The Cornered Cat
New Article: Five Stages of Growth

Today I finally uploaded an article I’ve been mulling over for some time. “Understanding Your Students: Five Stages of Growth” tackles some thorny questions about confidence, competence, and doubt.

Quick preview here. The five stages are

  1. I won’t.
  2. I will.
  3. I can’t.
  4. I can.
  5. I will.

Most people interested in learning about self-defense land clearly within one of these stages, or find themselves on the cusp between one stage and the next. Where are you, as a learner? Have you seen these stages in your own students? Where do you excel at helping people grow to the next stage? Where have you stumbled?

If you work as a teacher or enjoy being a learner within the self-defense community (even if you aren’t a firearms instructor or student), I would love to hear your feedback about this one.

10 Responses to New Article: Five Stages of Growth

  1. Tom Walls says:

    Back when I was regularly teaching martial arts, I forbade my students to say “I can’t.” If they insisted, they had to say “I can’t…yet.”

    • Kathy Jackson says:


      Agreed … but this is a slightly different thing. For anyone to learn anything, they must first let go of the belief that they already know everything. That’s what this is — the dawning realization that you’ve come to the end of your existing knowledge and resources, and still have a ways to go.

      • Tom Walls says:

        You are familiar with the Zen story about students and an empty cup ?

      • Texas TopCat says:

        The “already know everything” is more of a problem with males than females. Many times, females learn faster and better because they do not have as many things to un-learn.

  2. Spider Elliott says:

    As a learner, I think I’m moving from “I can’t” to “I can.” I’d describe it as “I must,” as in “there are times when I must do something I may not think I can.”

    “I must” is not a stage, but a path I’m taking to get from one stage to the next.

  3. Kathy Jackson says:


    I love the idea of using “I must,” as a stage. In some ways, this describes stage five: a recognition that maybe you won’t be able to, but you have to do it anyway. You have to try.

  4. RebekahM says:

    This is very helpful to me. I feel like I’m slowly coming round out of I can’t after a bad decision brought me face to face with my “humanity” as you put it. I really wanted to ask someone if this is only me struggling with this, and I feel like I know to much about self defense to turn back, but am still nervous about going forward. I would also add that for me there is a lot of “I don’t deserve this” , I am not capable” and “I’ll never learn enough, so why try. ” This artcle give me a sliver of hope.
    PS I am really struggling with worry since I started learning about all the horrible things that can happen and especially feeling that I will fail to defend my children. I can’t walk through my house without straining to hear for intruders. Any other women struggle with this? Does it wear off some if you push through the “I can’t” phase?

    • Kathy Jackson says:


      Congratulations — you’re normal. 🙂

      On the road to fully aware self-defense, it is normal to go through a time when you’re hyper-vigilant about everything and feel like you’re turning into a worrywort. It’s also very, very normal to feel overwhelmed, like there’s way too much for one person to learn about this stuff so why bother trying. I went through it, most of my friends went through it, and I see students going through it all the time. Some feel it more strongly than others, but I suspect everyone feels it to some degree.

      Want to know the weird thing? You would think the solution to that problem would be to “just put it out of your mind,” or not think about it so much, or whatever. As far as I can tell, it’s exactly the opposite! The counter-intuitive cure for worries about safety is to face your fears, head-on, and learn more about them. (See my article about Turning Fear Into Safety for more about that idea.)

      And YES, YES, YES — that almost obsessive concern does wear off over time, especially if you work hard to push through the “I can’t” phase. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, honest!

      Hope this helps.

      • RebekahM says:

        Thanks! It is really good to hear I can get past this, especially from another woman/mother.

  5. RebekahM says:

    I also agree with the commenter who use “I must” to get from one stage to the next. It is the only thing that keeps me going somedays, I just feel that there is no other choice but to keep trying.

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