Q&A: Self-Defense

Hi I was wondering what martial art or system would you recommend for someone interested in self-defence?

Self-defense. Okay, let me step back and explain that: Hand to hand combat training is, probably, the least important component to self-defense training. Nearly any practical martial art can provide that component. In the US, the most common self-defense style, is a strain of Judo adapted by American law enforcement in the mid-20th century.

So, what is important? Everything else. Self-defense is about managing your risks, learning how to look like an unappealing target, learning how to avoid exposing yourself to danger, and how to extract from a situation before things go wrong. The combat training is a last resort. Your goal is to get to safely unharmed, if that requires violence, then your hand-to-hand training matters.

I wish I could say that dojos that advertise, “self-defense” training are all on the level. Unfortunately, they’re not. A lot of schools will market themselves as teaching self-defense as part of their normal curriculum. When you’re dealing with sport/recreational martial artists, that’s going to have limited application in a live situation. In situations like this, your primary consideration is the pedigree of the instructors. People with a background where they’ve had to employ their training are going to be far better suited to train you.

When you do find specialists who teach self-defense, that’s (usually) going to be expensive. The irony is, the self-defense skill set is pretty easy to teach in a couple seminars, so these guys usually outright bypass the hand to hand elements and focus on the stuff that you can’t get from someone else.

The exception is police. Police use this stuff. As I mentioned at the beginning, their hand-to-hand training makes an excellent base for self-defense, because it offers a lot of options to neutralize your opponents without inflicting much harm. It’s tailor made for your needs. Most officers can offer hands on experience with how the hand to hand components work, and can offer vital insight in how to manage dangerous situations. When you have someone with a law enforcement background teaching you self-defense, you can be assured they’ve used this.

Now, I understand if you don’t like cops. I’ve had one bad experience with a member of the Washington State Patrol. This is the extreme minority for me, but if someone like that jackass was your introduction to police, I can understand looking at the entire profession with suspicion. However, getting past that for the moment, these are the experts, and in many cases they do offer classes which are either free to the public, or much cheaper than what you’d pay a self-defense specialist. They may offer training directly through the department, or it could be off site at a Y, youth center, or someplace similar.

So, with all of this in mind, the martial arts style doesn’t matter much. It’s a last resort anyway, but anything that will get you out of danger will do the job. The biggest component is never getting into the situation where you’d need it to begin with. Getting out safely is the real goal, this easiest if you get out before things turn violent. That’s self-defense.


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