Four Must-Know Principles Of Realistic Self-Defense Training

 by Randy Lahaie

Principles of Self-Defense

There are four indisputable principles you need to align yourself with if you hope to get maximum benefit and optimal results from self-defense.

First of all, you need to think of self-defense as being synonymous with health.

Secondly, you have to accept the fact that newly acquired knowledge and skills will “erode” over time unless you make a deliberate effort to implement them into your lifestyle.

Thirdly, acknowledge that a fight is a challenging “athletic event.” The quality of your performance will be determined by qualities that you bring to the encounter.

Lastly, the benefits of self-defense have little to do with a particular system, program or method. The primary benefits are not limited to surviving a violent encounter “some day.” They will come immediately as a result of consistent, ongoing training and lifestyle improvements.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Over the years I have taught tens of thousands of people various aspects of personal safety, self-defense, martial arts and confrontation management.

I’ve spent my life trying to uncover the most legitimate and effective solutions for good health, optimal performance and dealing with volatile and dangerous situations.

For the sake of argument, lets say that you have access to a solid, well-researched self-defense program. Obviously then, in order to solve your self-defense concerns, all you have to do is “learn” that program and you’re good to go. Your self-defense “needs” have now been taken care of, problem solved. Right?

Wrong! I wish it were that easy.

Over many years as a trainer, two things nagged me about my efforts to provide realistic personal safety solutions to people.

1. Regardless of how good a program is, most people do not take consistent action to improve or retain their grasp of the material after they complete the initial learning event.

2. Regardless of how good the program is, many people don’t have the “athletic capacity” (strength, conditioning, speed, power etc.) to perform the skills efficiently during a critical incident.

The World Works On Principles

“Correct principles are like compasses: they are always pointing the way. And if we know how to read them, we won’t get lost, confused, or fooled by conflicting voices and values.

Principles are self-evident, self-validating natural laws. They don’t change or shift. They provide ‘true north’ direction to our lives when navigating the ‘streams’ of our environments.

Principles apply at all time in all places.” ~ Stephen Covey

Whether you know it, agree with it, or believe it, the world operates around “principles.”

Principles are non-negotiable rules about the way the world works. Like the laws of gravity and physics, they are not subject to change, debate or manipulation. The just are what they are.

Nobody invents or creates principles. The key is to discover what they are, how they work and align your actions with them to produce a desired result (or avoid an undesirable one). If you violate principles, you won’t be successful. It’s as simple as that.

In this post, I’ll identify four principles that I believe to be true about self-defense training. Hopefully if you agree with me, you will align your own actions with them as well.

Why Worry About Safety If You Ignore Your Health?

“400,000 Americans will die slow, hideous, horrible, preventable deaths this year, due to cigarettes, but that does not generally change their behavior. Yet the presence of just one serial rapist or one serial killer in a city can change the behavior of the entire city. Just the distant possibility of interpersonal confrontation distresses us more and influences our behavior more than the statistical certainty of a slow hideous death from cancer”. ~ David Grossman

Principle #1 – Self-Defense = Health.

When you get right down to it, what you’re trying to “defend” is your health. Self-defense is an effort to avoid death, injury, trauma and loss.

Your health and the quality of your life can be “stolen” from you in the blink of an eye by a predatory or violent event. What you must also acknowledge is that the probability of those same negative outcomes is a FAR more likely consequence of an unhealthy lifestyle.

I can’t count the number of people I’ve seen or taught over the years, who were concerned about “defending themselves” yet were unhealthy and in terrible shape. Am I the only one who sees the irony in that?

Self-defense training is the ongoing process of developing and improving your health AND your ability to protect it.

Why Learn Something If You’re Going To Forget it?

Principle #2 – The Erosion Effect

I have had the unique experience to teach and re-teach the same people over the course of many years. In a professional setting, it is common to provide use-of-force, street survival and confrontation management training to people and then bring them back on a regular basis for “re-certification” or “refresher” training.

More times than not, people who completed their initial training, meeting all of the academic and practical standards of the course, return for the refresher having “forgotten” what they’d learned the first time!

The Erosion Effect acknowledges that when you learn something new, it will erode over time unless you WRAP what you learned into your lifestyle to make it a permanent part of who you are.

I use the word “WRAP” as an acronym to assist anyone to permanently implement self-defense into their lifestyle.

W = Workout

In addition to “traditional” workout methods such as running or lifting weights, incorporate a combative component such as hitting a heavy bag or focus pads on a regular basis. This will not only maintain and improve your skills but will provide conditioning more specific to your combative performance.

