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Friday, February 18, 2011

Book Review: The Truth About Self Protection

The Truth About Self Protection
Mas Ayoob

The Truth About Self Protection is, in some circles, regarded as a seminal work on personal safety. It’s pretty easy to see why; this book has a lot of positives to it. At the same time, I confess to being hesitant to recommend it to the layperson seeking advice on self defense for the first time. While there are a lot of good things in this book, there are a couple of flaws that really hurt its utility for the modern audience.

Let me start with the good. The Truth About Self Protection is an incredibly comprehensive work on the subject of self-defense. With close to fifty chapters and nearly 400 pages, Ayoob touches upon aspects of personal safety that most writers and instructors never even consider. In addition to material about unarmed combat, improvised weapons, legal weapons (like kubotans and defensive sprays) and firearms, Ayoob touches upon far less often considered subjects like locks for your home, electronic alarm systems, and even choosing a dog for protection. At every stage, Ayoob offers relatively comprehensive advice in a clear and easily understand format. He is careful to address not only the realties of each piece of security equipment, but also the legal, moral, and ethical considerations behind them. The book is written in a very conversational style that makes the material very accessible; reading this book feels like sitting down and having a conversation with an old cop (complete with some slightly politically incorrect language, though nothing truly offensive).

If there is so much good here, why would I hesitate to recommend it? Simple. This book was published in 1983, and has not been revised or updated since then. While the concepts in this book are, on a certain level, valuable, the information overall is nearly thirty years out of date, and it shows. Ayoob writing about rotary version push button telephones may have made sense when this book was written, but in the era of the iPhone vs. the Android, it seems about sensible as worrying about whether to compose letters on vellum or parchment. The technology is so different as to make some of Ayoob’s concerns seem completely irrelevant.

I found Ayoob’s section on choosing a martial art particularly problematic; while I actually agree with his recommendation that a good Judo school is one of the best places you can go for training in a martial art with a lot of self-defense value, his suggestion that Aikido is an excellent choice is completely contrary to my own experiences with that art. I have nothing against Aikido, but in my experience, most Aikido schools do not authentically prepare their students for real violence, and the skills that they teach do not transfer well without a huge investment of time and energy. Furthermore, Ayoob offers no comment or opinion on either Brazilian Jujitsu or Mixed Martial Arts, two phenomena that were unknown or non-existent at the time this book was written. He does speak highly of Jim Arvanitis’s re-creation of the Greek Pankration, which is similar to modern MMA, though Arvanitis himself is a controversial figure at best.

Is this book worth reading? If you are a self-defense instructor, I would say so, if for no other reason than it is a particularly seminal work in the field. If you are a dedicated student of personal protection, this can give you some excellent ideas for areas to consider investigating further. I wouldn’t give this to a layperson looking for a first-time guide to self-defense, simply because so much of the information needs updating. There is a lot of good information here, but to really make use of any of it, you’ll want to do enough research to find out if it’s still accurate.

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