D.U.M.B.S. versus S.M.A.R.T.S. – Erik Kondo

 Which type of self-defense training is best for you?



Type in “self-defense” in an internet search and you will receive a huge amount of hits. You will receive web links to all sorts of self-defense training systems. Upon reviewing these sites, you will notice that most make similar claims to be practical, realistic, and simple to learn and apply.

How do you decide which type of self-defense training or system is best for you?

Self-defense that is taught (as opposed to instinctive) means learning a “system”. The systems vary, but they can be grouped by certain characteristics that they share in common. If you view all the systems as a continuum. On one side is SMARTS and the opposite side is DUMBS. Any particular system will fall somewhere within this continuum.

DUMBS stands for Dehumanize – Universal – Mindless – Body-based- Simplistic
SMARTS stands for Smart – Mindful – Applicable – Reason-based – Tactics – Strategies

Expanding upon these characteristics.

Dehumanize – Most likely the biggest differentiator. Many self-defense systems are predicated on you dehumanizing the other person as the Bad Guy. The Bad Guy is a criminal. He is evil. He has no past. He has no future. He exists to do bad things to good people. He lies. He cheats. He steals. He robs. He rapes. He kills. He does all these things because he is the epitome of evil. His motivation for violence is unknowable. He is a stranger that appears out of the shadows. The only way to deal with such an inhuman monster is to injure or kill him as quick as possible. His death makes the world a better place.

Dehumanizing the “attacker” simplifies the situation to one where there are no consequences, no negative side effects for your defensive actions. The Bag Guy intends to violently attack you. Therefore, your use of violence is required and morally justified. There is no need to consider the legal and ethical ramifications of your actions. He is bad and you’re a good. Case closed.

Universal – The techniques and skills you learn work for everybody on everyone. No matter what your particular size, strength, athletic ability is, you will be able to successful apply the instructed techniques. And these same techniques are universally effective against all Bad Guys regardless of their gender, size, strength, and athletic ability.

The universal concept is also a form of dehumanization. You are not viewed as an individual with behaviors and characteristics that influence your personal safety. You are just another potential victim of a Bad Guy. Everyone is made equally safe by the application of the instructed techniques.

Many times Universal systems can be identified by the uniform appearance and attitude of the practitioners. They all receive the same instruction regardless of their individuality.

Mindless – This concept is an extension of dehumanization. In this case, you are dehumanized as nothing more than a “body” that needs to imprint certain movements in order to defend itself. You don’t need good judgment and critical thinking abilities. There will be no time to think. Remember, the dehumanized stranger will be jumping out of the bushes. You just need to respond automatically with your trained movements. Regardless of your emotional state, your training will kick in and your evil attacker will be defeated. Constant repetition or the use of “stress training” will burn the movements into your nervous system for instant availability when needed.

Body-Based – Mindless systems depend upon mostly body based movements as opposed to learning effective strategies and having both in depth knowledge and good judgment. Self-defense as seen as a collection of physical techniques. Many times these techniques are described as “brutally effective”. They will allow you to stop any attacker in any situation. These techniques and skills are claimed to have been developed scientifically, or during World War II hand-to-hand combat, or by the military’s special operations units, or through thousands of years of refinement, or by some other secret method. These techniques will allow you (Universal) to (Mindlessly) devastate your (Dehumanized) attacker and incapacitate him from his evil plan of rape, mayhem and murder.

Promoters of Body-based systems are mainly focused on their strength, speed, power, skill, brutality and ruthlessness.

Simplistic – The overriding assumption is that the situations in which you will need self-defense are always clear cut. They are no gray areas. No fog of war. No chance of confusion or mis-identification. You will be minding your own business when either threatened or viciously attacked by the dehumanized Bad Guy(s). You will have no participation in creating the violence. You will be easily able to identify the assailant due to his evil appearance, creepiness, and/or threatening actions.

Also assumed is that you will be mentally and physically ready and willing to respond to the threat. Simplistic systems don’t take into consideration such factors as submissive social conditioning, fear of making the situation worse, physiological changes from adrenaline, weakened physical states, disability, distractedness, your relation to the aggressor, your role the interaction, and the legal and ethical consequences of your actions. All these factors are excluded from Simplistic systems.

Simplistic systems are closed to adaption and expansion. They don’t evolve to deal with multiple environments and multifaceted situations.


Make no mistake. There is a place for DUMBS. Evil does exist. There are people who behave like inhuman monsters. But as a statistical matter, most people are unlikely to run into such a person in their life time in civilized societies. And if they do, old style yelling and running away is a viable option.

DUMBS systems rely upon your fear of the stereotypical dehumanized Bad Guy as their marketing ploy. They pander to your fears. They play upon the images planted in your mind through countless news stories of evil perpetrators and innocent victims, of Hollywood villains, and the self-defense product industry such as firearm, pepper spray, and other personal safety product manufacturers and retailers. They use inflated statistics promoted by agenda driven grant seeking anti-rape/anti-violence organizations.