R = Review

Self-defense situations don’t happen often enough (fortunately) to rely on experience or repetition to reinforce your skills. If you make an effort to review concepts and skills on a regular basis, your retention of that material will get better and better, until it becomes permanent.

A = Apply

If there are things that you can incorporate in your life that make you safer and are practical, then do them. There are many low-hassle, proactive changes you can make to your day-to-day behavior that will automatically make you safer. Eventually they’ll become consistent and habitual.

As I wrote in a post on complacency: “Practice safety habits in the absence of a perceived threat.

P = Practice

Practice is not necessarily the same as working out. If there is something that you want to be good at, you need to practice it. If there are skills you want to be able to recall and perform under the stress, fear and chaos of a critical incident you need to practice them.

Why Learn Something If You Can’t Do It In The Real World?

Principle #3 – The Performance Equation

How well you do in a critical incident will be a direct result of the qualities and attributes you’ve acquired prior to encountering it. I use the following equation to represent those factors:

P = S + A + C + K

Performance = Skill + Attitude + Conditioning + Knowledge

(Note: I organized these factors not in order of importance but into an acronym to make it easier to remember. Pronounced: “P-sack”)

You know these “self-defense gurus” that tell you that they’ve unlocked the secrets of personal combat; that they have a quick and easy system, that anyone can learn, and is guaranteed to work in ANY violent altercation?

Save your money and don’t waste your time. It’s time to call bullshit because they’re lying to you!

When the threshold of violence is crossed, one thing is clear: “A fight is an athletic event.” You’re going to have to hit hard, run fast, push, pull, duck and dodge. It’s gonna take everything you’ve got to regain control, nuetralize the threat and get yourself through it.

How well you perform will be dictated by how much you’ve invested into yourself prior to that encounter.

It baffles me to this day why people beleive the myth that self-defense training defies the principles of human performance. If you want to do well at tennis, hockey, football or even golf… obviously you have to learn about it, practice, get your ass in shape and come to the game with the right mindset.

Why is it then that people bury their head in the sand about a similar process being applicable to self-defense? (Which requires performance far more demanding than ANY sport.)

The reason I consider this principle an “equation,” is that the factors “add up” to influence your performance. If you’re not particularly fit or skillful, you’ve got to be smarter. If you’re strong and fit, you can probably get away with less skill. If you are a smaller, weaker person, you may need to rely more on skill and attitude.

Why Invest Time And Effort In Preparing For Something That May Never Happen?

Principle #4 – It’s Not Self-Defense It’s Self-Defense Training That Is Key.

Bruce Lee, one of the greatest martial artists of all time, was great only partially because of his philosophy and the fighting system he developed. (many “mere mortals” have learned his system). He was great primarily because he trained, trained and trained some more. Training was the key that unlocked his legendary insight and accomplishments. Why would it be different for you?

Stop thinking about self-defense and start thinking of “self-defense training,” as the primary solution to aligning yourself with these principles.

Don’t think of a class, book, DVD or blog post as an end result but think of what you learned as an opportunity to “install a permanent upgrade” to your self-defense knowledge and abilities.

Self-defense training is an ongoing, life-long process of learning and producing short, medium and long-term benefits. It’s about taking charge of your actions, your health and your safety by “WRAP-ing” them into your lifestyle to create something permanent, empowering and beneficial.

Get up every day and train. Do some pushups, throw a kettlebell around, hit a heavy bag, eat clean and curb your bad habits. You don’t need to be “attacked” to benefit from self-defense.

Learn the truth, the dynamics and the realities about personal safety and align your day-to-day behavior with what you know.

Are These Principles Valid? You tell me.

Do you dispute any of the following?

  • Your are more likely to die prematurely, get sick or be traumatized by a lifestyle illness than in a violent encounter. That being said, regardless of how healthy your are, your health can be taken from you by an act of violence.
  • Newly acquired knowledge and skills will erode over time if you don’t actively work to maintain them.
  • People who lack skill and knowledge, who are out of shape, and are fearful or complacent about their health and safety are not going to do well in a violent encounter.
  • People who don’t train on a regular basis, aren’t get good at shit!

Go ahead, call me a liar. Tell me I’m wrong.

Hopefully I didn’t get too philosophical and “out there,” with this post. These four principles form the bedrock of my approach to self-defense training. I hope what I’ve written got you thinking.

If you have opinions, questions or just want to “call bullshit.” 😉 please feel free to comment in the section at the bottom of this post…

In the meant time… take care, train smart and stay safe.