Self Defense Classes; Buyer Beware!

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: Self-defense
9 Feb 2011

I am almost ashamed to be writing about this but before you read too much into the title, I want to assure you that most self defense classes are probably good. I even continually endorse kids, women and even men take these courses if they need a quick edge and/or are not willing to learn a fighting art. Researching for this post I found what I thought was a good story on a Los Angles self defense class and then it gave me pause!

I am a life long karate, judo, boxing, wrestling, kung fu, and any other fighting art I could find – enthusiast, so for me to say whoa… something is rotten in Denmark – is quite a a feat. You see like any other endeavor martial arts has its share of fakes and fly by night organizations – just as any other industry does but for the most part – the worst you can be harmed is to learn a mediocre fighting style that does not really work. Many people will start with one school and then end up taking up another and finely “get it!”

So in this post I will talk about one more thing to be aware (or beware) of when you consider signing up for a self defense course. I’ll also speak to what a self defense course should contain and other considerations. Ok if you are ready – please watch this video and see if your alarm bells don’t go off near the end and we will talk. There is a 15 second commercial and if you want – skip through this and get to the last minute to see the punch line.




Wow… all I had to deal with when growing up was ads in the back of comic books with a masked man telling you he will teach you the secret stuff and if anyone finds out his identify – they would kill him! I had to replay this a couple of times to make sure I heard this right – $1900.00? Guard your wallet.


Before I start to break apart this self defense offering let me say the only thing I don’t like is the cost. Everything else is plausible but not mutually exclusive. I’ll explain – Tim Larkin speaks about doing the moves slowly and not hitting a padded dummy as being just as effective. I’d have to agree it is certainly one widely accepted way of learning the martial arts. Not all training is full contact. But I would also say that doing a short term self defense class with the dummy so people can get the feeling of hitting something real is another widely accepted and valid way to teach self defense.


Do I have a preference? I generally opt for showing the slow moves and then some practice on some hand pads and let them kick my cup because hitting something real is helpful. But as I’ve said teaching traditional karate – there are a lot of moves taught in the air and I would not ever make the argument that because it is not practiced on something real – it would not work. I know better having used lots of my training when I was a bouncer.


What about the killer stuff you will get in this self defense course as opposed to other self defense courses (implied)? Same body – same killer stuff that you can not use on someone fighting over a parking place. You see marketing is the same the world over – one tries to differentiate themselves over competitors. In this case I guess Mr. Larkin noticed he wanted to “make a killing” on teaching the real stuff (his version of self defense) and everyone else was charging way less. So my guess is he decided to tell everyone that this “military” stuff is better than the civilian stuff! Didn’t Krav Maga already do this?


Let me assure any novice readers that all of the strikes are the same and the modality (way of teaching the same strikes) is not unique. The only unique thing I can see (at least I hope it is unique) is the price. I mean $1900.00 for a weekend? I would hazard a guess and say you could get one to two years of instruction from any martial arts school for $1900.00!


Wait – let me see… is there value for training a whole weekend? Maybe as I understand yuppies go on expensive retreats (probably why anyone is willing to pay top dollar for this) but this seems to be a group class. Maybe this would not be so bad if this was a weekend private lesson? Say since the students do not really hit anything anyway – I could almost see this if I could not find other martial art schools that were willing to give private lessons for $30.00 an hour. If you do not believe me call up almost any school and ask if they can put together a private lesson lasting the weekend (16 hours) for $500.00 ($480.00 + tip). 


If you would like to retain the information longer (by learning slowly over time) consider signing up for a traditional school that offers a combination of private and group lessons plus the use of the facilities. You can find this for about $100.00 a month in most places.


Now I encourage you to check out Mr. Larkin’s website here. He makes some statements that traditional martial arts training will get you hurt:


Everyone tells you that to protect yourself from violence you’ve got to learn a martial art or combat sport — that you must learn some type of self defense.

The facts are… training like that is exactly how to get yourself killed!

