The Progression – Rory Miller

 Recently contacted by an acquaintance about how to attract and retain women to a self-defense studio. His assertion was that the women who left wanted it to be fun, but self-defense was a grim subject, inherently un-fun.

Maybe. But humans are mammals, and all mammals learn best through play. And the math of self-defense training is bad. Spending 1000 hours with multiple minor injuries in a self-defense class  to save a night in a hospital is bad math, as is spending $1200 a year on the off chance you can save the $100 in your wallet from a mugger. Training out of fear is always stupid. That might be a blog post later. If you are going to train, train because you love the training.

Setting that aside. For deep self-defense training, there is a progression. First, you must make an emotionally safe place to practice physically dangerous things. And then you must make a physically safe place to do emotionally dangerous things.

When a student comes to you for true self-defense, there may be a history of victimization or abuse. There may be an expectation that the person is easy to victimize because they are physically weak or socially awkward. I’m not talking about the martial athlete dabbling in self-defense or “reality based” training. I’m talking about the people who fit victim profiles. The people who actually need this stuff. The population for whom these skills are not a hobby, but a matter of survival.

In the first stage you must make an emotionally safe place to practice physically dangerous skills. What does that mean? That the student will never be ridiculed or belittled or, most importantly, exploited. You will tell them to get better instead of haranguing them for their failures. They will be bruised and sweaty and bleed, but they will never be embarrassed. Losing is learning, it is not humiliation. (Unless the winner and the teacher are dicks.) And exploiting– your students are not in your dating pool. No exceptions.

You stay at this stage until the students are formidable. What does formidable mean? It means that they can hurt you. On the level of physical skills, you should be able to win (you are the instructor, after all) but not easily, not without risking serious injury. More importantly, formidability is an emotional understanding. When your students know that they, absolutely, have the physical skills to destroy another human.

This is a qualitative change. In a very real sense the student you have brought to this stage is not the same person who started studying with you.

If the student is ready, and agrees, the next phase is to create a physically safe place to do emotionally dangerous things. You will push buttons. You will re-create personal incidents of victimization. You will summon adrenaline and fear and shame and angst. And you will make it as safe as possible for you, because this is no longer a victim, but a person of formidable skill. And they will learn how many of their inhibitions are imaginary, and how to function under adrenaline, and how to fight someone who knows how to control their emotional state.

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