The Hand of SD Expanded: The Palm, Part I – Marc MacYoung

Pay attention to what a guy — who’s been through the shit — emphasizes first. As such issues seem incredibly small, insignificant or a ‘I know how to do that’ type topic, you’ll often have a reaction of ‘why’s that important?’ The answer is “That’s what kept him alive when bullets were in the air.” Odds are he’s seen people die because they overlooked those details. This, in contrast with someone who is coming from an academic or training only background. Their emphasis tends to be on the obvious — and by extension something that will get you killed if you exclusively focus on it instead of details that support it or can undermine it.

The Hand of SD Expanded
The Palm (Part One)

In my last two part article I introduced the “Hand of Self-Defense.”  In the first part I pointed out the disconnect between what happens before, during, and after violence versus what is being ‘taught as self-defense.’ I argued this disconnect will either get you (or your students) hospitalized, dead or in prison. That’s not hyperbole. Entirely too much training overly focuses on one aspect (usually physical) and ignores everything else involved. Which would not be a problem except how often this training is touted as ‘all you need.’

Yeah, about that…

I grew up with violence, violence was my profession, I’ve trained for it, I’ve also studied academic works on the subject, and now I deal with court cases involving violence. Each of these five approaches assesses and understands violence in their own unique ways. More importantly, they prioritize different aspects — for good reasons. But these reasons often aren’t apparent until you view the subject from that standpoint. This varied experience gives me perspectives on violence than most so-called ‘self-defense instructors’ do not have. Basically, I look at a much bigger picture. A picture of overlapping filters and extended depth of field. I’ve seen problems about self-defense that most people don’t know exist until they find themselves too far in to back out.

That’s why I came up with the Hand. Each of the fingers is an important element (or group of topics) that seriously influence … well everything. The hand can help you with if violence even occurs. It helps you tell what is happening. What degree of force you need. How to scale force at the time and afterwards, how to communicate that it was self-defense.  How not get nailed by the common pitfalls of dealing with the cops, our legal system and of course — for real fun and games — how not to get killed if the guy comes back seeking vengeance. These are realities of violence that most instructors not only don’t touch upon, but often don’t even know exist.  Or worse, they heard of the subjects but have dismissed them as trivial and/or a ‘well that won’t happen.’

Which brings us to the second part of the original “Hand of SD” article. There I address things that have to be in one’s training for self-defense.  Otherwise, it’s NOT self-defense training. (That’s why understanding the disconnect is important.)  Even if what’s being taught is somehow connected, it’s often a single aspect; it’s not the whole of the subject of self-defense. But there’s something else. In violence things can — and do — go wrong. The self-defense hand introduces you to where this can happen and the skills necessary to be able to manage where things commonly go wrong and when they do. It is a map, a check list,  and a litmus test of your training, knowledge and skills. It’s to see if your training prepares you  to handle how things actually happen and go wrong.

So fast recap. Hold up your hand.

  • Your palm is who is being taught, what their needs, skills/knowledge and limits are
  • Your thumb is communication, articulation and –if you will — people skills
  • Your index finger is knowledge of how violence happens, social dynamics and etiquette
  • Your middle finger is physical skills — including doing them while adrenalized.
  • Your ring finger is situational knowledge, threat assessment, pattern recognition and ability to scale force appropriate to the situation
  • Your pinky is knowing how to deal with the cops, courts, when to shut up, when to lawyer up and — of course — dealing with vendetta.

    So let’s start with the palm of “Who is being taught.”

In the original article I introduced the Palm as: There is no one-size-fits-all or one-stop-shopping when it comes to self-defense training. The needs of an older woman are different than that of a young man who is being bullied at school.

You know what? What I teach police SWAT teams is completely different than what I teach soccer moms. What I teach nurses (who often walk into dark parking lots late at night), social workers and real estate agents is different than office workers. What I teach bouncers is different than what I teach business travelers. What I teach regular police officers is different than what I teach military personnel. Why? Because each group has different rules of engagement, different problems, different responsibilities and most of all are facing completely different situations.

But more than that, individuals from each group have completely different resources, backgrounds, attitudes, abilities, experiences, physical capabilities, and most of all, limits.

What I just said is: You have both external and internal factors that influence if  ‘the’ training will work. Although I speak of the Palm, think of those two as the back of the hand (external) and the palm (internal). In many ways external and internal issues are horribly intertwined. At the same time they are still separate issues. Issues that if you don’t look at individually the results become as clear as mud. In fact, a very good argument can be made that the disconnect of training has its roots in not looking at theses issues as if they were all one in the same.

Looking at this part of the hand makes you consider if the training is appropriate. Appropriate for not just different needs, different circumstances, different rules of engagement, different environments, but most importantly appropriate for the students themselves. What they are or not capable of — and often won’t be, regardless any amount of training.

What works for one individual is not only no, but a hell no for another.  For example: Teaching a five foot one woman muay Thai so she can fight against a fit and aggressive 250 pound man is setting her up to not just fail, but literally to get run over and squished. This is not a question of ‘does muay Thai work?’ (External.) It’s you don’t teach a smaller, weaker woman (internal) to fight a bigger person using a sports fighting system. When it comes to ‘self-defense,’ you teach her how to injure and escape from a bigger attacker.

Why? Because, especially in sports fighting ‘styles,’ size matters. Let me repeat that in case you missed it, SIZE MATTERS! It especially matters when everyone is using the same techniques (which is the essence of sports fighting). “Size matters” is why — even among male fighters — there’s weight divisions. (There’s a story out there about a famous female kickboxing champ who hauled off and kicked a guy on the side of the road. He grunted and said, “Good one. You better leave.”) What also matters in sports fighting systems is physical fitness. Teaching women a young man’s game — that most of its effectiveness comes from good physical condition and strength — is ignoring the fact most people can’t run a mile, much less fight effectively for three minutes. It would take months of training to get to that bare minimum physical standard.

But more than that, you’re going to have a hell of a time convincing women they can go skull-to-skull with a man. You may think you can teach someone how — and there are women who will believe it —  but most women won’t trust that idea. If they don’t buy it in training, they certainly won’t use it in a situation. (Stop and think about this. If sports fighting is where you get your physical techniques for your Women’s Self-Defense class, A) You’re shooting your credibility in the foot and B) That’s probably a contributing factor as to why such classes are hard to fill up.) You may think these limits can be overcome with training, but does the student? This especially with the amount of time and effort the person is willing to invest.

Changing tracks for a second. What are the actual dangers and circumstances the people in the class are facing? Given their lifestyle choices, what dangers are real? Then the big question: Is the information you’re providing germane to those circumstances?

A young middle class male in high school might have to ‘fight’ a bully. But are those the same problems a young man from a gang infested inner city school will face? Will teaching both of those teens the same fighting style be appropriate? I ask because in the inner city, weapons and superior numbers are far more common than suburbia.

What does a young woman going off to college need to know as opposed to a married mother of two teens? Will the circumstances each face be the same? Probably not — unless ‘mom’ is into frat parties and binge drinking. What does a business traveler — of either sex –need to know to travel safely through different cities  or even countries? Starting with the ‘basics’ of hotel bars and how not to get hit on while there. Does a homeowner who has a gun for home defense need the same training as a SWAT team? Definitely not. Starting with the fact that a home owner is under no obligation to search/storm the property.  I tell you this so you can see how much situations dictate the nature of the problem, the needs and what is  appropriate training.

Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them — Albert Einstein


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