"Less is More" Self-Defense Training

December 31, 2018

"Less is More" Self-Defense Training


It’s that special time of year when companies are performing inventory and consumers are assessing their physical fitness levels.  While you’re at it, take a personal inventory of your own self-defense skills.    Some of you may be asking yourself – “What skills?”  I’m not saying you need to join the nearest martial arts school and train for black belt.  Lots of people have successfully defended themselves without any formal training.  But if there are insecure feelings about your general ability to guard your personal space, it would be well worth your time to find a short-term workshop that covers the basics of “command presence” with practical, physical measures that incorporate muscle memory patterns. 

The key to an effective short-term workshop is SIMPLICITY.  Programs that focus on fine motor skills are great if you are looking to become a “career” black belt and study for the long-term.  I’ve spent 30 years in the martial arts, and 20 of that teaching mostly women in short programs.  Due to the increasing demand of women in the workplace, the long-term approach doesn’t suit our busy lifestyles.  In my experience, a short-term program that emphasizes basic, gross motor movement works best and can dramatically increase self-confidence.  The hallmark quality of a good short-term self-defense program is having an instructor who understands the important dynamic of “Less is More”.

There are plenty of well-meaning martial arts instructors who are fabulous at teaching their own dedicated systems, however, not all are created equal in teaching practical self-defense skills.  Do your homework.  An effective short-term program will start out by addressing good boundary setting directives, and how your breathing while under stress impacts adrenaline in the fight or flight state.    Too many programs start off right out of the gate with the physical aspect of kicking and striking.  I get it, it’s exciting and fun.  And yes, the physical aspect is very important……. but while the student is feverishly hitting as hard as they can, they have no true mindset or purpose.  Self-defense requires a proper mindset and “understanding of self”.  It is a deeply personal decision in which no two people will handle an identical situation the same way.

The physical portion of an effective short-term program should only include a handful of skills.   It should not be teaching complex “easy-to-forget” maneuvers.  These are impractical for those not formally studying the martial arts.  The handful of skills I’m referring to are palm strikes, foot stomps, elbow and knee strikes; with an emphasis on hitting to the face, groin, knees, shins or feet.  In my experience, I’ve found that using a repetitive combination of the same strikes over and over; done in various grabs and holds works best.  These are called “muscle memory patterns”.  It’s kind of like learning CPR— “Check, Call, Care”.  You are not there to become a doctor, just to acquire basic, repetitive skills to increase your confidence of handling an emergency situation successfully.  It’s important to understand that as your heart rate rises under stress, the less capability you must execute fine motor skills.  Hence, “Less is More”. 

Finally, if you happen to take a short-term workshop and would like to advance your skills, there are many beneficial martial arts systems out there.  Realize, however, that not all systems may align with your personal goals.  Take a tour of those offered in your area to make an educated decision for yourself.  In life, nothing is a guarantee, but I’m a firm believer that even the most basic of training is better than no training at all.  Happy New Year!


Rachel Cheeseman is a 2nd degree black belt and has studied the martial arts for the past 28 years.  She founded Street Smart Self Defense Academy in Erie, PA 17 years ago to empower women, due to the rape of her sister in her off-campus college apartment. She is a certified instructor for the national full-contact self-defense program called “Model Mugging” and a certified instructor for the MUNIO Self Defense Workshops. Rachel is also a member of and former seminar instructor for the American Women’s Self Defense Association, and she has been inducted into the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame, Action Martial Arts Magazine Hall of Honors and the World Karate Union Hall of Fame.

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