They exploit your fear of crime as decried by hardline politicians and the law enforcement/prison industry.
For some people, the unfortunate side-effect of DUMBS training is increased fear of being victimized by crime. Rather than providing peace of mind. Many DUMBS trainees are left feeling that the world is a hostile and dangerous place as a whole. That people are just attacked without reason. That they need to live in a constant state of vigilance in order to spot the Bad Guy before he launches his attack.

For other people, their belief that brutally effective fighting techniques have been implanted into them provides them with a false sense of security. Their understanding of self-defense and violence is tiny domain, but they extrapolate it to the entire universe. These people are more likely to be victimized in a manner they have never envisioned.


SMARTS personal safety systems on the other hand take the opposite approach.

Smart – This word stands for using your brain foremost. It means using your innate intelligence to make critical decisions that combine good judgment and experience. It means learning about the root causes of violence as opposed to accepting “sound bites” and common knowledge. It means studying criminal behavior and human behavior.

Smarts is about your ability to process information in a useful manner. It is about using your mind before your apply your body to solve problems and resolve potentially violent situations. It is about recognizing tells, signs, indicators, and pre-cursors to violence in order to preempt it.

Unlike those systems that dehumanize aggressors, it is your understanding of people and your ability to evaluate their potential behaviors and actions that is the key to your safety.

Mindful – Being mindful means that you are aware of both yourself and your environment. Mindful is not a state of hyper-alertness or anxiety. It doesn’t mean you look under your car for a rapist before unlocking the car door. It means that you are aware of what is happening around you. You use all your senses (including your sixth sense) to process input from the world.
You are knowledgeable of your own conscious and unconscious attitudes and behaviors. You are cognizant of how your behavior has an effect on those around you. You are in tune with yourself and others, and as a result you are less likely to be caught by surprise by their actions. You are able to differentiate between those that are trustworthy and those that should be regarded with suspicion.

Applicable – What you learn must be applicable to you. That means that you are seen as an individual with specific strengths and weaknesses that must be taken into consideration. It is not a question of what works best for most people. But what works best for you in whatever situation you would most likely find yourself in.

Whatever you learn must be applicable to your actual life. You must be able to see the connection between the knowledge and skills you learn and your life. If the focus is on “unthinkable” events, then you will not think about them. As a result, those skills will vanish as quickly as they arrived.

Personal safety is a constant process not a singular event. Your body is constantly fighting off infection and invasive threats from bacteria and viruses. It is an ongoing process. But there are certain times, such as visiting a hospital or upon receiving a cut, that you give this process extra attention and take additional precautionary measures.

If you can’t apply and relate what you are learning to your own life, you will not really learn it.

Realism – Realism is not reality T.V. Realism focuses on what actually is the case as opposed to what people believe or want to be true. Most people do things for a reason. The idea of acts of violence are random and senseless denies this truth. Unlike popular misconception, most violence does not result from the stranger that emerges from the bushes. Most violence occurs between people who have some type of social based relationship. The violence emerges from this interaction. Studying Violence Dynamics and criminal behavior takes these factors into consideration.

Predatory violence is also reason driven. The predator has his reason for assaulting his victim. It could be to gain or protect a resource. It could be for the enjoyment of the assault itself.
Understanding the reason or rational that someone would want to use violence against you provides the key to predicting behaviors and creating a response that has a higher likelihood of being an effective deterrent or that may make him or her stop his actions.

Realism also takes into consideration a person’s true strengths and weaknesses. Realism allows a person to make accurate assessments based on his or her true capabilities as opposed to false confidence in one’s ability to handle dangerous situations.

Tactics – Unlike simple techniques, tactics are more complex. A technique is a series or sequence of steps that you execute. A tactic on the other hand is an executable methodology designed to achieve a certain task or objective. Tactics can be thought of as strategic techniques. Effective tactics utilize concepts and principles to accomplish their goal.

A particular type of strike is a technique. Using a strike as a means to stun someone is a tactic. Using tactics provides greater variety in how the task is achieved. Techniques are focused more on the execution of action itself rather than the result.

Strategy – A strategy can be a combination of techniques and tactics used to complete a planned goal. Strategies begin with a plan and end with the execution of that plan. A strategy takes into consideration multiple factors and variables in order to obtain the goal. There are natural strategies such as running away, or trained strategies as certain fighting methods and/ or postures. A complex strategy takes into consideration the failure of certain elements of the strategy and has a built in backup plan.

Strategies can be simple and not be simplistic. They can be complex without being complicated. Strategies use tactics to achieve their goals. For example, attacking the attacker is a strategy designed to put the attacker on the defensive. Using a flurry of strikes is a tactic that executes that strategy. An open handed strike is a technique than may or may not be part of the flurry tactic.


SMARTS personal safety training can be just as brutally effective as DUMBS claim to be. SMARTS recognizes that some attackers will dehumanize you and you may need to dehumanize them in response. SMARTS can also utilize instantaneous reactions and trained responses without conscious thought. But SMARTS takes into consideration that most of self-defense does require conscious thought. There is more thinking than not thinking.

SMARTS can also use simple movement. SMARTS training encompasses a much wider variety of environments and situations than DUMBS systems. As such, the motto of SMARTS training is that “Violence is complicated”. And because violence is complicated, resolving violence takes more than just learning a DUMBS system.

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