Proposed revisions to NWMAf self-defense instructor certification

This proposal is submitted to the NWMAF membership for review and comment.  This is a draft policy, it has not yet been approved or enacted. 

The review and feedback period will last for two months, and will end on March 31, 2018.  Your feedback is important to us!  To provide feedback, please email 

Recommendation for NWMAF Self-Defense Certification Revisions

(NWMAF Self Defense Committee - Amy Jones, NWMAF Director-at-Large)

Submitted for Review and Comment January 2018



Background and Overview


The National Women’s Martial Arts Federation is a leader in the development of empowerment-based self-defense training.  What started as an informal gathering of passionate self-defense instructors has grown into a vibrant self-defense instructor community, and members have and continue to contribute much of the thought leadership in the field.  For an overview of the NWMAF’s empowerment self-defense approach, see the self-defense content on this website.

Empowerment-Based Self-Defense is receiving increased recognition as a proactive measure to reduce potential sexual violence and physical assault, particularly within the context of acquaintance-based assault (as compared to “stranger in the bushes” attacks).  This model of self-defense also avoids potential victim shame / blame by squarely placing accountability on the attacker’s choice to exert domination based on gender, orientation, physical, relationship, and/or other hierarchical factors.


Instruction within this model extends beyond physical self-defense (although that is clearly a key element, should a potential victim choose to fight back).  Core skills include situational awareness and hazard recognition; boundary-setting and verbalization; physical defense; and follow-up reporting and support to regain control after an assault.  The skill sets to teach integrated Empowerment-Based Self-Defense curricula are therefore unique and require specialized experience and training.


The existing process by which the NWMAF certifies self-defense instructors for this model has served the organization well, resulting in a modest number of certified instructors across the United States as well as a few in other countries.  Public awareness of the critical need for this training (in large part driven by recent events and social movements) is driving an urgency for increasing the number of trained instructors for this approach.  Additionally, there is an opportunity to provide more diversity and inclusiveness in this model of self-defense instruction, particularly among the LGTBQ+ community and in support of communities of color.


The goal of the following proposed revisions is to introduce processes that will enable more instructors to become certified in Empowerment-Based Self-Defense, while ensuring consistency and parity as a mark of excellence. 


Existing Certification Process


The existing NWMAF certification requirements for self-defense instructors include the following:


  • Personal instructor experience level of a minimum of 3 years and 500 hours in self-defense and/or martial arts training
  • Minimum of 50 hours of hands-on self-defense teaching
  • Submission of written curricula for both a short workshop (3 hours or less) and a multi-session course (8 - 24 hours)
  • Recording (audio or visual) of a short program, or the opportunity for a session to be personally observed.  (Note:  In recent years, this has been understood to be a requirement for a DVD submission only)
  • Three letters of reference:  one from a teacher, one from a student, and the third from an agency or organization for whom one has taught
  • Attendance at the “Self-Defense Track” at Special Training or other approved trainings such as PAWMA[ALEJ1]  which is currently understood to be the Self-Defense Empowerment Model Course
  • Attendance at SDIC
  • Completion of the Certification Application


Proposed Revisions to the Existing Certification Process


Based on feedback from the 2017 NWMAF Member Survey and SDIC participants, and with consideration to the growth of NWMAF, the following revisions are proposed to the existing certification process:


  1. Bifurcation into 2 separate certifications:  Short Program Only (SPO) certification and Full (F) certification, with the following specific objectives:
    1.  Recognize that some self-defense instructors focus exclusively on curricula of < 3 hours, and therefore a multi-session curriculum is not required for SPO-type programs.  Applicants for SPO-level certification will submit just a curriculum for the <3 hour session.
    2. Instructors seeking SPO certification must fulfill the same requirements as F-level certification, with the exception that they need not submit curricula for a multi-session course
    3. Short programs are defined as any training that

      ·         is delivered in a  single training session OR

      ·         is less than 6 hours

  2. Modification of existing certification requirements (applicable to both SPO- and F-level certification, moving forward):


  1. Revise the minimum of 500 hours of training over 3 years to be “500 hours of consistent training over 3 years, as attested to by the applicant’s primary instructor”. 
  2. Leverage additional technologies for providing review of applicants’ instruction skills, to include “real time” Skype, FaceTime, and other similar tools.  This will address potential privacy concerns for recording participants, help to remove potential technological barriers, and minimize potential economic barriers around purchasing / recording / shipping DVDs.  Note that “real time” review sessions will need to be pre-scheduled.
  3. Encourage continued opportunities for in-person review.  Continued support of such opportunities will necessitate coordination and assignment with reviewers, and a consistent application / review process will be developed. 
  4. Provide flexibility in the required Letters of Reference, wherein any combination of referrals may be used provided that at least one is from a student. 
  5. Provide alternative options to mandated attendance of the model course.  In 2017, a proposal was made and accepted by the NWMAF board that any past instructor of the self-defense model course could offer a self-defense course that they certified to meet the requirements of the course as offered by the NWMAF, until the next Special Training is offered.  It is recommended that this option be extended into perpetuity.  Additionally, it is recommended that certified instructors from accredited schools (see below) may offer model courses as well.  This flexibility is being offered to help grow a diverse and inclusive population of certified self-defense instructors as well as to minimize potential economic and logistical incentives.
  6. Develop an online application process to increase accessibility.


