Real World Self Defense vs. Martial Arts. Is There a Difference?

Can you stop a violent physical confrontation is six seconds or less?  Sounds far-fetched but it can be done quite easily.  (No, you don’t have to have a gun!).  Far too many high ranking martial artists have found themselves in dire straits when confronted unexpectedly by street thugs.  Unfortunately many of them have ended up in intensive care or the morgue.   All the controlled environment training, sparring and practice of techniques is good martial arts training and I highly recommend it.  However executing these techniques requires fine motor skills which are proven to vanish in an unexpected, sudden, life threatening confrontation.   Innate survival reaction gives us a huge rush of adrenalin which takes over and forces our most primitive “fight or flight” instincts to totally govern our actions.  Thinking clearly is no longer a realistic option and often not even a possibility.  Pretty scary when you think about it but it is very, very real.

First of all, forget what you see in the movies.  While there are some excellent martial artists who have become actors everything you see is rehearsed over and over again, stunt men generally get involved and there are camera and computer tricks to enhance nearly anything they want to show.

In addition, you must understand that what you see on TV, such as the MMA, UFC, Thai Boxing, Kick Boxing, etc., is all pretty violent, the participants are in great physical shape and have trained intensely for a long time.  However, these are all, by definition, sports.  There are rules, referees and usually a ‘ring’ or ‘cage’, not to mention the fact that these competitors know ahead of time that there is going to be a violent confrontation and they usually know a good bit about their opponent’s cababilities.  On the street, in a parking garage, around the corner or even during a road rage situation none of these elements exist.  The aggressor acknowledges no rules, there is no referee and no physical boundaries….Just you and your assailant (and maybe his friends).

I have practiced a very aggressive and devastating style of Korean martial arts for about 18 years and am teaching our advanced black belts real world self defense as an enhancement to our advanced martial arts program.  This is quite different from “normal” martial arts training but it utilizes the basic techniques and approaches inherent to martial arts.  While having good martial arts training as a background is beneficial it is certainly not necessary.   The philosophy is simplicity and “effect”.  Frankly technique doesn’t matter in a life threatening situation.  No matter how good you are it won’t look pretty.  What does matter is the effect of what you do or don’t do.

Simplicity and effect cannot be over emphasized.  Larry the Cable Guy’s theory of “get er done!” says it all.

Can you stop an attacker who has violent intent in mind even if he is bigger and stronger than you?  Most definitely.  Most martial arts preach “wait until he makes his move and then use your martial arts training skills to defend against it”….This is a nice theory but in reality it is usually not at all practical.  Why let the bad guy start initiating his game plan.  Take it away from him.

Here’s the scenario:
You are suddenly confronted by a large, apparently strong and violent assailant and it is not feasible for you to run.  Your best chance is to take pre-emptive action and to take it quickly, without warning and as aggressively as you possibly can.  There are absolutely no rules in this situation other than trying to ensure your own survival.  You have to essentially flip a mental switch and become as violent as your attacker seems to be for just long enough to get the job done.

No self defense program can be learned and stored for future use in a one hour class or even in two or three hours.  You also will not benefit from just watching videos.  The only real way to learn is to practice the physical and mental processes that must be in place when you need them. The basics can be learned in a few hours but it takes practice of both the physical and mental aspects of survival to get the “system” ingrained in your subconscious.  Once it’s there you will have it forever.  It becomes an integral part of your nature to “get primitive” or “go medieval” when you feel that your life is threatened.  Anything more complicated will most likely not work.

There are a lot of alleged ‘self defense’ videos, DVDs, books and other media sales pitches available for varying costs.  Most are essentially grab defenses, a few striking techniques and other martial arts basics sold to you as a means of defending yourself.  I have purchased and watched many, many of these and in my opinion most are pure hype, obviously with the primary intent of making money and with little real concern for the reality of what may happen if someone believes that what they see on the videos will work in real life.  Certainly some of the techniques shown in most of these courses can work with adequate practice but the vast, vast majority require too much fine motor skill and conscious mental planning or action to be useable in a real life confrontation.  For example, if somebody grabs your wrist and you do break their grip (one of the usual basic “impressive” moves promoted on many “self defense” DVDs) is the assailant then just going to walk away in frustration and embarrassment?  Not a chance.  Odds are he will simply become significantly more agitated, more violent and then what will you do?