Self-Preservation: Is There Real self-defence Training Out There?

Is there real self-defence training out there? I guess this really depends on how you define ‘self-defence’. I wrote about this in my article, Real Self Defence Doesn’t Sell and I discussed it further in the subsequent interview that accompanied that article.

If one looks at Youtube there is a lot of information out there being passed off as self-defence training. But if you look closely, often (not always) what you see is more about winning a ‘street fight’ than self-preservation. In other words there is little or not talk about alternatives, other than, “if this guy gets in your face, or throws a punch then do this, and do it multiple times”. Basically it always seems that the solution is fighting back, and winning that fight physically.

There is always a risk in generalising (and pissing people off), but at least as a see it, the people often learning real fight skills, are the very people who actually want to get into fights, or at the very least have no issue accommodating someone who wants too. The proverbial Yob often seems to be the overwhelming feature in many of these Youtube videos. A couple of years ago I experienced this first hand. I had two individuals join my trainers program, it came to light that their only interest was learning how to fight. They didn’t want to hear about any other alternatives. What they talked about, and wanted to know from me in respect to what they viewed as self defence, seemed borderline psychopathic. I have a real concern in the end between knowing and teaching what to do when dealing with interpersonal aggression (and surviving it), versus the same knowledge used to become a predator oneself. In the end, I am glad these two individuals left.

The reality is learning how to street fight and self-defence are different stages of the game (and they don’t always have to, or even need to go together). The first is when someone shoves you in a bar because you bumped him and he spilled his drink. You shove back, you get into a verbal assault match, the other person throws a punch, and you respond in kind — because now you have no option. Self-defence on the other hand in the same situation, would find you apologising to the person for bumping into him (even if he it wasn’t your fault), followed by possibly offering to buy him another drink, or better still exiting the scene before anything real went down (especially if he seemed overly aggressive). Self-preservation on the other hand, is when you completely avoid that bar you know all the ‘yobs’ hang out at, and rather invite your friends over to your house for drinks. When it comes to self-defence, or better still self-preservation, no one wants to have this conversation, or have this proposed to them as a viable strategy.

I get it better than anyone. I grew up in government housing on the South Side of Johannesburg. Gangs were rife. Posturing and violence were the staple diet. In that neighbourhood, you could only run for so long before you had no choice but to step up and fight back, or face being victimised for the rest of your life. The best self-preservation thing I ever did back then, was work my ass off, achieve my dreams, and at the first opportunity I had, to move out of there.

Most of what I had to endure in that neighbourhood growing up, was less self-defence, but more street fighting. Some days I had routes to get home safely (self-defence) but mostly I had to posture, and slap that kid in the face before he did it to me at the corner shop to get respect (street fighting). One was about survival, the other was about perception (how the tough guys saw me) and ego defence.

Learning how to street fight is necessary, but only when all other self-defensive options have been exhausted. To survive a street fight, one has to be well versed in the very same physical and psychological tactics of the assailant. As noted earlier there is a very fine line then between calling what one did as self-defence versus street fighting. In other words, what I know today from that time growing up in violence and working the door for several years could quit easily be used to victimise others if I chose too. Coming back to those two individuals I noted earlier, the mere fact that all they ever wanted to know was the best, most ruthless way to dispense with a potential threat, is a clue to the kind of people they really are, and why no sane person should be training with them, not if the intention is to learn self-preservation (street fighting maybe).

Learning ‘street-defence’ then, is a combination of both the self-defence mindset of avoiding violence at all costs, and the street fighting one if all else fails. If someone goes hands on with me, and I have to fight back, I do so and neutralise the threat as quick as possible. But at the same time, I need to have enough sense and restraint about me, that once the person is down, no longer a threat, that it is time to leave. This is self-preservation kicking in. When someone on Youtube shows a similar example, but then proceeds to show students how to kick the guys head into the sidewalk (even when in the drill the fight was won several moves earlier) this now crosses over from self-defence to assault. You, the victim, can very well become the person charged, and imprisoned for attempted murder. When the assailant you attacked doesn’t awaken from that coma, the burden is on you to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this was self-defence. No one wants to speak about that on Youtube either.

The irony about all of this, is what I have mentioned before in other articles, most people peddling self-defence training don’t actually need it. Often they also don’t want to teach real self defence — which is at its heart zero ego, survivalist in nature — and avoidance at all costs. Back to my two psycho’s mentioned earlier, both live in areas that require little fear walking down the street. The people who come to them however for training are clearly the troublemaker kinds. After being immersed in violence my whole life, I only had to step on the mat in a seminar to spot those Yobs anywhere. I think for these instructors it allows them to live out some sick twisted fantasy of feeling, and being perceived as powerful (the camo pants help too). Hanging around other Tough Guys can make a person feel powerful (I know, I have been there, done it, got the t-shirt so to speak).

In the end, there is a lot of great information out in the public domain, but one clearly has to ask, is this street fighting first, or self-defence? Is what is being taught really about avoiding the very thing you don’t want to be apart of, or teaching you how to become that very thing you say you want no part of? This is one of the biggest reasons for so long that I kept the self-preservation knowledge I had to myself, only ever teaching it to people I knew personally. For years people asked me to put out online material on self-preservation and I declined. Taking those two psycho’s again as examples, they shouldn’t be teaching anyone self-preservation skills, and the fact that I recently started seeing them teaching knife fighting scares the crap out of me. These are also the individuals who would be inclined to purchase my self-preservation material, only to harvest the best street fighting stuff they saw, and discard the rest ( I know, because even after leaving, they still by all my material.LOL).


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  1. Real self defense is rarely taught and doesn’t sell so well because people are hell-bent on learning anything that could make themselves out to look good. The observation that most people involved in self defense rarely to virtually never find themselves in places and situation that would require them to neutralize a predatory threat. Instead, these folks are interested in looking good. They tend to be living with a good deal of fear which they find intolerable given an unhealthy ego. I believe ethical teachers have a responsibility to refuse training budding predators and predators.

    It seems you summarized the heart of the matter thusly: “Learning ‘street-defence’ then, is a combination of both the self-defence mindset of avoiding violence at all costs, and the street fighting one if all else fails. If someone goes hands on with me, and I have to fight back, I do so and neutralise the threat as quick as possible. But at the same time, I need to have enough sense and restraint about me, that once the person is down, no longer a threat, that it is time to leave. This is self-preservation kicking in. ”

    Truth be told you have no difficulty spotting predators and pseudo predators when they approach you for training. More I imagine your students can also pick up the bad vibe when trouble-makers crosses their paths. In the end anyone who has trained well and hard will refuse participation in a “monkey dance” (guys pushing and shoving, trash talking,etc. Such people recognize the danger to the predator if you didn’t have control of your movements. Actually, having fear for the other guy getting hurt by you is probably an excellent litmus test. If you aren’t afraid for your “opponent” then your training has obviously failed you.

    People with life experience with street fights and real violence have no problem looking for the best way to exit an encounter with a “monkey dancer” aka someone who has faced someone intent on maiming or killing you. Curiously, within the tribe of people that have real life experience with threats of violence and violence won’t be seen as cowards if they exit the incident successfully; people like Rodney will recognize guys who have survived street battles-who could main or kill a predator in the first 30-60 seconds of “laying hands on a predator”

    Rodney has written extensively about the essential need to cultivate chivalry where skills that allow one to do a lot of hurting simaltaneously work on the traditions of warriors. Without martial traditions martial training can become a real problem for all invoved.

    Anyway, I enjoyed this one Rodney. Thank you