What is the best Self Defense Martial Art
Many people start martial arts wanting to learn self defense.
As one starts a practice, there may be some scepticism in a new practitioner weather the
taught techniques actually work for self defense, yet various martial arts have developed elaborate
justifications to convince a practitioner that their practice is effective, such as:
“You need to train this martial art for many years to make it work for self defense”,
or “When the time comes, your skills will naturally come into action”.
Unfortunately these justifications are mainly based on false beliefs passed on from generation
Having all these myths and lies in martial arts, it is difficult not only for a beginner
to realize what techniques and training methods actually help a person learn applicable self
defense, but we also often times see people investing decades and hundreds of hours training
in a certain practice, learning elaborate, complex techniques and traditions, only eventually
to learn that they never actually learned real self defense.
Hi, my name is Rokas, and for these reasons in this Martial Arts Journey video, we will
be taking a look at what really makes a martial art effective for self defense.
When we think about self defense, most people first think of self defense techniques.
Often times in their imagination they resemble some stylized kung fu movements, which were
once seen in an action movie.
These complex movements can be learned by training the same elaborate technique for
hundreds of times with full attention and focus.
Yet in reality, when a person is faced with potential violence, our brain goes into the
fight-or-flight response, which in turn releases a surge of adrenaline.
It is important to understand, that when we have a high level of adrenaline in our system,
our mind and body do not function as usual.
While adrenaline brings more energy to our muscles to raise the capacity of our ability
to defend ourselves physically, some other effects of include: tunnel vision, when you
only see what is in front of you and not what is around you.
A sensation of your mind wandering or floating, making it hard to concentrate.
Decreased coordination and difficulty to think clearly.
All these factors have a dramatic, negative effect on our ability to perform complex motor
skills, on which many martial arts techniques are based on.
While we may be able to perform them with ease in our training environment - when faced
with actual danger, there is a great possibility that all of our complex movements which we
learned will not come up in the moment of an adrenaline surge and our body will not
respond as we had planned in our training, making us incapable to defend, especially
by using the techniques we invested in.
That is not to say that complex motor skills will not work at all in a real self defense
situation, but if your chosen martial art relies heavily on them, that may be one of
the first signs of caution when questioning your martial arts effectiveness for self defense.
Some complex motor skills may work though, yet whether they will depends not only on
the techniques themselves, but also on the training method.
Many martial arts offer a safe training environment.
And of course, it would make no sense to intentionally hurt each other and come out injured all the
Yet by wanting to make the practitioner feel good about himself, the training and also
to give an impression that the presented martial art works, many schools and styles are base
themselves on a cooperative training method, where both practitioners know exactly what
the other practitioner will do, and help each other along the way to play out the choreographed
In other words there is a very specific attack that the person who plays the role of the
attacker will perform, while the defender, knowing exactly how he will be attacked, has
to perform the technique designed against this particular movement.
As the attacker starts the attack, he usually also knows what movement the defender will
do, and he also knows how to exactly responds to this movement, offering no resistance whatsoever
and either by falling down from a throw or allowing the defender to land a punch (which
is normally not actually landed, but stopped from a fair distance).
This cooperative play, while may look effective at first, has many important issues.
First of all, an actual attacker will not be concerned to play a cooperative role and
will often times responds very differently than a friendly, choreographed attacker will
In reality, live resistance will be offered, which will dramatically change how the techniques
will be applied.
An actual attacker will not stop after a single attack, he will not wait for a technique to
be applied and most importantly, he will not want the technique to be done onto him.
For a person who has never experienced a live resisting opponent, the difference will be
so drastic, that almost all of the techniques learned with a cooperative partner will be
Even punching and hitting is different when you really apply a punch, rather than stop
it in front of the person and if punching is trained without any contact whatsoever,
this difference may cause another noticeable gap when the time comes to actually apply
As Tony Blauer from SPEAR self defense system says: “If you are not hitting the target
when you strike, you are not practicing striking, you are practicing missing”.
It is of utmost importance to train with a live, resisting opponent during training to
get used to this type of pressure and to learn to apply our techniques under more realistic
conditions, with a person who is not willing for us to do our technique on him and with
real contact to actually know not only how striking feels, but how it feels to get punched
If we haven’t experienced the latter, if we experience our first strike only in a real
situation, the experience of the strike may cause so much unfamiliar stress to the system,
that it will be too preoccupied to understand what is happening, instead of defending further.
