The Number One Mistake Most Coaches Make When Teaching “Self Defense”

I honestly believe the number one mistake coaches are making when teaching self defense is teaching “moment in time” answers (specific techniques) only, instead of addressing the whole picture of a self defense encounter.

Let’s be totally clear here – I have a very specific way that I define self defense, and to boil it down, it is the holistic view of the situation, not just that moment in time when physicality happens.

80% of self defense is info gathering – assessing the situation and then deciding what to do. No two situations are the same; there are so many factors that can influence a self defense situation. To be clear, I am speaking of purely unsanctioned violence here. A lot of fights in the cage do end up appearing to be similar, but this is only because some factors are controlled (e.g. environment, opponent, rule set).  None of these are mutually agreed upon in the violence occurring outside of competition and training. 

Running off a purely physical mentality when talking about self defense is dangerous for your clients. Why, you ask? Let’s use the sports world as an example. Pro fighters have weight classes, and one of the biggest accomplishments that a pro fighter can have is to hold a title in two weight classes. In fact, some professionals won’t take a fight if the opponent has even a 5 pound advantage. Seriously – some pros won’t even give up a single pound, to the point that it is considered unprofessional to not “make weight”, and even if the fight goes on, the heavy fighter is punished (through loss of money or belt contention). What does this tell us? It tells us that size and strength make a difference, even at the highest level. In self protection, we don’t get to pick the size, experience, or tactical preference of our attacker – this is an advantage held by the aggressor, they decide and we must react. 

If you are giving up 100lbs in a fight- something no pro fighter (outside exhibition) would ever do by choice – then relying solely on physical skills is ludicrous. We need to teach realistically and allow our clients to use more. We need to understand ALL the factors of self defense.

Sadly, self defense training usually places you in the worst possible spot first and then has you work your way out of it, again looking at a moment in time and not the whole picture. “How did I end up here?” is a question that should also be asked by every client. If you are not allowed to train ways to just not end up in that spot, then the technique mentality is stifling your self defense abilities. Seriously – ask any high-level grappling coach worth their salt how to best escape a sunk-in rear naked choke, and the answer is usually either don’t be there in the first place, or tap before it goes dark. We need to get this approach into the self defense world!

We need to teach our clients to look at the intent of the attack, not just the end position of the attack. That way they can use all their options, including non-physical ones, to help them gain an advantage. To talk the attacker towards a weapon they don’t see, to play along so the attacker loosens their grip or changes their position. It is ok to play possum, to lie, cheat or play along when you are at an extreme disadvantage against your attacker – hell it is ok to do that in any self defense situation. 

Teach your clients that if they are not taking damage or being transported, to use that time to assess and improve their position, not just through force but through tactics.

The element of surprise in our industry is usually only taught in a one-directional format, where the attacker surprises you … but guess what – if you get the chance, you can also surprise them. The element of surprise is a VERY powerful tool, a body that sees a hit coming can subconsciously brace … there is a reason that you are knocked out by the hit you don’t see. 

Weaponizing surprise is one of the best ways to help you gain advantage when you are outmatched physically. Strong and talented is good, but smart and technical is better, and the truth is, if you were selected, the attacker believes (whether it is true or not) that they will succeed. Remember people don’t lose for free.

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Randy King



  1. Bill Dent April 1, 2019 at 2:37 pm - Reply

    Could not agree more! In all of my personal safety (self defense) classes I teach students to focus on the objective of going through the day safely. That includes firearms training, pepper spray training and empty hand self defense training. Situational awareness is key. I also stress the importance of physical conditioning. Thank you for the great article.

  2. Sean April 1, 2019 at 5:21 pm - Reply

    Exactly! Real world.

  3. Jeff April 4, 2019 at 12:34 pm - Reply

    I agree with Bill Dent regarding physical conditioning. Tactics are important but so are logistics. If you are trying to find a window to haul ass to safety, you’d better have some practice hauling your ass, fast and trough difficult terrain.

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