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Certification Requirements

Background and Overview

The National Women’s Martial Arts Federation is a leader in the development of empowerment self-defense training (ESD).  What started as an informal gathering of passionate self-defense instructors in the 1970s has grown into a vibrant empowerment self-defense instructor community, and members have and continue to contribute much of the thought leadership in the field.

 Empowerment Self-Defense is receiving increased recognition as a proactive measure to reduce potential sexual violence and physical assault, particularly within the context of acquaintance-based assault. This model of self-defense avoids potential victim shame/blame by squarely placing accountability on an aggressor’s choice to exert domination based on gender, sexuality, race, relationship, and/or other hierarchical factors.

Instruction within this model extends beyond physical self-defense, although that is clearly a key element.  Core skills include situational awareness and risk assessment; boundary-setting; physical skills; and follow-up reporting and support.  The skill sets to teach integrated Empowerment Self-Defense curricula are therefore unique and require specialized experience and training.

The goal of the following process is to introduce processes that will enable more instructors to become certified in Empowerment Self-Defense, while ensuring consistency and parity as a mark of excellence. 

Certification Process – Individuals 

The NWMAF certification requirements for self-defense instructors include the following:

  • 3 Years of consistent training in self-defense or martial arts, as attested to by the applicant’s primary instructor and/or colleagues.
  • Minimum of 50 hours of hands-on self-defense teaching
  • Submission of written curricula for both a short workshop (3 hours or less) and a multi-session course (8 – 24 hours), unless the applicant only teaches short programs (defined as a single session OR is less than 6 hours).
    • Instructors who only teach short programs may be certified as SPO (Short Program Only) instructors
    • Short Programs are defined as trainings that have a total duration of less than 7 hours OR take place in a single session.
  • Recording (audio or visual) of a short program, or the opportunity for a session to be personally observed.  Observations may also be via online technology such as Skype, Facebook Messenger, etc.
  • Three letters of reference:  at least one must be from a student,  Other letters may be from colleagues and/or from an agency or organization for whom one has taught.
  • Attendance at the Self-Defense Model Course at Special Training or other approved trainings.
  • Aspiring applicants may also attend a course certified by a former Model Course instructor, or from an accredited school (see below).
  • Attendance at ESD programs offered by the NWMAF

Accreditation Process for Allied Organizations to Certify Self-Defense Instructors

To be accredited, a school / organization that trains instructors of empowerment self-defense must meet the following requirements: 

  • Have an active self-defense instruction program headed by at least one NWMAF-certified self-defense instructor.  
  • Have a documented self-defense curriculum.  Schools that offer short programs only may only certify instructors at the SPO level.
  • Have a documented self-defense teacher training process.  This process must include:
    • A foundation in the philosophical framework of the empowerment model of self-defense
    • A process by which aspiring teachers may acquire both physical self-defense skills and instruction on how to teach physical skills
    • A process by which aspiring teachers may acquire verbal self-defense skills and instruction on how to teach verbal self-defense skills
    • Opportunities to teach self-defense alongside certified instructors, and receive feedback from them
    • A minimum teaching requirement that aligns with the self-defense certification application. Teaching shall include independent teaching or teaching with a co-instructor.  
    • A minimum training requirement that aligns with the self-defense certification application (3 years of consistent training)

Schools / organizations seeking accreditation must:

  • Submit an application (currently under development) to the NWMAF that describes the training process and specifically addresses the points articulated above.  
  • Submit a roster of certified instructors actively teaching at their school / organization, and their degree of involvement in the teacher training process
  • Arrange for a site visit by a certified instructor that is not affiliated with their school. If the school is a member of a self-defense or martial arts organization, the site visitor must not be a part of that organization (for instance, IMPACT International or International Karate Federation).  The site visitor should have the opportunity to observe an actual self-defense training session by an experienced instructor who is involved in the self-defense instructor training program. Site visitors may apply to the NWMAF to fund travel costs, thereby minimizing economic impact.  In addition, retroactive recognition of these visits within the previous 5 years may be made, provided that documentation can be provided
  • Special Considerations for model course instructors:  Programs run by instructors who have taught the model course at NWMAF’s training camp may apply for exemption of the site visit for initial accreditation, and for any re-accreditation period during which the primary instructor has taught the empowerment model course at the NWMAF training camp, or in another venue where certified instructors unaffiliated with her school were present.
  • Pay an accreditation fee.   The primary purpose of the accreditation fee is to cover travel costs for site visitors, and factors such as school size, geographic proximity, and financial ability of the school will be considered when determining fees.  This should not be understood as a direct cost, however — some fees may be in excess of travel costs for the site visitor, with the understanding that they will subsidize site visits for schools with lesser means.

Schools must re-accredit every 10 years.  Re-accreditation requirements are the same as initial accreditation requirements.

No single person can be a site visitor for the same school twice in a row.

Students from an accredited self-defense teacher training school must still submit the certification application and application fee.  However, they are not required to be reviewed by a certified instructor, nor do they need to submit curricula, letters of recommendation, or documentation of having met the minimum teaching and training requirement, nor do they need to attend a model course.  All of these requirements are assumed to be met by the accredited training process. 

Re-Certification Process

  • Recertification is required every 5 years.
  • Regular attendance at the annual NWMAF conference which includes ESD professional development (also known as the Self-Defense Instructors Conference/SDIC)  is strongly encouraged.
  • SDIC or ESD professional development is held adjacent to or concurrently with the NWMAF annual conference.  Note that this is distinct from the self-defense empowerment model course, which is held during the conference and is meant to be an introduction to self-defense instruction. Attendance at the model course does not count for re-certification.
  • Instructors may re-certify via documentation of 25 hours of professional development, at least 5 of which should be from attendance at SDIC/ESD professional development.
  • All 25 hours may be from this source. Additional sources may include:
    • Professional development (beyond initial instructor training) at one’s own accredited self-defense program. This can include helping to teach new instructors. No more than 10 hours may be from this source
    • Professional development at another accredited self-defense program.
    • Continuing Education credits (CEUs) from any helping profession. The CEUs must be relevant to self-defense, violence prevention, or understanding violence and violence-induced trauma.
    • Submitted for Review and Comment January 2018
      Approved by the NWMAF Board May 2018