Empowerment Principles

You are Free

Freedom from fault

Attack situations impacting someone are never accidents or misfortunes. The fault, accountability, and blame for the creation of any attack situation is exclusively owned by the attacker(s)

The creation of an attack situation is always a decision by the attacker, regardless of how you were acting, what you were wearing, where you were, or what you were saying

Freedom from Blame

As a deliberate choice by the attacker, the causality of an attack situation literally cannot be caused by the victim

Placing blame for a situation or event on someone who cannot cause it is mistaken at best, and a continuation of the attack situation at worst

You have sole rights to you

You have the right to your space

  • You are in complete control of your “self;” your own body, brain,  and mind
  • You are in complete control of your relationships in your space
  • You are in complete control of your decisions in your space
  • You are in complete control of your actions your space

You have the right to your boundaries

  • You have the right to create personal boundaries and barriers to protect and shelter this individual-self
  • You have the right to control how these boundaries are drawn, and how they are protected
  • You have the right to decide if and how to communicate these boundaries to others
  • You have the right to identify words and actions that violate your boundaries and barriers
  • You have the right to be in full control of your responses when your boundaries are crossed
You are empowered

You are in control

  • You are in complete control of your responses and actions to protect your individual-self.
  • Your choices to take action or to not take action to protect your barriers are fully yours; they do not change the truth of your freedom, rights, or empowerment in any way

You are in community

  • You are empowered to form communities of mutual safety and protection
  • You are empowered to create boundaries of safety and respect in these communities, and bring these boundaries to the public sphere
  • You are empowered to communicate, validate, and respect these boundaries alongside others
The definition of fault is “responsibility for an accident or misfortune.”

The definition of responsibility is “the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.”

The definition of blame is “to assign the responsibility for a bad or unfortunate situation or phenomenon to someone or something” 

Empowerment Beliefs

The core beliefs of You Defense self-defense courses are a self-defense course must do no harm, it’s content must match the needs of the students, and it must empower students’ abilities to create unique solutions matching their needs.

Self-defense courses should do no harm to participants in mind and body

Self-defense education must do no harm to students. Self-defense courses must be delivered consistently in ways that do not harm students health, wholeness, safety, and security. 

Self-defense courses should be appropriately adaptable to student situations

Self-defense curriculum must follow student reality. Self-defense curriculum must be grounded in quantitative/objective and qualitative/subjective information about what threatens the peace, health, and safety of students.

Self-defense courses should be directed by the students

Self-defense instruction must allow students to create their answers. We are all on our own journeys to our own destinations of peace, health, and safety.  Technical instruction must be delivered in ways that give students the ability to find their own answers and to own their safety.

Empowerment Goals

Enable the creation of student-owned content

Place students in COMPLETE CONTROL of who they are

  • Allow students to ask & answer “who are you” in their individual-self
  • Guide students to ask & answer  “who are you” in your situational-self
  • Challenge students with information & statistics on attack situations
  • Empower students to problem solve attack situations with critical discussions
Provide practical and effective training to meet student needs

Train students to EFFECTIVELY defend who they are

  • Train students to defend their individual-selves through core martial arts concepts
  • Encourage students to apply martial arts concepts to protect their situational-selves 
  • Protect the physical safety of students by training their bodies, brains, & minds to be fully aware during attack situations.
  • Ensure the mental safety of students by creating a trauma-informed, student-focused curriculum.
Plant and grow empowered communities

EMPOWER students to actively defend themselves, and each other

  • Create a community of awareness, equipped to fully see & name attacks against all of our whole-selves
  • Create a community of courage, empowered to challenge & call-out what attacks all of our whole-selves
  • Create a community of power, equipped to bring your unique solutions to complex attack situations
  • Create a community of connection, empowered to expand your solutions complex attack situations
  • Create a community of determination, equipped to firmly push forward towards creating humanity

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!

Neurology of Self-Defense

Bringing in Needed Neurology

Connecting to how our brains process information during crisis allows us to create truly effective martial-selves.  We frequently hear the phrase “fight or flight,” but this is not a full or accurate statement. You Defense curriculum specifically focuses on preparing students for attack situations; including what their brains, minds, and bodies will face as they fight for safety. The drills, discussions, and exercises of You Defense seek to place the student’s “self” in full control of what’s happening at every step!

The Beautiful Brain

When our brains process signals from our bodies, the information is sent in two directions, high and low.  The high direction is to our frontal lobe, or our conscious mind.  At this level we are aware of thoughts and make rational decisions.  Long before information gets to the frontal lobe, however, it will have been screened for threats by other parts of the brain. These parts, the lower areas, process information faster than our conscious mind is aware of.  These parts are connected directly to our viscera, or guts.  This mechanism allows our emotional processing – our gut feeling – to be infinitely faster and more reliable than our frontal lobe during a crisis.

(a non-neuroscientist butchering of the amazing work of Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk’s work  in The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel Van der Kolk, Penguin Books, New York NY 2014)

Understanding the Traumatic Event

When our lower brains flag something as a possible safety threat an immediate series of actions are initiated that all occur before our rational mind is aware of what’s happening

(from Trauma and Memory: Brain and body in a search for the living past, Peter, A Levine, PhD, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley CA 2015).

  • We pause, or our hearts “skip a beat” as we enter arrest/alert processing.
  • If the stimuli continue to worsen, we’ll progress to stiffen and orient as we search for what is causing discomfort or danger.  
  • Once the cause of the worsening feeling is identified, we filter the stimuli to see if we need to assess it further.  
  • If so, we process if we should avoid, or approach what has captured our gut sensation.
  • If things continue to get worse, we attempt to fight through humanity’s strongest & most unique weapon in the animal world; our complex social relationships.  We automatically seek to fight – or flee – together as groups.  
  • If our search for other humans to aid us fails or if we are alone, we may seek to fight or flee alone.  
  • If we are unable to fight or flee, we will freeze with high levels of fear and nervous energy to wait out the threat.
  • If the threat continues to escalate, we will fold, dissociate, or shut down as a final strategy of survival