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The need for a 'mental side of self-defence'

A look into Aberdeen's self-defence culture

by Mauragh Scott

Ben White, Unsplash

Arizona Brodie created the ‘Self-Defence Project’ in Aberdeen when she found out, from personal experience, that self-defence needed to be much more than physical moves- which is what is commonly taught. Arizona has dedicated her life to supporting people in becoming more physically and mentally protected from assault and has released an online course in response to the lockdown which came out on the 27th of June. I interviewed Arizona herself, to get an insight into Aberdeen’s self-defence culture.

What is self-defence about?

Self-defence is a holistic concept. By this, I mean that self-defence is more than what we typically think of – [that being] physical escape. It can also be mental escape and de-escalation at the time of the event. These skills are also important, if not more.

Self- defence can also include the healing process after an event, especially by allowing forgiveness and compassion for yourself.

By learning how to cope and react, you will be less likely to take bad treatment from other people, and yourself.

One thing I have been working on is this exercise called the Red Flag exercise, which allows people to gain a greater understanding of what the Red Flags/warning signs of abuse are likely to be. I believe people, especially women, are taught to ignore their instincts and not take red flags seriously. For example, many women are under the false impression that excessive jealousy in a partner is desirable. Through working in domestic abuse support, I have learnt that it is important for people to see Red Flags.

What are the errors in viewing self-defence completely as physical?

Self-defence has been typically created with the males-perspective in mind, but women can not be physical in all cases! The sad reality is, sometimes (not all, but sometimes) complying might be the best option, the safest option. The physical part of self-defence is the last 10% of knowledge that you need. The physical skills taught are just a tool to help you conduct what is already in your mind.

What is self-defence not about? Are there any misconceptions surrounding the practice of self-defence?

Unlike what you see in mainstream media, self-defence is really not about being flashy or glamorous; it’s about escaping and staying alive. A really important distinction to make is that it’s not about your ego and it’s not about being tough or an alpha.

In true self-defence, the ego takes a back seat to safety. It’s better to get out of a situation safely than make it worse.

People also tend to mix up self-defence with sport martial arts training; it’s actually very different! This ties in with the misconception that self-defence is completely physical. You don’t know how you will respond in a bad situation; you could freeze for instance.

That’s why it’s important to know that self-defence can also include learning tactics like positive self talk, ways you could talk yourself out of a situation, and coping mechanisms.

I have focused recently on the idea of positive mental health exercises for people who freeze or have a panic response. I have embedded this idea into the online course I am about to publish. It’s so important for people to have access to self-defence in a way which allows them to heal at the same time through learning how to stay calm and be positive.

Did you have any previous experience, and how did you get interested in self-defence?

I had a lot of martial-arts experience spreading over more than ten years. I have also worked as a bouncer. Because of all of this, I thought I was tough and capable for when a bad situation arose. But when I ended up in a bad experience, I had that freeze reaction.

It was this absence of physical skills that made me question; if somebody can't be physical, then what is self-defence?

This is what sparked my passion and journey into mental self-defence.

Do you feel like there should be more education around self-defence?

Definitely yes, self-defence in the holistic sense should be taught in schools. It’s not just protecting safety, but also wellbeing. It’s crazy that it is not taught because many of us will come across difficult situations in life. Self-defence shouldn’t just focus on this idea of punching harder because physical violence is not always the safest option.

Self-defence can sometimes be viewed as something only for women, is this the case?

Well, through working as a domestic abuse supporter I know that abuse can happen in LGBTQ+ communities and within families. Also, whilst women being victims of abuse is much more common, men can also be victims and non-binary too.

It’s important that people know that abuse is not just physical but can be emotional too.

The labels that surround self-defence and abuse are very limiting, as not all situations fit into one neat box. This is why I think everyone in the world should be taught the holistic version of self-defence - especially within schools. There is a lot of room for improvement for young people around sex education, we need to teach young people about healthy communication during sex.

How do you think that self-defence helps people heal from trauma?

The silver-lining that comes along with going through trauma is that it changes your perspective on life. It can make you very grateful for the things that really matter. Every person who chooses to wake up another day even in spite of the war they are facing to me is a warrior. Self defence, with an instructor who can be sensitive to your needs, has the potential to be one of the most powerful ways to focus that inner strength and to heal yourself.

The kind of self-defence that I want to put out there is about being safe but also learning to process and heal from some things that might have happened in the past. Coming to terms with these types of situations is vital.

Some research suggests that self-defence can help you heal from PTSD especially, as it allows you to revisit difficult positions or scenarios but in a safe space. Self Defence Project allows you to take your own time, your own pace, and have your boundaries respected whilst healing - and all with wonderful and kind people supporting you!

You can access Arizona’s online course and a wide range of resources at:

You can also get in contact at the following;

Text : +447850859399

Facebook message : @selfdefenceproject

National Domestic Abuse Helpline : 0808 2000 247

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