The First Rule of Self-Defense

Trey Whitaker
3 min readFeb 5, 2023


Shihan St. Hilaire teaching self-defense.

In 2011, I was coaching youth soccer. Having started coaching in 1992, this would be my last season. This girl’s team, which included my daughter, was made up of middle schoolers. In a few months, they would be moving onto high school and aging out of the town’s travel soccer program.

At the time, I was a brown belt in jujitsu and recently recovered from cancer surgery. I’d have a second surgery at the beginning of 2012 and eventually earn a black belt in September of that year.

As part of our team’s last go around, we gathered the girls for a self-defense seminar at the dojo where I trained. With their transition to high school, the girls would soon be going to proms, getting driver’s licenses and becoming increasingly independent. Given this, it felt like a good time to teach them some basic self-defense techniques.

During the session, the girls were provided with training on some basic techniques and had a great time learning how to protect themselves, but that’s not the portion of the seminar that I remember most.

My instructor, Shihan St. Hilaire, led off the session with some advice for the young ladies. It’s been about a dozen years since the session and it’s impossible to recall Shihan’s words perfectly, but, I’ll try to recreate them as best I can:

“Ladies, thanks for joining us at Kobukai Jujitsu. Today, we’re going to introduce you to a few basic self-defense techniques, but it’s important to remember that these techniques are a last resort. They are only to be put to use when everything else fails. The best self-defense is avoiding dangerous situations altogether.

Your parents, some who are in attendance today, are going to tell you to stay away from certain friends of yours. They’re not telling you this to be mean. They’re telling you this because, based on their own experiences, they have genuine concerns.

When you hang around those friends anyway, your parent’s will ask that you not get into a car with them. Or to go to that party.

When you get in that car and go to the party anyway, they will ask that you stay aware and leave before anything bad happens.

If anything bad is about to happen, they will ask that you run to safety.

Self-defense is a last resort. When you hang around with those sketchy friends. When you get in that car. When you go to that party. When you don’t recognize that trouble is brewing. When you can’t run away. When you can’t talk your way out of the situation. When someone is trying to grab you, hold you or pin you down. When you need to escape. When you need to save yourself.

Be smart. Make good choices. Hopefully, you’ll never have a need to use the techniques we’re about to share with you. ”

Shihan St. Hilaire addresses the Hebron Hotshots.

When Shihan finished his introduction, it was clear that the girls had heard and understood his message. We weren’t learning the techniques to become killing machines. We wouldn’t gain superpowers. If all else failed, it would simply provide us with a fighting chance of surviving a bad situation.

Years later, the muscle memory of the jujitsu techniques that I drilled for years is still with me, but it’s Shihan’s words that I’m always reminded of. The best self-defense is avoiding the danger to begin with.

The Hebron Hotshots at the Kobukai Jujitsu Dojo.



Trey Whitaker

Former CrossFit gym owner, corporate manager, paratrooper, youth sports coach and jujitsu black belt. Now a trail steward at Haleakala National Park on Maui.