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Four Branches Of Self-Defense Psychology

At the “core” of our desire to study self-defense is a need to improve and protect ourselves and the people we care about.  We “need” to feel safe and secure in the world if we want to live our lives fully. 

Intelligent, ongoing self-defense training will have a huge, positive impact on your health, sense of security and personality.  Those improvements can and will “spill over” into other aspects of your life in a positive way.

Self-Defense Psychology addresses the mental, emotional and behavioral benefits available to us through the study and practice of self-defense.

There are four “branches” of psychology that I address in my approach to self-defense training:

1.  Response-ability

2.  Motivation

3.  Mental Toughness

4.  Self-Esteem

#1 Response-ability

Response-ability is “your ability to respond” to the challenges and problems that you encounter in your life.  It’s accepting full and direct responsibility for your health, your personal safety and the results you produce.
Through the study and practice of self-defense you accept full ownership and responsibility for your health, protection and essentially your destiny.

Nobody can fight your battles for you.  You probably won’t be attacked in the company of other people.  Predators separate and isolate the intended victims.  The only person you can rely on to protect you but you. 

Response-ability is taking full responsibility for your safety, your training and learning what you need to know in order to achieve that.

Just like you can’t pay someone to workout for you, you can’t rely on other people for your health and protection.  That’s why it’s called “SELF” defense. 

Unless you have a 24/7 bodyguard on the payroll, you’re going to have to protect yourself.  It sounds obvious, but taking full responsibility for your personal safety is the foundation of achieving what you need to feel and be safe.

#2 Motivation

Motivation is the emotional force that propels your to take action.  What is it about self-defense that has you searching for a solution? 

People do things either to avoid pain or gain pleasure. 

Self-defense in particular, is usually “pain driven,” in that people undertake the study of self-defense to avoid being victimized, injured, embarrassed, abused etc. 

Other people might be “pleasure oriented” and look at their self-defense training for the benefits that it offers… it could be a fun and interesting way to get into shape, an enjoyable hobby, something to make you look fitter, feel healthier etc.

There are four forms of motivation that I address in my curriculum.

Motivation to learn – what motivates your interest in self-defense in the first place?  There are many people who don’t give their personal safety a second thought.  Obviously, since you’re reading this, self-defense IS of interest to you.  What is it about self-defense that interest you and how much of a commitment do you have to find the answers or solutions that you seek?

Motivation to train – motivation to take action on a consistent basis is another aspect of your training.  We all struggle with diets, exercise programs and actions that we want to take to achieve the things we want in life.  I believe that one of the most profound and significant benefits of self-defense comes from implementing a regular, consistent, on-going training program.

Motivation to apply – a lot of people know what to do, but that doesn’t mean that they do it.  Self-defense and personal safety is about incorporating proactive rituals, habits and behaviors into you life that will improve your safety and reduce the potential of being targeted for a violent crime or abusive situation.  People are usually victimized when the least expect it.  If you only “activate” safety behaviors when you think that you need them, the probability of being caught of guard is significant. 

Motivation to act – If you do encounter a bad situation, are you motivated enough to apply what you know to protect yourself and resolve your situation?  Are you driven enough to fight the fight and keep on fighting until its done?  Are you solved enough to never give up?  Motivation to act is taking the actions that need to be taken at the time of a confrontation.

#3 Mental Toughness

“Toughness is a measure of health and is evidenced specifically in terms of increases in flexibility, responsiveness, strength and resiliency.  Increases in toughness can occur physically mentally and emotionally.” Dr. James’s Loher, Toughness Training For Life

Mental Toughness is an important aspect of your performance in a critical incident, such as a street fight.  However, it is much more than that. There are significant physical, mental and emotional benefits that can be achieved by the effective balance of stress and recovery that comes from a well-designed combative training program.

Mental toughness “occurs in response to periodic exposure to progressively increasing cycles of physical and/or emotional stress alternating with regular periods of recover.” 

#4 Self-Esteem – the degree of one’s self-esteem has a significant impact on your confidence, your behavior and the quality of your life.

“Self-esteem has two interrelated components. One is a basic confidence in the face of life’s challenges: self-efficacy. The other is a sense of being worthy of happiness: self-respect. ”

Self-efficacy means confidence in the function of the mind, in my ability to think, understand, learn, chose and make decisions; confidence in my ability to understand the facts of reality that fall within the sphere of my interests and needs; self-trust and self-reliance.”

Nathaniel Branden The Six Pillars Of Self-Esteem

This definition of self-esteem is an excellent tool to understand why self-defense training can make such a positive impact on a person’s emotional and psychological state. Let’s apply that definition to self-defense training:


Evolution has wired us to detect and respond to threatening situations. In the days of cavemen and dinosaurs, that was a good thing. However, in modern times, that wiring can backfire when we generate fear, anxiety and stress in response to situations that are not physically dangerous or threatening. This can create symptoms and perceptions that compromise our self-confidence.

Proper self-defense training develops the knowledge, skill and willingness to resolve legitimate threats to our personal safety. You begin to satisfy your need for security and gain a sense of control over the events in your life. You become more capable of discriminating between REAL threats and the “pain-in-the-ass” variety that can suck so much enjoyment out of life.

Setting and achieving self-defense goals provides you with a process that can be applied to anything else you want to accomplish. It builds a general sense of competence which leads to a general sense of confidence.


When you engage in self-defense training, what messages do you think are conveyed to your conscious and unconscious mind? What are you saying to yourself when you decide to dedicate time and energy to your health, your competence and your protection? When you are prepared to stand up for yourself, assert your rights and even injure your assailant to protect yourself, what does that say about your value and importance?

Keep in mind too that intelligent self-defense training is vigorous enough to strengthen and tone your muscles, burn up excess body fat and generate positive hormonal responses that make a significant impact on the way you feel about yourself. Need I say more?

Take care, train smart and toughen up…


About Randy LaHaie

I’m the founder of “Protective Strategies,” a training and consulting company providing self-defense and combative fitness solutions to law enforcement, high-risk professionals and private citizens since 1994. I am a retired police officer, court-declared expert in use-of-force and critical incident performance, and a life-long student of self-defense and combative fitness. “My Thing” is to help people incorporate functional and minimalist workout strategies to improve their health, fitness and personal safety.

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  • Ethan Clinger

    thank you for the helpful information. I am a senior this year and i have to do a persuasive research paper. So i decided to do it on why people should learn self-defense.

  • Good luck with that Ethan… If you have any questions or anything in particular you’d like to discuss… feel free to email me:

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