Recently I had a conversation with a friend about the fact that I quit teaching self defense for money (well, in reality, there was never much money involved). My friend, who also has years of martial arts experience, felt sorry for my “failed” business and encouraged me to try again. He thought if I really pushed to market my teen/female workshops more aggressively I would get more interest.

Let’s look at the “failed” business issue first. I actually don’t look at the end of my self defense business as a failure. The entire experience gave me unmatched personal growth opportunities. The business idea forced me out of my comfort zone (public speaking), provided me with a wealth of knowledge on business and self defense and allowed me to meet and learn from some pretty amazing people* to boot. No regrets here.

As for my friend’s suggestion of using better marketing strategies, well, he’s right. I probably could have done better with the marketing. A bit of an ethical dilemma arises for me on that issue though. Read on.

My workshops consisted of a significant amount of information on prevention and prediction, with actual physical self-defense “techniques” as secondary content. When people think about self-defense, they think of that proverbial stranger that jumps out of the bushes and attacks innocent passers by. Yet, my workshops did not focus on this type of violence to a great extent. The core composition of my workshops focused on the areas that posed the greatest risk of harm to the teens and women attending. In fact, boundary setting was a central theme, along with prediction of relationship violence and ways to avoid situations that could lead to acquaintance rape.

Ultimately, prevention and prediction do not sell as well as so-called knockout self-defense moves that will presumably end the attack on the spot. I say presumably because, as those of us studying self-defense know, you can have some amazing “techniques”, but there is no way to know if you can/will use them successfully when faced with real life violence. Unfortunately, the general public is misinformed on frequency and types of violence and, therefore, tend to erroneously believe that those knockout techniques are exactly what they need for self-protection.

I marketed my workshops according to the main content, spotlighting use of prevention and prediction to avoid violent situations in the first place, with some self-defense techniques sprinkled in. The decision was made to terminate the business when it became apparent to me that, in order to have an audience that feels self-defense is worth their time and money, I would have to sell fear.

Selling fear was exactly what my friend was suggesting would help with interest in my workshops. He isn’t the first person to encourage me to do this. In fact, I was told early on that I should watch the local news for stories of females, particularly female college students, that have been assaulted. When these stories came out, I was advised to contact the media in an attempt to get a short interview on how I can teach others the self-defense moves that would end an assault such as the one being reported.

In the time since I ended my self-defense business, I have learned a bit about marketing through my pursuit of other business ideas. One of the most important points I’ve taken away from this is, in order to draw in your target audience/market, you have to use the same words they use when talking about your “product”. If we extrapolate this out and view self-defense as a product, when people talk about self-defense, their words are:

“I think it’s useful for others, but I…

…live in a safe neighborhood”

…don’t feel unsafe in my life”

…know a martial art”

…carry a weapon”

…don’t have the time”

…don’t have the money”

Overall, the message is that people just don’t think self-defense is an urgent need that they want to take the time and money to pursue. In order to get them to think differently, one would have to make them believe that they are, more likely than not, in danger of being assaulted at some point in the near future. Thus, you have to sell them fear.

Selling fear works. News programs sell fear to gain an audience; the more extreme the story, the more people are likely to watch and keep watching, particularly if they believe it may affect their own lives. Politicians are experts at selling fear to gain support. Instead of a focus on solving problems, they prey on people’s fears and insecurities by making extreme, shocking comments to draw attention to those insecurities. Selling fear is a marketing tactic that works like a charm.

So therein lies my ethical issue with selling fear to get better attendance at my workshops. Statistics show a drop in violent crime over the past 20 plus years. Females are much more likely to become victims of interpersonal violence rather than random violent crime. This is not the stuff that sells a self-defense workshop.

Selling fear is dishonest. Anyone can use statistics to claim their position, or their product, is the one that will stop the source of the fear, whatever that fear may be. The marketing of fear adds to paranoia and misinformation.

Does all of this mean I don’t believe in self-defense and will not teach any more? Absolutely not. I believe the information in my self-defense workshops is immensely important and I continue to educate myself on all aspects related to the topic. I still love providing the workshops to engaged groups that seek me out and want the information, though I do it strictly on a volunteer basis. I will teach what I believe is important and right, not what sells.