. This is especially true of the adapted Judo/Jujitsu which forms the core
of most American police and self-defense forms. This may be a difficult concept
to wrap your head around, but it is far
easier to put an opponent on the ground when they’re a foot taller, and a
hundred pounds heavier, than the other way around.

Depending on how zealous they are about keeping their
training up to date, someone who underwent training two years ago will have
gone back four to six times, to update. They may have also elected to retake
their training just to, “brush up.” Either way, we’re not talking about someone
dedicating a lot of their life to this.

That said, if you’re talking about someone who signed up at
a Dojo, and has been taking weekly classes, there’s no way to know what they’re
trained to deal with. Some recreational schools will get into practical
applications for their martial art, and offer it as an optional advanced class
for their students. At that point, it’s entirely dependent on her instructor if
she gets in (as an adult, these would probably be open to her if she wanted).
It’s also, depressingly common for a martial arts school to offer, “self-defense,”
classes that are just their normal curriculum with a different advertising
hook. A class like this will not prepare your character for a self-defense
situation.

For reference: If you’re taking a self defense class, and
the discussion doesn’t include a serious discussion on situational awareness,
and/or your instructor puts a lot of faith in your ability to overcome via
superior force then you’re probably in the wrong place. Real self-defense
training focuses on creating an opening so you can retreat to safety (if
possible). It’s concerned with your ability to escape the situation and
survive, not your ability to win a fight. Sticking around and dealing with an
assailant is something you would only want to consider very situationally.

Also, in case it’s not clear, when I’m talking about Police
adapted Judo, it is not the same
martial art as Judo. It was derived from Judo after the Second World War, and
the modern martial art still shares some techniques, but there have been
substantial modifications to it, in order to produce something functional for
combat. Judo itself is intended to be a sport martial art, and not something you’d
take into combat.

There’s also no way to know exactly how fast the school
moves its students through, and how quickly your character would advance. These
are all dependant on human interactions and how quickly they learn and
internalize techniques. In a more traditional school, two years is not a lot of
time, but a modern Dojo may move a lot faster. It all comes down to the
instructor’s preferences.

That said, recreational martial artists are not (usually)
trained for combat. There’s a fundamental disconnect between how practical
martial artists approach techniques, and how recreational ones do. They’re
often studying the exact same techniques, but with different goals in mind. The
recreational martial artist is learning to perform it, the practical one is
learning to apply it. This might not sound important, or could come across as
irrelevant trivia, it’s not. This is a large part of why practical training is
so much faster. You’re learning how to do things to your opponent, not how to perform
the techniques correctly.

A character who’s spent two years taking a martial art in a
recreational capacity, may be able to handle an untrained opponent (it’s
actually, fairly likely, assuming they don’t make any critical mistakes, which
is also quite possible), but may face serious issues dealing with a trained
opponent (this will depend entirely on what each character’s training focused
on). Someone who has trained with a practical focus will be able to take on an
untrained opponent (assuming they don’t make any major mistakes or misjudge the
situation). Ironically, they’re also far more likely to attempt to avoid direct
confrontation, and try to defuse the situation non-violently, than a trained
recreational martial artist would.

So, your character’s been training for two years, and you want
to know what she can tackle. If she was simply going to a Dojo twice a week,
that’s not combat ready. That may not even be combat ready, if the Dojo’s “self-defense”
class was run by the same instructors who believe their decade training in a
sport martial art is good enough for “the streets.”

If your character’s been training with a cop, or ex-military,
relative/friend/rando, or been in police sponsored self-defense classes, then
two years is more than enough time to be able to deal with an opponent.

There’s an unrelated issue that Michi would be irked if I
didn’t bring up. (We both started typing up radically different responses to
this question.) Mastery a term that gets tossed around a lot in fiction. In
martial arts, two years isn’t long enough to master anything. It’s not enough time to master the basics, it’s certainly
not enough time to master advanced techniques. Mastery reflects a very high
baseline of skill, and can easily take decades of dedicated training. A
character can become proficient in elements of a martial art fairly quickly.
That is to say, they can perform them correctly, and present a solid (or
effective) technique. But, mastery, in this context, is a much higher bar to
hit, and not one a character will reach within the first few years of starting
a martial art.