Recommendation for Accreditation Process for Existing Organizations to Certify Self-Defense Instructors


To be accredited, a school / organization that trains instructors of empowerment self-defense must meet the following requirements:


  • Have an active self-defense instruction program headed by at least one NWMAF-certified self-defense instructor.  
  • Have a documented self-defense curriculum.  Schools that offer short programs only may only certify instructors at the SPO level.
  • Have a documented self-defense teacher training process.  This process must include:
    •  A foundation in the philosophical framework of the empowerment model of self-defense
    • A process by which aspiring teachers may acquire both physical self-defense skills and instruction on how to teach physical skills
    • A process by which aspiring teachers may acquire verbal self-defense skills and instruction on how to teach verbal self-defense skills
    • Opportunities to teach self-defense alongside certified instructors, and receive feedback from them
    • A minimum teaching requirement that aligns with the self-defense certification application. Teaching shall include independent teaching or teaching with a co-instructor.  
    • A minimum training requirement that aligns with the self-defense certification application (3 years of consistent training)
Schools / organizations seeking accreditation must:
  • Submit an application to the NWMAF that describes the training process and specifically addresses the points articulated above.  
  • Submit a roster of certified instructors actively teaching at their school / organization, and their degree of involvement in the teacher training process
  • Arrange for a site visit by a certified instructor that is not affiliated with their school. If the school is a member of a self-defense or martial arts organization, the site visitor must not be a part of that organization (for instance, IMPACT International or International Karate Federation).  The site visitor should have the opportunity to observe an actual self-defense training session by an experienced instructor who is involved in the self-defense instructor training program. Site visitors may apply to the NWMAF to fund travel costs, thereby minimizing economic impact.  In addition, retroactive recognition of these visits within the previous 5 years may be made, provided that documentation can be provided
  • Special Considerations for model course instructors:  Programs run by instructors who have taught the model course at NWMAF’s training camp may apply for exemption of the site visit for initial accreditation, and for any re-accreditation period during which the primary instructor has taught the empowerment model course at the NWMAF training camp, or in another venue where certified instructors unaffiliated with her school were present.
  • Pay an accreditation fee.   The primary purpose of the accreditation fee is to cover travel costs for site visitors, and factors such as school size, geographic proximity, and financial ability of the school will be considered when determining fees.  This should not be understood as a direct cost, however -- some fees may be in excess of travel costs for the site visitor, with the understanding that they will subsidize site visits for schools with lesser means.


Schools must re-accredit every 10 years.  Re-accreditation requirements are the same as initial accreditation requirements.

No single person can be a site visitor for the same school twice in a row.

Students from an accredited self-defense teacher training school must still submit the certification application and application fee.  However, they are not required to be reviewed by a certified instructor, nor do they need to submit curricula, letters of recommendation, or documentation of having met the minimum teaching and training requirement, nor do they need to attend a model course.  All of these requirements are assumed to be met by the accredited training process. 


Revisions to the Existing Re-Certification Process

The following revisions are proposed for the existing process for re-certification:


  • Attendance at SDIC or self-defense training at Special Training is strongly encouraged. 
  • SDIC is the professional development conference for NWMAF instructors, held concurrently or adjacent to the NWMAF’s martial arts training camp.  Note that this is distinct from the self-defense empowerment model course, which is held during the training camp and is meant to be an introduction to self-defense instruction.  Attendance at the model course does not count for re-certification.
  • Alternatively, instructors may re-certify via documentation of 25 hours of professional development, at least 5 of which should be from attendance at SDIC.
  • All 25 hours may be from this source.  Additional sources may include:
    • Professional development (beyond initial instructor training) at one’s own accredited self-defense program.  This can include helping to teach new instructors.  No more than 10 hours may be from this source
    • Professional development at another accredited self-defense program.
    • Continuing Education credits (CEUs) from any helping profession.  The CEUs must be relevant to self-defense, violence prevention, or understanding violence and violence-induced trauma.

This proposal is submitted to the NWMAF membership for review and comment.  This is a draft policy, it has not yet been approved or enacted.

The review and feedback period will last for three months, and will end on March 31, 2018.  Your feedback is important to us!  To provide feedback, please email 

© 2013-2017 National Women's Martial Arts Federation

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software