Rick’s Blog April 26, 2014

Hierarchy of Self Defence Needs

The following diagram is for those individuals who are looking for self defence and not sport.

Clearly this is swiped from Maslov`s Hierarchy of Needs, I just felt it was a good way for those teaching Martial Arts or Reality Self-Defence systems to look at whether they were giving the student what they needed.

It is important to recognize that those seeking sport would need to meet a different set of needs although clearly crossover would exist.


For those looking for self-defence this is the first and foremost need: The ability to survive assaults. Clearly you cannot achieve a skill level quickly that will protect you from every dangerous assaults (you never will by the way) but you should be able to provide students will some very efficient and effective skills quickly.

If you want to provide for this true need make sure what you teach gives the student skills they can learn and use quickly. If you need to train your style or system for ten years before being able to protect yourself then you fail to meet this need. Nothing wrong with that as long as people know you are not going to meet this need for ten years. I wouldn’t be buying it but that’s just me.

Most folks looking for self-defence seek this level of skill. Some may just do a seminar or a few months of training and they hope to have achieved this. If that is all they want then give them the best you can in a very short period and base it on natural responses and principles and not memorized techniques that require multiple and constant repetitions.


Those who continue to train beyond that seminar or introductory course and basic level are looking to increase their safety by putting in the work to improve their skill level and practice.

It is important to realize that these students want to increase skills and deepen their knowledge. For me this means teaching them to understand why things work.

However, some will stay at a certain point on this level because they never move past just practicing what they know. Once again there is nothing wrong with this choice because it is the student’s needs that are being met. The instructor should make sure the evolution of skill is available and that the practice evolves skills even for those who may not progress any farther.


I have included this for a number of reasons. One of the truths about people is that we are social creatures and anyone training in martial arts knows that lifelong friendships and camaraderie are formed through this training.

Another reason I included camaraderie is the importance of who you train with. My long time training partner once said if you want to know how good a practitioner is – ask them who they train with. Your peers, your fellow lab rats on the mat are your greatest catalyst to your learning and progression to mastery, often over your teachers. Which is not to say those relationships cannot also be with your teachers, but sadly there is often a disconnect in the peer learning and exploration needed with teachers. Look to who people train with and study under.

For those hoping to run a successful income earning school I would recommend that you include social activities to help form these bonds. The need to be with those of similar interests is strong and found everywhere. Team Building is often based on social activities taking place with the group to heighten these bonds. This was never my strong suit running a school.


I carried over Maslov’s term here because it refers to self-esteem and self-confidence. If people truly want to move to mastery then they must have the self-confidence to apply critical analysis to what they do and what they have learned. Question everything.

The other portion of self-confidence you must have to achieve mastery is the ability to let go. Nothing you have ever learned is worthless even if in the end you realize it is the wrong way to do things. Many people suffer from the “sunk costs” syndrome where they have put so much time and effort into doing something (or style) for so long they cannot walk away from it to something more efficient and effective. Without the self-confidence to do this many get stuck at a certain level never to move on.

For me Esteem does not refer to rank or recognition. We all like to be recognized for our achievements and there is nothing wrong with that. But the path to mastery is easily derailed when rank rather that skill and understanding is the desire.

There is always some kind of rank but the true rank is learned by crossing hands with someone and not what is around your waist or what colour of T-shirt you wear. Again often rank is needed just to sort out who learns what but when you think your skill is based on rank you may be in for a shock.

Here the teacher has to be confident enough to let the student question. To let the student look anywhere and at anything they want. When I ran camps people were always surprised that I exposed my students to many different styles and training. More than one teacher in my same style deterred their students from attending my camps. To me this just meant the teacher had not reached a sufficient level of self-confidence.

Two last comments on that, I have learn more from one individual who technically is ranked well below me than any other person so rank is only an indicator to me and nothing more. I am not impressed by rank but rather the person. The last comment is a story I heard and I do not know if it is true but I like it. One day in a Gracie BJJ class one of the Gracies walked up to a student and handed them a black belt. The student was surprised and said but I haven’t tested for it. The Gracie brother replied: “It doesn’t matter you can defend it.”


Mastery is an ever continuing path. Mastery is about skill and understanding and not being a master. The moment you feel you are a “master” you are probably wrong. True mastery comes from actually being the continual student that many claim to be but never look at anything new.

Mastery is being able to create, to problem solve, and spontaneously apply your self-defence. There is a true authenticity to what you do because you have openly and honestly and constantly critically analysed yourself, what you are doing, how you are doing it and most importantly why you are doing it.

Without honest critical analysis mastery can never be achieved.

There is nothing a teacher can do about mastery but be a peer to those students reaching this level and seek to walk with them on this path.