There’s one last thing, “hold her own,” is a very difficult goal.
Unarmed combat doesn’t tend to equalize out like this. You either win, lose, or
wear each other out in fairly short order. Combat is extremely tiring, it’s
part of why real self-defense tends to focus on creating an opening and
escaping. Sticking around and trying to win a fight through attrition is a losing
proposition for nearly everyone. Getting a good clean shot in on someone is
usually enough to create the distance you need to escape. It’s not, “winning,”
but, if all you need to do is retreat, that’s all you need. If you’re going to
stick around, then the goal is to take your opponent down quickly and
decisively. Unarmed combat doesn’t allow for protracted dueling the way Wuxia
films present it.

-Starke

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“When girls and women are taught self defence (and I mean literally taught. Most women have had at least one class in school on it) we are taught that hitting is the absolute LAST resort. Realistically? If a man has actually punched us? 90%+ of women are fucked already. There is no defence against someone stronger than you hitting you.” So can a woman who gets punched can actually defend herself or not?

Women aren’t made of porcelain.

We’re not some separate species, or utterly different physically from men. The concept of “woman” is a societal one. It changes based on socialization, and changes based on the society’s belief on what a woman is. It’s a nebulous concept, with no solid value when hitching one’s identity to it and the same is true for men. Societal constructs like masculinity and femininity are linked heavily to societal expectations and how we’re raised. When someone says, “a woman can’t” when a “man can” most of the time they’re referring to societal expectations taken as fact. These beliefs often have nothing to do with reality, and you only have to look at the vast differences in the United States when it comes to stereotyping women of different ethnicity, various cultures, or income levels just to see how shallow those ideas are.

There are female soldiers, female police officers, female martial artists of every stripe, and the warriors are countless going back generations. You can, in fact, find them if you look. This is before we get to athletes and all the other non-combat positions women occupy today that society said, “impossible!” just a few decades ago.

This is why understanding the effects of socialization is so important. When it comes to learning, what you believe will decide what you are.

Here’s the truth: no one takes a punch well when they’re mentally unprepared for it.

Here’s the other: most people (men included) aren’t trained to take hits.

Notice that you’re instructor told you, “Don’t piss off men. You’re helpless if they decide to physically assault you.”

They did not teach you what it looks like when a punch is incoming, or what the change over looks like. Good self-defense teaches you to be aware of your surroundings and learn to determine when danger is potentially incoming. You can’t respond when you don’t know its coming, and you can’t prepare for it, physically or mentally, when taken by surprise. The first moments of a real fight are crucial. Those seconds it takes to recognize danger and react to it when you’re already in the middle of being hit is too late. You’ve lost the initiative, you’re playing catch up, and that’s a terrible position to be in when you’re trained. It’s pretty much almost always unrecoverable if you’re not.

It has nothing to do with being a man, and its disingenuous from a self-defense perspective to focus entirely on them. While far more likely, men are not the only ones who can or will hit you. Women aren’t any safer, and can be just as predatory.

The problem with these self-defense classes is if you’re really serious about learning to defend yourself then you need to train for it. Good professionals worth their salt will always tell you that you need to be training in some martial art, and practicing the techniques you learned in your self-defense course constantly so that they become embedded in your muscle memory.

When I was forced into one these high school self-defense courses, my seventeen year old martial artist self thought they were stupid and overall pretty pointless, and they didn’t come at us with any of the above bullshit about getting punched. Girls who’ve done an hour of self-defense five years ago aren’t going to be able to perform jiujutsu throws, they’ll be lucky if they remember the bear hug escapes or how to roll the wrist against the thumb and tug if someone tries to take you were you don’t want to go (and then not know what to do once they’ve gotten free because they never practice running). Forget punching, they won’t remember how to do that.

If you aren’t practicing to the point where it becomes second nature, with the added benefit of learning self-defense techniques that are exceedingly easy to memorize (believe it or not, not all self-defense programs will teach these), and doesn’t come with the caveat that if you’re serious you need more education then they’re pretty worthless.

All your class seems to have taught you is how to be a willing victim, and that’s the worst kind of self defense.

“If someone attacks you, you can do nothing so just give up.”

That’s tantamount to admitting that they didn’t really teach you anything, and don’t want you to think they did. You’re not even in exactly the same place you were before you took that class. Mentally, you’re worse off.

If you don’t believe you can, then you won’t and it’s simple as that.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that when it comes to self-defense, you get what you pay for.

