A brave article, thanks for writing. I’ve spent 45+ years in combatives and I see the same problem over and over again. Firstly comes the issue of training — it’s never realistic and the techniques are bogus (I speak as someone who did the conventional thing and got black-belts in various martial arts and who knows from experience 95% of the stuff you’re taught is utterly useless) and the training methods are guaranteed to leave you powerless because they instill precisely all the wrong mental attitudes.

Secondly comes the fact that the training is, despite the hype, almost entirely technique-oriented. You train in a gym or dojo, dressed in fancy pyjamas, facing opponents who play by fixed rules. None of this prepares you in any way for a real-life encounter.

Thirdly, even with good training in a realistic manner around 85% of people freeze during a real-world violent encounter. Training typically fails to address this entirely, even though it’s the most common reaction.

In other words, you were set up to fail. All the instruction you received, all the hard hours you put in, were essentially worthless — in fact worse than worthless because they led you to believe a myth: that you knew how to defend yourself and therefore you should have been able to do so when the terrible moments occurred. None of this was your fault in any way.

I’ve taught some self-defense classes to women in the past. Most hate my classes because they hurt, they don’t pretend that bogus techniques will save your life or “even the odds.” They stress the unpredictability of violence, its psychological impact, the probability of freezing instead of acting with resolve. They discourage the use of self-limiting fashion items like high heels, tight skirts, restrictive blouses, long hair. They stress the fact that unlike in movies and TV there are no guaranteed outcomes merely because you’re the “good guy” in the scenario. There’s no director. The assailant has the advantage in every possible way. Most people don’t want this kind of realism. But without it, we’re just feeding fantasies and those will hurt in so many ways — not least, as your brave article shows, psychologically. You think you should have fought back. But you actually didn’t know how, at all.

The only good news in this whole sorry situation is that today, for pretty much the first time that I know of, it is possible to get more realistic and effective training, at least in Europe. Krav Maga Global is the go-to organization. Sure, every dojo and late-night-burger joint is now claiming to teach Krav Maga, but the KMG folk are the real deal. They focus on things your body can do when you’re frozen with indecision and fear (the attacker knows what’s happening; your brain is trying to work out whether it’s an assault, a misunderstanding, how much or little you ought to react, etc.). They focus on techniques that will work, not bogus nonsense like groin attacks or putting your heel onto someone’s instep. And KM training hurts, a lot. Which prepares you to be able to take the first few blows, use them as your “activation switch,” and then retaliate with full commitment and full force.

Even then, you may get slammed. There may be multiple attackers, weapons, they may be much larger than you, they may be so drugged up they can’t even feel it when you break their arms (I know from personal experience). There are no guarantees. There’s no shame in being unable to be the TV/movie hero because real life isn’t a script, there’s no stunt coordinator, no director to shout “cut” so you can re-do the take. You were on the receiving end of violence that should never have happened to you. It is in no way your fault that you were overwhelmed. Be kind to yourself. You’re clearly a person with courage and determination. That is quite amazing. Be proud.

Oh, and I have no affiliation to KMG at all, but I am pleased that my son is studying with them and getting ready to take his P5. If KMG had been available when I was younger I’d have saved decades of wasted time and frustration. And I might just have managed to avoid being stabbed a long time ago.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

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