When I returned to my martial arts training in late-fall 2019, starting off with Taekwondo (in which I currently hold the rank of 2nd Dan), I ultimately became jaded, cynical, and disillusioned. I guess I have seven years of delving into politics and social activism to thank for that, too, but I have neither complaints nor regret.
I and a majority of the global martial arts community weren't expecting 2020 to be “unpredictable.” I certainly picked an “interesting” time to return with the COVID-19 outbreak, which is still going on and adversely affected martial arts schools and gyms across the globe. There are gyms, especially the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and MMA schools, that refuse to follow COVID-19 protocols.
Given how Wuhan, China was reported by the media as being “ground zero” for the outbreak, two things happened to the Asian diasporic community. The first thing that happened was that attacks on the Asian diasporic community spiked and the second thing that happened was that attacks on the Asian diasporic community, which has existed for a long time, became more public.
If people didn't talk about the post-COVID violence in the Asian community, I wouldn't have learned about the 1982 death of Vincent Chin, an autoworker who was beaten to death by two white guys who lost their jobs at a Chrysler manufacturing plant, because of the competition against the Japanese companies, and wanted someone, a “Japanese” person, to vent their anger on.
Chin's not Japanese, he's Chinese American, but the two perpetrators didn't care.
To those two, all Asians looked the same. If you looked “Japanese,” you deserved to get the daylights beaten out of you in the eyes of those two guys. It sucks to get laid off but that's neither a reason nor an excuse to inflict pain on other people.
Since COVID-19 broke out, people are quick to attack random Asians, especially Asians who look like they're unable to fight back, out of frustration, instead of blaming the people who violate the mandates and protocols.
With the amount of anti-Asian attacks spiking up and getting reported more, I have seen social media posts that promote self-defense seminars. Those posts have spiked up, too, which I understand. I understand, respect, and admire good intentions, but good intentions are just “intentions.”
Many people, including myself, have heard that “the path to Hell is paved with good intentions.”
Even if you had good intentions in what you're doing, you risk making things worse and causing serious, irreparable damage.
Martial artists do the one thing they only know best, offer self-defense seminars because they adamantly believe that the number of attacks will go down if more people knew how to protect themselves.
It's like when my late-Aunt D, who passed away earlier this year, would always call my grandmother, a Buddhist nun, for advice. My grandmother would always respond by reading the teachings of Buddha.
I compare that to martial artists saying that training will be the key to dealing with violence.
It's like going up to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the rest of the pro-gun lobby for advice on how to handle the violence, let alone the rising anti-Asian violence. Their response will be that we need fewer firearms regulations and to arm more “good people.”
Wayne LaPierre, the VP of the NRA at the time, said that we need a “good guy with a gun” to handle school shooters.
To counter LaPierre, having more guns isn't going to remedy the problem.
To counter the people who are holding self-defense seminars and advocating that more people take martial arts, the problem isn't going to be remedied.
I published a similar piece on Medium last year, which addressed why I believe people need to STOP with the self-defense seminars. Regardless of the good that martial artists believe they are doing, they are inadvertently making things a whole lot worse. You can also read my original Medium piece to know the history of anti-Asian discrimination and violence in the United States.
The concept of self-defense is a double-edged sword that cuts deep. We all should understand that a situation where you have to protect yourself, is a self-defense situation, in which you do not consent to be attacked.
There is the risk in a self-defense situation can escalate into a street fight, where all sides consent to be attacked.
It's important to stress that there is a difference between a street fight and a self-defense scenario, though MMA gyms are guilty of perpetuating the false belief that they're the same thing. This is dangerous because people get a false sense of confidence in their skills and end up getting killed, especially with a weapon like a blade or a firearm.
If you're in a dangerous situation, please stay level-headed. One can easily freak out in a situation where one's training is thrown out of the window, which is a core reason I am against the sudden rise of self-defense seminars.
I decided to list my reasons for being against self-defense seminars, especially in the wake of the rising anti-Asian violence, and why they do more harm than they do good.