This is just a marketing thing… his is the best and the rest of the marital artists are not? He he… you gotta love it but the truth is if you ignore the brash statements by a business owner. All marital arts are about the same. While I cannot say if Mr. Larkin knows his stuff – I know I used to train plenty of SEALs back in the day and the military has even started to include grappling in their training in recent years. So my guess is his course is no better or worse than any other.

So here is the take away: There is no secret stuff. While there are some fly by night schools out there – most of the schools – traditional or non-traditional, teach good solid martial arts. Any martial arts school can teach a good self defense course  – short or long term. Even short term courses like R.A.D or Model Mugging (and there are too many other great programs to list) teach physiological and physical techniques to keep you safe!

And please do not take any of my concerns as me saying what Mr. Larkin teaching will not work. My point is yes – what he teaches is valid but it is far from unique! Any school or self defense course will teach you the same stuff but judging from his prices – but way cheaper!

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15 Responses to “Self Defense Classes; Buyer Beware!”

  1. Matt Klein Says:

    Wow, you are now a human fighting machine–you can do all the moves in slow motion, against a non-resisting crim who is just going to stand there and let you hit him. And without the need for actual sparring so there is no chance for, God forbid, a black eye or bloody nose.

    It is clear to me this appeals to the “instant gratification” society of today. Make me invincible in a weekend without the need to even sweat, breathe hard, or yuck, bleed. Sorry, but you cannot learn to fight in a weekend. You might as well have written the check to a charity for $1900–it would have at least gone for a good cause. Hope their students do not find themselves in a position where they actually have to defend themselves. I will admit, it does give them bragging rights; they are now “street fighters,” that can whup any black belt, lol. John, be careful with that cup, they sometimes break!
    Matt Klein recently posted..How the Martial Arts Build Leadership Skills in ChildrenMy Profile

  2. TheMartialArtsReporter Says:

    Another good one to think and talk about!
    I agree with Sensei Matt that in general one cannot learn to fight in just a weekend.
    I also believe with the appropriate training/instructors and with a martial arts background you could probably greatly enhance your fighting skills fairly quickly. The time period depends on a lot of factors.
    Somehow I have my doubts about total novices becoming totally adept within just a weekend. Maybe I’m just missing something here. I dunno.
    Thanks for the post, John.
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  3. Dr. J Says:

    Gee I wish Mr. Larkin would open a medical school so I could drop a large chunk of money and leave with an MD degree after a long weekend!

    I was talking with a doctor buddy just recently about patient care. He said we should strive to under promise and over deliver. Not the motto of this martial art!

    I wish newscasters could see what they have degenerated into. I really used to respect the profession, but no longer.

    Honestly, I hope these students leave with a confident air and NEVER have to be faced with an attacker for the rest of their lives.

  4. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hey Matt! I was trying to envision what those students would do if they got hit? As you know I am all for most ways of teaching marital arts and even short term self-defense classes but the slow motion and high cost seemed over the top. Thanks for your wisdom!

    Hi Tiger,

    You are supposed to suspend disbelief! Wait – this is not a movie. Ok you got me. :)

    I do applaud the students desire to learn self defense – I don’t think you are missing anything Tiger.

    Hey Dr. J!

    I’ve seen those “colleges” on the internet! I am with you on newscasters. There does not seem to be a benchmark anymore but they have sunk to the level of social media reporting. Wait is that me too? :)

    I’m with you. I hope the students will not have to use this but if they do – I hope they will get the first shot… that would be their best chance after this course.

  5. Ryan Says:

    Wow! 1900 dollars!

    I’m sure this is a great course, but way too much money for me.

  6. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Yes Ryan, one of the times that “you get what you pay for” is not true. Thanks for commenting.

