Sharif Joynson discovered his clients were looking for more than physical self-defense training.
One of the most common fears men have is that they are weak. Not physically; men know if they are weak in this area. The kind of weakness men fear they have—but are very rarely able to straight-up admit they have – is an internal weakness in their character that ultimately makes them weak as men.
And more often than not, they’d do well to pay attention to that fear.
Because it’s probably accurate.
I’ve been training people in unarmed combat (also referred to as self-defense or combatives) for almost ten years now. Most of these people have been men.
Within a couple of years of becoming an instructor, I started to see two interesting patterns, which have now been confirmed for me over and over again and are what prompted me to start coaching many of these men in a different way.
The first pattern was in WHO was coming to me for training.
What I teach is essentially a hard-core ‘street fighting’ system and I initially marketed it as such; the website and flyers were all a little bit in-your-face and macho. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that the business would attract mostly young guys with more testosterone than they knew what to do with. That’s who I was expecting.
To my surprise, the classes attracted a huge mix of people. But so many of the private training clients seemed to have a similar feel about them. I’ve learned that the people who seek me out the most are civilian men in their late-20’s to mid-50’s who are either in a committed marriage/relationship or are looking to be. Essentially, men who are definitely not out on the town every weekend (and therefore likely to encounter bar brawls) but are instead in the ‘settled down’ phase of their lives.
The second pattern I saw was in WHY these men were coming to me for training. Or at least, what I believed to be the more deeply rooted reasons.
When asking these men why they were interested in the training, they would inevitably say that they wanted to try a different system (if they’d had previous martial arts experience) or that they felt like they needed to know how to protect themselves or their family.
And these reasons were true, I’m sure.
But over the course of my training them, I would come to know them better. They would open up to me and I would learn more about their lives and their pasts. And the feeling I almost always got was that they were really coming to me because they felt lacking not in their ability to punch and kick, but lacking something inside themselves as men.
And that something I’ve come to believe is more often than not boundaries.
Self-defense is all about very obvious boundaries;
“You may not punch me in the face”
“I will not let you stab me”
“You cannot enter my personal space”
And, believe it or not, these are psychologically the easiest boundaries to assert. Because they often concern life and death, our inner caveman takes over and essentially asserts them for us. It’s the less overtly threatening situations, however, that are the most difficult to deal with.
The Hardest Fight
When that guy at work who isn’t really senior to you insists on giving you tasks to carry out, or your wife is ‘jokingly’ putting you down in public, or that friend has crossed a line leaving you feeling uncomfortable… these are the most difficult scenarios in which to set a boundary.
To make it known that you are unhappy with the behaviour of someone you love or at least have to get along with in the long-term is scary. We risk having love taken away from us; which is one of – if not the – fundamental human fear.
Almost everybody struggles with this, except for those amongst us who put too much into their boundary-setting. This is equally as stressful, however, as these people live much of their life in a constant state of readiness for defending themselves.
And it’s in a similar state that I have found many of my students; men who are overcompensating for their lack of boundary-making capability by becoming highly skilled at the apparently ‘ultimate’ boundary; the protection of life and limb. So we end up with a highly trained individual who can disarm guns at close range and maybe even use close quarter weapons himself, and yet when he goes home he can’t stand up to his wife or kids. In his day job, he’s a pushover for some.
And this doesn’t apply only to men who pursue the combative arts. It’s also those who already have power and authority in one area of their life (work, usually) but feel powerless in all other aspects such as with family or even friends. You wouldn’t believe how many men are still afraid of their mothers. And they are right to feel powerless, because for as long as they are unable to assert healthy boundaries, they are. They are giving away a huge chunk of personal power.
I know this not just because I have coached these men to start attaining this power but because I was one of them; a highly trained martial artist and former soldier who let people take advantage. There has been MANY a time where I came away from an interaction not feeling good about how I handled it. And in all honesty, it’s an area I still need to stay on top of. I’m no black belt yet.
Basic Training for Emotional Defense
If you’d like to join me on this journey of self-training in the art of boundary-setting, then follow these basic but powerful steps.
Identify Your Boundaries
Learning what your boundaries are is a simple enough process; reflect on those times when you have felt deeply uncomfortable with an interaction or situation involving another person. What situations have left you feeling victimized or wronged, but in such a way that you felt like objecting felt wrong or inappropriate in the moment?
See Boundaries from the Self-View
It’s important to understand that the problem does not really lie with other people. The issue is that YOU are unable to defend your Self. Know that the most important boundaries you must set are with yourself. This is about personal development not making other people wrong.
Make Lists and Then Affirm Them
List out specific boundaries for you using the phrase, “I will not allow myself to…”
Note how if you follow with the word “be” it moves the focus towards other people, and that’s OK. You can do that. But see what boundaries can be set just for you. For example, “I will not allow myself to… waste my time and energy”
Once your lists are compiled, repeat them to yourself daily as affirmations.
When setting boundaries, start small. When trying to get good any anything, the process should always start small and light with a gradual increase. Tip for asserting a boundary with somebody: say as little as possible. Make it known what you are unhappy with or unprepared to do, then leave it at that. Avoid the mistake of over-explaining which serves to weaken you.
So having identified your boundaries, be sure to not only affirm them by making them daily mantras, but by living by them. Don’t expect to be perfect at doing this right away; slowly build up the necessary psychological muscles and see over time how you strengthen yourself from the inside.