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There are literally thousands of martial arts, self-defense, and close quarter combat systems out there. All of them have their place and each offers a different perspective which essentially depends on the goal of the student. For example, if the student's interest is in cultural traditions and historical applications of a chosen style/system, they should choose a style/system which emphasizes these particular aspects. However, if the student's interest is in self-defense they should also choose a style/system accordingly.
If your primary interest is in reality-based self-defense, you should be aware that there are a few primary components which should make up such a system. If any one of these components is left out it could ultimately compromise your ability to protect yourself or your loved-ones.
There are 5 primary components of any "reality" system and a few secondary components. These components together represent a complete and comprehensive reality-based self-defense methodology. The components are as follows-
1) Mind-Set & Emotional Conditioning - the willingness and determination to do whatever it takes to survive a violent situation is one of the most important components of real self-defense. Before a student can successfully utilize physical skills to protect themselves they must prepare mentally. This mental preparation is the key to reality-based self-defense.
2) Awareness - the ability to observe the world around us is far more important than any physical self-defense skill. By properly using awareness skills, most people can completely avoid potentially violent situations before they happen. Awareness skills include internal awareness, external awareness, general observation skills, and common-sense strategies such as learning how to not look, act, or think like a victim.
3) Basics - this obviously includes blocks, strikes, kicks, as well foundational concepts principles, and theories. The basics include the study of weapon techniques as well as empty-hand techniques. The techniques should be based upon simple gross-motor skills which can be used effectively under the stress of a real assault.
Obviously, all self-defense and martial arts systems contain the basics. Although, there may be different basics taught by different systems...generally they all offer some solid techniques somewhere within their curriculum. The key is to learn which basics are actually functional in potential life-or-death altercations and which ones are not.
4) Skill & Combat Drills - this includes simple skill developing drills which are used to build skills and attributes that can't be developed as efficiently by other means. Attributes include things such as speed, power, coordination, endurance, flow, conditioning, sensitivity, and others.
Skill and combat drills have been a topic of debate for some reality instructors. Some of these instructors and systems tend to focus on basics and scenarios, claiming that drills have no place in a reality-based curriculum. However, the fact is that without drills these systems will never allow a student to develop to their maximum potential. As mentioned above, drills develop attributes that are needed to survive life-or-death altercations. Any system that neglects these attributes is simply neglecting the student, PERIOD. To put it in perspective it must be pointed out that all modern sports and modern athletes use drills to develop attributes. All modern military branches and soldiers use drills to develop attributes. All academic schools in this country use drills to develop attributes. If your so-called "reality" instructor is slamming drills or slamming those systems that teach drills, it's time to find another instructor.
5) Combat Scenarios - this includes scenarios and situations based on what really happens in the world. They can include scenarios involving robbery, sexual assault, and other vicious physical attacks. The key to scenario training is to make it as realistic as possible while avoiding injury to yourself or your training partners. To make scenarios realistic we need to avoid the common martial arts situations and focus on what is seen out on the street. This means minimizing the commonly taught mount and guard wrestling positions taught in martial arts ground fighting...simply because they have little functional use out on the street. We should know how to deal with them just in case but instead of training for them why not train to avoid them altogether?
Scenarios are taught by a majority of styles and systems. However, the key to realistic training is understanding how those scenarios are taught and how they are used to develop the practitioner's protective & defensive skills.
First, the scenarios need to be based on real-life attacks. The traditional self-defense scenarios versus wrist grabs, for example, are OK to teach beginners, but the truth is that such scenarios do not reflect reality. Traditional ground-fighting positions do not reflect reality, traditional defenses versus karate-style straight punches do not reflect reality. To develop reality-based scenarios we must simply study real-life attacks and build scenarios around such attacks. The key is to progressively increase the reality and intensity of the scenarios to the point of being as close to real-life as possible without the negative consequences such as injury, death or emotional trauma.
The above five components should represent the foundation of any reality-based self-defense style, system, or course. Along with these foundational components we need to include physical conditioning and crime prevention.
The study of all of these components will provide the student with the knowledge and skill that's needed to survive violent situations.
Now that we have an idea as to what should be included in a reality-based self-defense curriculum let's take a look at some things that might not be appropriate for those seeking simplistic and realistic self-defense-
Uniforms- Although uniforms may have their place in a comprehensive cultural-based martial arts systems, they have no place in reality-based training. Simply put, to replicate reality we must train in the clothes we will most likely be wearing at the time of assault, if we are unlucky enough to be assaulted.
Punches- As mentioned in other articles, if your goal is to learn every facet of martial arts then punching skills definitely have their place. However, if the goal is to learn quick methods of street survival, pass on the punching. The reasoning is simple, punching is a learned skill that takes months, sometimes years, to master. Once mastered there are still no guarantees that the practitioner won't severely damage their hands when they need them the most...while being assaulted. Remember, the head contains the hardest bones in the human body, while the hands contain the weakest bones in the human body. Even with this common-sense understanding, it still amazes me how many self-defense courses emphasize punching skills over simpler and more effective techniques.
Traditional Blocks- Although the traditional blocks taught in many martial arts systems tend to work great in a controlled training environment they seem to lose their effectiveness out on the street, especially for those with less training under their belts. Chaotic assaults tend to cause a physiological response in humans. This response, referred to as the fight or flight response, tends to override some of the body mechanics learned through martial arts. In other words, some of these blocks do not represent our natural physiological response to actual real-life assaults. This may lead to conflict between the body's natural ingrained response and the trained response found through martial arts. Simply put, this may lead to a delayed physical & mental reaction to the threat which could lead to a negative outcome...for the good guy.
Traditional Kicks- These are a necessity for comprehensive martial arts training, but are inappropriate for real self-defense. Under the chaos of an assault, the act of standing can become difficult enough without having to worry about balancing on one leg. Remember, the feet are the foundation for the torso, if the foundation is weak so is everything else. Does this mean that kicks should not be included in a reality-based training program? It doesn't mean that at all but it does mean that we should limit the kicks to simplest and most effective ones, which includes the knee strike, the stomp kick, maybe a low front kick, and possibly a low round kick.
Traditional Ground Fighting- As mentioned previously in this article, ground fighting is needed to become a comprehensive martial artist. However, the need for traditional ground fighting in real self-defense is pretty slim. If a person finds themselves on the ground during an assault their goal should be to get back to their feet as quickly as possible in order to escape safely. The longer a person stays on the ground the greater the chances of severe injury or even death. Traditional ground fighting tactics emphasize locks, holds, submissions, and just plain wrestling, while reality-based ground tactics emphasize simple and efficient survival methods designed to enhance the ability to escape.
If self-defense is your primary reason for seeking out a training course, be sure that self-defense is what you are getting. Discuss your needs with the potential instructor. Be sure to ask questions and make sure you get the proper answers to those questions. If the instructor gives you the avoids or overlooks your questions, find another instructor. If you use this article as a guideline, you can't go wrong.
Steve is a holder of multiple martial arts black belts, a crime prevention specialist, and a certified self-defense instructor. He has taught personal safety to hundreds of men, women, and children. He currently operates Personal Safety Unlimited...an organization devoted to empowering communities through personal protection & safety education.