Thus far, I have taught two sessions of self defence for senior citizens (nearly finished with the second course). Much of the focus has been on conflict avoidance, situational and environmental awareness, using common sense, the likely threats that seniors will face, setting personal boundaries, and the need to maintain a strong vibrant network.
Naturally, there have been a lot of work on developing physical self defense skills for them with a focus on palm strikes and escapes from wrist grabs, bear hugs and the like. At first, I took it easy not knowing their physical limitations and easing their way in. Surprisingly, I found myself underestimating their ability to learn and grasp self defense concepts and techniques.
Some of their initial attempts were uncertain. I soon discovered that this uncertainty was not due to lack of physical skill but lack of permission to go harder. For example, in Modern Arnis, there is an escape from a same side wrist grab called the Chop and Pop. In a modified version, the defender employs a slap off (or pak sao in wing chun terms). Many of the seniors were reluctant to apply a hard slap/pak sao to my forearm. After explaining to them that I’ve been in the martial arts for 26 years and that I was used to this and that it was okay to go all out, they got excited and started landing powerful slaps to my forearms.
The light went on and they understood that they were capable of doing what I was teaching them. It seems that not only was I undersestimating them, but they were also underestimating themselves as well. Now granted, some of their techniques may have to be modified due to different needs. It’s now getting to the point where I am feeding them as much as I can and see if they get it. It’s very gratifying to see their growth in terms of physical ability and confidence.
I learned another lesson in underestimating the ability of a student last week with a new 4 year old student. Yes, a 4 year old student. Two of my other children students have been doing empty hand block check counter against angles 1 and 2 and I wanted them to work on it. So I called for them to work on it and decided to give the 4 year old girl a try at this particular Modern Arnis technique. I used numbers to explain the technique (“1,2,3”). I was stunned to see that, after a couple of initial fumbling attempts, she essentially got it within 30 seconds. She had the correct sequence down. The funny part is that she would end the technique with a pat on my nose. Once again, I underestimated another person based on age, in this case, based on the fact that the girl was 4 years old. There’s a lesson there for me as an instructor.