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Five Steps for Evaluating the Effectiveness of a Self-Defense Technique – Erik Kondo

You just watched someone demonstrate a self-defense technique. Now, how do you determine whether or not the technique is effective?

The most frequent commentary on a self-defense technique is some variation of ‘that would work” or “that wouldn’t work”. While these types of comments express an opinion, they don’t provide any insight into the validity of the technique.

The first thing to understand is that every technique demonstrated in some shape or form “works” because it actually happened even if it was “faked”. Everything that happens creates an “Outcome”. Everything else that could also happened creates alternative Outcomes. The legitimacy (effectiveness) of a technique is a function of the likelihood of the demonstrated Outcome as opposed to the likelihood of alternate Outcomes occurring.

This logical also holds for staged demonstrations. A staged demonstration is an Outcome in which there are a large number of pre-arraigned factors which create the desired Outcome. In the case of less “realistic” demonstrations, the overriding factors usually are cooperation and compliance. But, there are more realistic demonstrations where cooperation and compliance is less of a factor for the shown Outcome.

Generally speaking, ineffective techniques (ones that don’t work) spawn a large number of likely Outcomes other than the desired one. Effective techniques (ones that do work) are more likely to spawn the desired Outcome and less likely to spawn other Outcomes. Dangerous techniques have a high likelihood of spawning Outcomes that have severe negative consequences.

For example, buying a lottery ticket is a technique for winning $1,000,000. The Outcome of winning does happen. But the Outcome of not winning has a much greater likelihood by many orders of magnitude. Therefore, buying a lottery ticket is an ineffective method for winning a large sum of money.

When examining a self-defense technique, particularly those techniques that involve multiple sequential movements (Sequential Outcomes). The first step is to determine the likelihood of the Outcome created via the first movement verses the likelihood of alternative Outcomes.

For example, a person standing ten feet away threatens you with a knife. The technique in question is for you to Run Away. There are two macro Outcomes that are spawned from this action. Outcome #1 is that the Threat doesn’t try to chase you. Outcome #2 is that the Threat does try to chase you. Outcome #2 spawns two more Outcomes. In Outcome #2A, you outrun the Threat and get away. In Outcome #2B, the Threat catches up to you.

Outcome #2B, now spawns a large number of Outcomes depending upon what you do when the Threat catches up to you. You could have stopped, turned and now be facing the Threat. You could be still running with your back to the Threat. You could be facing the Threat and back peddling, etc. It should be clear that the number of possible Outcomes increases dramatically when Outcome #1 and Outcome #2A doesn’t happen.

The effectiveness of the Run Away technique is a function of the likelihood of Outcome #1 (not chased) and Outcome #2A (chased, but get away) in comparison to the multitude of other Outcomes starting with Outcome #2B (caught up to).

Regarding Outcome #1, the likelihood of it occurring is directly related to how motivated the Threat is to harm you. Therefore, the effectiveness of running away is a function of how likely the Threat is to chase you. And how likely a Threat is to chase you is a function of the Threat’s motivation. A low motivated attacker is less likely to chase you, while a highly motivated attacker is more likely to chase you.

Outcome #2A depends upon your running speed in comparison to the Threat’s running speed. If you are a sprinting track star or excel in Parkour and the Threat is an Average Joe, then the Outcome of outrunning is likely. On the other hand, if you are a slow runner or have a mobility disability and the Threat is speedy, then Outcome 2A is less likely and Outcome #2B is more likely.

Outcome #2B spawns a host of possible Outcomes. Therefore, evaluating the effectiveness of technique of Running Away also requires determining what the likely Outcome is of Running Away and getting caught up to. The effectiveness of Running Away requires some knowledge as to what your own running capabilities are relative to the Threat, along with why the Threat is threatening you, and what might happen if you run and get caught. All of these factors must be taken into consideration in order to determine the effectiveness of Running Away as a technique.

Evaluating the effectiveness of a demonstrated technique requires having a sense of what other Outcomes are possible, and what are the likelihoods of these alternate Outcomes. If a Technique consists of four steps to the demonstrated final Outcome, and each step could spawn three alternate Outcomes, then executing that Technique creates a total of 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 = 81 possible Outcomes, of which 80 are NOT the demonstrated one.

A major consideration for determining technique effectiveness is the likelihood of the desired Outcome occurring as compared with the likelihood of other the undesired Outcomes occurring.

The second major consideration is severity of the consequences if the desired Outcome does not occur. For example, the odd of surviving one round of Russian roulette are 5 to 1. There are five Outcomes in which you are unscathed, and one in which you most likely die. On the other hand, a game of Chicken with a knife may be more likely to cause you injury, but you are less likely to die.

Therefore, evaluating the effectiveness of a given technique requires being able to envision the likelihood of alternate Outcomes along with the severity of negative consequences associated with these alternate Outcomes.

The Five Step Methodology to determine the effectiveness of a technique is to:

  1. Do the technique as shown in order to produce the desired Outcome.

  2. Examine what actions spawn alternative Outcomes.

  3. Evaluate the likelihood of the alternative Outcomes.

  4. Evaluate the consequences of the alternative Outcomes.

  5. Assess the overall likelihood of the desired Outcome in relation to the consequences and likelihood of alternative Outcomes.

Or you could save a lot of time and effort and just say that the technique is “realistic” or “bullshit” and call it a day.


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