by Maya Parker
I taught two, two-hour, self-defense seminars as a part of my Girl Scout Gold Award project. This is a self-directed, eighty-hour service project that is similar to the Boy Scout’s Eagle Scout status. One of the seminars was for women to learn some basic self-defense and general safety tips, while the other was for middle and high school students to learn the same, but with an emphasis on campus safety.
What I found interesting about my project was that everyone involved in organizing the seminars was opposed to self-defense seminars for one reason or another, including myself.
Those with a jiu-jitsu background were weary of having a self-defense seminar because of the possibility that seminar participants would leave with the false sense of security that they had sufficient training to defend themselves after one session.
Everyone who trains jiu-jitsu, or any other martial art, knows that it takes years for techniques to become muscle-memory. Practitioners also know that this level of comfort is needed to have any hope of using the techniques in a self-defense situation. I recognized the danger of someone thinking they have sufficient self-defense training when they didn’t before I did my seminars, but I found it difficult to believe that anyone who took a two-hour self-defense class would believe that they were well-prepared for dangerous situations.
However, to my surprise, and despite my emphasis on the fact that the content of the seminar was only a very small representation of all possible situations, there were participants who expressed that they felt confident in their ability to handle themselves in any situation. Sure, confidence is great, because it can sometimes mitigate dangerous situations before they arise. But unfounded confidence is not much better than timidity resulting from ignorance.
Blaming The Victim
On the other hand, those who work with women who have been victims of sexual assault had other objections to self-defense seminars. Their concern was that having self-defense seminars places the burden on the victim, when the focus should be on the perpetrator.
It is certainly true that it is unjust that women and girls need to worry about their personal safety in ways that go well beyond what the average man has to consider. It is also true that nothing justifies the behavior of men who act in a way to violate that safety.
This doesn’t change the reality that the only way for someone to make sure they’re safe is to take responsibility for their own training. Like a lock for a door or a password for an account, women and girls need to arm themselves with training. Because, as the old adage goes, it is better to have it (self-defense training) and not need it, than to need it and not have it.
The Value Of Self-Defense Seminars
Despite the varying objections to self-defense seminars, they still do good. The discussion of personal safety advice that should happen at any self-defense seminar provides awareness and knowledge that can be applied without continued training. But there is also value in the exposure to self-defense techniques that seminars provide. Simply being exposed to the techniques is valuable, since seeing the wide range of possible situations, and therefore large number of different techniques needed to address them, can be enough to convince participants of the need for regular training.
Even if a participant never trains the techniques taught at a seminar again, going through the situations at least once is better than nothing. At my seminars, I had the participants try to free themselves from the grip of my strong-man helper. Having to think through this situation at least once improves their ability to react productively in a dangerous situation.
There is only so much good a two-hour long seminar can do to help women and girls learn what they need to be more prepared to defend themselves should they end up in a bad situation. However, there is certainly value in a self-defense seminar for its ability to expose participants to self-defense. That exposure to the techniques and mindset helps people to protect themselves, either in a small or big (if they decide to start training regularly) way.