Taught is not not taught, the vast majority of high schools don’t have classes. They have one hour a year (maybe) devoted to it (usually P.E.), and sometimes its not even required. If you’re lucky, it’s a seminar of a few days. If you’re really lucky, they’ll bring in one of the female (or male) police officers from a local precinct who specializes in the police’s self-defense training they give the public. However, you are not guaranteed to have a professional, or even just a local officer. Often, it’s just the PE teacher who took a three month course. What girls get in high school depends heavily on what waivers the school is willing to sign and how much liability they’re willing to take on. It also depends on who is doing the hiring, who they are hiring, and whether they actually care.

Believe it or not, there are plenty of people out there who think women don’t need to learn self-defense and don’t want to waste the school’s already limited resources on hiring someone for a few hours. Especially when you can’t learn much self-defense in a few hours, and almost none of it is lasting.

If you’re from a country other than America, it might be different, but if you’re referring American education then its important to remember you’re experiences (whatever they were) aren’t universal. No, really. Education varies heavily from district to district, and can be vastly different within single cities depending on where you live, this is before we get to county versus county, and that’s before we get to the differences between the states. In America, public education heavily dependent on money and property values. The higher the house value, the richer the district, then the better the education. Its important to know, that when it comes to education, segregation is economic. America and Americans have no real true standard for education or education value. What you get depends on where you live, and often on parental involvement.

You can’t learn self-defense in an hour or two. You will be fucked up by shitty instructors, sexist instructors, and negligent instructors. If you are not doing your own research and taking control of learning to defend yourself then you are likely to get one of the above. If you look at self-defense as all being the same, that combat is an innate skill set possessed by only one side of the human species, if you honestly believe on some level you are inferior to men (and if you’re young, white, female, and WASP, you better believe you’ve been conditioned by society at large to see yourself that way) and that there’s no point in even trying, you will be fucked.

Combat is a learned skill.

It is not innate. You have to learn it. It is not inherently masculine. If you are a woman learning to fight, you’re not actually all that special or standout. There are plenty of women out there learning to fight. However, you’ve got to go looking for it. It won’t be handed to you.

One of the most empowering aspects in learning to fight is taking control of your own safety.

You are no longer reliant on the charity or uncertainty of those around you, and that certainty will drive off most predators. Predators don’t want a real fight, they aren’t looking. 9/10, they want victims who are vulnerable and go down easy. So, whether you’re male or female, and you’re worried about your safety then head to your local police precinct, find a seminar, and that’ll point you toward freedom.

So, TLDR:

Women can take punches but not if they’re not prepared for it and whoever was teaching you is a shithead.

Don’t let their idiocy turn you into a willing victim.

This post is a public service announcement, not martial arts training.

Go get some.

-Michi

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What’s your opinions on these “learn self defence!” videos circulating around social media? Particularly the ones with the woman doing Krav Maga in staged scenarios, with no resistance from the “attacker”? I’m inclined to side with the majority of commenters that the moves seemed really risky for the given situations and probably would end in serious pain for the defendant. I also have been told Krav Maga was designed for anyone to be able to use effectively. Do these videos mislead viewers?

The biggest problem with the “Learn Self Defense!” videos is the idea that you can learn self defense from a video. That’s pretty much the end of it, honestly. If you want to learn self defense, you need to train in a safe environment with a professional you trust. You also need to train with other students, as that helps you learn to account for different body types, weights, and the other minutia that cannot be gained by watching a film.

Films like that are for martial artists who are in training at a school and already have a grasp of the fundamentals. The student who has been training for some time will be able to see what’s happening in these videos, in ways that someone who has never trained can’t. Videos like this can be educational, but they aren’t for raw beginners. The beginner doesn’t have the knowledge to really understand what they’re seeing and absorb the techniques, much less apply them should they encounter trouble.

When you’re looking at demonstration or how to videos on Youtube, it’s important to remember that they are, for the most part, a marketing ploy meant to attract new students to the school. They’re meant to peak your interest, so you’ll go in and check it out. They are not meant to be your only source of education, especially if you have no idea what you’re doing to begin with.

That doesn’t even begin to account for the bad advice, the risky techniques, and the vast majority of martial artists for whom practical self defense is not their primary focus and not what they specialize in. This includes martial arts like Krav Maga. Martial artists are all different, they come with a wide variety of interests and focuses. It’s important, always, to try and locate who the professionals in the field are and those considered an actual authority by the community they claim to represent.