#1 – No two situations are going to play out 100 percent the same way
Say that you're put in a situation where you have to protect yourself and/or another person where you're very successful, which is good, then you're put in another situation sometime later. There is a level of unpredictability that cannot be measured that will determine on how successful you are in getting out of the situation alive, let alone unscathed.
If two self-defense situations end up being ninety-nine percent alike, that one percent difference is the crucial factor.
Self-defense seminars only teach a handful of moves and cover a handful of scenarios in which you can apply those moves, but everything gets chucked out of the window when you're faced with an actual self-defense situation. You could be faced with a scenario that was never covered in that self-defense seminar.
If you're put in that predicament again, you could face yet another scenario that your seminar did not cover.
Self-defense scenarios have variants, too, which makes the situation more unpredictable, which is not good for you.
You also have to think about the size, height, and mass of the possible attacker(s). Perpetrators will attack when they're ready to strike and when you're not prepared. The number of attackers has to be factored in, too.
#2 – The instructors make it look easy to perform self-defense moves
In Garden Grove, California (which Jennette McCurdy of iCarly and Sam & Kat nicknamed “Garbage Grove”), a group of local martial artists from the Vietnamese American community collaborated and put on a free self-defense seminar for members of the community, in response to the rise of anti-Asian violence.
The participating martial artists easily pulled off moves like throws and sweeps with relative ease, which is expected if they have been doing it for a while. People who attend the seminar will think they can easily do the same thing but will realize, the hard way, that it isn't the case.
It takes a lot of training, conditioning, and drilling before it becomes second nature.
If you're not in shape, you're not going to successfully throw your attacker on the ground with the throws you just learned at the seminar. If you get lucky and throw your attacker on the ground, you're gassed out because you used all your stamina for that throw.
#3 – The training is virtually 100 percent compliant
If and when you're put in the situation where you actually have to protect yourself, your assailant(s) will virtually be ZERO percent compliant. I'm NOT saying this to diss partner-compliance training because it is NECESSARY when practicing and drilling a move for the first time. If your partner is not compliant at the beginning, you two are going to make mistakes, and someone's going to get severely injured afterward.
Training with a compliant partner is IMPORTANT at the start, then you and your partner gradually increase the level of resistance. If neither side is compliant at the beginning, the technique is going to get sloppy.
In a real-life situation, your technique is not going to be 100 percent but that doesn't mean you shouldn't hone your technique. If your technique is very sloppy, your technique will be sloppier if you have to protect yourself.
You could get attacked shortly after the seminar, where there is zero compliance, you have another dynamic to deal with, your assailant hitting you in the process. This is something that wrestlers and grapplers learn the hard way when they transition into MMA. It's hard to take the other person to the ground when they're hitting you repeatedly.
Again, it takes time to get the technique(s) down.
#4 – The martial arts world, unfortunately, is patriarchal and ableist
Martial arts training, in general, especially when the training is (unnecessarily) distilled for “self-defense” purposes, is geared toward the able-bodied man. Men and women are (generally) built differently, which means the training needs to be modified to accommodate the women's body types. This is something that many martial arts schools, especially self-defense programs, fail at.
Women are often shamed for not being able to protect themselves from men instead of putting the burden of responsibility on men. Patriarchy is damaging because it diminishes the issue of violence against women as a “women's only issue.”
Imagine being a woman and attending a self-defense seminar for the first time and not realizing that the training is geared toward men, then having to protect yourself in a real-life situation after.
There's also another nuance as the way self-defense is taught, especially towards girls and women, is misogynistic. It puts the burden of responsibility on the women and not putting the burden on men to know better, and to educate other men to be better.
Martial arts, especially self-defense, caters mainly to the able-bodied.
Whatever is taught at a self-defense seminar is going to be geared toward someone who is able-bodied and not toward someone who's disabled. The martial arts community, whether it's intentional or not, is guilty of perpetuating ableism.
What if any of the people in attendance are hearing impaired?
What if any of the people in attendance are visually impaired?
What if any of the people in attendance are missing a limb?
What if any of the people in attendance have some other disability?
What if any of the people in attendance are neurodivergent?
They have to be taught differently than their able-bodied and neurotypical counterparts but they're unfairly burdened with the responsibility of being able to protect themselves.
