Thursday, 07 February 2019 18:35

The Flip Side: Traditional Martial Arts and Combat Sports ARE Effective for Self Defence...?

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One of the things I discuss often is the separation between combat sports, martial arts and self-defence (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this).

Self-defence practitioners often exclaim that combat sports and martial arts are NOT the same as self-defence, and indeed there is plenty of evidence to support this claim.

On the other hand, combat sports and martial arts practitioners will always claim their stuff is effective for self-defence.

Me? I tend to sit right in the middle on this one. Do they overlap? Yes. Are there transferable skills? Absolutely! Are they identical? Absolutely not.

But can they be?

Over the past few weeks there were a couple of great examples of Traditional Martial Arts (TMA) and Combat Sports working effectively in self-defence:

  1. TMA: A Karate instructor in the US quickly and effectively dispatched an attacker who was coming after a woman who ran into his dojo asking for help. Karate was used an effective solution to a violent encounter.
  2. Combat sports: A UFC fighter was targeted by a mugger in Brazil. She kicked his ass all over the place.

So what does this highlight? That TMA and combat sports can be effective in self-defence. This leads to the possibility that it’s not so much what you train, as much as it is how you train it.

Not everyone trains purely for self-defence. Some train for sport, or fun, or fitness, or for the atmosphere, and that’s great! If you are training in TMA or Combat Sports and also have some interest in self-defence, here are some tips for making your training more relevant for self-defence:

  1. Do some research on pre-incident indicators, de-escalation, post-incident response, awareness developement (here, here and here) and the legalities of self-defence (here). Some of these things don’t have to be practiced on a regular basis in order to be used effectively. They make an extremely important part of your overall self-defence solution. 
  2. Go and do some workshops or seminars with self defence experts in your area. This is a great way to take skills you already have and transfer them to a self-defence context.
  3. Get exposure to a variety of fighting ranges. What does this mean? You need to be able to deal with weapons (projectile, blunt and edged weapons), kicks and punches, clinch and grappling standing up, and fighting on the ground. Most systems tend to focus primarily on one range – BJJ focuses on ground, Judo on takedowns, Boxing on punching range, etc. Step outside of your comfort zone (literally) and get some experience in other ranges of combat. This doesn’t mean you have to be an expert in all of them, but you have to know enough to be able to deal with them to at least keep things in your preferred range.
  4. Explore some other elements of self-defence such as multiple attackers, dealing with weapons, and fighting in environments you are not used to, such as outdoors, in confined spaces, etc., as well as with day-to-day clothes. These are all crucial elements of dealing with real world violence, and will affect what you are able to do and how well you are able to do it. For example, fighting in uncomfortable clothes and while wearing shoes can affect your balance and range of movement, power generated through rotation, get in the way, offer grips, etc.
  5. For your training to be effective it must include contact, resisting opponents and unpredictable responses. More on this in an upcoming article.

 A couple of thoughts from my personal experience:

  1. You are better off doing regular sparring than practising ‘lethal techniques’ without any contact. This is, in my opinion, one of the great failures of some Krav Maga training. Krav Maga literally translates as ‘contact combat’, yet much of the training is without any contact. Getting used to hitting and being hit is an integral part of dealing with people trying to hit you. The same applies for grappling. Combat sports do this all the time, which is ahuge benefit.
  2. You’re better off focusing on the basics and low risk techniques with a good success rate. Learning how to do the basics very well will get you much better results than focusing on high-risk, low success moves, such as spinning or flying attacks. Both self-defence and combat sports history support this consistently with the vast majority of examples.
  3. If self-defence is not your main focus of training, but you still want to make sure you get some skills, I recommend training in MMA if you are into Combat Sports, or hard Karate (such as Kyokushin) and Judo if you are into TMA. That way you are incorporating several fighting ranges, you and will be encouraged to deal with contact, unpredictable responses and resistance on a regular basis. If you then supplement your training with some of the self-defence elements that were discussed above, you will get pretty good results! Perhaps you are not in a position to do so because of age, time, injury, etc. If that is the case, and you are after self-defence training, I recommend finding a good self-defence specialist who can cater for your needs.
  4. The vast majority of the top self defence instructors and experts in the world come from a background of, and/or train regularly in, combat sports and TMA. That should tell you something straight away! At the end of the day, the vast majority of self-defence techniques come from – you guessed it – combat sports and TMA! 

I came up through the TMA, transitioned into self-defence, and finally started doing combat sports. It was (and still is) a great journey and I was lucky to have amazing instructors along the way to guide me. Knowing what I now know, I may have done some things a little differently – especially in terms of adding combat sports into the mix earlier. That being said, I’m grateful for the awesome journey I’ve had and the opportunity to share it with others. 

I recently discussed some of these elements with Joe Saunders of the Managing Violence Podcast. The podcast is a great supplement to this article. You can hear our chat about this here.

Whatever it is you train in, I hope it keeps you happy, healthy and safe!

Stay safe, stay tuned.



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