If you’ve been involved in martial arts, combatives, or self defense training in any way you’ve undoubtedly seen many programs touting the secret techniques or principles of self defense. There are a lot of very impressively marketed systems out there and, if one is to believe the hype, the Navy SEALS, Special Forces Commandos, hit men and Bouncers have each one of them as an official system.

Here’s the real secret: There isn’t one. The technique, strategy, or mindset you need is the one that’s appropriate for the situation. Everything depends. This may sound like a cop-out, but it isn’t – let me explain:

As a rule, I try my best not to denigrate other systems or instructors. Everything is valuable, and there are many good systems out there. It can be tough to make sense of the sometimes contradictory information out there. At this point I will not comment on some of the marketing practices of some of my colleagues other than to say there is a lot of hype out there – you need to learn to spot it.

In my 3 decades of experience trying just about everything out there, there is no instruction which is going to turn you into Rambo in 48 hours. There is no systems that will give you imperishable hand to hand combat skills in a weekend seminar.

Combative skills are no different than any other skills. You will not become a trumpet virtuoso by taking a single class with a master performer. You won’t join the big leagues after a weekend in the batting cages. You must practice, refine, practice, refine, then practice. You must move your skills into muscle memory and keep them there.

I’m a firm believer in cross-training, having trained in an eclectic style of jujutsu, several styles of karate, arnis, silat, and studied everything I can get my hands on related to martial arts and self defense. I try to find holes in what I do, fill them, simplify, and go again.

If I knew in advance that I was going to be the victim of a violent attack, when it would happen, at what range, what weapons would be used, the number of attackers, my exits, the environment etc… I could focus on certain strategies and tactics in my practice. But the truth is, I’ll have no idea if I’ll need to grapple, run, strike, kick.

Many teachers advocate teaching killing and highly destructive movements in order for civilians to defend themselves. There is nothing wrong with that, unless it is your only option. Most jurisdictions allow for reasonable force to defend yourself. If you kill a guy for throwing a punch at you, you may very well wind up in prison.

Speaking of prison, do you know who practices violence regularly? Criminals. There are even prison-specific martial arts and conditioning programs spread from prisoner to prisoner. I’ve seen video of prisoners practicing edged weapon attacks. Gang-bangers have been known to practice arnis, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and even to join the military to learn combat tactics. Some Central-American gangs recruit from the military of their respective countries.

To become good at self-defense, you have to become good at self defense. That means practice. You can learn a lot in a 2 day seminar, or taking lessons, but knowledge doesn’t make you good. You must practice and practice and practice. You have to internalize skills.

You should learn to kill, cripple, and control so that you can use appropriate force when necessary. Your first line of defense is always awareness, and your second is escape, and your last line is physical self defense.

Avoid -> Evade -> Invade™ is a shortcut for remembering strategic preference. Learn to avoid trouble, when you spot trouble look to escape, if you can’t escape – attack until you can.

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