Why Do People Really Learn Self Defence?

The instinct for Survival is part of a basic human need. In 1943 psychologist Abraham Maslow published his ‘Theory of Human Motivation’, which included a neat “hierarchy of needs”, ranking universal human needs into how essential they are. He made it clear that only once one set of Needs is met, do we have the freedom to focus on satisfying the next level.


The Most Basic of Needs

Maslow’s hierarchy begins with two “Basic Needs”, both relating to sustained survival.


First and foremost humans need to sustain life; to satisfy the physiological needs of food, water, warmth and rest. When we feel hungry, we eat. When thirsty, we drink.


Once life is sustainable, we seek to reduce threats to our survival, by satisfying the Safety needs: Being healthy, being financially secure and, at base, being Safe.


The need for Financial Security drives our quest for a stable income and saving for a more certain future. The need for Health and Wellness is behind the billion dollar fitness, supplement and weight loss industries.


Of course, when we think about learning Self Defence, the fundamental reason is to secure our Need for Safety

The Need for Safety - Based on an Assessment of Risk

When it comes to Safety, most of us (fortunately) have not experienced all the potential dangers. So we have to predict the likely threats. Maybe we’ve been broken into twice. Our neighbour was mugged on the train line we use. The local Facebook group speculates there’s a meth lab in the next street. The TV news talks about an attempted abduction on 2 children 5km away.


Based on all this evidence – our own experience, events we can closely relate to and threats that sound plausible – we build up our own assessment of our Safety Needs. How great they are, and what steps we should take to satisfy them. Our age, gender, relationships, location, habits, wealth and profession all mean this is a personal assessment, unique to every individual.


The majority will look at these facts and choose to rely on the easy path. Many these days rely on home security measures. The relative ease of boosting safety in the home and property prompts the growing popularity of guard dogs, security screens, CCTV systems and video entry phones. Others may even choose to rely on a combination of community law enforcement and luck to protect them.


The exceptional few will consider the evidence and feel that the risks justify taking action to lessen the dangers, for themselves and potentially their loved ones. These people see a need to learn Self Defence, the more realistic and effective the better. To arm themselves with tangible skills, available wherever and whenever they’re needed. To Keep Safe to face a new day.

It Comes Down to a Personal Story

So, why are some people in the same risk category more likely to choose to learn Self Defence?


We have been teaching students now for over 2 years and, surprisingly, most people who choose Krav Maga are NOT doing so because they live in war zones or in the most troubled locations. Unless their occupation exposes them to risk, they are often not living particularly dangerous lives. Why?


Again, we must turn to Maslow’s Hierarchy to help understand this. Beyond the Basic Needs already discussed, are two levels of Psychological Needs. The third tier is Belonging, including Love and Social Connection. The fourth is Self Esteem. The fifth Growth. They all come into play, when it comes to Krav Maga training.


Some parents come to empower themselves purely because they see themselves as the first line of protection between their helpless child and the dangers he or she faces – this is both a Safety and a Love Need.


Some sign the kids, or even the family, up together and embark on a shared activity, which brings them closer and allows them to practise and boost each other’s abilities – this satisfies the Love Need. Many choose to start Krav Maga lessons because of the strong community of like-minded people they meet – this is a Social Connection Need.


What is perhaps surprising, is the number of people whose Krav Maga journey has little to do with a need for Safety. These people have moved into the highest two levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy, where they are primarily motivated by respect and worth – initially from others and eventually from their own self.

Deriving Worth

Krav Maga is the ultimate form of Self Defence training. It requires practitioners to challenge themselves to be the best they can be. Physically. Mentally. As human beings. When we challenge ourselves, we risk failing. When we succeed, we derive worth because we were able to overcome the challenge.


Learning a dangerous skill has to carry an element of responsibility. When individuals choose to learn Krav Maga, they are taught how to inflict great harm on other human beings. But they are also taught the rules of how and when to use their skills, and an essential part of training is honing the decision-making powers to use their abilities wisely.


This involves Mastery of Self. And Mastery of Self is the final, ultimate level of Maslow’s needs. It starts by gaining the respect of those around you (family, friends, colleagues). If you assist these people you may well gain their appreciation as well, and with it a growing knowledge of adding value.


But the last step – and the reason a surprising number of students choose to learn and practise Krav Maga long-term – is the personal growth journey, the development of self-worth and the sense of being valuable. It is these motivations of Self-Actualization, rather than the motivations of Safety, that prompts a significant part of the Krav Maga community.

What About You?

The astonishing thing is, if you look back at the Examples of Needs we gave against Maslow’s Hierarchy, you can see that each and every one of them CAN be secured by learning a quality form of Self Defence, such as Krav Maga. From breaking the hold in a choke and regaining the ability to breathe, through escaping an abusive situation and so creating a platform for security, health and safety, and up into the social, esteem and self-actualization results, everyone can benefit from learning Krav Maga.


Now have a look back at the diagram and consider what your personal motivations are for learning Self Defence. For those already training in Krav Maga, we’d love to hear what motivated you to get started, and how this has changed over your Krav Maga journey.

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