Why Martial Arts are Bad for Self-defence

Posted By on Jun 22, 2015 | 0 comments


Most martial arts instructors are going to hate me for this article but only because the truth hurts. Self-defence has long been one of the major selling points of martial arts training but unfortunately the fighting skills developed in martial arts have little to do with self-defence.

Legal systems vary between countries, states, and municipalities but for most of us in developed nations there are pretty clear-cut laws when it comes to legal use of force. Most schools are not teaching the legal context on when it is and is not okay to use certain levels of force. This is equivalent to teaching someone how to shoot a gun for self-defence but not teaching them when it is and is not okay to shoot people. It can end up with people either too hesitant to pull the trigger and use their skills or people who pull too soon and too often. Neither of these are favourable outcomes. One can lead to severe injury for the martial artist and the other to prison time. Even something as simple as removing a violent person from a building when you have no legal authority to do so could land you in a heap of trouble.

One of the key elements to being able to defend yourself is, and I cannot stress this enough, KNOW THE LAW.

Pulling the trigger too often can be a bigger issue for some than for others. Teaching only the fighting portion of self-defence is to ignore the preceding 95% of self-defence: Prevention, awareness, and diffusion. CHECK OUT  OUR ARTICLE: How to Protect Yourself Like a Bodyguard for Self Defence. Fighting techniques are a last resort when everything else has failed. It is the last tool in your toolbox. Unfortunately most martial arts schools only give students one tool and when all you have is a hammer every problem starts to look like a nail. As I've already said, even when using force is acceptable, many of the techniques in martial arts are too severe a level of force for legal purposes most of the time. This can be especially true of systems which market themselves specifically for self defence or claim uber-ninja special forces status. I'm looking at you Krav Maga. They often jump the entire use of force spectrum going straight to a level of force likely to injure or kill someone. Groin kicks and eye jabs are fine tools but you have to understand when they are legally justifiable. Remember what I said about knowing the law? Before anyone pulls out the tired "better to be tried by 12 than carried by six" line, feel free to try telling that to whoever is running the prison yard because that's where you're likely to end up and you're not fending off him and HIS twelve buddies.

This is not a movie. Welcome to real life.

Another key element in getting people to pull the trigger at the appropriate time is simulating actual self-defence situations. Most martial arts and schools rely very heavily on competition formats which limit the techniques but even more open rule formats like MMA have issue with the fact that they don't train for what happens psychologically and positionally in self-defence scenarios.

In competition and in training it is understood that you are both there for the purposes of practicing controlled violence on one another. There is no time given to the surprise and often close proximity of initiation of violence.

This is not a sport versus traditional or sport versus street argument after all if you can effectively manage one person under pressure you have a much better chance of managing one or more people under pressure in self-defence. This is simply a recognition that beyond fighting techniques there are extra variables such as pre-fight factors that must be addressed whether you want to be able to engage or disengage safely and effectively. You must be able to effectively control the situation and yourself.

A great example of this type of specific training and evaluation can be seen here with John Titchen’s self-defence scenario training.

Like a pilot that climbs into a flight simulator to practice flying manoeuvres, you have to recreate, in the controlled arena (the dojo) a real situation in every detail, right down to the swearing, the spitting, the screaming, as close to no-holds-barred as you can get. In other words, simulate a real fight in the dojo, allow any range and any techniqueGeoff Thompson

One thing you hopefully picked up there was the rapid and continuous pace at which the fighting in those scenarious took place. People either were able to run like a bat out of hell or they were striking and grappling with no let-up. People who train to fight for several rounds of sport fighting will generally be in good enough condition to last this. Even then it is a good idea to drill to last one round with this continuous high intensity.

But wait... I'm wrong!

Here comes the caveat. The fighting skills martial arts training develops can be important. They can make simulation training easier as you have some skill at fighting and are used to hitting and getting hit. Since you have to start by fighting one person at a time the competitive formats can actually be very helpful. They will help keep you in better physical condition and make fighting, running, and maneuvering easier. The important things to take away here are:

  1. Know the laws relating to use of force
  2. Most of self-defence is everything which comes before fighting
  3. Fighting is a consequence of other tools failing to prevent a situation getting to the point of physical violence
  4. Know the law
  5. Practice the way you play because if you're going to train to fight in the real world you need to simulate what that's actually like
  6. Legal consequences are real and not having situationally appropriate tools in your tool box can be very bad even if you win
  7. A system marketed for self defence may not be good for self defence be it labelled as traditional, modern, or sport.

The biggest thing I hope you've picked up here is that you practice the way you play and you will play the way you practice. Martial arts are great for developing certain attributes which can be helpful in self defence. Sport martial arts are especially good due to the resistant training against competent opponents. In the end though if you want to be good at self defence you need to learn, develop and to practice the attributes, situations, and breadth of skills specifically related to self defence training with a good understanding of the legal factors involved.

Did I mention you should know the law?

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