What is the difference between martial arts and self-defense?
Self-defense is (should be):
- A way to avoid / limit, as much as possible, violence (read Personal defense: the S.A.F.E. method)
- A way to preserve us, our properties (and, possibly, also the integrity of all the involved people)
- A way to solve problems with intelligence (in most cases, preventing violence)
- A way to use violence proportionally to the risk we are facing
- A way to be prepared (as much as possible) for asymmetric fighting conditions
Martial arts are (should be):
- A way to discover ourselves
- A way to deeply learn how to fight
- A way to create / share / maintain a culture
- A way to gain a high-level wellness and skills
- A way to strengthen our mind
Sport martial arts are (should be):
- A way to challenge ourselves
- A way to respectfully compete with other athletes
- A way to gain a high-level fitness
- A way to test our fighting skills
- A way to free our aggressivity in a controlled way
Street fighting is:
- Pure violence
From these assumptions it is obvious that, even if there could be a lot of common points, not everything can be overlapped:
- Martial arts are not (automatically) self-defense (read Self-defense: why 90% of martial arts does not work)
- Self-defense is not street fighting (intended as a rude and violence-only oriented teaching, read Why martial arts do not work: 5 reasons)
- Street fighting is not sportive fighting (read The 6 types of martial clash)
- Sportive fighting is not self-defense (read Best martial arts for self-defense)
All this should be obvious but few people know and (especially) accept it.
Normal martial arts courses do not prepare for self-defense
Self-defense should be a path to avoid violence, not to force its use:
- Outside of a controlled context, accepting to fight, it’s the last resource, not the first (it could signify to cause a death, even ours)
- A street aggression is not a standardized game with safety rules (bells, sportiness, soft floors, etc.) and does not end when we want (in a lot of cases it ends only after a big injury)
It’s for these reasons that self-defense should teach things like:
- Negotiation and deception (read Self-defense: aggression in front of a supermarket)
- Prevention and planning (read How to prevent an aggression for robbery purpose)
- Legal consequences and levels of aggressivity to implement (read 12 tips on how to survive in a brawl)
- Awareness and self-control (read Avert dangers: the concept of constant attention)
- Fighting asymmetry (but underlining its risks and the difficult applicability, read How to fight with more than one opponent at the same time)
These arguments are generally excluded by normal martial arts courses (traditional, sportive, etc.) and it is completely normal: because it is not their focus.
Being a great motorcyclist does not mean being a great car driver even if a lot of dynamics may appear the same.
Illusions cost too much: any martial arts practitioner that has never faced this type of topics should understand that he cannot be prepared in fields which have not even been mentioned in the courses that he frequented.
Violence (combat) is only a part of self-defense training
Before deciding to (try to) use violence against someone we should ask ourselves if:
- We know what does it means to badly hurt someone in a civil context (legally and psychologically)
- We know that violence calls violence; especially those who live within clan-families (in many cases) will search for vengeance
- We know that a disproportionated reaction is severely punished by law
- We know that in a lot of countries if we beat someone and the judge do not know who started (90% of the cases), we can be prisoned waiting for judgment (if he believes that it is possible to reiterate the crime or to escape)
- We know that, in a lot of cases, we will have to pay an expensive lawyer (normally for years and without any guarantee of success)
- We know that in a court it is not right who is right but only who can demonstrate it (if we are alone, the word of an aggressor has the same weight of ours)
- We really know (above all) the risks to face a stranger (or more) in a hostile environment, in a no-rules fight
Bad instructors, bad teachings, bad results
The problem is that there are a lot of bad instructors (both in martial arts both directly in self-defense courses, read Recognize good / bad master: 5 characteristics) who delude their students to be able to face any type of critical street situation with too easy replies:
- With extremely disproportionated violent reactions (unreal and / or dangerous)
- With never-happening techniques (incredibly easy disarming, etc.)
- With simplified simulated scenarios (only with cooperative partners)
- Without any type of sparring (and always in protected environments)
- Excluding all the mental aspects (stress, strategy, self-control, etc.)
- In a few lessons without real daily training (lesson 1 how to free hands, 2 how to parry a punch, 3 how to disarm a handgun, 4 how to beat Bruce Lee with one hand, etc.)
This way they make their students weaker than not knowing anything (in a lot of cases, the natural instinct is better than this). This way they put at risk their lives.
- The 6DKF’s diagram about the use of violence – How and when an advanced practitioner of 6 Dragons Kung Fu is legitimated to use violence
- Improper weapons in a real situation – The use of improvised / improper weapons for self-defense
Reply in the comments and share your experience:
- In your opinion, what is the biggest difference between martial arts and personal defense?
Author: Master Kongling
Founder of 6 Dragons Kung Fu.