There are some obvious benefits of taking up self-defense lessons; such as being able to defend yourself for a start! And of course, there is the self-confidence that comes with that. But I’ve also seen deeper positive changes take place in people, in both myself and others, as a result of good training. And by ‘good’ what I mean is training that isn’t necessarily about a martial tradition but is realistic, effective and has a strong focus on psychological preparedness.
When one has been the victim of violence, the experience can be so overwhelming that the mind is unable to fully process it in the moment. The experience can then go on to haunt that person in a number of ways. This is trauma.
Progressive training, at a pace that works well for the student, can have an effect not unlike ‘exposure therapy’ (a healing modality used to treat PTSD and Anxiety Disorder). By letting the student re-experience the thing that caused the trauma – albeit in progressively manageable doses — the nervous system can actually re-wire itself.
Undo Social Conditioning
From childhood, the vast majority of us have been told in no uncertain terms that violence is bad and that we shouldn’t do it. At home and in school we are punished for acting violently. Our religions have it in writing from The Man himself that it’s a sin. Our country’s laws make it punishable by imprisonment. And, yes, this is good; these are precisely the structures that need to be in place in order to create a civilized society. ‘Civilization’ isn’t just the thing that we are part of, it’s a process of ‘civiliz-ing’ people.
The downside is that this can and usually does create a strong sense of shame in us for qualities that actually come quite naturally to us, especially as boys. Good training can help us move past this shame and give a deeper sense of ‘permission’ to do whatever is right in the moment without us feeling wrong for it.
Stop Being a Nice Guy and Start Being a Good Man
People Pleaser Syndrome is a common problem in both men and women. We have all done it in some way at some point, but for some of us it is chronic. It is an anxiety-based dysfunction that makes one overly concerned with keeping everyone happy, not rocking the boat, and needing to be seen as good, likable and therefore acceptable. It is rooted in a deep sense of not being worthy.
How does self-defense training help with this? Well, to put it bluntly, when you know you can beat someone up, upsetting them can become less scary. Now, it’s not quite as simple as that, and the truth is this change only takes place when one has trained to a degree that their fear of hurting someone is equal or greater in frequency and intensity than their fear of being hurt/ victimized. With training, this might not take as long as you think with a good instructor.
When you know how powerful you truly are, you can choose to do the right thing and be a good person not out of fear but from conscious responsibility.
Integrate Your Dark Side and Express Trapped Emotions
We all have a dark side and it looks different in all of us. Along the same lines as to how training can undo social conditioning, in training we can often access feelings that have stayed locked in our body-minds for years (even our entire life). There are a number of psychological qualities needed for effective self-protection. Anger and righteous indignation are common – and even encouraged — in training to defend oneself against a criminal. But I have myself felt and witnessed others tap into deeper emotions. I have felt grief and sadness as a result of hard training. Sometimes within the session but often shortly after. While not necessarily pleasant, this is a positive thing; the only way to through to the other side of an emotion, is to feel THROUGH that emotion.
Tap Into Inner Caveman
Social structure and even modern technology make for a life that is radically different from that of our ancestors. In fact, technology has progressed faster than your DNA can keep up with. Think about when someone thoughtlessly steps out into traffic to cross a road, and when they suddenly realize there is a vehicle hurtling towards them, what do they do? They freeze. You’d think this would be the perfect time to frikkin’ move! But they freeze. Why? Because the part of them that still thinks it’s in pre-historic times is responding as it would to a saber-toothed tiger; stay still because the predator’s eyesight it geared towards detecting movement over shape-recognition.
And so, we have a part of us that does not get exercised or expressed. In ‘force-on-force’ full-contact drills, you are moving not just physically but also mentally and emotionally in a way that taps into that inner caveman part of us. Why is this a good thing? Because just as it’s important to exercise the outer parts of ourselves (the body), it’s important to exercise in a healthy way the inner parts of ourselves too. Any part of us that gets ignored or suppressed stagnates and becomes toxic.
I am very certain that as a man, you likely have a well of ‘stuff’ that has gone unattended and expressed in you – that there are parts of you that, in our modern and (mostly) civilized society, have laid dormant.
If you think this might be true for you, find yourself a good self-defense or ‘combatives’ class (as it’s also known) and give it a try. Here’s a quick tip for discerning whether it’s effective training or not; when demonstrations are being made, look at the ‘attacker’ in that scenario rather than the defender (who will usually be the instructor doing the cool moves). And ask yourself, is that what real violence looks like? Would I attack someone like that if I really intended to hurt them? If the attacks look hokey, forget it.
Alternatively, combat sports such as MMA, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Judo are often more accessible and in some ways more effective at tapping into all that ‘stuff’.
Lastly, be sure to combine any physical training with plenty of mindfulness and introspection in your journey of self-discovery.
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