One of the best places to go if you want to find good self defense courses is to ask at your local police precinct. Many of them run their own self defense courses and there will be those who practice martial arts outside of specific police training on the force. That’s a decent place to start when trying to navigate the overflow of martial arts schools in the area.

You want someone who will provide you with not just the technical skills and techniques, but also the knowledge of what to look for so you can avoid trouble before it begins. It helps to know what predators look for in their victims, how to be aware of your surroundings, and what to do when faced with trouble. These self defense videos, by and large, won’t teach you survival tactics like moving toward other humans when you’re under attack or feel like you’re about to be. If someone is screaming at you on the subway, don’t wait for someone else to get up and intervene. Move toward them. The vast majority of predators want victims who are alone and isolated. They don’t want to engage with numbers. You aren’t guaranteed bystanders jumping to your defense, but they’re more likely to if the guy yelling at you is suddenly yelling at them too.

You cannot learn self-defense from a video. You can sometimes get helpful tips and aids, but it’s not a foundation. Like any house, a solid foundation provides a base to build off of. If the foundation is solid, the house is solid even as you add more rooms on later.

I see it a lot on social media where someone well meaning who suffered a traumatic incident goes, “reblog to save a life, if I had known this…” and I feel for them on that. They’re trying to help others and that’s an admirable goal.

The problem is knowing isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to save you.

You need to practice. You need to train. You need a teacher who can correct all the bad habits you will inevitably create, who can adjust you when you’re going wrong. A woman can throw off a man double her own weight if she trains for it, but she can’t do it just because she knows it’s possible and saw a video where someone else did it. She has to learn how to do it herself.

My advice to social media is to get off the internet, go find an accredited school or even just a course run through your local precinct, and get to work.

-Michi

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“real fighting but not hurting anyone” anon, thanks for the advice! The problem here is more my phrasing than my actual idea, what I meant was that there’s very little focus on offensive moves not that the offensive moves can’t kill anyone (I’m aware that basically anything can kill people, accidents happen etc) you’d need some actual fight training outside of the class to be likely to beat someone trained, is what I meant, with the class itself being 99% about not getting hit by the other guy.

Yeah, that’s not how combat works. When you’re entering a fight you need
to have a plan to end it. This isn’t optional, or something that can happen
someday when your opponent gets bored. You need to have a concrete way to end
the fight.

Hoping your opponent will get bored and wander off does not qualify.

Dodging all attacks 99% of the time is simply hoping your opponent will get
bored with this. In practical terms, this will
get you killed.

When I say you need a way to end the fight, I don’t mean you need to kill
your opponent. That’s not the issue at all. There are plenty of ways to end a
fight while doing limited harm to your opponent.

Creating an opening to run away is a legitimate way out. This is the focus
of actual some actual self defense training. You’ll strike your opponent in
ways designed to stun or debilitate them, and allow you to escape. For some
people, simply running away is a viable option. Dancing around your opponent’s
strikes is not.

You have a limited amount of stamina. You can engage in strenuous activity
for a limited amount of time before you need to catch your breath. Getting
exhausted in the middle of a fight is a very bad situation. It will get you
killed. To be fair, it’s not like a video game where you’d empty a meter and suddenly
stagger. As you become more fatigued you’ll slow down and your movements will
become less precise.

If you’ve ever engaged in any moderately intense cardio exercise, even just
sprinting, you’ve experienced this first hand. The shortness of breath, heart
pounding, the fatigue, the desire to simply fall over and let the world end?
Yeah, constantly dodging will do that to you, fairly quickly, and that’s before your opponent can lay a hand on
you.

The problem is, it takes far more energy to jump out of the way of your
opponent’s fist, than it takes to throw a punch. All things being (roughly)
equal, you will wear yourself out faster, trying to avoid (or parry) incoming
strikes than your opponent who is simply trying to turn you into chunky salsa.
This creates an inevitable situation: sooner or later, you’re going to start
getting hit, and once that happens, it will snowball fast.

Playing defense exclusively is not an option. You will wear yourself out,
and get killed.

