I Am A Self Defence Expert! I Am Infallible & Unfailing!
Cough Cough, BS!
Rarely in my experience do you ever hear of self-defence instructors admitting to the students their screwups, mistakes, and errors in judgement while teaching self-defence. I mean, how can they? They are the EXPERT!
But, in my experience, one of the most valuable opportunities an instructor has while teaching is to do just the opposite. This topic always comes up whenever I conduct our Violence Prevention & Self-Defence certifications in person or online.
My experience is one of the best ways to have a group of clients open up and feel comfortable sharing their stories is to, as early as possible, share a story where “you,” the instructor, made poor decisions. You will immediately see a change in the room in your favour because the students see you as someone with similar experiences and one who will not cast judgment.
And not casting judgment might be the most crucial reason to be honest with your experiences, what you were thinking, and letting the group know you understand and empathize with them, rather than talk down to them as the expert who knows everything you do not.
I recall early in my teachings, a woman who saw my talk at a high school asked me if I would come to teach a group of women at their local sexual assault center. Of course, I agreed. She shared with me a story in which, a year earlier, they had also invited a gentleman to speak to the group. All was going well when one woman felt comfortable enough to share a personal story in which she faced an assault. Without hesitation, the instructor asked her, “why did you handle it like that? You should have done x, y, or z instead.”
As you can imagine, no one else felt comfortable sharing a story after hearing the “expert” confirm what she was possibly already blaming herself for. An expert does not know everything! An expert listens and supports anyone willing to share such a personal experience.
Unfortunately, one of the most powerful teaching moments I have experienced is the countless times a woman had asked to speak with me after class when they shared an experience of living in a domestic violence situation. Inevitably, they will ask me why they did not leave sooner. Without going into the many details they may share with me, I will say something like, “Whatever you did, you are here in front of me, telling me, so you handled it perfectly.”
How dare I say something like, “Yeah, you should have left sooner!” I was not there, living their experience. How dare I do anything but listen? I usually say, “I can only imagine how difficult it must have been. You did what you had to do when you did it.” And why do I say that? Because it is true!
This seemingly simple example carries so much weight, mainly when there is a high chance this person has been blaming themselves for years for not leaving sooner.
Again, an expert does not have all the answers, so shut up, listen, and empathize.