Martial art or Self defence?

Why can't I just learn martial art?


I Love the Martial Arts and have been involved with it for nearly all of my life. I love them. 

The martial arts offer a great service to individuals and society as a whole. It helps people better themselves, increases self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth, provides a local, national and even global community for individuals to feel a part of, and it teaches great skills which can be honed over time and allows an individual a structured model for personal growth and achievement. 

I have seen many children and adults who feel depressed, worthless and down-trodden, and who have been bullied all of their lives change under the care, love and compassion of good martial arts instructors. 

They get back their stolen self-worth and feel like they are worth something once again. 

In many ways a good martial arts instructor is better than any therapist and many communities would be a far worse place if there were no martial arts clubs. 

I do recognise the many strengths within the arts, but, I also recognise it’s limitations too. 

When training to become a self defence instructor I asked the question

“How am I supposed to teach someone to be able to defend themselves in a few hours or a day, when it takes years of practice to become skilled in our art?” 

The answer lies in the fact that if you can't, you should not be teaching self-defence!

Let me explain. 

Lets say a 53 year-young woman comes to you for advice. 

She is a mother and grandmother, not in a best state of physical health or fitness and possibly carrying injuries. 

She has come to you and says: “I work as a medical representative and the other day I was walking through a particular area and I was approached by a scary young man who asked me for money and who also thought I had drugs in my medical reps bag. I was so frightened that he was going to attack me and I am now scared for my safety when I am out and about doing my job. Please can you teach me some simple self-defence so that if I am attacked I can do something to defend myself and get away”. 

Are you actually going to tell that woman that it is going to take her three-years to be skilled enough to be able to defend herself? 

The primary aim of any self-defence course should be to give people simple, easy to learn and effective skills to be able to do just that, and that is actually what the research into this area shows. 

There have been numerous research studies done, some dating back to the late 1800’s, that show that when heart-rate goes up the ability to use complex thinking and complex and fine motor skills deteriorate and an individual must rely on simple gross motor skill technique if they are to survive a potentially dangerous encounter. 

Therefore, the answer is right in front of our eyes! 

If we are saying that it is going to take someone a week, one-month, six-months or three-years to get to a point where they are proficient enough to be able to use the skills being shown to them, then (obviously) the skills must be too complex and too difficult to learn and recall. 

Otherwise it wouldn't take so long for someone to become proficient, would it? 

My take on it is this. 

I should be able to teach someone something in minutes that they can do and recall without thinking. In addition, the person I have taught so find the skill so easy that they should be able to easily teach it to someone else. If we can do that for them we have done them a great service. 

So why don’t most instructors do just that? 

I think the answer to that question lies in the fact that when we practice martial arts we aim for perfection. 

That is one of the aims of the art, because by pursuing perfection we learn patience, tolerance and self-discipline and what we do looks graceful, almost like a well-executed dance move. 

Therefore, when a martial arts instructor moves over into teaching self-defence it is a natural progression to teach it the same way. 

The reality however, is that real self-defence is far from elegant and perfect. As the average human being can only fight for between 8 – 12 seconds before they become oxygen deficient (out of breath) they need something that is quick and effective and that gives them a window of opportunity to escape. Nothing more. 

Teaching Martial Arts and Teaching Self-Defence Are Not The Same Thing

Adapted from an original article written by Mark Dawes, Director of NFPS

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