After spending three decades teaching violence prevention and self-defence, I’ve been reflecting on the changes I’ve witnessed both within and outside the profession in my personal experience. It would be interesting to jot down the five most noticeable changes during the past 30 years as an instructor and business owner. Some are more serious than others, but they all stand out when I begin reflecting.
1) Typewriter vs Computer – I know I am dating myself, but when I began in 1994, I would type out my promotional material and fax it to potential clients. Schools were always our primary focus. I vividly recall spending countless hours faxing about 300 to 400 high schools, often falling asleep beside the fax machine with its screeching sound keeping me awake. I could not design all the graphics I can now, so my message by copy was most pivotal.
2) Violence Prevention Was Always a Priority – the majority of self-defence I recall seeing did not prioritize violence prevention but gave it lip service with advice like “Walk With Confidence” or “Remain Aware of Your Surroundings” with little more than saying it. From Day 1, I have always made the prevention of violence the priority and gone into some depth, but I often laugh at how little I knew then compared to now but the goal of always trying to improve is essential, and that will never end.
3) My Clients Have Designed The Curriculum – I am sure you are thinking, how could my clients design the curriculum if I am the instructor?
Well, I quickly understood the clients I am teaching may or may not be able to do what I do, so over the years and to this day, I have always watched and listened to my clients. What stories did they share? What were their experiences? How did they respond whether verbally, psychologically or physically? With the clients I have catered to, those deemed most vulnerable, I quickly learned that with my limited time with them, the curriculum had to meet their immediate needs, not some strict curriculum I would not veer off of. On the physical side, I have changed what I taught many times— two quick, simple examples include the front elbow and wrist grabs. I love the front elbow strike, and my clients loved practicing it, as it felt powerful. However, when we pressure-tested these skills in self-defence simulations, virtually no one would execute a front elbow, which I found interesting. They all remembered the rear elbow strike but not the front, so out of the curriculum, the front elbow was unless they continued training.
Regarding wrist grabs, I was guilty of teaching multiple defences to different wrist grabs until one day, I had a high school student in front of me for the simulation and applied one of the various wrist grabs. She stood there looking dumbfounded, and I asked what was wrong. She explained she could not remember which way to spin. I said, “Smash me in the face, ” the curriculum changed when I recognized that simplicity was more critical than multiple defences to multiple attacks.
4) Use of Humour For a Serious Topic – I always incorporated humour into my teachings. Still, early on, I must admit I was not sure of the appropriateness of using humour until I had a woman who was the director at a sexual assault centre watch my talk with high school girls at a school in Cambridge, ON. I conducted the class, and afterward, we spoke when she asked me if I might talk to the women at her centre. When I inquired how the humour might be accepted, she said something I will never forget. “Your use of humour is one of the reasons I want you to come speak. You are not making fun of the topic but creating a comfortable environment to speak about these serious topics.”
And more than once, unfortunately, we have had students have to utilize what we taught. In one case, a couple of teenage women we taught five years previous escaped a man with a knife demanding they get in their van, and when discussing with their parents, they said they remembered what to do due to having been taught with humour, so the answer stood out still five years later.
5) Social Media – this is the most significant change I have seen, for better or worse. With the rise of technology and social media, how we teach and learn self-defence has evolved to incorporate online resources and virtual training. While there is no substitute for in-person training, the ability to reach people I may have yet ever to reach has become paramount, particularly since COVID.
Some will say that self-defence is better than none, but I disagree. Any “quality self-defence” is better than none, and social media has allowed that. On the negative side of social media is the plethora of terrible self-defence advice for nothing more than “likes” on their page. This is downright dangerous and a concern.
Even my certifications can be offered online, but some strict criteria are the person’s goals and their open-mindedness to offer what people truly need.
Thirty years ago, I never imagined I could offer all the content in this image online.
I plan to offer violence prevention and self-defence for another 30 years, and I can’t imagine where the industry will be when I am 89 years old.