I have written many articles and run many courses on the general principles of self-defence because I have seen that the greater self-defence industry is preoccupied with selling fads, gadgets and combat techniques. Perhaps because that’s what people expect from self-defence instruction. Generally in business, the attitude appears to be “Give ’em what they want and take their money”. Very few self-defence service providers appear to be interested in developing the underlying structure and framework for a useful response in their students. Perhaps because this is not popular with a consumer audience.
I see this as a symptom of our times. Consumerism demands a product and it is far easier to package a gadget or a technique and sell it as a product than to train people in a holistic approach. It reminds me of one of the late, great Terry Pratchett’s recurring characters. Terry Pratchett was a prolific and incredibly entertaining author who often wrote fantasy satire to examine current social issues from the perspective of the fantasy genre. Cut Me Own Throat Dibbler (often shortened to CMOT Dibbler) was one of his famous recurring characters who was an opportunistic but unlucky businessman who often found himself selling questionable hot meat pies and sausages on street corners.

In the book ‘Guards! Guards!’, CMOT Dibbler began selling dragon detectors because of the threat of a malicious dragon prowling the streets of his city. His dragon detectors consisted of bits of wood on metal sticks that were guaranteed to burn through in the event of a dragon being close by (due to the fire that the dragon was breathing at the purchaser of the dragon detector, of course). I believe there might have been a money-back guarantee but only if applied for in person. Of course, the dragon detectors would actually work but simultaneously they would be of no real help to the person who was depending on them (because they would be burning to a crisp).

The same can be said of many self-defence techniques and gadgets. They may work, but without an understanding of the greater principles of self-defence, they would simultaneously be of no real help to the person who was depending on them. Take kubotan keyrings for instance. Absolutely, they would give someone a small advantage in a hand-to-hand combat situation, but without considerable combat training, skill and experience, they would be next to useless. In addition, a kubotan-style keyring will not give you any prior warning of an impending attack and will not help you deal with the aftermath of the event. So they’re a bit like CMOT Dibbler’s dragon detectors. A product which ultimately only offers a false sense of security to the average person on the street.

So what am I selling instead? Everybody is selling something, right? As a traditional martial arts and self-defence instructor, I sell a kind of personal development service. My students pay me for the time and effort I put into their personal development. I can help you to develop more effective combat responses, but this requires a big investment of time and effort on both our parts. This is one of the services that I offer, but only to those who successfully sit an interview with me. My time is precious. I’m not for sale to the highest bidder. I chose whom I will attempt to help.

In order to prove our point of difference, I will give you the principles you need to develop to survive a self-defence situation free of charge. It’s up to you to develop them. I will refer you to my older article on self-defence principles here. Refer to this as background to what I am about to write.

I will repeat here that actual physical combat makes up only a tiny percentage of the greater principles of self-defence. It is important to train this, though. Without a response to this threat, there will always be a weak-point in your defensive response which breeds fear and encourages paranoia. So look for a good combat instructor. Note that all are NOT created equal. Do your homework. Just because there’s a local dojo next to Maccas down the road from you does not mean that this may be the best option for you. In combat training, as in all things, quality matters. If you take the easy, convenient, cheap option, you’d better hope that you never have to face anything more life-threatening than a belligerent drunk spilling his beer on you at the local pub.

So on to the greater self-defence principles. In earlier courses and articles, I used the OATS acronym to convey these principles but I have found that it is not broad or well-defined enough to encompass everything I wanted to convey. OATS stood for Observation, Acceptance, Tactics and Safety. Read about the OATS principle in my older articles.


I have since adopted the AIS acronym. AIS stands for Awareness, Intervention and Safety. These are the three most important principles of self-defence. If you develop these, you will stand a far better chance of surviving than forking out $20 for a kubotan keychain. I will give a bit more detail on these principles below but this article will stretch on indefinitely if I elaborate too much. I can revisit these principles individually and in more detail in future articles if there is interest. Let me know if you want more detail.

Awareness involves both internal and external awareness. So it includes awareness of your own physical and mental spaces, predilections, weaknesses, strengths, personality as well as awareness of the people and environment around you. I cannot stress how critical awareness is to a successful intervention. If developed well enough, you may never have to face a situation which you were not pre-warned about and prepared for.

Awareness training starts internally and grows outward. The first step is to be completely honest with yourself about everything. Sound easy? Yes? Then I can guarantee that you are not honest with yourself and this will be your sticking point. You cannot survive a life-or-death struggle if you don’t even know who you are. Awareness training helps you to identify potential and impending threats and provides you with quick strategic and tactical information on goals and risk mitigation. This information will be applied in the Intervention stage.

Intervention involves actually doing something (either physically, mentally or socially) to avoid or deal with an impending event. Intervention involves use of strategy and tactics based on the information that you have been privy to because of your Awareness training. A very tiny part of the Intervention stage of self defence may be actual combat but it is much further down on the list of prioritized steps of the ‘triage’ style policy you should adopt when dealing with a threat.

Combat is dangerous and should never be entered lightly. It is far better to strategically relocate or socially diffuse a situation than to enter combat. Of course, if combat is entered, it must be expedited confidently and decisively.

Safety. This is a tiny word to convey a vast concept. When are we safe? Are we ever really safe? We can only speak about relative safety. Someone who is teetering on the edge of a cliff may seem to be in a very unsafe situation but is certainly in a far safer situation than someone who is in mid-air after falling from said cliff. Conversely, someone sitting on a couch eating bags of crisps may seem to be very safe but may actually be in a very unsafe situation if they have poor health and a pre-existing heart condition.

Relative safety is the ultimate goal of a self-defence response and all strategies and tactics employed should lead to this ultimate goal. Actually achieving this goal after surviving a physical confrontation may take much longer than you think, though. The ramifications of even a successful physical intervention (which may include legal battles, revenge attacks and on-going injury and/or illness), could last for years after the actual event is over before stabilisation occurs.

Note that I stated previously about the greater principles of self-defence that “If you develop these, you will stand a far better chance of surviving…” I stated this because the AIS acronym on its own is about as useful to you as CMOT Dibbler’s dragon detectors or a kubotan keychain if it remains an intellectual artifact in your mind.

In order for the AIS overview of the greater principles of self-defence to be useful, it must pervade your entire life. It is a method of strategic and tactical living.

Written by SiXiong Lester Walters, Head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia