What are the Martial Arts?

Part 4 – Self Defence

This week I’d like to discuss self-defence in the martial arts. Many people take up the martial arts as a form of self-defence and one would presume that this is a wise decision, but is it? How applicable are the martial arts when it comes to defending oneself from an attacker in the street? The answer of course varies a lot depending on which art one chooses. But surely they’re all good for self-defence?! No they’re not. Some types of martial art will help you a lot and some very little. It all depends of course on context; what kind of attack are you protecting against? The school bully, the office bully, a knife wielding assailant, a mugger, a sex attack, an attack by a gang, road rage, an aggressive burglar, etc. etc.,

Much of what I’ve seen over the years wouldn’t help you much in the street and this article is designed to give you some tips on how to handle a self-defence situation without necessarily having much skill in combat but first let me tell you about the scenarios you’ll often see taught in self-defence classes:

1. The Wrist Grab

I’ve seen this taught 100’s of times and I’ve even taught it myself. It’s standard fair in martial arts circles and you’ll see lots of aikido video on Youtube.com showing their exponents throwing people across the room starting from a wrist grab. The problem is people are almost never attacked by having their wrist grabbed. You see, if someone is going to attack you, you can bet they are not cool calm or collected, instead, they are nervous, angry enough to attack and possibly afraid of being caught. They don’t know if you can fight back. If they are angry and upset they may not care whether you can, they may want to hurt or destroy you and have not thought any further forward than that. So, extremely aggressive and emotional people think in extreme ways. If you are in this uncontrollable state, how likely are you to grab someone’s wrist instead of their throat? Not very. The wrist? What damage is that going to do? Not much, so how likely is it that in a street fight you will have your wrist grabbed? You decide, but I know my answer.

2. The Front Choke

The front choke is a popular one in self-defence too but the same applies as in the wrist grab. A person who will grabbed your throat is angry, upset and trying to throttle the life out of you. They don’t just calmly grip you by the throat; they do it angrily, ferociously, pushing, pulling and squeezing for all they are worth. They scream, shout and even cry as they express their fury and this is where most ‘reality’ scenarios fall down; they forget the emotion that accompanies attack.

3. The Gun Point

I don’t know anyone who has had a gun pointed at them ( who wasn’t in the army and in a combat zone) and I would guess that I am like the other 99.999% of martial arts instructors who are the same, yet this defence is routinely taught as part of self-defence. Now, I feel qualified to teach what I have experienced and generally, and whilst I can apply my knowledge of strategy to the gun, I and any other instructors who have not faced a gun can only make suggestions on what to do when faced with one. Whilst systems like Krav Maga teach gun defence which supposedly is based on real situations (and I have no reason to doubt that they are) the instructor himself is highly unlikely to have ever faced a gun, so how real can his teaching on the subject be? The other part of gun defence is; how likely is it that you will be faced with a gun? Now in the USA where everyone seems to be packing these days it may be more likely, but in the UK or Europe? I’m not so sure. My advice in a situation like this if it was to happen and based purely on what I feel and not what I have experienced, is to do as you are told by the person holding the gun; like give them your money or valuables, but if they try to do anything else which will worsen your position; like say, to get on the ground, allow you to be tied up or put you in a car where there are confederates waiting for you, then I would say no and start to resist. You risk getting shot but most people survive gunshots, they don’t drop down immediately like in the films and at least you’ll go down fighting rather than risk being at the mercy of some sicko who wants to do film style torture to you when they get you alone.

4. Robbery at knife point

Pretty much the same as the gun; most instructors have never faced a knife. If you are being robbed, do as they say, but like with the gun, if they want to worsen your position then I advise resistance. Statistics prove that people who resist live longer in these situations. Robbers don’t need attention pointing at them, like their victim screaming like a maniac and trying to scratch their eyes out so active resistance is my advice. The other thing with knives which is generally not explored but is the most common type of attack, is where there is a fight and an accomplice of the attacker slips behind and stabs the victim. Often the victim does not realise they have been stabbed until sometime after. A sharp knife between the ribs is quite different to a punch in the ribs as there is no impact with a knife. So often with a knife attack, you never see the knife. You can’t do much to protect yourself in this situation except try to avoid places where people might carry knives.

I’ve outlined a few scenarios here because they are common in self-defence teaching and what I am trying to say is that self-defence is not so much about technique but about tactics. Tactics, such as avoiding places where trouble occurs, staying with a group as opposed to being alone. Not getting too drunk on a night out, sharing taxi’s instead of riding by yourself. Wearing clothes that are less tempting to an attacker or which are more for comfort than for fashion. Sure, you should be able to wear what you want and go where you want but that’s not really a choice if you want to stay safe.

The other thing is to consider how realistic is the scenario? How likely is it that someone will grab your wrist or try to choke you? isn’t it more likely that they will just punch you in the face? It’s much simpler and is often the best counter attack for you to use. I see all these silly defence scenarios on Youtube.com and social media, combining all sorts of clever, yet highly unlikely scenarios, and I just think to myself ‘punch him in the face’. As Mike Tyson said ‘everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.’ It’s simple and effective and is the standard response taught to special forces personnel, which is interesting isn’t it?

When it comes to self-defence, keep it simple: avoid places where trouble is more likely and always fight back, clawing, punching, kicking, spitting, biting, grabbing and poking. Honestly, it’s the best way and if you don’t know what to do or are not strong enough, come and join one of my academies and we’ll show you simple ways to protect yourself both physically, mentally and strategically. We’ll teach you the kind of skill that will help you in much bigger ways than just self-protection, with special emphasis on not having to fight in the first place.

I hope you found this valuable and that you never have to use it.