Are Martial Arts and Real World Self Defense Mutually Exclusive?

One of the big arguments these days seems to be whether or not martial arts techniques will work in a real life street confrontation.  Dedicated martial artists emphatically say “yes” and those more street fighting and self defense oriented emphatically say “no”.  I believe that both answers are correct depending on the circumstances involved.

In order to address this we need to assume that the martial artist involved in the following scenarios has trained seriously and for a long time but may not have been involved in sudden, unexpected and violent real life “street fight” confrontations.

Consider that there are at least two quite different scenarios for potential “real life confrontations and for our purposes let’s say that you are the aforementioned martial artist and that both scenarios take place in a dimly lit parking lot with relatively few people around.

Scenario 1:  In accordance with your training you are aware of your surroundings and you notice a couple of men loitering near your vehicle in the parking lot.  As you approach them you notice that they appear to be more interested in you than you would like so you start thinking about how to handle the situation (or them) if you are ultimately confronted.  As you continue toward your vehicle one of the men starts moving toward you and asks which one is your vehicle.  You don’t respond and then he starts telling you that he wants your vehicle and your wallet.  His colleagues are silent but are positioned in such a way that you will have to either deal with a physical confrontation, probably a violent one, or find a way to leave quickly.  Here you have a few seconds to make a rational decision.

Scenario 2:  In the same parking lot, a couple of thugs suddenly jump out at you from behind a parked van.  One, the obvious leader, instantly comes up to you and starts yelling about your wallet and your car while he is pushing you violently.  The others close in but do not engage.  There is no time or place to run.  You are shocked at the sudden and potentially dangerous situation and you try to stall off the fear that comes with surprise in these situations.  Your mind will not focus on anything but having a serious problem.  All of the training and self defense techniques you have learned over the years have suddenly disappeared from your conscious thought process.

In Scenario 1 you have time to think and plan so what you have learned and trained for will most likely work or at least give you an advantage, assuming that you have trained properly.  In Scenario 2, however, psychologists have determined that most, if not all conscious thought and the ability to think rationally will be non-existent.  The brain reverts to what is often called the reptilian state or a “fight or flight” mode where reacting with pure primitive instinct and violence or running are the only options.

A great deal has been written and discussed on this topic in recent years.  There are indeed ways to train so that you will be able to handle either of the above scenarios.  A good, solid martial arts background and training is excellent and can do nothing but help in a violent situation (as long as you don’t get cocky).  However “cross training” in how to handle yourself instinctively in a totally unexpected real life or death street confrontation can give you an edge that most people don’t have.  It all seems to boil down to understanding the reality of the possibilities and being open minded enough to prepare yourself for both.