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Core Competencies

1. Personal attributes

The successful self-defense instructor demonstrates:

  • Evident, obvious, and demonstrable belief in the work.
  • Assertiveness.
  • Warmth and approachability.
  • Appreciation of and comfort with diverse backgrounds.
  • A commitment to continued cultural awareness.
  • Trauma-sensitive responses to students’ classroom experiences.
  • Enthusiasm.
  • Empathy.
  • Appropriate boundaries and the ability to communicate them.
  • Respect for self and students.
  • Appropriate use of self-disclosure.
  • Self-awareness.
  • Ability to seek support from peers and senior teachers.
  • Effective self-care.
  • Emotional composure and ability to project a steady presence.
  • Knowledge of additional resources (for example, counseling services and martial arts classes).
  • Commitment to ensuring maximum access to SD, across economic boundaries.
2. Ability to teach physical self defense skills

The successful self-defense instructor demonstrates:

  • Possesses mastery of basic physical self-defense techniques.
  • Selects physical techniques appropriate for practical self-defense vs. traditional martial arts.
  • Effectively demonstrates, describes, and instructs.
  • Understands the underlying reason for techniques’ effectiveness; demonstrates a basic understanding of body mechanics.
  • Assists students to adapt techniques to varied abilities/disabilities.
  • Provides effective positive and constructive feedback on physical techniques utilizing both verbal and non-verbal methods.
3. Ability to model and teach non-physical self defense: empowerment, assertiveness and problem-solving

The successful self-defense instructor demonstrates:

  • Models assertiveness in voice, eyes, and body language.
  • Models appropriate boundaries.
  • Fosters a sense of safety and trust within a group setting.
  • Conveys belief in students and their ability to change.
  • Models problem-solving skills inherent in self-defense; incorporates students’ “what-ifs” into class design.
  • Encourages and develops students’ problem-solving skills.
  • “Shows” more than “tells;” uses experiential teaching techniques and promotes active student involvement.
  • Teaches assertiveness, de-escalation skills, and compassion for self.
4. Ability to establish an atmosphere of safety, respect and support

The successful self-defense instructor demonstrates:

  • Expects and maintains discipline and safety appropriate to a self-defense class.
  • Maintains confidentiality.
  • Establishes and maintains appropriate ground rules for class participation.
  • Possesses time management skills. This includes both management of class time and organizational skills in support of SD practice.
  • Possesses exercise preparation skills: for example props, rotations, etc.
  • Bears witness to students’ struggles; validates and names shared realities.
  • Actively listens; avoids advice-giving about student life problems.
  • Skillfully observes and responds to trauma responses that may arise during classes.
  • Employs effective group closure that allows students to continue their own empowerment at the conclusion of sessions and series.
  • Engages in continued learning about culturally responsive teaching and group techniques.
  • Employs developmentally-appropriate exercises and class content.
  • Demonstrates respect of students’ personal space; does not touch students’ bodies without permission and provides examples of how to refuse touch.
  • Empowers students to determine their own level of participation in any exercise and provides examples of how to opt out.
5. Ethical framework and philosophy of anti-violence

The National Women’s Martial Arts Federation requires that its certified instructors “be in agreement with the philosophical assumptions developed by the [National Coalition Against Sexual Assault Self-Defense] NCASA AD-HOC Committee regarding the teaching of self-defense”:

  1. Women do not ask for, cause, invite, or deserve to be assaulted. Women and men sometimes exercise poor judgment about safety behavior, but that does not make them responsible for the attack. Attackers are responsible for their attacks and their use of violence to overpower, control and abuse another human being.
  2. Whatever a woman’s decision in a given self-defense situation, whatever action she does or does not take, she is not at fault. A woman’s decision to survive the best way she can must be respected. Self-defense classes should not be used as a judgment against a victim/survivor.
  3. Good self-defense programs do not “tell” an individual what she “should” or “should not” do. A program should offer options, techniques, and a way of analyzing situations. A program may point out what USUALLY works best in MOST situations, but each situation is unique and the final decision rests with the person actually confronted by the situation.
  4. Empowerment is the goal of a good self defense program. The individual’s right to make decisions about her participation must be respected. Pressure should not be brought to bear in any way to get a woman to participate in an activity if she is hesitant or unwilling.
6. Political awareness/contextualization of violence

The successful self defense instructor demonstrates:

  • Considers violence in the context of racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, ageism and other systems of inequality and oppression.
  • Understands violence as a societal vs. individual problem and communicates this in the classroom setting.
  • Assists students to challenge the victim-blaming ethos prevalent in considerations of violence.