There are many reasons one could study a martial art: for sport, for exercise, to relax, build self discipline, or because you think the costumes are cool. All reasons are valid. In my experience, most people start training in martial arts because at least one of their goals is to learn how to defend themselves. All martial arts will do this to some degree.
Do not be fooled by the haters with low self esteem on the Internet who need to feel good about themselves by insulting other systems, or teachers. Lack of respect is a lack of self-discipline and it is a clear sign of mental weakness. Even if you dislike what another martial art teaches, keep your mouth shut. Those who speak out on internet message boards under the guise of “educating others” are being ridiculous, since only their fellow chairborne-commando haters read those things.
Self-defense (or self-defence if your British) training, ultimately, is not about style or system or what you wear or what you call it. It isn’t even about ultimate deadly unstoppable techniques culled from the jungles of some war-torn country by special operations commandos. That stuff is exciting, but it’s mostly marketing puffery.
True self-defense training is about one thing only (in the very humble opinion of this author) – transforming the individual into someone with skills and attributes to survive and escape danger. And, no two human beings will have identical skills or attributes, so throw out the silly notion of the ultimate best system on the planet to turn you into a superhuman fighting-machine.
In computer programming two skilled programmers can create exactly the same software using two different languages, two different development processes, and deploy them onto two different platforms. Which one is the “best”? Neither – just live with the fact that in life there are no absolutes. Thinking things are either all good or all bad is lazy thinking which is unbecoming of a true martial artist.
First, let’s talk about attributes that will help you survive a violent attack. In my opinion attributes are more important than skills.
Speed, endurance, coordination, agility, and strength are physical attributes which will help you whether you choose to run away or stand and fight. The physical training of most MMA fighters is simply incredible and gives them the advantages that conditioning brings. Pain tolerance, and the ability to carry on when injured relates to resilience. Boxers and special forces soldiers have excellent resilience due to their training regimens. Timing and awareness of distance almost always trump speed and other physical attributes. Weapons arts like kenjutsu, Kali, Arnis, silat, and fencing are incredible to imparting this level of skill.
The key attribute, more important than all the others is awareness. The ability to be aware of your physical surroundings will mitigate most attacks and make you less of a target. No skill or attribute will work if you are completely unaware of an attack until it lands. Snipers, drones, and smart bombs are effective weapons of war in part because they are hard to detect. You cannot defend against what you can’t detect.
So, a lot of self-defense oriented training will be geared towards developing advantageous attributes. In our school, due to our traditions, we look at timing and angles, off-balancing, body alignment and awareness as primary attributes. We teach understanding of concepts and principles. Here is the important thing – other schools have different foci and are completely effective.
All martial-arts schools tech skills. Skills are the technical lessons, the specific vocabulary with which you express your attributes. A skill may be punching, parrying, blocking, etc. Many schools are technique-oriented, having hundreds or thousands of techniques. Some may teach forms, some drills. All are equally valid teaching methods.
Our school focuses on teaching self-defense. What that means for us is the following:
- We focus on building attributes and understanding that we have found effective for real-world self-defense
- We throw away dogma, tradition, and ceremony where it doesn’t suit is
- We place less emphasis on archaic weapons than on modern weapons
- We focus on what happens to the human body and mind under extreme stress
- We do our best to train honestly, yet safely so we don’t develop bad habits
- We strive to understand local self-defense law and how it applies to us
This is not to say that our school or our system is better than anyone else’s. It isn’t. It is the best school and system for me and the people who choose to train with me because it makes sense to us, and we feel we can dedicate ourselves to the training. The best system for you is going to be the one you can stick with and train in for a long time.