CPI Is Not a Self-Defense Class

October 12, 2016
Younger hand holding an older person hand

I’m a RN/PHN who works in adult and juvenile detention facilities. I’ve assisted with CPI classes for five years. This year I became a Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® Certified Instructor and joined a team of three Instructors who train healthcare staff—physicians, NPs, pharmacy staff, medical records technicians, mental health clinicians, and dental personnel.

One of the maxims that we train by is this:

The CPI class is not a self-defense class.

We draw out this distinction for several reasons.

First, with their variety of backgrounds and experience, our staff come to training with a variety of expectations.

Among our trainees are military veterans, martial arts enthusiasts, MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) wannabes, and sometimes those who are just dying to release their inner ninja.

We want to make sure that training or experiences from these eclectic backgrounds does not detract from the de-escalation techniques that are integral to the CPI curriculum.

So we try to defuse the potential infusion of self-defense techniques that may confuse or detract from the CPI de-escalation strategies that we teach.

While acknowledging the value of military training and the benefits of martial arts, we state clearly up front that:

  • We are not teaching self-defense, but instead de-escalation techniques.
  • Those with other training and experiences are welcome to discuss them with Instructors individually on breaks or after class.

The term “self-defense” implies to many people an approval of a certain amount of aggression.

Sit in on almost any martial arts/self-defense class and you will see the students, in unison, striking and kicking at the air as they shout (also in unison) “Kiai.” That’s preparation for when a class pairs off and practices kicks and strikes, as well as holds, throws, and weaponry on each other.

Let me tell you that as a practitioner of boxing and martial arts, I can’t remember a time when I stepped into the ring or onto the mat without delivering and receiving aggression—often in the name of self-defense!

And that’s not what CPI is about.

Here are a few ideas that YOU could try to emphasize the not-a-self-defense principle. For the record, we have not tried any of these:

  • Line the class up, according to height, separating the tallest half from the shortest, and in Hunger Games style announce, “Let the games begin!”
  • Buy a kid’s Halloween martial arts uniform, squeeze into it so that you look buffed, grab a plastic sword in one hand and nunchucks in the other and announce, “These are real. You don't want to try me.” Hope that none of the attendees with military training or martial arts experience DO want to try you.

Here are some better ideas that we do use:

  • DO state that you are NOT teaching self-defense, martial arts, or any form of pugilism.
  • DO state that you are teaching what you have been trained and certified to teach, the nonviolent de-escalation techniques from CPI, and the guiding principle of Care, Welfare, Safety, and Security℠.
  • DO go over the Due Care for Participants guidelines found in the workbooks that you give to attendees. Emphasize these two in particular:
    • “I will not engage in horseplay.”
    • “I will not teach other techniques.”
  • DO step in quickly if these two guidelines are violated. DO stop horseplay or rough practices immediately. DO talk to those who are trying to teach what they learned in basic training, aikido class, or from a Jackie Chan movie. DO use your Instructor training and give offenders, who may be well-meaning, the option to talk with you in private.

You may go through a career of teaching the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® program without encountering those who want to make the techniques different from what they are. Indeed, given the dozens of initial training classes and periodic recertification sessions that I have been a part of, the outliers have been few. Giving some thought now to the aberrations I’ve described may help you be better prepared should you encounter an exception.

All the best to you as you teach and train!

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