Trying to answer an e-mail and it needs a little thinking out loud.
It wasn’t a big thing, there was a single sentence about validity, but the concept of validity in self-defense instruction is a big one. Rocky.
I’ve seen a lot of things work and a lot of things fail. And thought — a lot– about why things succeed or fail. And those whys became my personal list of principles, and those principles became the framework for my teaching. And that was tested in the field. A lot. And… does that make what I do valid?
What does valid even mean?
Here’s the deal. A few people have seen the elephant. But on one, no one, has seen the whole elephant. Soldier experience isn’t cop experience. Cop experience isn’t corrections experience. Corrections experience isn’t bouncer experience. Bouncer experience isn’t secure mental health custodial experience. And none of that is direct experience with domestic violence. None of that, hopefully, is experience with being targeted as a victim.
As a man, when I teach SD to women, there is an entire part of the equation (what it’s like to be a woman) that I can never understand. But, you know what? I also can’t truly understand what it’s like to be a bigger, stronger man than I am. Or what it’s like to have 30 years of kempo experience instead of jujutsu. I know enough about violent criminals to predict their behavior and pick apart their rationalizations in an interrogation, but I’ve never been one.
All any of us has is a piece of this. There are no experts. So is there validity? Sort of.
Validity is a function of logic, of syllogism, specifically. (And I’m a little out of my depth in the nuances of philosophy 101, but bear with me a bit). If A is B and B is C then A is C. If there are no holes in the logic chain, then it is valid. A is C. Is it true? Seriously, do you even have to ask? If A was C, then cat would be cct. All of the pieces have to be true for validity to resemble truth. As well as all of the assumptions, like what ‘is’ means.
In self-defense, one of the dangers is that people confuse validity for truth, and they often teach that things that should work do work, or that things that worked on sober, eager students in a class will work on drugged and enraged people in other places. People frequently rate logic or received wisdom over experience.
“As we all know, self-defense is exactly like math. If you do the same thing, you will get the same effect every time.“– A self-defense instructor who will remain nameless. Not a single person with any experience whatsoever and a marginally functioning brain believes this. Not one. Probabilities go up with higher levels of force, e.g. I have never heard of a .50 to the head failing…but a .45 to the head has.
This validity, this search for truth is, in my opinion, a side effect of the subject matter. We recognize that if we or our students are ever called on to use these skills it will be for high stakes. Any failures will be catastrophic. The combination of high stakes and limited experience (remember that three hundred encounters is probably less than five hours of experience) drives people to seek certainty elsewhere: Received wisdom from a ‘master.’ Thought experiments. Dojo experiments. Chains of logic where every step is a guess or an assumption.
You would be so much stronger as a fighter or a teacher if you could just get over the need to be sure. There is no right. As Tia said recently, there’s just solutions with less suck than other solutions. That lets the goal change from being right to being better. The problem with thinking you’re right is that you can’t improve on ‘right.’ Accepting that there are no perfect answers, that tiny touch of humility, gives you the superpower of continuous improvement. You can never be perfect. You can never be right. Feeling sure is a dead giveaway that you don’t actually know. But you can be better. Every day.
And validity is a slightly separate issue from validation, but that’s a post for another day.