​I have a three-year-old son. His name is Gerald, named after my grandfather because we recycle male names in my family instead of inventing new ones. It’s a way of preserving part of our heritage and history so that it is not lost with passing generations. Gerry is my pride and joy and is a very happy, well-adjusted introvert. My wife and I are both introverts and when you take two introverts and put them together, it is unlikely that they will produce an extrovert. Note that being an introvert is not synonymous with lacking confidence. Gerry is supremely confident and never hesitates to speak his mind. This we have always encouraged.
Gerry is interested in a great many things as you would expect from a boy of his age. Some of his main interests are animals, insects, cars, flowers, running around on our property, machines and building things.

Unlike many other parents, we do not believe in forcing our particular life-path on our children, so although we have done some fun martial artsy training with him when he’s requested it, we have not forced a training program on him. One day, when he’s old enough to make up his own mind, he may decide to carry on in our footsteps and learn from us but he will have to request it. It must be his decision as it was ours. We will never force the training on him.

Even so, there are certain things about our peculiar lifestyle that have impacted him in ways that the children of more ‘normal’ parents never experience. For one, he knows that mommy and daddy spend a great percentage of their time every day in physical and mental combat training. He knows that one of the training goals that motivate mommy and daddy is to be prepared to protect both him and themselves from ‘bad’ people. He also knows that he has certain rights as an individual that should never be challenged by another person or thing. He is very good at voicing his discontent when he feels that his rights are challenged. One of the first words that he learned was “No!”.

Following on from one of my previous articles, “Is Self-Defence Training Politically Correct?”, the concept of self-defence is becoming an unpalatable and politically-incorrect idea in our current abnormal social environment. Things have changed a great deal over the years. Gerry was watching a very old episode of Winnie the Pooh a few weeks ago. It is an episode I grew up watching as a child and in my generation, it was completely natural and acceptable. In the episode, Pooh thought that his honey was in danger of being stolen by Heffalumps and Woozles. Pooh’s response to the threat was to pull out his trusty old pop-gun rifle and start patrolling his house in case of Heffalump or Woozle attack.

It struck me as a saw this recently that Disney would never release an episode of Winnie the Pooh today in which this kind of response to physical threat was demonstrated. It seems as though society demands that little children believe that there is no such thing as ‘bad’ people and yet, we are often contacted by parents who wish for their toddlers to learn self-defence.

Do they know the cost of teaching self-defence to someone?

Do they realise that real self-defence training involves a complete perspective shift, not just a set of physical exercises?

Do they realise that self-defence training requires the student to understand fully that there are bad people in the world? Not just out there in another country across the sea, but possibly living right next door to them. Or perhaps even living under the same roof with them.

Most programs that I have seen today which are meant to empower very young children to protect themselves, teach the concept of ‘Stranger Danger’ despite the fact that we know that most kidnappings, assaults and murders are perpetrated by people who are known to the victim. Only a relatively small percentage are perpetrated by ‘strangers’. But admitting the festering truth about abuse is uncomfortable. Unpalatable. So people cling to the fantasy of ‘Stranger Danger.’

How do you truly teach a very young child to protect themselves without addressing the fact that the person who tries to hurt them may very well be a family member? To do anything less than prepare them for this is to teach a farcical form of self-defence theatre.

“Oh honey, let’s send little Johnny off to self-defence training where he gets to play games, kick bags and learn about stranger danger. He’ll look so cute in his martial arts uniform!”

This kind of self-defence theatre is comfortable for everyone because it doesn’t challenge our perception of society and ourselves but it is simultaneously nearly useless to the children who are taught in this way because it does not accurately reflect reality.

We have been approached in the past for help to develop self-defence programs for kindergarten aged kids. I have always jumped at the opportunity because bringing proper self-defence training to everyone young and old is my personal crusade. If young children get the right self-defence training at the right time, I believe that many of the terrible accounts of abuse that we hear about on the news might be averted or mitigated. Unfortunately, most often when the reality of our program is understood by the agencies involved, the responses we receive are anything but encouraging. Objections are usually raised to the fact that we insist on teaching children about the realities of the dangers that they are facing. Fears of rampant paranoia and parental objections are raised.

Is this what we believe now? Are we so fragile? Do we believe that knowing the truth makes us paranoid?

What is the point of teaching kids physical defence without educating them in the true nature of the potential threat? Half the battle of any self-defence situation is psychological in nature and being surprised by someone that the child thought they could trust is a psychological bombshell which can render them incapable of proactive self-defence. Unless they are prepared for this eventuality, that is.

I personally do not believe that a full understanding of the dangerous nature of society and the threats that face us as individuals, coupled with a program of self-defence training will make someone paranoid. In fact, I believe that a real self-defence training program can actually reduce stress and paranoia.

It’s all about Perspective and Preparation.

If you have a balanced Perspective and are actively involved in a Preparation program, you are unlikely to become Paranoid. Paranoia is like a type of psychosis. It is an unnatural state based on a fantasy of persecution or threat. What we teach is a balanced, natural perspective based on the reality of what is currently happening to the individual. As far as I am concerned personally, I cannot recall a night when I did not have a comfortable, full night’s sleep. I sleep as comfortably as I do because I know that I have done all I can do to prepare. If I fall victim to violence, it will not be for want of preparation. But Heaven help the threat that comes knocking at my door. 

For those parents who are considering sending their children to us to learn self-defence, be aware that we teach real self-defence with all that this entails. We are not a self-defence theatre show. We are not a pantomime to make people feel comfortable or to make little Johnny look cute in his Kung Fu pyjamas. If you want your child to have real self-defence training, then drop us a line to organise an interview. If not, I’m sure that there are half a dozen centres in Toowoomba alone who will gladly take your money and teach your child how to kick and punch, give them a cute uniform and prepare them for “Stranger Danger!”.   

Written by: SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia.