Want to defend yourself? Forget about martial arts. Learn combat systems.

A lot of people ask that question: "which martial art should I learn for self defense?". The answer is "none". Surprised?

I'm not going to go deep into martial arts background because it's a huge topic and one could write a book about it. The thing is: as much as martial arts were invented for combat, today all martial arts are nothing more than a sport. As much as strange it may seem, there's a huge difference between those two purposes.The difference is so significant it may save your life someday.

Lets do a little bit of case study. You want to learn to defend yourself so you enter google and search for martial art school near your home. Lets say you find a karate school. You go for your first training and talk with a teacher. You learn you should buy yourself a kimono, take off your watch and all the jewellery you wear, then you learn you don't enter the training ground with your boots on. You sit with others and you learn about fighting rules, about what you can't do, where you can kick etc... STOP! Now think. You came there to learn how to defend. And what they are doing? They are teaching you how to not to hurt the opponent! Something is not right, right? The same thing would happen if you choose judo, jujitsu, muay-thai, taekwondo, kung-fu or any other martial art. Well, everything is ok when you treat it as a sport. Sport needs rules and that's understandable. But there are no rules on the street, noone will take off his heavy boots or metal elements from his hands before attacking you. Do you see my point?

Sport will help you become fit, strong, fast and for sure will improve your chance to defend when attacked. But for sure it won't prepare you for that. What's worse - it might make you too confident. But real life is not a ring. While making impressive high-kick you may find yourself hit in the crotch and painfully learn, that something impressive not necessarily is effective.

These days MMA schools become more and more popular. Don't get confused. MMA is more brutal and a little more practical than many martial arts but it is still just a sport. Just like boxing. Anything, that puts you in the controlled environment and put any limit on what you and your opponent do, won't prepare you for what can happen on the street.

The biggest drawback of martial arts is they don't teach the proper mental attitude. Most of us since early years is taught, that we should not hurt others. In result we have moral resistance against causing physical injuries. As much as it is laudable from social point of view it reduces ones ability to successfully defend in dangerous situations. If one is to be able to defend, he will have to be able to break his morality and do what has to be done in order to stay alive. It will involve hurting others, sometimes severely. Are you ready for this?

So what one should do in order to defend himself? Go to someone teaching military combat systems. Krav Maga, Sambo, Kali Arnis, Combat 56 (although I don't think you can learn it outside Poland) or others. The difference between combat systems and martial arts is that systems have no rules and don't teach how to win but how to stay alive. Lessons are very tough, but you'll learn to withstand the pain, to react in stressful situations and how to disable the opponent in just few short moves. Combat systems are brutal, but life is also brutal. In combat systems it's a life that dictates the rules.

If you're not prepared for it, don't waste your money on another self defense karate lessons. Buy yourself good running boots and a pepper gas. It's much cheaper and more effective.

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Comments 17 comments

Marcus Teague profile image

Marcus Teague 6 years ago

Oh crap, I accidentally voted this down. I hope it gets good feedback because this is a good article. I know a lot of fans of martial arts aren't going to like it, but truth is truth. Self defense is about survival, not winning.

nailinthehead profile image

nailinthehead 6 years ago from Poland Author

The truth often isn't like we want it to be. Thanks for the feedback :)

50 Caliber profile image

50 Caliber 6 years ago from Arizona

I like the premise of this article. I have been taught and practice "train like you fight, fight like you train" this is a good rule, the rule of warriors and winners. If you train to pull a punch, under stress of an attack you very well may default to that level. Many Law enforcement train to catch an empty magazine, stick it in their pocket and then reload their pistol. One should train to drop the mag reload, tap rack, get back to the fight. Officers often default to their training and while stowing the empty, get shot.

Good article for thought., 50

Kicker 6 years ago

Ask someone like Terry O Neill if karate doesnt work. (Then run!)

nailinthehead profile image

nailinthehead 6 years ago from Poland Author

I might be wrong in my opinion. But for some reason in military and LE usually combat systems are taught, not martial arts.

50 Caliber profile image

50 Caliber 6 years ago from Arizona

Nail your not the the least wrong and I don't regard your thought opinion, it's fact, in my humble opinion. I never saw Kung Fu's david Caradine karate chop a bullet even with trick photography... Big smile (then run) big laugh.

Great right still and another vote up all around, 50

Jack Taylor 6 years ago

I disagree, just because a martial art tells you not to use certain things in fights doesnt mean you cant do it yourself, youd be an idiot to think "i better not kick too hard it might hurt them" in a real situation like this. Muay thai in particular has few rules which limit you aka groin kicking, eye gouging etc but everything else is about delivering the most power which is effective for street fighting.

