‘Reality-Based Self-Defence’ (RBSD) is a term that has gone viral in the martial arts community over the past few years. The proliferation of Krav Maga schools and a variety of other modern self defence systems (combatives, as they are often referred to) has seen many schools and instructors add Krav Maga or some variation thereof to their curriculum in order to capitalise on the current market trends – which is fair enough. Our industry is hard enough to survive in, and adaptation and innovation are crucial components in the business world as well as in martial arts.
That being said, there is still a huge gap between reality and what most people believe will happen should they get attacked, in terms of how, where, when, who, why and what will happen. Not only in terms of student expectations, but also in terms of what instrutors teach.
Now let me stop there for a second. There are thousands of books, some great and some not so great, about the realities of combat and violent conflict, and there is some consensus about the common elements of real violence, which I will discuss at a later time. I think that before that is discussed, it's important to understand why there is such a gap between perception and reality:
1. The dramatisation of violence as seen in Holywood provides us with unrealistic expectations and understandings of what can and should be done in violent encounters.
I’m a big fan of cheesy 80’s martial arts flicks, and a common punch-line from this kind of movie is along the lines of ‘there is only one rule… there are no rules!’ followed by the crowd roaring in excitement for what is likely to be a fight to the death between Jean Claude Van Damme (or similar) and some unknown actor. Funnily enough, those fight scenes follow very strict rules. How often do we see the hero win the final fight by kicking the villain in the groin and running away? Not often, as it doesn’t make for good television. Instead we are shown flying spin kicks, dazzling hand movements and acrobatic techniques, all of which are practically impossible to pull off under real-world conditions and with the effects of adrenal dump. Fact of the matter is, the techniques often used by the bad guys are the ones you should employ in a real conflict if your life is in danger – throw sand in your attacker’s eyes, distract them or grab an ‘equaliser’ of some sort (chair, stick, etc.). The other thing that flows from this is the legal implications of doing this. What we don’t see in the movies is both combatants being cuffed, locked up and charged with assault for their violent conduct!
2. The surge in popularity of combat sports, particularly MMA.
Most of the time, we see the competitors touch gloves, circle each other and exchange blows until one of them shoots for the takedown. They go to the ground and wrestle for position. One of them will get a submission and the other will tap and concede the fight. Or alternatively one will knock the other one out with a haymaker or a quick succession of strikes. They get up, shake hands and hug, congratulate each other on a good fight and display of sportsmanship (all of which are beautiful aspects of martial arts) and that’s where it ends. Ok, unless you are watching Ronda Rousey, in which case she gives the opponent the finger and walks off pouting. The problem with this is that it is completely unrealistic. Real attacks so very rarely happen – or end – in that way! This fails to account for weapons, multiple opponents, ambushes and many other elements that are simply not present in competition martial arts. The other issue with this, is that many sports fans get the impression that being knocked out or choked out is not all that bad. You’re out for a bit, shake it off, shake hands and all is well. What we don’t see are the hospital visits, brain scans, X-rays, pain killers and – just as daunting – the huge amounts of money all of these cost.
So how do we deal with this?
Well, the best teacher is experience. That being said, the reason we learn martial arts and self-defence in the first place is to try and avoid having to experience real violence.
So, the next best option is to find a good teacher and a good school, with people who have a range of experience, are willing to share that experience and have an understanding of what their students want to achieve.
Stay tuned, stay safe.