We tell our children myths and fables. These are very powerful stories that carry the messages and core values of our culture. That’s how cultural knowledge passes from one generation to another. Humans are motivated by stories. Those stories, those fables, those myths, those legends – they all hit something at a very visceral level. They hit your gut.
Within the firearms and self-defense training community, we have often benefited from the Warrior Legend. This cultural myth hits something deep within the heart of every good man. It is the story of the strong head of household who defends his family. It is the story of the warrior who protects his people. It is the story of the knight who rescues the princess. The Warrior Legend hits a very powerful node in the best and the strongest among our men. And that’s good!
We have often used that goodness to our advantage within the self-defense training community. When we use the word “tactical,” that’s one of the words that strikes this same chord. We have lots of words and phrases that activate the same feeling: Sheepdog. Fighter. Warrior. Soldier. Protector. The man who runs to the sound of the guns. Or puts his own body between his beloved home and the war’s desolation. The strong man loves his woman and he faces danger for her sake. That’s the story we tell, in short form, when we use those words.
Within the training world, we’ve gotten very good at hitting that button, hitting it from a lot of different angles, over and over. And it’s been very effective in motivating male students to buy classes, to pay attention in class, to practice what they learn, to drive forward and learn more. It’s a very powerful message that draws many students into our schools and motivates them to continue their efforts to learn.
The problem is, this message – as powerful as it is – is not one that resonates with the average woman in western culture. Little girls don’t grow up being told that someday, they can ride up to the castle and rescue the enchanted prince. They aren’t encouraged to dream about slaying dragons. Nobody tells their baby girl, “A real woman stands between her husband and any danger that would threaten him.” That’s just not a message we give our daughters.
So this powerful legend that drives men into classes won’t necessarily hit potential female students in the gut. Nor will it encourage them to take their training as the serious business that it really is, or drive them forward to learn more. Culturally, women just don’t hear that message in the same way that men hear it. We’re more likely to react to it as a legend (a fantasy, a myth, a fairytale, an un-reality) than we are to be motivated by the emotion it’s intended to provoke.
Here’s the awful truth: effective self-defense training is … boring. For those who want to use firearms for self-defense, we spend a lot of time drilling the basics. That’s sights, trigger, follow through. We spend time working on a consistent grip, on a safe and smooth drawstroke, on being able to access the gun from a variety of positions, on good gunhandling and efficient reloads. Students should learn these fundamentals to the point of automaticity. Simply being able to handle the tool without thinking about the tool itself goes a long way toward establishing good preparedness for everything else that follows.
When talking about the humdrum, practical matters that make up the bulk of reasonable self-defense instruction, firearms trainer John Farnam wryly observes, “Everyone wants to know when they get to jump out of the flaming helicopters.” So, thinking about the Warrior Legend that motivates good men, we write class descriptions in terms that would attract the people who want to jump out of those flaming helicopters. We do this because it works very well to attract adrenalin junkies and strong-hearted men, who make up the bulk of the self-defense community. We appeal to the Warrior Legend.
But then we’re surprised and a bit sad that more women won’t come to our classes or learn the skills that would help them learn to protect themselves. Don’t women care about staying safe? Don’t women want to have fun learning cool new skills?
We don’t write our class descriptions thinking about boring, mundane things like, “This will help you stay safe and keep your family safe.” That might be true, but it isn’t sexy. It doesn’t give the reader an adrenalin jolt and it doesn’t promise that they can be the hero of their own legend. It’s the steak without the sizzle.
Who needs this?
The problem is, strong men and adrenalin junkies don’t derive nearly as much benefit from defensive training as the people who aren’t motivated by the Warrior Legend.
The message that women want to hear and need to hear is that serious self-defense training is practical. This training will help you do the things you want to do, in the ordinary happy life you live right now. These skills and this mindset will fit into your everyday life. We don’t train, and we aren’t inviting you to train with us, just because we want to fulfill some virile fantasy, but because we’re concerned about simple reality. This is where the rubber meets the road. This will make your actual day to day life better. That’s the message that women need to hear, and in some ways, it’s almost the opposite of how self-defense training has traditionally been marketed.
So we need to find more ways and better ways to get this message out to good women as well as to good men: Training is not a fantasy or a game. It provides you with important knowledge and experience on a very practical level that can help you take better care of the people you love. The hard work of learning how to defend yourself will help you enjoy the life you want to live. Learning how to protect yourself will help you stay safe and keep your family safe.
When we get that message to our potential students, they come to class. Better than that, they learn how to protect themselves and the people they love.