#5 – People are cheap and don't see martial arts training as an investment
Self-defense seminars only teach a handful of things, which means one has to make the effort to join an actual program, whether it's at a physical school or at a community center. Most people don't want to pay the monthly tuition which could be anywhere from $35 to $150 a month, depending on the location.
Physical schools charge more because they have rent and other bills to pay.
There will always be people who get the “bright” idea of attending multiple seminars, instead of committing to a gym or two, and thinking they can combine what they have learned so far, which is ineffective, and risky.
#6 – No two seminars are going to be exactly alike
Imagine that you attend your first self-defense seminar, which is hosted at an MMA gym, where you learn a portion of the basic curriculum, then imagine you attend your second self-defense seminar, which is hosted at a Taekwondo dojang, where you learn white belt-level moves. What you learned at the MMA gym won't necessarily translate to what you learned at the TKD dojang and vice-versa.
The punches and kicks you learned at the MMA gym are likely derived from Muay Thai. The roundhouse kick that's executed in Muay Thai is different from the roundhouse kick that's executed in Taekwondo. I'm saying this because I also have roughly three years of MMA training and I can say that throwing a Muay Thai roundhouse kick feels different than throwing a TKD roundhouse kick.
The Muay Thai/MMA roundhouse kick is comparable to swinging a baseball bat while the TKD roundhouse kick is comparable to a whipping motion.
The stances taught in TKD are different from the stances taught in MMA.
Now imagine yourself attending your third self-defense seminar, which is hosted at a Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) school, where you learn a handful of FMA moves. You're going to learn that these moves are different from what you learned at the MMA and TKD seminars.
Someone will get the “bright” idea, instead, of going to seminars hosted by different schools, but that teach the same style.
That, too, is also foolish.
The instructors holding the seminars will teach different things. What you learn at a self-defense seminar at a TKD school will be the same as what you would learn at a self-defense seminar at another TKD school.
The two TKD schools can be under two different organizations, which means they'll teach two different systems of TKD.
Judo is also another good example because you have the Korean method, the Japanese method, the French method, and the Mongolian method. I say this as a person who also has Judo training (I currently hold a blue belt in the style) in the Korean and Japanese methods, which are taught differently from each other.
#7 – What if the attacker knows how to fight?
Most attackers are usually untrained people whose attacks are unrefined but it doesn't mean all attackers are sloppy. In the case of the trained attacker, whatever you were taught at the self-defense seminar(s) won't compare to that person's years of experience. I saw this Instagram post by the Dragon Combat Club, based in New York City, about one of their allies getting attacked by two men.
The person who got attacked is one of the volunteer instructors of the Dragon Combat Club who is also a Muay Thai fighter who trains at Evolution Muay Thai NYC. The IG post said that the person was attacked by two people.
One attacker had fight training and the other attacker had a knife.
Even a trained fighter got attacked and hurt in this scenario. Imagine the same scenario and replace the trained fighter with someone whose experience came from one or two self-defense seminars, the outcome would not be pretty.
The handful of training one gets at a self-defense seminar isn't going to save that person from a trained attacker.
#8 – What happens after the seminar(s)?
How many people, if they don't join the program, will take the time to drill those moves over and over again?
Will they drill those moves with different partners?
Will they drill with different partners at different intensities?
Will they drill with partners of different weights, heights, shapes, and masses?
Will they drill situations where there are multiple attackers?
Will they train their bodies to become physically fit?
This is a lot to think about and process. I have been told by my instructors (Taekwondo, Judo, FMA, MMA, etc) that physical fitness is important. One of my Judo instructors told us to always stay physically fit. My TKD teacher told me that if two people of the same skill faced each other, the one with the better physical fitness will come out victorious. My FMA teacher told me that good physical fitness goes a long way.
#9 – The aftermath could have legal repercussions
If you had to defend yourself, it's still far from over. There are possible legal repercussions, too, even if you were justified in inflicting physical damage. I believe everyone has the right to defend themselves if danger comes their way, but I learned the hard lesson of having to “prove it.”
