Q&A: Self-Defense Goals

I have a 5’4. 110 lbs woman who knows self defense. She gets in a bar fight with a guy who is much bigger than her. (Think 6ft, 250) Would her training trump the guy’s size and strength? (And that he doesn’t know self defense) My beta reader thinks not. They also think that whether the guy is drunk or not doesn’t matter. True? If it is. What kind of training would she need to make her winning plausible?

There’s a lot of detail here, but there are two questions you need to ask yourself, something that needs to be remembered and one error that needs to be addressed.

First, does she actually remember her training, or was this something she did six years ago and mostly forgot? If its the later, her training isn’t going to be that helpful. We talk about the importance of updating your training, but you also need to practice. Updating means you’re also getting refreshers on a regular basis. If you don’t have access to that, you’ll lose things. Stuff that requires a partner will go first, though, it is possible you’ll eventually file a lot of your training away and forget about it. You can get this back if you take a moment to recall. In a fight, you don’t have a moment to dig up your training; you need it already there.

Worth remembering that combat training is the least valuable thing in a competent self-defense course. Most situations can be averted long before they turn violent.

Being drunk is significant. Remember that intoxication is a spectrum from slightly buzzed to barely able to stand. However, unless they already had ingrained hand to hand training, it will quickly render them unable to fight, with rare exceptions.

Second, is she willing to use her training? This sounds similar, but there’s a real social stigma against engaging in violence, particularly for women. It’s easy to think, “Hurting people is bad, and makes you a bad person,” even in situations where a violence is appropriate. If you feel it is important to be “a good person,” it can create a serious dilemma. Her self-defense course should have addressed this, and gotten her comfortable with the idea of using her training, but it’s not guaranteed those lessons took hold.

Self-defense isn’t “a martial art.” It’s a combat objective. This is how you want to use your martial arts training. In the US today, most “self-defense,” is a modified form of Judo. This form only dates back to the mid-twentieth century. That doesn’t mean it’s the only option, as a lot of martial arts can be adapted for use in self-defense. I specified, “a competent self-defense course,” before, because you will find less scrupulous schools billing their normal classes as, “self-defense.” You miss out on a lot. You don’t learn threat assessment, how to manage escalation, or how to create an exit. Worst case, you may not even learn martial arts that will be useful in a live situation.

I tend to paint those schools pretty harshly, but it is possible they have good intentions. The problem is that, as I’ve said, the hand to hand component is a small part of self-defense training. It is important, but it’s the act of last resort.

The last part here, and the major issue is a single word in the final sentence. You don’t take self-defense classes to win fights.

If you want to win fights? Take up boxing, Muay Thai, MMA, or any number of other competitive sports.

You take self-defense classes to learn how to extract from a bad situation. Self-defense teaches you how to quickly neutralize an attacker and escape.

Winning is for prize fights. Self-defense is about getting you out of there in one piece. It is not about getting into a stand up fight and beating your opponent into submission. It is about making sure your attacker cannot follow you.

So, if some drunk guy attacked her, yeah she could put him on the ground, no problem. However, bar fights are nasty, and her goal should be to get out of there as fast as possible, not stick around for a Pyrrhic “win.”

It may sound like I’m being overly pedantic here, but it is a very important concept. Combat training (whether that’s hand to hand or armed), sets specific objectives. You don’t train, “to fight,” you train to achieve those goals. If your goal is to kill someone, train to kill people. If your goal is self-defense, train to create an opening and escape. When to train to fight, you’re learning to prolong combat, and wear your opponent down. This does not work when you go up against someone who trained to end combat efficiently.

Pop culture teaches you to fight (badly.) It draws out the engagements, prolonging the experience is for entertainment value. If you don’t have a background, it’s easy to think this is how combat works. If your attacker doesn’t have a background, and is just going off what he’s learned from Chuck Norris films, he’s going to lose. He cared about winning. Your character doesn’t, her only objective is to get out safely, and she can do that without getting into a prolonged fight. In fact, it’s easier for her to do that without letting the fight go on. She throws him and, while he’s trying to get back on his feet, she bolts. That’s it, fight’s over, she’s gone.

-Starke

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