The Story of You Defense

The Story of You Defense

There are so many stories behind the creation of You Defense.  From the writings of a Brazilian educator to a report of a safely resolved mugging on the streets of Baltimore; the story of You Defense is a revolutionary re-imagining of the self-defense course.  The story of You Defense can be found in my purple-belt forms (Pyong An 4 and 5 to be precise) and can be heard reflected in people’s experiences.  The story of You Defense is very much YOUR story; a quest to cut through the static of cultural hostilities, social tensions, relational manipulations, and situational threats to protect You with your greatest asset; yourSELF! 

“Violence, as a process, is perpetuated from generation to generation of oppressors, who become its heirs and are shaped by it.”
― Paulo Freire

Mugging: Me or You?

One evening, my amazing and wonderful spouse and I were discussing our days.  At the time of this story she was employed by a major academic/medical institution located in Baltimore, Maryland whose name rhymes with… um…. “banana-kins” She mentioned that a doctor had reported being mugged while walking to work. I quickly interjected – as I am wont to do – to inquire about the doctor’s safety.  She’s fine, she assured me while returning to her narrative about the doctor being “held-up” by a smaller, non-“white,” middle-aged male wielding a flathead screwdriver.  I tilted my head a bit while furrowing my brow while my spouse continued her story to tell me the resolution of the doctor calmly surrendering her wallet and safely continuing on to work. I drew in a small breathe to add my commentary, but before I could utter a single word, my spouse’s interjection hit me like a thunderclap.


Yes dear, … but a smaller, non-white, middle-aged man would never mug you – during the day no less – with a flathead screwdriver. It would never happen. Never! You’re a white, tall, large, imposing, hetero, cisgender male.


I realized that teaching others how I would or could respond to something is completely useless without appreciating that my situations will never be their situations!

“Conditioned by the position of oppressing others, any situation other than their former seems to them like oppression. Formerly, they could eat, dress, wear shoes, be educated, travel, and hear Beethoven; while millions did not eat, had no clothes or shoes, neither studied nor traveled, much less listened to Beethoven.”
― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Purple Belt Passion

I fell in love with martial arts when studying classic Korean Karate (otherwise known as the non-sport predecessor of modern Taekwondo) in the late 1990s. I eagerly studied the movements and forms, and enthusiastically practiced.  While first learning purple belt forms I was introduced to the infamous “reach-grab-pull” move.  The specific move was a crotch punch and/or grab followed immediately by a rip and-or-pull. At that time I had an unsettling revelation. I was unsure that I could effectively use what I was learning while staying my generally fun and goofy self!  

“One of the basic elements of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed is prescription. Every prescription represents the imposition of one individual’s choice upon another, transforming the consciousness of the person prescribed to into one that conforms with the prescriber’s consciousness. Thus, the behavior of the oppressed is a prescribed behavior, following as it does the guidelines of the oppressor.”
― Paulo Freire

People: Professional Observation

A martial arts colleague shared a great experience with me, assuring me I was on the right path with the focus of You Defense.  He recounted participating in a women’s self-defense seminar.  The instructors placed great em-PHA-sis on being “careful” with techniques and the danger of the techniques being taught.  It was stressed how dangerous and vicious the course “content” was, and that great care was needed when acting in self-defense.  The instructors all met for dinner afterwards, and my colleague joined them.

They all drove to dinner together, and that’s when my colleague noticed that none of the self-defense instructors were wearing seatbelts!

That’s when he realized the entire course was more about the instructor’s egos and need for external self-esteem validation.  The course wasn’t about personal safety – the instructors didn’t even wear seatbelts! The entire thing was about making the instructors feel “safe” and “strong” by reinforcing how “dangerous” the content of their “techniques” was.  

“No oppressive order could permit the oppressed to being to question: Why?”
― Paulo Freire

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

During my graduate studies, I was fortunate to be introduced to the writings of Paulo Freire.  A Brazilian educator, his deep writings on pedagogy (education/educational process) astounded me! I read – and re-read – his small book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.   The key element I took from this work was a realization of the formative nature of education.  In teaching others, there is a simple yet incredibly powerful question to ask:

“Am I teaching you to be me, or helping you to be you?”

I am a white male who happens to be hetero and cisgender. I’m physically fit, tall, relatively large, and somewhat imposing.  What I can do, what I look like, and what other people see is my situation or my reality. My problems, fears, and issues exist within my situation or my reality.  The “solutions” in this case are martial arts.  

Not only am I highly trained in administering and receiving physical violence, I’m a member of the current cultural power-majority.  In “self-defense” curriculum, I am part of what Freire would label the “oppressor class.” To truly create self-defense, I need to be aware that I am not YOU, and allow you the chance to create YOUR curriculum.

The good news is YOU have the power to end cycles of violence! I’m honored to walk with you, to be your guide, and to fight by your side!