shape_shifter profile image

shape_shifter 6 years ago from The Free Waters of Planet Earth

I fully understand your point, but this is, of coarse, a blanket statement... I've trained in a number of martial arts since I was about 5 years old, and I've had good teachers, and bad ones... A good teacher understands the difference between sport and combat, and teaches using conditioning that lends itself to the latter, rather than pooping out 12 year old McBlack Belts all day long just to cater to our American impatience. There is a huge difference even in the way the traditional styles are taught over here, vs. in their home countries. Even combat and police training courses are technically "martial arts" or simply, "arts of war." The traditional older styles simply had different tools up against them, thus the styles differed... at least insofar as weapons are concerned. We put too much stock in, as well as take credit away from, the mainstream of what we are exposed to here in America, but a good school and a good teacher might change your philosophy slightly... I agree, with what we seem to have to choose from, one might very well be better off with more progressive training, but for those who exercise the same care finding a teacher as they probably do in other aspects of their life, there remains centuries of experience to learn from. Even these "Combat systems" have their roots in eastern style. They simply did what any real student of the arts should be doing... adapt all you learn to develop the most effective style of defense you can, given your tools, strengths, and weaknesses... Martial arts is a lifestyle for me, not a sport. I have no use for competition, and after some of my training, it is actually forbidden. Unfortunately, you also seem to misunderstand the concept of nonviolence just a bit... It is not that anyone is necessarily being taught not to hurt, but rather WHEN to hurt... A true warrior hurts only when words aren't enough, maims when hurting isn't enough, and kills ONLY when maiming isn't enough... To learn the higher level concepts that make the martial arts effective, one needs to immerse themself in it for a LONG time... as I said, it's a lifestyle. The problem is that American kids want it NOW and this impatience only perpetuates the "brutality" of this world. Oh, we train to kill, but beleive me when I say, I consider it my duty to promote peace, even in the face of great violence. These are the foundations that aren't taught in most quick training combat schools. You are absolutely right on about training in your street clothes, though, this is essential! Great point! A good teacher will understand and practice this....

nailinthehead profile image

nailinthehead 6 years ago from Poland Author

Thanks for the comments. It's really interesting to read your opinions.

@Jack: True, muai thai is one of the best martial arts out there, mostly because of great endurance training it requires. But still it heavily relies on punches and kicks, which are believe are not the best way of fighting.

nailinthehead profile image

nailinthehead 6 years ago from Poland Author

@Shape: If you read the article carefully you know whole point of it is aimed at people who take martial arts only for self defence. Those who train martial arts for years have a big advantage regardless of the style they train. It's simply because they are stronger, more tough, know their own weakness and can control it. But those who want to learn how to defend take the martial art someone told them is the best and then everything goes wrong because instead of learning how to defend he is being taught a sport discipline. You should understand that for such a person martial arts are not an ideology or life style but a tool. I know there are martial arts schools oriented at self defence. But tell me, how many of them take into account that you might be forced to fight in a tight room with drunk/drugged and armed opponent? No space for kicking, punching won't work because he doesn't feel pain. If in addition he is big and strong one won't be able to break his bones. That's the situation where combat systems are the best. It's like with the pepper sprays - most of them will work only for sober people and if you want to be able to protect yourself from the drunk/drugged ones you have to choose other spray. Just as "Combat systems have their roots in eastern style" those pepper sprays are also based on the same ingredient but have a different effect in extreme situations. Do you see my point?

This article is not based on my "I think so" but on opinions from active SF, LE and CP personnel who use combat systems in practice on daily basis. I have trained judo and BJJ myself and when I started to learn combat systems I saw a huge difference.

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AnnaStephens 6 years ago

You just need to find a martial arts school whose instructors know how to apply their art to a 'real' combat situation. Good schools, like the one I train at, teach you the moves that win competitions and the moves that win street fights. Astonishingly, they are the same, because you are taught the nuances and the subtle shadings of your art and how every martial art started on the street. We aren't taught high kicks because, as you said, they are pointless. We are taught proper kicks, punches and strikes with elbows, knees, head, ridge of the hand, shin... We are taught Karate.

Avoid sport martial arts, find a real club. You should do some more homework before tarring every martial art with the "sport" brush.

Slawas 6 years ago

I train Tai-Chi, in the past I trained Judo. Judo didn't satisfy my needs so I gave it up. This year I've started Tai-chi an guess what , my coach says exactly what they say in the article. He said that in a controlled environment, you just have to focus on training and all that staff about the theory and rules, but when you're attacked do everything possbile to survive, attack to disable for a moment or run, but don't play an over-confident guy who knows how to fight.

BronzeHawk 6 years ago

Good article, but watch out for krav maga. As it's trained in Israel, it's awesome military combative system, but what's taught in the U. S. these days is krav maga only in name. It's been dumbed down to the point it's almost unrecognizable from the original.

Back in the early 2000s, the MA trade associations got to Darren Levine and convinced him to market KM as a commodity for US consumption. Most of the other krav organizations followed suit.

So now you can get an instructor certification for attending a week-long course. If you've got the money, and you're fit enough to make it through the workouts, you get certified. The problem is, this certification course WON'T TEACH YOU A DAMNED THING ABOUT ACTUAL SELF DEFENSE, just how to do and teach combat movements.

Watch a krav class in action. Strikes to the throat? Joint breaks used against unarmed aggressors? Stomping downed opponents? Great military combatives, but if they're used on the street they will get you arrested. Sadly, the typical krav instructor doesn't even realize this.

Been through it. Former Army MP, 20 years LE, eight years teaching LE defensive tactics.

Trained under three different krav instructors, none of whom had been in a fight since they were children, and none of whom knew the legal requirements of use of force, before I saw the light.

In other words, I have a pretty good idea what I'm talking about.

Buyer beware.

nailinthehead profile image

nailinthehead 6 years ago from Poland Author

Thanks for the input BronzeHawk! You're absolutely right. While definding one should not cross the red line drawn by the law. IMHO the only exception is when you have to choose - obey the law and die (or let someone die) or end up alive in court.

Good to see an opinion from someone with LE experience!

neservices 4 years ago

True martial arts ie. karate, jujutsu, kenpo etc. are not sports. There are sporting applications but they are designed for combat. The styles you mentioned Krav Maga, Sambo et al are all "martial arts". Military and LE defensive tactics training are all taken from various martial arts most notably jujutsu (just read up on the American and Britsih forces hand to hand training) so when you say martial arts don't work then you list martial arts that do work, according to you, your not making any sense simply trying to sell your product to the unknowing.

muaythaisk 4 years ago

in the comandos the comandos are taught muay thai, karate and various other martial arts

carlos 4 years ago

i think that martial arts is fantastic for kids

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