Teaching A Victim
The main aim in learning the martial arts is of course to defend against being attacked and if you are a teacher of the martial arts then your job is to teach people how to survive a street fight but what if your new student has been a victim already?
You may not realise it but there could be students who have been with you for years who were a victim of some form of traumatic event in the past but however they will never tell you or you will never become aware of it.
Many people who have been through a traumatic experience will never show signs of such a thing or will rarely react, or show any problems, when it comes to learning and being in a physical contact situation with others while taking part in a martial art training session, however, there will be those who, for various reasons, can become very unsuitable and unstable under such conditions.
I have found the martial arts to be very beneficial but I have also found some students unsuitable when it comes to learning the combat arts, morso, when it comes to physical contact with others.
Therefore there are some things that survivors, therapists, and martial arts instructors need to be aware of when considering martial arts training.
Abuse comes in many different ways and it is not just women who are victims, which sadly many people think of first when the term abuse or trauma is mentioned - men also can and often are victims in just the same way.
There is physical abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, and of course sexual abuse - both for men and women alike.
Abuse can be a one time occurrence or go on over many years. Abuse affects a person in many different ways, such as having low self esteem, depression, nightmares, flashbacks and post traumatic stress disorder.
Some trauma impacts can be seen while others are hidden deep inside a person.
Most, if not all, traumas will always be a part of the person's life and will never go away even if learning things like the martial arts.
Martial Arts training can help abuse survivors to regain some control over their lives again to a degree and increase self esteem in addition to learning how to prevent themselves from being a victim again - but there are a few things you should be aware of regarding abuse - both as a teacher and as a student.
Speaking as a former martial arts teacher myself you will notice from time to time that your students might not behave in a way you would expect. Perhaps a student suddenly seems to lose control and goes berserk on their training partner or perhaps the opposite happens and all of a sudden they will pull completely away and stop.
Both of these are examples of how a person might react when a traumatic memory is triggered but that of course, I hasten to add, could be for other more natural reasons and not down to such past experiences.
Continued next column >>>
Continued from first column >>> The best way to describe a trigger is when something, a person, place, smell or even a touch can suddenly remind that person, be it a man or a woman, of past abuse and this causes the person to become trapped in their mind for a few moments to back when that abuse was happening and not in the current situation that they need to deal with now.
In such a situation their training partner has become their abuser in their state of mind even if only for a moment in time. This type of situation can sadly cause a fight or flight response or maybe even a panic attack.
So what can you, the teacher, do in this situation?
First of all try to give that person some space and time to get themselves back under control. Do not touch them unless you need to and only then to prevent them from hurting someone else or themselves. Giving them time to take a bit of a break and relax is all that you can do in the end really as although you may be a highly qualified instructor you do not have the training, or qualifications, to give further advice, unless of course, you have had formal training in the past. To put it another way resist the urge to give advice and any physical aid that could potentially do more harm than good unless you are sure of your own actions.
If a student wishes to talk about their past traumatic problems to you then there is no harm in listening but it would not be wise to give advice, more so legal advice, beyond basic practical things. In addition never be judgmental in any shape or form.
In the case of a child then always speak with their parents as soon as you can rather than get involved yourself any further. Remember - you are a martial arts teacher and not a qualified social worker or a doctor.
A question that is often asked by instructors is - should special treatment be given to students who are past trauma victims? My reply is always the same. If someone wishes to learn practical self-defence then being soft with them or allowing them to avoid some parts of their training will not prepare them for the real thing when it comes to a life threatening situation. So on that point it is a simple and clear case of being tough with them to overcome any emotional limitations that they may have.
Martial arts can help in various ways but it is not, and never will be, ‘a magic trick’ when it comes to helping trauma victims and both teacher and student alike must remain aware of that simple fact at all times.
If you are a trauma survivor then remember that your teacher is only qualified in teaching the martial arts. He may have the title doctor or professor in addition to his rank but in many cases that has nothing to do with qualifications regarding trauma victims. In fact often such titles are bogus or misleading and in some parts of the world totally illegal unless the correct formal training in such things are backed up by a recognised authority such as a legal medical or educational body.
In the UK anyone claiming such a title without the required proof will be arrested and imprisoned on the spot.
Therefore keeping in mind that most teachers are only trained in teaching the martial arts your teacher is not there to help you with such problems but to help you learn hard and realistic combat skills so that you have a better chance in a street fight if that situation ever arises in the future. Although having said that he or she can often be very helpful over the basics and will be more than happy to listen to you when they can but you must always remember that they are not doctors, counselors or social workers.
Their job is to teach you physical conflict skills so you can look after yourself better when needed - but they are not there to hold your hand.
Martial arts can be a great way to help in the healing process of abuse and for some survivors they can go from being a withdrawn, scared person with low self esteem to a strong, powerful, in control person who can face the world head on but it can only work if you put the required effort into it.
On a final note - if you, the would be, new student thinks that joining a martial arts club is a way or means of kicking back and making people, or events, pay for what you have been through as a form of revenge then your reasons for learning such things is not wise and a good instructor, hopefully, will be on the lookout for that kind of situation - so do question your motives before taking such a step.