Across almost all economic sectors, you’ll encounter industry-specific misinformation, ranging from misunderstanding to outright misrepresentation. The self-defence industry is not exempt, and is perhaps more susceptible to distortion than others. It tends to be emotionally laden, addressing high-stakes scenarios of life-saving and the protection of vulnerable sectors, and this, combined with a lack of standardization and regulation, leads to the potential for a great deal of consumer confusion.
Let’s take a look into some of the issues that pertain to the self-defence industry and consider ways to avoid common pitfalls.
Lack of Regulation
Many disciplines that directly impact a client’s health are regulated municipally, provincially, or federally. Obvious examples include branches of the health-care system, involving allopathic and naturopathic doctors, dentists, chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists, etc. Professionals in these fields are required to obtain a standard education, pursue continuing education, and adhere to a set of basic principles. Licensing demands the successful completion of exams, and there are avenues for clients to lodge complaints in cases of alleged misconduct.
Conversely, unregulated professions – those that are not overseen by an “umbrella” body, do not provide the same assurances of standardization. While practitioners may still be required to obtain a specialized education, the curricula and exams (if any) are not overseen by a governmental body. The conditions under which services are provided are similarly not overseen. There is, accordingly, more opportunity for variation from one service-provider to another in terms of education, knowledge, professional standards, and currency of certification.
For a consumer, the difference between regulated and unregulated industries can be difficult to navigate. Designations that one would reasonably assume should be regulated are sometimes not. Take, for example, the dietitian/nutritionist distinction. In Ontario, only the former is regulated. If you visit a dietitian, the advice that you will receive is based on an agreed-upon set of principles that the professional will have learned through standardized education. You have reason to believe that if you seek a second opinion from another dietitian, the advice will be similar, based on the same foundations. The “nutritionist” designation, on the other hand, is not regulated in Ontario, meaning that the term is not protected by a governmental body. Various different schools exist that offer “nutritionist” certifications, and their curricula can vary widely in quality and length. You cannot assume that two nutritionists, especially from different schools, will have the same education or provide the same calibre of advice.
What this means is that the consumer must, when dealing with an unregulated profession, do his/her own homework. The phrase “buyer beware” applies here. While you can hope that general legal protections apply and that most service providers are upstanding, there can be huge variation in quality between them. It is up to you to research important criteria.
With specific regard to the self-defence industry, which is unregulated, there are several important criteria to investigate. You have the right (and it is, as above, your responsibility) to ask questions of any provider with whom you’re interested in training. Some of the points to consider:
1 – How long has your instructor been involved in the discipline, both as a student him/herself and as an instructor?
2 – Under whom did your instructor train? Who were his/her teachers? What is their background?
3 – What sort of certification course did your instructor take? How long was it, where, and with which organization?
4 – What sort of continuing education does your instructor do, where, and with whom?
5 – Does your instructor work with different populations?
6 – Does your instructor and/or his/her school have testimonials from existing students?
Specifically with regard to certifying organizations themselves, you have a right to know how long that organization has been in existence and who founded it. One of the drawbacks of unregulated industries is that schools and federations can pop up at any time, independently, without the benefit of recognized accreditation, history, or attestation. In other words, anyone can hang his/her sign as an unregulated professional or establish a certifying body. Knowing something of the history can help you to avoid working with someone who may not be as skilled as you’d hope a teacher/practitioner/service provider would be.
It’s also useful, in the self-defence industry, to understand student progression. Is there a set amount of time between tests? Is it mandatory for students to attend a certain number of classes before testing? Are level curricula written down, and can a student access those materials? You want to be sure that you’re not “paying for belts.”
As mentioned, the self-defence industry is an emotional one. A parent looking for a program for his/her bullied child is already under stress, a veteran with PTSD is dealing with enormous emotional load, a victim of abuse arrives to class with specific worries. Self-defence is rarely taken up as a simple hobby in the way that competitive sports often are. The desire to feel safe is intrinsic to us as human beings, and we go to great lengths to fulfill it. At times, we leap impulsively at promises of safety, which can itself make us vulnerable. As an organization involved in Krav Maga, we find these promises very disturbing because they are largely false, and worse, they are easy to credit unless a consumer has some training background.
There is an enormous market for safety devices, for example. Ranging from motion-sensitive cameras to deterrent sprays, from credit-card knives to whistles, we accept manufacturers’ reassurances that these items will keep us safe. Some devices work on the premise that if enough noise is made, helpful bystanders will be alerted, and an attack will be prevented. Sadly, this fails to take into consideration bystander apathy. Consumers are lulled into a sense of false security, believing that if they use their devices – whistles, sirens, horns, etc., fellow citizens who hear the call will rush to assist. This sense of comfort is unfounded, and prevents men and women from pursuing more robust (and reliable) methods of self-defence.
Secondly, as our students know from realistic in-studio training, it is not always possible to reach a device when you’re threatened, even if it is securely on your person. You may believe very strongly that you’ll always be able, for example, to reach into your pocket or purse, but this is pure fantasy. If you’ve ever been surprised by an acquaintance greeting you unexpectedly, you’ll know that even friendly overtures can be sudden and surprising, and leave you momentarily frozen. In the case of an attack like a bearhug, for example, if you don’t know how to use your limbs and trunk to loosen and escape the grab, you will absolutely not have the time or skills to reach/use a device. For this reason, “safety” tools like beacons have limited applicability in real life. Device-failure, reliance on batteries or power, and the possibility of loss are also considerations.
Even advanced technology has begun to make promises of safety. “Hidden” distress features on smartphones, apps that can be opened and “pointed at” an attacker such that a warning can be sternly issued while a picture is taken, and GPS tracking assure users that they will be able to call for help, deter assailants, and document incidences. All of this again assumes that the device will be accessible during a violent encounter. It assumes that a potential victim will have the luxury of time and space to activate key features. It assumes that any of the above will make a difference to someone who has already made a decision to harm. If principles of decency and an awareness of prison are not enough to deter a rapist, for instance, pointing a smartphone at him/her with a recorded message (in however authoritative a voice) is going to accomplish tragically little. Again, these devices and programs make promises of safety that are simply unrealistic.
Some of these messages are not just misleading, but actively harmful. The advice to hold keys between fingers, Wolverine-style, can cause significant and lasting damage to the victim in and of itself. Unfortunately, this advice is widely disseminated, and without at least basic exposure to legitimate self-defence training, a person is likely to follow it.
The take-away message is this: do your homework.
Questions to Ask
Find a school and/or instructor who has long-term involvement as both a student and as an instructor of the discipline.
Research the purpose of your discipline, as it’s taught today. While some traditional arts may have been designed for self-defence a thousand years ago, unless they have evolved to counter modern threats (i.e. guns, sharps such as syringes, and vehicles), they are no longer as applicable in street-based violence. If you’re looking for a competitive art, keep in mind that refereed environments are not the same as real life. On the street, there will be no timer, no ring, and no judges to evaluate a “tap out.”
Look into the history of any organization with which a school or instructor is involved.
Consider instructors’ continuing education.
Evaluate the atmosphere of a club that you join. Ego should not be present in a facility dedicated to real learning, no matter how “kick-ass” the system may seem.
And beware of gadgets, gimmicks, and devices that claim to work self-defensively. As above, a device is not self-defence, and the only reliable tool that you have to use in case of a violent encounter is you. Both physically and mentally, there are no short-cuts to training in a legitimate discipline, such as Krav Maga.
Yours in health and safety,
The Academy Team