No wonder a famous phrase says: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face”.
It is a myth all together that learning to do techniques only with a cooperative partner,
when faced with a resisting opponent will transfer naturally, and it is a myth which
should not be believed by any means.
Now this is a moment, where it is also important to come back to complex motor skills.
While complex techniques which are trained with a live resisting opponent may very well
come into action when faced with a real attacker, many martial arts teach hundreds of different
techniques, often times each one as a unique, different response, to each different attack.
Knowledge of all these different techniques burden the mind with the need to remember
them all and to activate each one under a specific attack.
A real attacker will often times attack in unexpected ways and if we will be trying to
apply a specific technique, to a specific attack, also adding the conditions of adrenaline,
we will be left frozen and unable to perform all the various learned complex motions, as
our brain and body will be struggling to find the right, untested under pressure technique,
under unusual and strenuous circumstances.
This flaw comes out very quickly when live resistance is offered, even in training.
There are already a number of recorded cases where a combat sports practitioner, who is
used to live resistance faces a practitioner used to various complex movements, and little
The combat sports practitioner in these cases has always a huge advantage, and while the
opposite side would oftentimes argue that: “this is just sports.
It’s not reality.”, in truth, live resistance is live resistance nonetheless, and if a person
is not able to deal with it at least to a fair degree under coordinated circumstances
in sparring, he should be very cautious about expecting it to work when facing a person
with real intention to hurt him.
While the mentioned points are essential in understanding the difference in what works
in learning self defense and what doesn’t, there is still one more key component which
is of utmost importance, when wanting to learn realistic self defense, and that is the element
of personal safety and self defense related theory.
Many martial arts school promote themselves as teaching self defense, yet what they mainly
teach is actually just techniques.
The subject of self defense is much more wide than just the physical aspect.
It is important to understand, that if we are attacked physically, that probably implies
that we’ve done many mistakes prior to this moment, such as not being aware of our surroundings,
taking a more dangerous route, not noticing a potential attacker, failing in a muggers
interview, choosing the wrong clothes and other various details.
Actual self defense as well is not just about defeating the attacker, which many martial
arts focus on.
The goal of self defense is to survive, which may lead to a very different strategy such
as running away or finding a creative solution to prevent the attack, such as breaking a
window to bring attention and to cause the attacker to run away, whilst not wanting to
All of this and much more is not something that occurs naturally and even running away
effectively should be properly discussed or even practiced.
Unfortunately many martial arts schools, as mentioned before, while claim to teach self
defense, teach only the physical response to a certain attack and fail to address this
essential part, which arguably makes up for more than half of what self defense is about.
Some martial arts inherently offer more of the mentioned positive aspects such as live
resistance based training and addressing not only the physical, but also the mental aspect
of self defense, yet it also heavily depends on the school and instructor himself and not
only the martial art of how everything will be taught, thus to pick out one single martial
art and to say it is absolutely the best for self defense is dangerous.
It is also important to note, that there are certain systems which do not identify themselves
as martial arts, but present themselves as a direct self defense practice, yet even then
this practice may still easily fall under the same false beliefs of what is actual self
That is why, on a great level, it is the responsibility of the student himself to choose a martial
art or practice which teaches self defense properly, by having a critical mind and inquiring
prior to practicing what real self defense consists of.
And on the other hand, it is also responsibility of the instructor and school to keep questioning
whether their presented material is what will be actually useful if someone is attacked,
and that they are not presenting something which is simply believed to be true, because
it was passed down from one martial arts instructor to another.
There is no harm ir learning or teaching a martial art just for the aspect of physical
conditioning and personal development, yet this line should be clearly drawn and explained
to any student that comes to practice in such a school.
I hope this video has offered more clarity in what to look for when searching for an
effective self defense system or martial art.
If you want more knowledge about this subject, many of the thoughts presented in the video
were inspired by Tony Blauer’s SPEAR self defense system, the teachings of Brazilian
Jiu Jitsu, MMA and self defense coach Matt Thornton and self defense expert Bruno Orozco.
If you want to find out more about them, check the links bellow in the description and comments.
Do you agree with the presented points?
Did I miss something?
Let me know in the comments.
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This was Rokas and I wish you to own your Journey.