Beware Sources of “Expertise”

When evaluating information of any kind, it behoves us to question the source of this information. As important as this is, it is a true rarity in any field. For those familiar with psychology and the cognitive biases, you will know the term “Confirmation Bias”. When we evaluate information, particularly new information, we have a bias to lend more credibility to the information (and source) that confirms are already existing worldview. This is a dangerous trap, and one people fall victim to without knowing.

Typically self defense, experts will rely to some degree on their claimed “real world experience”. In many cases I have found, through closer examination, that is is often spurious or grossly exaggerated. This is particularly common among Reality Based Self Defense (RBSD) experts who have no competitive martial arts or fighting background. However even if true, how valuable IS real world experience?

The answer is it can be highly valuable in the narrow field from which it came. For instance a former soldier who served in an elite unit responsible for direct action missions in urban areas will probably be an excellent source for training and information regarding close quarters battle. What is it like to clear a structure in an urban environment at night? This person will be best to answer it. However how much experience does this person have surviving a mugging? Sexual assault by a family member? Fighting unarmed in a 3 on 1 scenario? Boxing? MMA?

Vice versa, how much expertise does a Judo black belt have when it comes to discussing the role of combatives for the entry team on a counter terrorism unit? Or for a sniper? These are all areas of violence, however they do not directly overlap, and some do not overlap at all!

When evaluating an instructor, or training, or any source of information, be extremely skeptical of the source relaying to you their “experience” unless it directly relates to YOUR situation or unless it is qualified by some statement explaining how it may help you.

Krav Maga has had its share of these types. There is a saying in Hebrew “Ani Tayas b-Shayetet Matkal”, loosely translated it means “I am a pilot in the Navy Seal Commandos”. It is an amalgamation of 3 different highly respected segments of the Israeli Defense Forces, each mutually exclusive to the other (Air Force, Navy, Army). This saying developed due to the habit of Israeli veterans to exaggerate their military service history when abroad. But even if true, someone’s military service probably has little to do with their ability to train civilians for use of force incidents where they may face criminal prosecution. This is why I shudder when I see yet another video of some Krav Maga instructor using “Military” drills to train white collar Americans.

Expertise in a subject is derived both from experience, but also careful study and analysis of the experiences of others (It is smart to learn from your mistakes, it is really smart to lean from someone else’s). Make sure your sources are relevant, make sure you do the analysis to validate all information. This is a critical mental exercise considering your life may depend on it.

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