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Josh Nixon
Josh Nixon's picture

Hi all,

I've come across a problem. Well, it might not be if I can make sure I'm walking the right path.

Experience. Everyone I speak to and everything I read seems to be saying that 'real-world' experience is crucial for a self-protection instructor. Therein lies my problem.

I am an instructor, and though my instruction has been very small-scale so far I'd like to say it's been pretty good, as the training and research I've done has been wonderful. However as far as 'real-world' goes, I have little to offer, as do those I train with. We don't live in a rough area or a city (pretty rural as it goes, kind of in-between Hanley and Leek for anyone who knows Stoke-on-Trent), and aren't the types to go out drinking often (me particularly, I just don't see the attraction - the alcohol that is, not the company) so our collective and individual experiences of violence, etc are fairly thin on the ground. I personally was bullied pretty badly in primary and secondary school, but it only came to dealing with a 'proper' assault something like 5 or so times in the 19 years of my life. One or two of them were pretty bad, but apart from them I feel pretty inexperienced in that aspect.

My friends and I try our best to make up for this in training by going at it full-on pretty often, but still that's consentual fighting as opposed to the shock of a real situation. We do loads of 'Code White' drills (love them!) as well, and I research on the Internet watching videos of assaults, etc so we can at least see what kind of thing goes on, a little. I read around as much as I can, things like Dead or Alive by Geoff Thompson and Meditations on Violence by Sgt. Rory Miller, which is one of the best books I have ever read, but still - it's books and simulations!

I know some people work the doors or other security for a while to 'open their eyes' as it were, but I'm not sure if that's the right thing to do, for me. I always emphasise the avoidance a lot, and through my avoidance training (and de-escalation) I've managed to not have a violent encounter in 5 years. A couple of people have advised me to just wander around at night, which sounds pretty stupid to me - the words 'looking for trouble and finding it' come to mind!

To sum up, firstly what are your thoughts on the importance of 'real-world' experience? Can a lack of it be helped along a little through the aforementioned training and research? Secondly, what should I do about it?

Thanks in advance, Josh

Gavin Mulholland
Gavin Mulholland's picture

I think it depends what you are claiming to be teaching.

It sounds like you have a lot of experience and learning around the areas of avoidance which is pretty crucial for a self protection instructor. However, I do believe that your lack of genuine physical experience is an issue and one which you have quite rightly recognised as needing attention.

If you had stated yourself to be a 'karate instructor' I think you wouldn't have the same issue but to teach 'self-protection', I would definitely be looking for some real-world experience, no matter how slight. You don't even need a massive amount - just more than the majority of those you teach.

Personally, I would advise you to take some door work for a year or two. That will do two very important things for you. 1) it will close the loop in terms of your genuine experience, b) it will get rid of the doubt that you are (justifiably) feeling and thereby free you up to be the best possible teacher you could be.

Definitely, do not simply wander around looking for trouble. 

Lee Richardson
Lee Richardson's picture

Josh, first of all let me say that you're in good company here. I would bet that a poll asking how much, if any, 'real world' experience the people here have would show some surprising results. That's not a criticism, by the way. I think if the results showed that the good folks here were forever getting into scrapes we'd have to go away and have a good long think about what we were doing (and teaching), since it would plainly not be working.

It reads to me like you're doing everything you can do (learning from the experiences of others, making your training as realistic (as opposed to real) as possible etc) to train and teach self-protection.

Door work is very different to self-protection, although there are many benefits to it and transferrable skills to be honed. It's not for everyone (and I've never done it).

I'm in a similar position to you. I cite my references and sources when discussing aspects of self-protection and I'm honest about my own (limited) experiences of it. There was a case a couple of years ago of someone (I won't name him here) who claimed to have been in the SAS who was teaching self-protection. I've got him on a DVD instructing. It turns out he wasn't in the SAS after all, although what he has to say is still valid. His only 'crime' to me was lying about having done this stuff himself, which is a great shame.

All in all I think you're fine as you are. If you PM me I'll send you some link to other people's material and sites.

PASmith's picture

I'd put myself in the same boat.

And to be honest it's one reason why I put the mockers on ever being an instructor. Back when I did TKD I wanted to teach and was being groomed in that direction in some ways. I love teaching others. However when I found out what other instructors really know (people like Iain and Gavin) I would have felt like a fraud. I've no doubt I could have taught TKD (as a fairly abstract activity) as well as some other people that teach it (better in some cases!) but it would still have felt like I was short changing people.

So I do help instruct on occasion, I try to pass on what I've found out about martial arts but being a "proper instructor" I would say is beyond me. I'll contunue to seek out good quality instruction and information and train myself as best I can and others will have to do the same.

Working the doors would seem to be one avenue but as a middle aged fairly meek and weedy man with a wife and child it would also seem a step too far to for what is essentially a hobby.

Josh Nixon
Josh Nixon's picture

First off, thanks for your replies! I knew I'd get great feedback here.

I'm not sure what I'll do as for working the doors yet, though I have always been interested in security training, etc so it could be an avenue to explore. One thing that does put me off though is Geoff Thompson's account of how it can destroy your relationships with people due to stress, etc. However, I can see it being a very rewarding job, so we'll see. It certainly would seem to be the best way for me to learn more about real situations and confrontations, and test out my de-escalation.

Lee: That sounds terrible. I had a similar experience once with a dishonest instructor - he was a bodyguard but we got the impression some of his stories were embellished or fabricated - who actually had our money off us but didn't send off for the insurance from the BCA! Of course at the time (I was a kid) we didn't know it was weird that he kept the licenses for ages. He's been kicked out since. Couldn't believe it though when we found out, and the most annoying thing was, he was an excellent teacher! I learnt some truly awesome stuff from him. Still, just the way it is sometimes I guess. :/

PASmith, I see your point completely, but I think I'd only feel the same way if I professed to be 'the best', which of course I don't, because I know I'm not! Though my situation's perhaps different to yours because in our whole area, there's a TKD group who sound fairly damaging to their students (a black belt I spoke to had to complete 3 tries breaking a board with a kick. He broke his toe on the second attempt, so the instructor pushed some pressure points on his back and told him to have another go. He did, and there was blood everywhere apparently), a Karate class but that's exclusively for 3 classes of a primary school, and PHDefence which I help out instructing at, out of loyalty to one of my old instructors because he's such a nice guy. That may sound like a lot of choice, but it really isn't. There's no choice of modern self-protection type stuff; only traditional or sport-based things (PHDefence has a lot of traditional Kung Fu in it) so I feel more like I'm trying to fill in a gap rather than short-changing people.

I do understand though. If Iain, etc were around here I'd probably feel the same!

Just out of interest, what other alternatives to door work can anyone think of? Just for interesting discussion if nothing else. 

Thanks again, Josh

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Josh Nixon wrote:
Just out of interest, what other alternatives to door work can anyone think of? Just for interesting discussion if nothing else.

There was a really good related discussion on this a few months ago that I’m sure you’d find useful:


All the best,


Josh Nixon
Josh Nixon's picture

Thanks Iain, and thanks again everybody else. :)

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

I learnt a lot in my brief stint on a door, not the least of which was that most of the skills I'd spent years learning in a dojo were completely irrelevant in a crowded and noisy club.  I also learnt not to trust nightclub managers but that's a different story.

In hindsight, for me the risks far outweighed the rewards.  I did learn how to be a bit more brutal though, which has helped out on several occasions.

No one knows how they'll react until they are tested, which is why the "If he does this, I can do THIS" style of teaching is so fundamentally flawed.