Simulated Assault: My Life as a Self-Defense Instructor

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About Meron Langsner, Ph D

MERON LANGSNER, PhD, is a playwright, scholar, educator, and professional theatrical fight director.  He has been published by McSweeney’s, Smith & Kraus, Applause Theatre Books, The Journal of Asian Martial Arts, McFarland, and numerous other imprints.  He was one of three writers in the country to be selected for the pilot year of the National New Play Network Emerging Playwright Residencies, and his work has been performed around the country and overseas.  He has composed violence for over 150 theatrical productions and films in both professional and educational venues.  Meron holds a black belt in Matsubayashi-Ryu Karate, masters degrees from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and Brandeis University, and a doctorate in Theatre History from Tufts University.  He was a part-time instructor with IMPACT Boston throughout most of his doctoral work.  Visit him on the web at


  1. John Anderson says:

    My high school held a rape self-defense class in the school lounge for the female students. Being a martial artist and somewhat of an ass, I was foolishly vocal about my disdain for the techniques being taught. Sa Bam Nim found out and I found myself volunteered as the “tackling dummy” of a self-defense class. It was a whole lot different than what you describe. I don’t know if it was an old philosophy or if it was a beginner class. It might be because these girls were not assumed to have been previously assaulted.

    I always wondered why they taught girls to flip someone and then run. First, they couldn’t take me over unless I let them, which I did because I was already in enough trouble. I got suspended from the dojang for using a potentially lethal strike in a fight. I had to do knuckle push ups when I got back for doing the technique wrong. It was really confusing for a teenager. Second, I always wondered why they didn’t tell the girls to follow up. I’d rather she debilitated her opponent before trying to get away. Crush his trachea or snap his knee. I admit I almost got my nose broken. I was told to grab a woman from behind and she whipped her head violently back. No one told me I was supposed to get hit either so I instinctively released the hold and ducked my head out of the way. I guess the purpose was to get the attacker to release the hold so I suppose it worked sort of, but I always wondered how that would help them from what is now a very PO’ed attacker wanting to chase them down.

    I was never a fan of the seminar style of self-defense. I always preferred a system so would always advise taking up a martial art, but it makes more sense if these women were previously assaulted. It must feel rewarding to help someone out, but I don’t think I would have the heart to make a woman cry who I didn’t believe really deserved it. Grabbing a woman to assist in a lesson is one thing. Calling her names and saying other inappropriate things is something entirely different. To get into the dojang we had to promise to respect our classmates, respect women and defend women and the weak. That would just feel disrespectful.

    Something you might consider. In the fight I had where I used that potentially lethal attack, he was 6’ 3” (yes, I asked just before kicking him in the face) and outweighed me by about 100 pounds. I didn’t really hurt him with kicks and felt he’d catch me sooner or later so I made the decision that I’d have to strike above his shoulders or snap a knee. I decided to either strike his groin to stun him so I could get close or go after his knee. I decided to do a front snap kick to his groin. He caught my foot with both hands and made the mistake of holding it. I hopped in on my free leg, wrapped my arm around his neck so he couldn’t pull me over, formed my hand into a paw and struck him in the throat. Then I fired repeated elbows / forearms into his temple. That ended the fight.

    When you’re 16 or 17, it’s hard to take a man’s life so I held up on the strike to the throat and if you’re not willing to do it, don’t use the maneuver. Do you stay away from those techniques because you don’t feel that you’re students would use them or is that a philosophical decision? Anyway, thanks for the perspective.

    • shame the author never came back, your question was interesting

    • The physical techniques we teach are based both on what the student can be expected to perform under the effects of an intense flood of adrenaline and what the armor can protect against. Our targets are the eyes, groin, and head, in part because those targets effective on anyone regardless of size, and in part because the armor can protect instructors against full power blows to those areas and still allow the instructors a pretty wide range of mobility (we use the Bulletman suit).

      Alongside the physical techniques we also do a lot of work on verbal deescalation and environment awareness, as well as the very basics of self-defense law.

      For some more in-depth reading on similar subjects, I highly recommend the work of both Rory Miller and Marc MacYoung if you aren’t already familiar with them. Especially Rory Miller’s book, Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence. I personally feel that that book should be required reading for all serious martial artists.

  2. Hank Vandeburgh says:

    I did years of aikido, and a few more years of karate when I discovered I wasn’t able to be thrown and get up over and over again for an hour or more.

    I ran a self-defense class at UConn a couple of times, though, and decided not to teach any non-Western martial arts in them. We had some punches, some low kicks, some escapes, some grappling escapes. That’s about it. If I were in an actual fight, I’d probably use boxing strikes along with very simple aikido. Karate enables you to hit a lot harder, but stylized karate punches don’t work well for middlin’-high belts like me in real situations. Combat aikido often requires a softening up strike to set up a throw, at least for someone at my middlin’-high level. Ueshiba Sensei, the founder, could just dodge people and make them fall all over, but he was super-skilled.

  3. I have been doing Uechi Ryu Karate for a few years now….I hated sparring, especially against my partners who tended to be 6′ tall and over…I had to go up against a tall gangly 16 yo HS student while one of the spectators was a 9 yo girl, who was cheering me on….just hearing her root for me spurred me on to get over my fear….my karate instructor and my opponent were both surprised when I forced myself to turn it on and I beat him backwards….

    My only real life situation was unfortunately against someone I never expected to attack me…weird how I found myself kicking and screaming against someone who said he had loved me….I still find it bizarre that the people who attack you are the ones closest to you, the ones you think you should be able to trust….it is hardest to throw off that relationship straightjacket, the one that hampers you from fighting back….


  1. [...] “Our methodology is heavily invested in scenario-based adrenal stress operant conditioning. Which in layman’s terms means that we replicate real attacks as closely as is safely possible, and that our students practice their skills in something approximating the state they would be in should they need to apply our training. This includes verbal elements in the scenarios. And striking full power while being flooded with adrenaline. And also means that I wear maybe fifty pounds of specially designed armor that allows me to safely take those full power blows.” Simulated Assault: My Life as a Self-Defense Instructor – The Good Men Project [...]

  2. [...] of role playing that used to be called “Model Mugging,” and is now called IMPACT training. In an article published on this site this week, a martial artist and self-defense instructor describes his role in one of these classes. [...]

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