By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved
A large portion of my income comes from conducting seminars and it has been for over 10 years. For me conducting seminars is a love/hate kind of thing. It is primarily a "love" kind of thing in that I love the teaching, I love meeting the people, I enjoy the travel, but hands down the number one reason is that I truly feel I'm helping people. Where the "hate" aspect comes in is the perception a lot of other people have of what I do, or perhaps even more the perception that most people have of my industry. Most of the seminars I do are self-defense seminars and when people find out what I do for a living they automatically mentally lump me in with a large portion of the industry that isn't focused on helping people and brush me off with a platitude.
Over the 25 plus years I have been in the martial arts I have found that the industry of self-defense seminars isn't fully respected by either martial artists or by the general public. The reason for this is that self-defense seminars have been around forever and most people have had a mediocre to poor experience with them. When I ask people about their experience with them what I hear over and over is that they're too expensive, they're too cheap so they can't be any good, they're too short and you can't learn anything in an hour or so, the instructor wasn't competent (they either weren't knowledgeable, didn't answer their questions, or they couldn't preform what they taught and made themselves look bad), and by far the most common complaint is that they didn't learn anything... or at least anything useful. I understand every one of these complaints and I have seen them firsthand. When I was a teenager I went to more than one self-defense seminar in my area and they were laughable at best.
The way I see it there are two main problems with self-defense seminars, and the first is that most instructors aren't qualified to teach them. Most of the seminars I've seen over the last 25 plus years were taught by some guy who has a black belt. Contrary to popular belief having a black belt doesn't necessarily qualify you to teach self-defense. One of my black belts is in Songham Taekwondo (ATA style); based solely on what I learned from the ATA I would never dream of teaching someone self-defense. Most instructors with the limited knowledge gained in "just" having a black belt end up teaching a karate class instead of a self-defense class, with techniques ranging from white to yellow belt level. Walking down the floor doing high blocks, reverse punches, and front snap kicks is not self-defense.
I think a a key problem is that people in the martial arts confuse the martial arts with self-defense and see them as one and the same. The thing is that they're not; most martial arts schools teach their art as an art-form and focus on teaching a student their art-form instead of teaching their student to best ways to defend themselves. I, for example, have three black belts, I'm a "master instructor", and the main art I study focuses on self-defense and pretty much nothing in it is appropriate for tournaments... yet most of what I teach during a self-defense seminar I learned outside of my martial arts training.
People need to know a lot more than simply how to punch and kick, they need to know how criminals pick their targets, how they commit their crimes, where the most dangerous areas are and what the most dangerous situations are, and exactly how they should be aware. What is going to be of most benefit to people, especially people who don't intend on committing to regular training, is to be educated on who criminals are, how they work, how to spot them, how to establish boundaries and deal with someone trying to get too close to you, and then how to cause the most injury to the body with the least amount of effort. I've spent years and thousands of dollars studying this and I don't know any traditional martial arts school that teaches it. Knowing how to do a high block and throw a really good side kick doesn't qualify you to teach someone how to defend themselves.
The other big problem is that, from what I've seen, probably about 95% of self-defense seminars are actually not designed to teach people to defend themselves. Most self-defense seminars are actually taught for marketing purposes. Many martial arts schools offer free or low cost seminars to introduce people to their style of martial arts and then pitch them on enrolling in their regular classes. These seminars are marketed as a means for an average person to learn to defend themselves but in reality putting on a quality seminar isn't their intent. I have friends who charge $25 for a one and a half hour seminar and they spend most of their preparation time looking in the mirror and working on their sales pitch. As a fellow professional martial artist I absolutely understand thins, however, this does a huge disservice to the general public, the martial arts, and yourself in the long run. If that is the kind of seminar you're going to hold then that is fine but don't tell people you are going to teach them to defend themselves, be honest with them and call it an "introductory martial arts seminar" or something like that.
Another problem is some people hold seminars that are just all over the place. I saw someone get interviewed on TV who was pitching a three hour long women's self-defense seminar she was holding. When asked for specifics she said the first hour was actually all about fitness and would be a fitness boot camp, the second hour would be self-defense, and the third hour would be about mind/body experience so they would be doing yoga. That is not a three hour long self-defense seminar and shame on her for pitching it as such.
While there are people out there actually providing a public service, trying to teach people usable information, and actually caring about the well-being of their clients this is only a very small percentage of the instructors out there who are holding self-defense seminars. When I design a seminar I say to myself, "OK, my teenage daughter is coming to me for an afternoon of training and right after she is going to be violently assaulted. What does she need to know right now?" and then put pen to paper.
I understand the difficulty of making a living teaching martial arts and marketing a martial arts school in general. It is not easy and there is a lot of competition. Most instructors set out wanting to share their wonderful art-form with the world and end up being a glorified day care center until they have to start dipping into their savings account to pay the rent of their school. Despite this we need to honest with both our students and ourselves.
I don't blame people for not holding the industry of self-defense seminars in high respect. In my experience I don't hold them in high regard either. The world is full of fly-by-night pepper spray salesmen conning college girls with expired products and "rape whistle jockeys" saying, "Scream 'NO!', kick them in the groin, and blow your whistle. That will be $30."