Self-defense “works” for the same reason that it doesn’t work and that underlying reason is because most people quit at a certain level of resistance or motivation.
Most people who join a gym will quit going regularly soon after.
Most people who decide to stop smoking will quit the “stopping”.
Most people who join a martial arts program will quit before obtaining a high rank.
Most people who start a dieting or fitness regimen will quit for achieving their goals.
Most people who attack or plan to attack other person will quit when the resistance reaches a certain level.
Most people who are attacked will quit resisting at some point and become victimized. (Please note that most people does not mean all people. Some people are physically unable to continue any type resistance and resistance need not be only physical.)
All of the above are motivation driven actions. These actions require some type of motivation to continue. When this motivation is equaled or exceeded by a counter-motivation, the action stops.
Most attackers depend upon human nature. They know that most victims will give up with minimal resistance. But attackers are human too. That means they will also give up their attack at a certain level of resistance. Attackers and victims usually quit for the same basic reason. They fear the consequences of their actions. They quit because they fear that their continued actions may make the situation worse.
The majority of attackers are lowly motivated. That means it doesn’t take that much resistance to make them quit or to not get started in the first place. But since the majority of victims are selected as lowly motivated victims, the attackers are likely to prevail. A victim usually quits in hopes of not being injured or attacked further. An attacker usually quits because he or she fears injury or societal intervention and punishment.
Quitting is not necessarily a conscious decision. People quit when guided by their subconscious too. Quitting can be a conscious strategy of submission or disengagement. It can also be an overwhelming instinctive “freezing” initiated on the subconscious level. It can be a habitual or conditioned response to certain environmental stressors.
If you are a highly motivated defender (you have a high threshold for quitting), you are more likely to prevail against a lowly motivated attacker (has a low threshold for quitting). On the other hand, highly motivated attackers (high threshold for quitting) are another story. These individuals are much less likely to quit. They should be avoided at all costs.
Defending yourself against most lowly motivated attackers usually requires basic risk reduction, boundary setting, de-escalation, and deterrence strategies combined with a vigorous low skill physical defense and not quitting. All of these actions have the effect of making your attacker quit before you do.
Defending yourself against a highly motivated attacker requires devoted training in self-defense methodologies, environmental and domain knowledge, and decision making. Most people will quit the training before obtaining useful proficiency.
For most people, self-defense training that “works” should focus on learning how to defend against lowly motivated attackers and how to avoid and deter highly motivated attackers. Those trainees that don’t quit before reaching basic competency prove themselves to be highly motivated defenders. They are now ready to begin training to deal with highly motivated attackers.
Unfortunately, due to marketing demands and a curriculum driven by unrealistic student fears and expectations, many popular self-defense training programs start by focusing on how to deal with highly motivated attackers. Since most of the students will quit before obtaining useful proficiency, the majority of these trainees receive minimal benefit from their self-defense training.