Martial Arts is not Self Defense

What am I talking about?  If I go to a martial arts class, I’m obviously learning self defense, is that correct?  No, it is not.

Martial arts is a system of fighting from a certain country at a certain time period developed by a certain person, that was developed with rules that are much different than modern-day life.

Self-defense is by definition a legal term, and in that legal term it states that fighting is pretty much your last option.  You have to do what a person with a reasonable mind would do in the same situation, which is usually escaping.  So if you’re going to learn how to defend yourself in a martial arts gym and they’re not teaching you a bunch of other options, then they’re just teaching you how to fight, and a fight is not self defense. A fight is not defensible in court.

The difference between martial arts and self defense is, as I said, martial arts was developed in a certain time period with much less rules and structure and in a much more violent era on a personal scale.  Self-defense nowadays is, again, dictated unfortunately not by door-kickers, but by people who have modeled much of their violence thought process off of Hollywood.  This means that they’re expecting shooters to shoot people’s guns out of their hand.

If you’re in a gym and you learn how to kick and punch – that is not self-defense.  You’re learning a martial system.  You’re learning subject matter.

Self-defense is done by the student, martial arts is done by the class.  Self defense is different per person, and self defense will be different for you than it will be for me.  If you’re a woman, you face much different problems than I face as a guy.  Martial athletes like myself and most of my students aren’t gonna get picked on for a lot of stuff.  We’re big, we know how to fight, we carry ourselves well.  If the people at these gyms, these martial athletes, are showing you, as a woman, or a smaller person, how to use strength-based moves to get out of a situation, it’s bad training, it’s counterintuitive.

If you’re teaching self-defense right now, you need to make sure you’re teaching the difference between social and asocial violence, and you absolutely need to teach self-defense law.  You need to understand that if somebody breaks somebody’s neck, and a reasonable person, or twelve reasonable people, wouldn’t think that was a good idea – then you just sent your student to jail.  So stop marketing yourself as self-defense, and start marketing yourself as jujutsu, or karate, or subject matter from a fighting system.

When I teach Filipino martial arts I am not teaching self defense.  I’m teaching subject matter from my instructor.  I can extrapolate concepts from this to give self defense, but it has to work within the parameters of the law of the place that I’m in.  You need to know the laws of your state or country, you need to know what’s acceptable and you should have the definition of self defense somewhere in your gym.  Because if your students don’t understand what they can do, they’re gonna freeze because they don’t want to go to jail.

If you’re a student and you’re looking for a martial arts gym make sure you know what you’re looking for.  If you’re looking to win a belt, or a purse, or reputation, do not go to a self-defense gym!  You are not gonna like it.  If you don’t want any of those things, if you just want to be safe when you’re outside, then you have to realize that most of your training is gonna be awareness, how to be alert, how to look for signs and then escape and evasion, and fighting will be one of the last things you talk about.  That’s how self-defense should be taught.  If you can avoid it, if you can vaccinate instead of cure, that’s a way bigger win.  If you can know when somebody’s coming at you, and all their adrenaline cues have kicked in, and you’re in a bad spot at a bad time, then you can avoid most violence.

Randy King


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