There is also another serious problem with an overdependence on dodging.
Feinting strikes are where you’ll direct a false attack, and then follow with
an actual strike elsewhere. If an opponent realizes you’re simply trying to
step out of the way of their attacks, it becomes very easy to fake you out,
then deliver a strike while you’re dodging, off balance, and committed to the
action by inertia. Of course, this gets progressively easier, as you wear
yourself out, and your opponent realizes this is all you’re doing.

There is a role for dodges and parries in hand to hand, these are designed
to set up counterattacks. You’ll dodge out of the way of a strike because it
allows you to move into a position where you can retaliate, usually past their
guard. Parries frequently work off similar ideas, though you’re usually punishing
the attack by creating an opening in their defense. I’m being vague here
because there are a lot of different potential uses for these, but the
important takeaway is, dodging is about finding and exploiting weaknesses your opponent,
it is not simply getting out of the way.

This is part of why we say, when it comes to self defense, you cannot fuck
around. The goal is to get with as few injuries as possible. That means keeping
the fight as short as possible, creating an opening, and getting out before you
find yourself at the mercy of someone who wants to do you serious harm. You
need a way to end the fight. If your opponent can still stand when you’re done
an ethical decision, but you need to have a way to finish it.

Self defense martial arts like Judo and Aikido have methods of ending the
fight. They’re not simply about being 99% defensive. Aikido is an excellent
example of what I said about parries and dodges. Skilled practitioners will
avoid incoming strike, then use their opponent’s momentum to throw them to the
ground. In a practical situation, this creates an opening for the martial
artist to escape while their opponent has to spend time getting back up. It may
look like the martial art is simply about staying out of your opponent’s grasp,
but the practitioner has a wide variety of ways to end the fight, without
inflicting undue harm.

Relevant to your original question: With highly defensive martial arts it’s difficult
to spar against another practitioner. Sparing involves learning to deal with
your opponent’s attacks and defenses. If your martial art has no real offensive
options, then you’ll need to have something to spar against or find yourself
ill prepared for dealing with opponents who practice more aggressive styles.
You can actually see hints of this in Aikido demonstrations, or the entirety of
Steven Seagal’s film career. It’s a martial art that just does not go on
offense gracefully.

-Starke

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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.

-Michi

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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In my story, I have my main character learning how to defend himself (fist fighting) from his friend who is literally a body guard. How would someone teach their physically weaker friend how to fight? (While trying to not hurt them too much)

Okay, beating on a student isn’t training, it’s sadism. You see this out of popular media a lot. The idea is, that it somehow makes your characters more badass when they come out the other side. The reality is, you don’t learn anything except what getting hurt feels like.

You will see some physically demanding calisthenics in martial arts training, but that’s more about building physical fitness and conditioning. It’s not about beating on the student. That said, a lot of disciplines will also use it to push the student to learn to expand their limits, and try to teach them philosophical clarity through adversity. At the risk of offending some martial artists who follow this blog, it’s not critical for teaching self defense. Also, I’ll stress, I’m talking about exercise. Strenuous, exhausting, exercise. Not beating on the student.

Good training involves showing the student what to do, explaining how to do it, walking them through the techniques. Correcting their form. Practicing. Correcting their form. Practicing. Repeating until they can do it right. Move to a new technique. Repeat. Teaching them to connect what they just learned to a previous technique. Correcting the transition. Practicing. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

You train techniques starting with the foundation of the style, and then branching out into more advanced techniques. Usually this means starting with simple strikes, before moving on to holds, ground fighting, kicks, throws, advanced strikes, and weapon forms. Though the exact order varies based on the master’s preferences.

Depending on the master, training may include a detailed explanation for how techniques function (not how to perform them, but when and why they are used). Complex discussions on combat psychology. Or it may simply involve cryptic comments designed to provoke the student into philosophical enlightenment. Generally speaking, practical martial artists are far more prone to talking about why, but this really is about who the master is, and what their perceptions of “proper training” are.

Second, martial arts are built around the idea that you’re going to be dealing with opponents who are physically more powerful than you are. You learn to fight so that you don’t need a raw strength advantage.

I don’t know what your character would emphasize in training. Self defense is about situational awareness and creating avenues of escape; not being the better fighter. That said, there there are strands of self defense that focus on using the minimum possible force, while others advocate using lethal force to protect your life. Your character could easily end up in either camp, based on their background and outlook.

-Starke

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