10 Requirements for Teaching a Self-defense “Move” – Erik Kondo


“I want to learn some self-defense moves!”  What self-defense instructor has not heard that request?

When an instructor teaches a student a physical self-defense “Move” (or technique), he or she is engaging in problem solving. The instructor is providing the student with a theoretical solution to a future problem. This situation is analogous to a patient who sees a doctor for a health problem and is looking for a treatment that will cure his or her ailment.

Assuming a competent doctor, the doctor’s treatment is the result of meeting a list of criteria that takes into consideration the patient’s health problem and the patient’s current physical state and circumstances. In the same way that a doctor selects a treatment among a pool of treatments, a self-defense instructor, selects a Move among many alternate moves that should have a high probability of working for the Student in a given future situation.

How does the self-defense instructor decide which Move to teach? Presumably, it is based on some sort of his or her own personal criteria. There is no official standard for what Move should be taught to whom. Therefore, to many students’ detriment, the Moves and the corresponding results vary greatly.

What follows are the ten basic requirements that I think need to be fulfilled for a Move to be taught. There can be more added to this list. The practical difficultly in meeting requirements of this list is why I think that teaching physical self-defense Moves is usually less effective as compared to teaching a more comprehensive prevention based methodology.

 1. Is the Move significantly better than an instinctive response?

A trained self-defense Move is a replacement for an instinctive action. Therefore, whatever Move is taught, it needs to be reliably more effective than the student’s untrained response. Unless the Move taught has a much higher probability of success, the student will be better off not to be taught the Move in the first place.

2. Is the Move appropriate for the situation?

The Move needs to be appropriate enforcement for the situation. The Move can neither be Under-enforcement nor Over-enforcement. If it is Under-enforcement, it will likely create contempt in the opponent. It is Over-enforcement, it will likely create a backlash from the opponent, others, and/or society (see #3 below). A Move that consists of the appropriate level of enforcement is more likely to create the desired result.

3. Does the Move meet the standard for legal self-defense?

The Move needs to be a proportional response that meets the criteria of legal self-defense. The Move must be justifiable in a court of law. The student also needs to be able to articulate why he or she did this Move as opposed to some other response.

4. Does the Move meet the criteria of attempting to create the results of the Rory Miller’s Golden Move?

  • Damage the attacker.
  • Minimize the student from taking damage.
  • Put the attacker in a worse position.
  • Put the student in a better position.

5. Is the Move consistent with the student’s goal of creating one of the following results given the student’s risk/occupation profile?

  • Escape for your student.
  • Control of the attacker by your student.
  • Disabling the attacker by your student.

In other words, a student who is most likely will want to escape from an attacker doesn’t need to learn control Moves and so forth.

6. Is the student capable of executing the Move in an actual conflict?

The student being taught the Move should have the pre-existing physical and psychological attributes to be able to execute the Move in the stressful situation envisioned. Teaching a squeamish high school girl (or anyone else) to gouge out someone’s eye or bite off a finger is useless if she is not willing to do it.

7. Does the student have the prior training and experience to be able to execute the Move under stress?

Some physical movements require having a baseline of certain skill or ability to execute them. The student needs to have this baseline to make the Move work as desired. For example, a student who lacks basic balance and stability skill is unlikely to be able to pull off a multiple step Takedown.

8. Is the student able to train this Move to become proficient?

The student will need the means and opportunity to practice the Move to become skilled at it. Will he or she be able to practice the Move regularly? If not, then regardless of effective this Move may be, it is not suitable for this person.

9. Will the Move NOT put the student in a worse position if the Move fails to work as intended?

No Move is guaranteed to work. Therefore, the student needs to be able to deal with what happens if the Move doesn’t work as intended. Does this Move lend itself to transitioning to another Move, or is it an all or nothing Move? Will this Move put the student at-risk as opposed to a different type of Move?

10. Is the Move consistent with increasing the student’s understanding of the context of his or her actual risk profile?

People have vastly different risk profiles depending upon their personalities, demographics, locations, activities and occupations. They are attacked in different ways. In other words, does the Move cause the student to believe that attacks happen in a manner that is unlikely to occur to him or her? Is the Move likely to cause the student to misunderstand his or her risk profile? Or will learning the Move continue the student along the path to greater understanding?


Finally, it is important to keep in mind, utilization of a self-defense Move means that the student has been attacked. Regardless of how the attack turns out, the student will have experienced a traumatic physical assault with potential psychological and physical consequences. Self-defense Moves do not prevent attacks in the first place. That is another reason to focus on prevention first and Moves second.

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