Comprehensive Self-Defense, Part 4: Do the Work

firing inside vehicle

When it comes to learning and practicing skills, be sure to perform them in contextually meaningful ways, not just in isolation on the range or other sterile environments. Photo: author

Seeking formal training for self-defense and establishing a practice regimen are the only ways to follow through on a commitment to being responsible for your own safety and that of those you care about. In this last of a four-part series of articles on Comprehensive Self-Defense, I’ll share with you the best ways to get the most out of your limited resources when it comes to both training and practice. It is also important to understand that they are very different things and both are vital. If you haven’t already read the beginning of this series, be sure to check out the earlier parts so you will have the best idea specifically what you need to be training and practicing.

Formal Self-Defense Training

Training means to learn new information or techniques. We distinguish between training and practice, which is the honing of established skills or refreshing information. The best way to get formal training in self-defense concepts and techniques is to attend a class. Classes are offered from many experts all around the country and are offered on general self-defense concepts as well as very specific areas. Before you choose a class to attend, be sure to research both it and the instructor thoroughly. Many instructors offer classes; some will be better choices for you than others. One of the most important questions you can ask an instructor is, “How is your training specifically aimed at helping someone like me?” Another is, “What is a self-defense principle or technique you have changed your mind about in regard to what you teach or believe in personally?”

self defense training courses

Self-defense training courses are available in a variety of different topics all around the country. Many are offered every year by Personal Defense Network contributors.

The answer to the first question will help you gauge the appropriateness of the course. The answer to the second will give you insight into how relevant and intellectually honest the instructor is. If you don’t get a clear and thorough answer to either, you are probably best off looking elsewhere. An instructor should know enough about you and his program to know if it fits and why. If they are trying to stay relevant, feel secure in themselves, and are challenging their own program to evolve, they should be able to tell you how and why they’ve changed their mind about things.

If you cannot afford the time or money to attend a class, or find one that is convenient to your time frame, you can utilize many other resources. Distance education is available through the Internet as well as via books and videos. Of course, Personal Defense Network has been producing educational content for over a decade in all areas of self-defense with a team of expert contributors. We have produced over 100 DVDs on topics ranging from the obvious (such as firearms training and defensive knife use) to the unexpected (including Defensive Cane and Wheelchair Bound Defensive Shooting Skills) and even the overlooked (fitness, emergency medicine, and how extreme weather can affect your skills and practice). PDN also offers hundreds of online video clips and articles like this one.

personal defense dvds

Training DVDs and books can be a great (and inexpensive) way to learn more about self-defense. Photo: author

I have personally written six books on self-defense topics and there are dozens more written by PDN contributors and other instructors whom I have worked closely with over the years. There is no lack of raw information that you can learn a great deal from without a large financial investment. Even reading magazine articles can provide useful tips and information about equipment and techniques. Naturally, you should vet the sources of video and written content the same way you would vet an instructor for a class you might attend. Especially in today’s world of limitless self-publishing on the Internet, there is an even wider array of quality ranging from unquestionably high to worthlessly low when it comes to what you can read or watch.

Discussion with people like you who have taken training courses and experts who make themselves available online and through social media can be very valuable as well. This is especially true after you have taken a class or completed a training DVD or book and have a follow-up question or want to get other perspectives on the material.

Remember that training is best thought of as learning. It is about gaining new skills or information. Don’t limit your training to just one area of self-defense. Too often, people begin to enjoy one thing so much that they ignore other areas because they aren’t as much fun for them to learn about. For example, if you only train in firearms skills, you end up becoming a hobbyist shooter, not someone serious about comprehensive self-defense. Your needs and current skills should dictate what you focus on learning next. What are you missing?

firearms range training

Learning advanced or complex skills (and practicing them, whenever possible) should be done under the supervision of a professional teacher. Finding an instructor who offers programs you need and who can coach you well is an important part of spending your valuable resources well. Photo: author

Establishing A Practice Regimen

Practice is what happens after you have completed your training and want to establish higher levels of skill. You need to devote significant resources to practicing, probably more than you devote to learning in the first place. Practice is something that never really ends, though you will be able to reduce the required frequency over time if you develop your skills wisely, have realistic expectations, and keep perspective on how good you really need to be or can get. People sometimes make the mistake of becoming so focused on one area of skill development that they ignore development in other important areas. Becoming incredibly good in one area of self-defense, such as grappling or gun use, to the exclusion of other areas, such as striking skills or developing your physical fitness, leads to overall weakness. Too often, those who become very good at one thing rationalize their deficiencies in other areas. The fact is, your deficiencies in areas that are relevant to your protection should dictate what you practice.

Practicing is generally not as much fun or stimulating as learning new information during training events, so you have to be disciplined in your regimen. By establishing schedules and allotting specific resources to practice activities, you can hold yourself accountable to your plan.

Practice in the context of intended use as often as possible. Practicing isolated skill performance (such as choreographed shooting drills or martial arts katas) may make you feel better about yourself, but failing to emphasize skill application can lead to false confidence.

The concept of “practice” applies to your procedures and concepts as well, such as thinking about how you are taking actions to be safer and using your locks and alarms consistently. Don’t limit your time to just physical skill development. Practice should include thinking through scenarios, visualizing events, and rehearsing your plans … especially when it comes to coordinated plans with family members and/or others you spend time with. In this sense, things like fire drills are practice just as much as sparring or range time are.

Always try to front load your practice, which means spend a lot of time repeating new skills soon after you learn them, or performing new procedures after you adopt them. The more practice you can get right after learning something, the more likely you are to retain it and be able to reduce the practice time you dedicate to it over long periods. By following this principle, you will free up practice time for additional skill sets without losing the value of what you have already learned.

Training and practice are both vital to your comprehensive self-defense plan. Without them, all your previous work will be of little value.

Previous Comprehensive Self-Defense articles:

Part One: Know Thy Enemy and Thyself
Part Two: Secure Your Home and Know the Law
Part Three: Armed and Unarmed Skills

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One Response to “Comprehensive Self-Defense, Part 4: Do the Work”

  1. tsknight

    Thanks for the article. It has been 10 years since the majority of my training. While I continued to practice, I could see where I was losing some of the polish. I was getting sloppy. Some things are due to age and injury, but not all. Last summer I attended a basic firearms defense class simply as a refresher course. Having someone else critique and offer suggestions for improvement helped me break some bad habits and reinforced the good habits I have.