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The Differences Between Martial Arts & Self Defence Training

Eclectic Self Protection (ESP) - North London Martial Arts & Self Defence
Published by in Martial Arts · 12 May 2019
Tags: martialartsselfdefenceeclecticselfprotectionnorthlondonmartialarts&selfdefence
Martial Arts – A way of life, character development or sport?



Self Defence – The essence of personal protection and defence?



A martial art can be defined as ‘using the mathematics of the human body for the art of fighting’. Traditional martial art examples include Taekwondo, Karate, Kung Fu, Muay Thai, Brazillian Ju Jitsu and MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) which all share similar characteristics but are not self-defence. Although many of these martial arts did evolve as self-defence systems, they suited the needs of people in a specific time and place such as sword-fighting on horseback in 17th century Korea. They don’t necessarily translate well to practical, modern day needs. You are not going to do a flying kick to a potential date rapist or an violently confronting assailant when you are in jeans and have not warmed up or stretched. ‘Real world self-defence’ on the other-hand is not about the physical tools and techniques for fighting but about on-the-spot assessment of many variables, in mutable, un-predictable and rapidly changing circumstances, doing this under immediate threat, coming up with an appropriate game plan and effectively implementing it in time, and being able to later explain why you felt that was the right response. This essay will attempt to assess the similarities and differences between martial arts and self-defence, and also look at their strengths and weaknesses.

Anybody regardless of age, size, sex or shape can learn basic self-defence skills. These include situational awareness skills – ‘being switched on’, recognizing potentially dangerous situations, avoiding them before they escalate, developing solid awareness skills, following your ‘gut instinct’, making yourself a hard target, verbally de-escalating and defusing a situation that may come out of control and stopping a physical assault with minimal damage to yourself and your loved ones. Martial arts on the other hand, may teach awareness to help with prevention, and may help to develop confidence to handle daily situations. The physical fighting techniques of martial arts, though, are not usually practical or realistic for the kind of attacks that happen in today’s world. In contrast, both self-defence and traditional martial arts increase confidence and improve your self- assurance.

Originally self-defence was not regarded as a form of exercise, however new research and systems enlighten on combative physical conditioning. Combat is physically stressful and demanding, and this needs to be taken into consideration. Testing should be performed of your anaerobic capacity. Fitness is always activity specific and it is always better to use combative activity such as pad-work or sparring to develop and test combative fitness, as opposed to using body weight and flexibility exercises. Self-defence is more about using short bursts of exercise to protect your-self and escaping from a violent situation. However, martial arts will get you in shape and bring you the health benefits of fitness. Some schools are geared towards sports and competition and attract younger and more athletic people. It is these more sporting styles like Kickboxing and Taekwondo that focus more on duration than intensity as they have to last rounds of sparring. Other martial art schools like Aikido and Ju Jitsu are non-competitive and view martial arts as a practice open to anyone. Both self-defence and martial arts get you in touch with your physical power.

Furthermore, self-defence offers skills that can be learned quickly, whereas martial arts must be studied for a long time to attain proficiency; often a life-long pursuit. However, both self-defence and martial arts create a stronger mind-body connection. In addition, self-defence develops self-respect and awareness, whereas martial arts develop discipline, respect and focus. Both self-defence and martial arts may spur internal change as well as learning specific skills.

Most martial arts were designed for the ‘art of fighting’ via ‘sparring’. Fighting can be defined as ‘the wilful engagement with an opponent to gain something or engaging rather than losing something less important than your life – for example, pride, face or personal insult. In short, fighting is a consensual conflict both parties have actively engaged in. More importantly, fighting is about winning and this seems to be continually expressed in competitive arts like Taekwondo, Brazillian Ju Jitsu and Karate. When you focus in on ‘winning’, you leave yourself open to lose. If for example, your goal is to win a fight using your martial arts, you will actually end up lengthening the time of the engagement, increasing your chances of losing which you cannot afford to do in any self-defence situation especially when a weapon is involved. Your opponent may also come up with a more effective strategy and you may also increase the length of time you are in his ‘line of fire’. In addition, you may also make a mistake when countering his offensives.  

Effective self-defence means coming come up with a defensive strategy or game plan that is reflective on deflecting the immediate threat and escaping before another threat can be offered. Moreover, martial arts focus more on ‘winning’ and therefore seriously run the risk of extending the altercation – thereby increasing your chances of losing, and going ‘over the top’ and using excessive force – thereby causing you legal problems. Combative self-defence is an act of survival – not a ‘fist fight’. In a martial arts fight or sparring match you could lose, whereas in a real-world self-defence situation you could die. Your mind and body are at risk of grievous harm or death and after an assault you become a survivor not a winner.

Self-defence also differs to a sport / martial arts ‘fight’ or sparring match by missing several things:
1. Awareness – Both parties are fully aware of the fight ahead of time.
2. Preparation – Mental, emotional, and physical preparation is done far in advance.
3. Consent – There will be prior agreement that both people will fight at a specific time and place.
4. Rules / Environment – Safety rules (no weapons, no illegal moves, no multiple attackers, etc), time limits / rounds, presence of referee, takes place in a safe environment free of gravel, curbs, broken glass, moving cars, water etc. All these factors stop someone from being seriously injured or killed.

The above mentioned points are not available to the ‘victim’ in a self-defence situation. As mentioned before, in traditional martial arts and sport fighting the mentality is usually that of sparring ‘with’ or fighting ‘with’ someone else. In self-defence, we must do ‘exactly what our assailant is doing to us’. We must cause a ‘predator-prey switch’ by turning the table through gaining control of our assailant and situation, whereby there is a psychological role-reversal  to the ‘prey’ and who is the ‘predator’, giving you, the innocent victim, the upper-hand with a desirable outcome.

‘Fighting’ or ‘sporting’ martial arts are always one on one. Real situations, however, frequently involve more than one assailant which becomes ‘a life threatening situation’. Unlike, traditional martial arts, reality based self-defence systems will include practice with more than one enemy. ‘Out fighting’ multiple enemies is a very difficult situation and therefore more emphasis is placed on escape. For example, a drill involving a person escaping from multiple attackers to a predetermined area or ‘safe zone’ in a dojo.

Unlike self-defence martial arts do not give a true insight into the implications with violence. Due to the lack of real world scenarios and research into the complexities of violence, students in traditional styles are given a false sense of security and belief in their ability to handle themselves in a violent situation. It is very easy to believe you are ‘safe’ in the training dojo, but this will be completely different when put into an actual violent situation. This is why many ‘arts’ are in fact more dangerous to the student than no training at all. Students will attempt to fight instead of run, as they believe they can handle themselves. In addition, training could actually interfere with your threat assessment because you are already trained in a particular style. A good self-defence system will reflect violence as it happens by utilizing drills that involve realistic role play. These types of drills will have partners playing the role of assailants and will include dialogue, intimidation, deception and surprise, etc. This will usually be combined with live training drills and the requirements associated with awareness, avoidance and escape. Unlike, martial arts, self-defence will also include practicing the protection of others – third party protection.

In conclusion, martial arts are not self-defence. Self-defence is not personal safety. Fighting is neither self-defence nor personal safety. However, martial arts training can be used in a self-defence context, they are far better for sport and character development as well as obtaining improvements in fitness and health. Self-defence training is far more geared to protecting yourself and loved ones in a ‘street’ context. In addition, no martial art style or self-defence system will ever be able to teach you everything you need to know about the complexities of violence especially when involved in a high risk situation.




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