Okay, before I get to the self-defence side of things in this post, let me first give you a few personal thoughts, and you will see how it ties into the self-defence side of things and SAFE International. At the age of 52, I find myself becoming more fascinated with how the human mind works, its’ potential, how it is directly connected to how we feel and perform physically at an optimum level. This began in Summer of 2017 when I came across online a gentleman by the name of Ben Greenfield. I started listening to his podcasts, never expecting that a year later, I would be implementing many of the ideas he taught. I was immediately hooked to not only his topics of fitness, longevity, supplementation, etc. but also to his presentation style mainly through the use of humour which I have found similar in how I have always presented my self-defence courses over the past 25 years for better or worse lol. And I have to say Ben has the coolest “career” in how he makes himself a human guinea pig. He tests products for himself and his listeners, whether they be technical gear he straps on his head in an attempt to get better performance or sleep, to getting injections in his crotch to also perform better (sure my wife would suggest I do this), to supplements to help increase one’s quality of life and their longevity. So how does this relate to self-defence? His podcasts have me thinking about how to improve my brain from both an optimization perspective and health since I have been hit in the head 1000s and 1000s of times. How and why some people with seemingly so many obstacles in life from an early age can grow to become “successful” depending on your definition of success to those with all the odds in their favour who go through life with what appears to be little purpose or meaning.
This fascination has now turned into a daily ritual of waking up regularly at about 4:30am where I begin with my day with my massive mug of Death Wish Coffee followed by reading books for about an hour (which embarrassingly I rarely did), watching interviews with people like Ben Greenfield, Tom Bilyeu, Tim Ferriss, who have all got me thinking of ways to bring what we do at SAFE International to more and more people. Many people express how impressed they are to me that to date SAFE International has taught more than 220,000 people, but that is just a number I quite honestly just use to bring attention to what we do and who we are, when quite frankly it is the personal stories from thousands we have taught that is of the most importance.
This has me thinking back about the past year, which curiously coincides with my granddaughter Kinsley being born. I have now made a conscious effort to work on developing a routine, lifestyle, higher purpose, and the habits to help me personally, from wanting to one day spend quality time with my great-grandchildren. So, all this has led me to evaluate many of the WHYS about who I am and SAFE International.
Writing all these out is more for myself, but I thought if even one of these thoughts might cause one to think about their WHYS, perhaps it was worth putting into my blog. So, here we go. I will attempt to be short, but concise with my answers…
Why Did I Start SAFE International Self Defense? Twenty-five years ago, I THOUGHT it was to work for myself and make money doing something that seemed cool! Well, not the best or deepest of reasons, but Hey, it got me started. I had been working as a Manager and Part Owner of a fast food restaurant for several years when after listening to Tony Robbins cassette tapes, remember cassette tapes, and I began to question staying in that career for the next 40 or 50 years? Quickly I realized that for me, there was little purpose in that as a career. I needed something that fulfilled me as well as helped others, so it started with my satisfaction, I suppose. And I liked to talk, A LOT, so whatever I was going to do would involve me talking a lot which is quite interesting if you look down at one of my other Why questions regarding Why Losing My Voice might have been a partial blessing. Now that being said, much of what I learned from working in that fast-paced, fast food environment has helped me considerably with my business today.
Why Self Defense? Well to come back to the fast food business, again I must give thanks to that career because I operated a restaurant that was in a small town with more than a share of violence, so I found myself hiring police to work part-time on Friday and Saturday evenings. More than once, I found myself threatened or just asking myself if I had a clue what I would do if I attacked. So, at about the age of 23, I decided to enroll in karate classes, which again was bringing me one step closer to a completely different career path. I am the first to admit that while I occasionally make fun of some of my past, I do respect how many of the decisions I made have brought me to where I am now. My experience learning karate was one I will never forget. I met some amazing people from my Sensei at the time, Daniel Coles, and Bob Noonan (who for many years was an integral part of SAFE International as an instructor) to just the exposure to “self-defence” as my favourite part of learning a martial art. After receiving my black belt in Shotokan karate, I began teaching self-defence with Dan Coles as my partner. I noticed a great sense of fulfillment and gratification from teaching self-defence and soon had to make some life-altering decisions moving forward. Would I continue working in the fast food environment and teach self-defence on the side or make the leap to teaching self-defence on a full-time basis? And I thank Dan Coles because he told me to run with the business as he was fully involved with operating his martial arts club. So, do I stay, or do I go? Having two babies at home caused me to pause, but lol, Anthony Robbins helped me to decide, GO FOR IT! And from having the support of the few most influential people in my life to those who felt it was selfish for me to make this leap (they also motivated me), it started in 1994!
Why Someone Who Faced Little Violence Had the Right to Teach Self Defense?