  7. James BUlls Says:

    What’s most disturbing to me about this guy’s presentation is that he appears to be teaching only the most dangerous techniques and protecting himself under the thin shield of, “It had better be worth it if you use these techniques.” Giving his students only the most dangerous weapons puts them in serious danger of litigation – self defense can be both perfect and imperfect. Perfect self defense is only the amount of force necessary to deter or stop the attacker and matches the attacker’s level of force. Imperfect self defense is greater than the attacker’s level of force. For example, if one of these students maims, blinds, or kills an attacker, the prosecutor would have a field day making the case that the student’s training would have enabled him or her to de-escalate the situation or to choose a less-lethal technique. Martial artists are at a disadvantage in the courts when they use too much force – all instructors should be familiar with the terms mayhem, manslaughter, provocation, and imperfect self-defense.
    James BUlls recently posted..What’s my evil planMy Profile

  8. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi James,

    Thanks for your excellent points. Let me try an address a bit. First off I do not want to seemingly be in the position to be an advocate for using deadly force unless there is no other way of dealing with it. You are very correct there may be a disconnect between what a student is taught and what (depending on the circumstances) a student can legally use.

    A self defender (SD) should not start a fight.
    A SD should try to deescalate where practicable.
    A SD should run (if they have a reasonable chance to escape).
    A SD should NOT let an assailant get close to them!
    If a SD cannot get away/deescalate/or otherwise avoid a confrontation AND the SD’s life is at risk (reasonable man standard in CA) – the SD should defend with ALL force needed and NOT a second more.

    Please note that often times when weapons/gang attacks/overwhelming attacks – pulling all of the stops WILL be required to get away with you life and ANY defensive/offensive/preemptive attack MAY be justified.

    However all of this must be tempered with existing laws but if one has NO other choice – pulling out ALL of the stops might be the only way to survive.

    Having said this – I do agree with ALL of your statements and students should be aware that the method they learned (such as an eye gouge) would lead to serious prison time unless legally justified (and legal may be a grey area – open to judge and jury).

    Thanks for opening up the scope a bit James!

  9. Cynthia Says:

    I love to learn self defense.. But the class is very expansive.. But it is worth a penny.. And I think I am too old for this..
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  10. Lauralyn Says:

    I also believe with the appropriate training/instructors and with a martial arts background you could probably greatly enhance your fighting skills fairly quickly. The time period depends on a lot of factors.
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  11. jellyace5 Says:

    Martial artists are at a disadvantage in the courts when they use too much force – all instructors should be familiar with the terms mayhem, manslaughter, provocation, and imperfect self-defense.
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  12. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Cynthia,

    Never too old to learn a few new tricks. “Reasonable” self defense classes can help one learn how to do enough to get away.

    Hi Lauralyn,

    Totally agree… self defense is fairly quick – learning the art of fighting will take a few years but not required to learn how to get away in most situations.

    Hi Jellyace5,

    Agreed. Assuming one is responding reasonably to the situation – one still has to later justify ones actions. Thanks for pointing this out!

  13. domingirl Says:

    How I wish I can still continue with my karate class. After I was thrown down by a classmate during a class makes me all nervous to go back! Truly, girls need this for those male chauvinist in the office or for those weirdos on the street.
    domingirl recently posted..– DATING TIPS FOR WOMENMy Profile

  14. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi domingirl,

    Understandable if you had that experience. Karate schools are like any other school/store/club… you’ll find some that you can excel at and others that are mediocre.

    Just so you know sometimes the students are the problem. When I was a blue belt I was just learning how to spar. The guy I was fighting did not do just the point and stop… no he ran me over like a freight train…

    One of the black belts watching later took me under his wing and told me that that guy did not care if I got a point… he was going to run me over because he was bigger and stronger than me. The black belt showed me how to strike an move out of the way laterally and use movement.

    The next time I still got run over but not as much.

    The real funny thing is I ended up teaching the guy that ran me over about three years later… he was a green belt and I was a 2nd degree black belt. He wanted to spar with me… thinking he was just gong to run me over again. :)

    Well let me tell you I took it easy on him for a bit until he did not stop trying to run me over… then I finally just dropped him with a body shot. You see I had learned how to fight and he for whatever reason had not really progressed.

    So I don’t know if your school is worth a salt or not but I hope you find a school you do like if you have the desire.

    Best of luck!

  15. chikina Says:

    Great idea and very nice and helpful tips. Thank you for sharing.
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