Are Self-Defence Classes Really Worth It?

Are Self-Defence Classes Really Worth It?
Photo: Syda Productions, Shutterstock

Knowing how to defend yourself is a nice feeling. If, god forbid, someone with bad intentions were to cross your path, you could, theoretically, handle the situation better than if you hadn’t taken those classes. But the concept of “self-defence” is a broad church that encompasses many schools of thought — some of which warrant a more critical eye.

Before paying for self-defence classes, there are a few things you should consider so you aren’t sold something that won’t help much in the long run.

General self-defence classes have their merits

For the uninitiated, general self-defence concepts can be beneficial. Much of their curriculum tends to teach students how to recognise signs and situations that might be dangerous, and for many people who’ve never had to contend with physical threats before, these signs might not be inherently obvious.

And learning how to neutralise threats without physically engaging is a noteworthy skill — typically, most people would like to evade potential danger altogether without compromising their physical safety. De-escalation tactics, whether verbal or physical, are always the first recourse.

So, general self-defence class will help you on a number of levels. But you should also be aware of their limits. As the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCASA) writes on Portland, Oregon’s city website:

A program should offer options, techniques, and a way of analysing situations. A program may point out what USUALLY works best in MOST situations, but each situation is unique and the final decision rests with the person actually confronted by the situation.

What are the limits of self-defence (and martial arts in general)?

It’s good when a self-defence instructor teaches you to knee an assailant in the groin. It’s bad when they claim that certain techniques can endow you with the skill necessary to overcome multiple attackers, including those wielding weapons.

Unfortunately, there’s something of a cottage industry of martial arts fakers who “teach” unrealistic and oftentimes blatantly laughable techniques. Take for instance an instructor showing students how to fend off being held at gunpoint by two separate attackers. Or this highlight reel of a self-styled master dealing with multiple assailants with ease. They’re funny examples, but if they’re to be taken with an ounce of credibility, they instantly become dangerous.

How to choose a self-defence course or martial arts instructor

You should be aware of who your instructor is and in what discipline they’ve trained. Think of it like taking a university course: You wouldn’t want to invest time and money in studying philosophy if your instructor doesn’t know the first thing about Plato, right?

You want to take self-defence courses at martial arts schools that offer instruction in a specific discipline. Seeking out general “self-defence” might lead you to the doorsteps of those who may not have actually been put in physically comprising situations themselves.

Understand your own training goals

The goals one might have in seeking self-defence obviously differ from the goals one might have in training in a specific martial art. Still, learning a specific style of self-defence — whether it’s Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, kickboxing, karate, etc. — will equip you with more physical practice to better apply your skills if ever necessary. Since you’re not really going to spar with full resistance in a self-defence class, you might need to embark on a journey in a specific martial art to actually understand what it feels like to have someone shove you, try to throw you to the ground, or punch you. Practical experience, or ideally, years of dedication to a martial art, is the best way to become prepared for a dangerous situation.

Still, self-defence classes can impart valuable lessons that acquaint people with the overall context and situational warnings of physical confrontation. It’s just vital to understand that no class, or training, will make you invincible.

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