25 years ago and still today you see so many posts from those in the self defense industry saying things like, “Unless you have been stabbed or face multiple life and death scenarios, you have no right to teach self-defence”, or “I have been in 100s of documented fights, so you should train with me”, loll who documents their fights? So, have I been in fights? Indeed, yes, but not ones, I considered life and death at the time. Although we now teach that in ANY CONFRONTATION there is the potential for death, when I first started and for many years to follow I saw pics or videos of all these tough guys (don’t recall any women), bragging about all their fights or how their fighting system was the most devastating. I think not having been brought up in the world of self-defence or martial arts (other than movies I loved) till a much later age may have helped me because I never had any pre-conceived ideas on how a self-defence instructor was supposed to look, act or market themselves. But there was still always that little doubt about my right to teach self-defence for many many years. I think I finally got over it about 2010 after already having taught for 16 years when I first met Richard Dimitri after learning something called the “Jungle Cat” from another instructor. I was told that it was a version of the “Shredder” that belonged to “Richard Dimitri” although Richard would say to you, and rightly so, that no one owns any concepts, techniques or moves in self-defence. Anyways, I loved “The Shredder” so I began a dialogue with Richard. Anyways, the point I wanted to make is that I remember sharing my concern about teaching self-defence with Richard when I first met him in person. I told him I had not faced the violence most had faced, including him. And I will never forget his answer that was something to the effect of, “Don’t be an idiot, that is great that you have not faced much violence and if what you teach is quality material, that is what matters!”
Why SAFE International Teaches “Regular People”? This was not by design, but out of listening, watching and understanding where I felt we (SAFE International) could make the most difference. Very, very often, when working with new instructors, ones with lots of experience, or even with clients, they will ask things like, “Why don’t you teach this defense, this move, this technique, or why so much time on the awareness to avoid violence, or so on and so on?”. See when I first began, we were a mobile business (still are), but I felt confident that at some point we would have a school, permanent location where people would train with us on an ongoing basis, but that was not happening. Our primary business has always been teaching teens in schools, so quickly I realized that “kids” would not travel great distances to train regularly. Or when I did one of our self-defence parties (not always called that), the women we taught commonly told me they had no interest in joining a martial arts club or school, but instead, they just wanted some primary education on how to make themselves a bit safer. Hmm…I found that interesting so instead of fighting that idea, and I embraced it. From then on, my mantra became, “What if someone only ever did one course in their lifetime, what would I teach them?” This dramatically affected what I would teach because I never assumed someone would do another course ever again. If they did, excellent, a lot more I could offer, but I never trained intending to have them come back for more.
Instead, what is the most important, most critical material I could teach that could increase their chances of survivability RIGHT NOW whether that be in recognizing and avoiding violence. Dealing with it physically in a way that would not take months or even years to learn that many in the self-defence industry claim are necessary (often to make more money). Do not get me wrong, the more training, the better, but the reality is that the average person will not train regularly so either ignore that fact or change your approach if that is a segment of the population you teach. Or people will say how much can you learn in a 4 to 5-hour course? Are you kidding me? One can get education out of 1 min’s worth of teaching that could potentially save their life. When one says that I immediately go to the thought that they are only interested in maximizing the money they make off someone. Do not get me wrong, money is essential being self-employed lol, but if it comes at the expense of giving the client the best information for the likely short time they are in front of you, you are robbing them.
Every year over the past 25 years since starting SAFE International, I have edited the material teaching either through my own experience or that of anyone teaching on behalf of SAFE International. I hate to use the term “dumbing down”, but again if one is only EVER going to do one course in their lifetime, it is imperative to keep it as simple as possible because, in the moments of violence, chaos, and confrontation, it is only the simplest of concepts that one will remember. Where at one point back, in the beginning, I thought that teaching fancy, technical material would make SAFE International look more reputable and qualified to teach self-defence, I quickly learned that just the opposite was correct based on WHO we focus our teaching to. I look at it like this; what I would teach my only family or loved ones is what I should teach everyone.
