A few years ago, I had the opportunity to take part in pepper spray training at the local police department. When I put in my request to participate, the officers thought I was joking. It is worse than getting shot, and I have been shot! One officer told me. It is still not too late to back out, they said when I arrived the day of the training. Naturally, I stayed. I have a high pain threshold but I have to admit that experiencing the pepper spray was much worse than I had anticipated. My body went into shock. We did the training outside in 90-degree temperatures, and I still shivered uncontrollably for almost half an hour. I couldn’t keep my eyes open for more than a second at a time, and the pain didn’t even begin to let up until 25 minutes later. I went through 200 tissues as well, and thought that I was going to drown in my own snot. Was it pleasant? Absolutely not! Would I like to do it again? No thanks! Am I glad I did it? You bet!

Many techniques that seem theoretically sound fail in the real world, because the instructor has failed to teach the stress under which these techniques must be performed. Factors that cause stress include noise, disorientation, cold, fatigue, distractions, fear, and pain. Enduring this kind of rigorous training gives you insight into how you will react when under stress. You should be taught to recognize your true limitations and not panic, which can be achieved by training in chaotic situations. Much can be accomplished once you know how you will react and what options are available. In real-life scenario training, it is especially important to evaluate the curriculum beforehand. Every self-defense move is not a matter of kicking your opponent in the groin or poking him in the eyes. How workable is a kick to the groin? Since a kick to the groin seems so obvious, an assailant may expect it and be prepared to defend against it. This technique is also much too simplistic for many surprise attacks or unbalancing moves. What about the other techniques you are learning? Can you really use them when under a great deal of stress? Try to include an element of ambush in your training. Learn how to be in control of your emotions when in danger. Much of self-defense has to do with your ability to deal with the situation mentally.

When you have experienced training that is somewhat realistic, you are less likely to freeze in a real situation. I am not saying that your instructor should hurt you in training. But he should teach with a fair amount of contact and physical closeness. Women must accept the fact that they will get grabbed and wrestled to the ground by strange men. The training should be done under safe and controlled conditions and should be fully explained to the students beforehand. You must also consider your psychological state. For example, a program that is offered by an authority may not be appropriate for you in particular. A rape victim may not benefit from training together with the military, police, or bouncers.

When we train with real situations in mind, our attitude is still often too relaxed. We tend to exaggerate the moves in the training hall. Attackers don’t necessarily throw wide and slow punches. They don’t necessarily expose the fact that they have a knife until they are almost upon you. People in the vicinity may not seem threatening initially, but may become so later. If the attacker in the training hall cooperates or does not use enough force, you may get the idea that you are more skilled than you really are. However, the whole lesson does not have to be a chaotic blur, either. For example, you can learn a particular technique or concept and practice it until you have gained reasonable proficiency. Then set up some scenarios. Your instructor should explain that it is unlikely that you will perform the techniques flawlessly when under stress. She should tell you that, for now, it is important to gain an understanding of what can go wrong and to what extent you are able to protect yourself.

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