I think the martial arts are great----I enjoy the ones I do, I like the
ones I see, and I think that just
about every single martial art out there has at least SOME very good
things about it----if not a
LOT of good things about it.
However, what we are talking about here is training in the martial arts
purposes, which is a very specialized thing---and not all martial
arts have strengths in
this area. (If nothing else, not all martial arts have IMMEDIATE
strengths in this area---and if
someone wants to learn a martial art for self-defense, it needs to start
teaching it from the
Now, in general, all martial arts will help you prepare to defend
yourself, at least indirectly---you
will be in better shape, more flexible, more able to withstand
punishment, and have more
control over your body. These are all good things.
However, being a football player will do much the same thing. To me, for
a martial art to be a
good self-defense art it needs to do several things:
I love Aikido, and think that Tai Chi is wonderful. However, are they
good self-defense arts, in
my opinion, according to the criteria above?
- It must directly teach you simple, efficient, effective ways of
dealing with common attacks.
- It needs to prepare you for eventualities---meaning that you need to
deal with the fact that
in self-defense, no matter what you do, there is a chance (sometimes, a
GOOD chance) that
you are going to get hurt.
- It needs to keep you abreast of the common ways people get attacked,
and the common
weapons and situations that people might be confronted with.
- It needs to teach you when to react, when NOT to react, and when to
attempt to de-
escalate. (Some people might jump on me here---but seriously folks,
sometimes it is a
complete waste of time to attempt to verbally de-escalate.)
- MOST IMPORTANTLY, it needs
to teach you the correct mindset to stand up for yourself, be in control
of yourself, and to have
the self-confidence to know you are worth defending----which allows you
to do so.
- Also, (personal bias) since most people who wish to learn
self-defense will not stay in the
martial art for years and years, my opinion is that the art should
teaching basic self-defense, in the first few weeks of class. (If you
are going to advertise
yourself as a self-defense course, then students should start learning
that----as opposed to
waiting to add the self-defense curriculum until the student is "firmly
grounded in the basics"
about 2 years down the line.
If you have taken Aikido or Tai Chi for 10 years, and practiced
diligently, conscientiously, and
continually, and thought about what you are doing with regards to
self-defense, there is a fairly
good chance that you will be just about untouchable.
On the other hand, after one year? No. The way those arts are taught,
the general mindset of
the art and the things those arts emphasize do not teach
self-defense----at least, not right away.
(In certain limited circumstances, you might be able to find an instructor
who teaches self-
defense applications from the beginning. But that is EXTREMELY rare. As
usual, the Absolute
Law applies: No rule is absolute, as there is always an
exception. However, for the
above case, it's not likely.)
And most people can't wait 10 years to learn to defend themselves. I
highly recommend both
Aikido and Tai Chi---there are some VERY important things you can learn
from them. However,
immediate self-defense is not one of them.
Things to check
When attempting to find a martial art that teaches
self-defense, there are a couple of simple things to look
for. Each martial art is different, and moreover, each
instructor teaches their martial art differently. WTF
Taekwondo at one dojang might be completely different
than WTF TKD at another, Praying Mantis at one kwoon
can be very different from Mantis elsewhere. You just
have to go take a look.
Attend a class---what do you see happening?
- Are people practicing practical self-defense?
- Are people
practicing reactions to
common self-defense situations? Or are they doing rote forms,
practicing flying spin kicks, or
using archaic weapons that you could never carry on the street?
(Remember, your point here
is self-defense----you are not looking for instructions on how
to use a halberd. If
the art teaches that as well, fine, but that is not the primary goal of
your search. Similarly, while
occasionally forms deal with real-life situations, most do not do so in a
realistic way. The point
for forms is, are the forms used to perfect techniques for self-defense,
or are the forms
supposedly the self-defense practice itself?)
- Are the lower belts practicing simple, efficient
ways to deal with attackers?
- Or is it just the higher belts who are working on
self-defense? Yes, all beginners need to work on
basics---however, you should ALSO see them
working self-defense techniques. After all, if you join,
that is where you are going to be---and you are here to
learn to defend yourself.
- Is the instructor teaching a mindset in addition
to the moves?
- Can you see the instructor making sure the students
are understanding that they aren't learning to beat up on
people, they are learning to stop people from hurting
them----and that it is ok to do whatever is necessary
to accomplish that? (I'm not talking only about being
able to seriously damage someone here---I'm also talking
about the other end of the spectrum, so that people who
are being harassed, manhandled, etc---but not directly
VIOLENTLY attacked, know how to deal with the
situation-----and are building the self-confidence to do so.)
- Optional, but a good idea: Does the martial art
(and the instructor) teach self-defense reactions in a
way that makes sense to you?
- Meaning, the way that particular martial art
reacts to an attack----does that fit the way your mind
works? Do the reactions make intuitive sense to you,
in the style in which they work? Does it fit the physical
limitations of your body? Example: a very tiny person
might become VERY good at judo---but won't be able to
do much in the way of self-defense in only a year. Size
can (and WILL) make a difference.
An important note here: If an art doesn't match any of
the above criteria, that does not mean anything with
respect to whether it is a viable art or not. When you
are looking for strict immediate self-defense, you are
looking for a small sub-set of what the martial arts
Some arts are simply better for immediate self-defense, particularly if
you are someone who isn't
going to stay a practitioner for years----just someone who wants to pick
up the basics.
Does this make them better martial arts? Not at all.
What it means is that they are STRUCTURED
differently, in terms of learning techniques. Does
this mean some arts won't teach you to defend yourself?
Not really. (Though some won't---but that is because
of the instructor, not the art. There isn't an art out there
that isn't applicable to self-defense---but there are instructors
who don't know how to impart that knowledge.)
For some arts, that self-defense knowledge just takes
longer. And when looking for an art FOR SELF-DEFENSE
purposes, that isn't the way you want to go.
Thomas Howard is a martial artist who has entirely too many
friends who have been attacked, and wishes everyone he
cares about knew how to defend themselves. Comments about
this article should be sent to