Why Losing My Voice May Have Been a Blessing? Although I still struggle at times with this! How could losing my voice be a blessing when talking is paramount to what you do? Honestly, I still struggle with this time to time, but there are some hidden benefits I will explain further down that I try to focus on time to time. Somewhere around 2010, while I was teaching five days a week in schools, around March of that year, I was coming down with what seemed to be my yearly bout of Laryngitis. Typically, I would try to rest my voice for a few days then I would be back in business, but this time was different. Week to week, my voice was getting worse, so I told myself if I could get to June when we would be quiet for a couple of months, I would rest my voice. I thought all would be back to normal, but by June, I had no voice, and I was forcing my voice to get out the shortest sentences. I had all the typical concerns and went for testing. They checked me for several voice conditions from some simple ones to some much more severe. One of the funnier ones was they did a few tests to see if there were any “mental conditions” that might explain this. I was the first to agree that certainly could be an option knowing myself, lol, but nope, not the issue although many of my friends and family might disagree. After visiting a couple of voice therapists, it was established I had a rare neurological condition called Spasmodic Dysphonia. Of course, I had the unique and more complicated form of it to treat called, “Abductor Spasmodic Dysphonia” AbSD, a less common type, occurs in approximately 10–20 percent of cases and results from spasms when the posterior cricoarytenoid muscles (PCA) abducts or opens, the vocal folds. AbSD causes problems with the production of “voiceless” speech sounds, which generally sound “airy” or “breathy” when produced. For more info, you can go to:
Anyways, starting to feel sorry for me again, so back to the story. The only treatment is receiving Botox injections into the muscle to stop the spasming, and IF IT WORKS my voice would be back to about 85% until the Botox would wear off, then I would go back in for another injection. And anyone who knows me, knows that I looked at every conceivable alternate treatment including cranial sacral massage, acupuncture, hypnotism, my concoction of supplements to try and relax my vocal chords, thinking in my mind they would work lol, to yes tea with lemon and honey as most people suggest when they hear my voice. People would commonly joke that my wife and family must love my quietness, lol, but after a few months even they wanted me to speak again. I would be lying if I did not say I was not worried, knowing that my voice was how I earned an income. I even had a teacher once tell me, “I wish I had what you have so I could collect disability and not have to work!” WOW, I was dumbfounded by that comment. Not so much from the insensitivity of the comment, but from the perspective that I LOVE WHAT I DO!
And you do find out who your real friends are when you have this condition. An example of this was one time the injection was off location which is one of the difficulties with this rarer form because if you do not hit the correct spot with the injection, it will not work and there are often side effects. Well, the one needle accidentally hit my swallowing muscles instead of the desired spot. One side effect of this ended up being that food would fly out of my mouth lol with no ability to control that. As many of you know Richard Dimitri and I often travel together teaching and after this misplaced injection I can still remember sitting across from Richard in a restaurant and food would fly out of my mouth and hit him in the face lol! He would sit there and take it with little to no reaction other than laughter. That is a real friend who will let you spew food in their face and not get disgusted with you.
Anyways, the first few years of injections were successful. I could teach about 50% of the time, and I had accepted this as being better than nothing. But the last number of years there have been some other issues with my voice that has not allowed me to teach at all, but we are addressing them, and I do have considerable confidence I am close to getting back to teaching.
So how could this possibly be a good thing or a blessing? Well, once I stopped feeling for myself, which time to time still happens, I told myself to get my act together and asked myself if I was going to quit and continually feel sorry for myself? Yes, family and friends will always support you, but in the end, it comes down to how you deal with challenges and how you decide to frame them, accept them and move forward with them and make them work to your advantage best you can.
Here are the benefits of this condition. They forced me to find ways to be still productive if I could not teach. Now I had the time to build the business behind the scenes. While the SAFE Instructors could continue teaching, I would look at ways to expand SAFE which I might never have done if I was busy teaching (now we are in US, Finland, Australia and Germany), not sure any of that would have happened if I had not lost my voice. During this, I met Richard, who I believe to be the best self-defence instructor I have ever met. We found opportunities to work together, we hit it off in both work-related stuff and personally so if times I could not teach, I could assist Richard with the confidence that he was the best in the business, which is best for the clients. And, I could still feel part of it assisting him, thus the Rich ‘N Roberts Self Defense courses in addition to all the SAFE International Courses.
Also, because I could not do the most straightforward task like talking on the phone, I was thrilled to have my sister Karen join SAFE as she brings a lot of common sense to the business and insight that only a sister can bring. Not sure she would have come on board to help with so much of the behind the scenes work if I had my voice. And she can be brutally honest and keep me on track when I tend to veer off.
And then there is my family who has just not treated me any differently having a voice or not having a voice. A few times, I have wondered why they did not feed into my feeling sorry for myself, but I am thankful they have not. They also like to make fun of my voice at times, which I appreciate as it helps me keep a sense of humour, which is my best way of dealing with it.
So, have there been benefits to this condition? Yes, and ones I feel help SAFE International reach more people. So, while it has helped in some ways, I am still never going to quit working on ways to fix it, deal with it and accept it.
Why Am I More Passionate About SAFE International Today Than 25 Years Ago? Because, while we would never take credit for saving anyone’s life (because if you accept credit are you prepared to take the blame as well), we do KNOW with certainty that many of those we have taught have avoided violence through recognition of it early, through using verbal de-escalation strategies to prevent, or through having to defend themselves physically.
We have received countless testimonials, emails, or stories shared in person where something we may have taught has impacted their lives. Does it feel good to hear these stories? Of course. Does it feed our ego? Probably does, but if those we teach have received some benefit or if we have been able to provide an education that has changed their lives whether it is self-defence related or not, then we have done our jobs.
Managing Director, SAFE International