You may have to prove it in a court of law, and it's painful because you're also burdened with the legal costs.
What happens if your attackers bring you to court? What happens if they can pay for very good lawyers and you can't? It's like the book called The Chickenshit Club: Why The Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives, which explains that the other side is loaded and can afford to hire the best defense lawyers.
The other side can argue that you were “excessive” when you were defending yourself.
If you can't get a good lawyer, you'll be convicted of assault. You'll also have to pay the legal and medical costs of your attackers, too. A self-defense situation is not as black and white as one wants to believe.
When I did jury duty back in March of this year, the first time I ever did jury duty, I ended up telling the lawyers and my fellow jury candidates about my martial arts training. The defense attorneys told me that they have used martial artists as expert witnesses in the past, but I wouldn't celebrate just yet because that's a double-edged sword ready to swing back at you.
Having a martial arts expert as an expert witness can work against you in many ways.
That expert witness could specialize in styles that are different from what you specialize in. The jury's not going to know the difference between a Taekwondo roundhouse kick and a Kyokushin Kai roundhouse kick. The jury's not going to know the difference between a Muay Thai knee strike and a Karate knee strike. The jury's not going to know the difference between an Osoto Gari in Judo and its Hapkido variant.
That expert witness could come from a martial arts school that's notorious for having ridiculously low standards (these schools are called McDojos). Say that you know the striking ability of the students from that school isn't worth anything and one of those students happens to be an expert witness in the trial where you have to prove you were in danger, that person could claim that you were being excessive in your defense.
What if the expert witness is a known hack? In today's world, especially in North America, a person can be successful in the martial arts world and still be considered a hack by a majority of the martial arts community. The martial arts world is full of hacks who have gotten away with their lying and bulls—ting over the years. You can easily fake credentials or pad your weak credentials with money and the right people.
A friend of mine who used to teach BJJ told me that he came across students who trained at gyms associated with a major BJJ/MMA organization who couldn't “shrimp” right. That's when I learned that a specific organization sold the use of its name.
They can craft a good lie while making you sound like an amateur.
You're going to have to disprove their “expert” testimony while having to discredit them in the process, which costs money. That money is used to hire specialists and investigators to deep dive into the background of these dubious experts and that's going to take time.
If you don't have the extra money, you're screwed.
Another issue is that the martial arts world has no universal standard. Standards vary from one martial arts style, the system of martial arts, the organizational standards, and the school standards. Say that the expert witness trains in the same style as you do, but that person could come from a school or organization whose standards are lower or higher than yours. There are a lot of organizations that don't properly promote their students, especially when it comes to Dan ranks.
In Taekwondo, under the Kukkiwon, you have to wait three years to test for your 3rd Dan if you had just tested for your 2nd Dan. There are also minimum age requirements, too, for good reason, because you're faced with more responsibility when you go higher in Dan rank. Say that one person attained the rank of 1st Dan, but would have to wait two years before testing for their 2nd Dan, only to be allowed to test for 2nd Dan a couple of months later.
Because there are no universal standards, it's going to be hard to discredit the testimony of a martial artist who's called to be an expert witness.
The expert witness could have a bias against whatever style(s) you're trained in, too, which would be lengthy and expensive to prove in court. Cognitive bias exists in the martial arts world, one core reason that I consider the martial arts community to be one of the most toxic communities in the world.
If you're lucky enough that the court ruled in your favor, it's still NOT over.
The attorney representing your attackers could be a sore loser and will find ways to go after you. They can sue you for damages, go after the school, and so on.
I believe there is nothing wrong with offering self-defense seminars, despite my reasons for being against seminars, but instructors should have the means to continue teaching them. If you have your own place, you should have students ready to enroll attendees after the seminar. If you teach at a community center, refer them to the place you regularly teach at. Self-defense requires a lot of work and there's no point in offering seminars if the attendees aren't going to make the effort.
Regardless of the good intentions that martial artists have to combat the rising violence, especially the rising anti-Asian violence, they inadvertently make things worse and increase the risk of victims getting killed when they try to apply what they learned at those seminars.
Martial artists believe they are helping their communities but end up making things worse.