Martial Arts & Self Defense – Is Your Martial Art Belt Giving You a False Sense of Security?

Just because the sign on the window of a martial arts school says “self defense,” doesn’t mean that’s what you’re getting. Any more than that colored sash or belt around your waist means that you’ll be able to defend yourself when the time comes!

How can I say this? Simple. I can say it because…

I have been involved in the martial arts and study of self defense for over 30 years!

I can also say it because, as a former police officer, undercover investigator, and bodyguard, I’ve had to use what I’ve learned from various teachers who were supposed to be teaching self-defense skills. And, I found out, through the “school of hard-knocks,” what works and what doesn’t – who was right, and who was full of it!

Let me just say that there is a huge difference between learning the historical techniques, skills, and lessons that have been passed down from past master warriors, and learning how to use those skills to protect yourself from some deranged and/or brutal assailant who wants to beat, break, or kill you. To most, however, the differences are hard to see. Perhaps that – the ignorance and inexperience of the average student – is what makes it easy for a so-called self-defense expert to teach you the things he does!

Here’s another example that may convey the idea.

When I was in the Army, we regularly engaged in training exercises to practice the procedures and tactics that we would need in a real war. And, during these exercises – these “play battles” – there would always be these fellow soldiers – they’re in every unit – who ran around like John Wayne. They were always talking tough, walking around with their chests puffed out, and yelling things like, “Let’s go – right now!” And, “I’m ready to kill a Commie for mommy,” and other such nonsense.

But, do you know what these guys were doing on the plane that I was in, on my way to the real thing? They were the ones crying and praying, and blubbering about being afraid to die.

No duh! We were ALL afraid to die!

The difference is that many of us had already accepted that this might happen. When we were on field maneuvers – during training – we focused on getting the job done. Instead of running around and trying to convince everyone else that we were Rambo or some super-soldier, we did our jobs, trained, and learned from our instructors – especially the ones who had actually “been there.”

Did we complain about our muscles hurting or the fact that we were training in the freezing rain with a cold? You bet. But we did it anyway.

Did we complain and wish bad things to happen to our leaders because we were crawling in the mud and doing things we either didn’t understand or didn’t want to have to do. Absolutely. But, again…we did them.

Unfortunately, many martial arts students do the same thing. Regardless of rank, they run around the dojo pointing out the mistakes of others, or showing off their skills – instead of contemplating how those skills would actually fit into a real attack, against an opponent who wasn’t from your school or style.

And, instead of avoiding the possibility of getting hit, or having sore muscles, or paying for the classes – like those people with excuses, just waiting to become the next victims – do them. Am I saying you have to like any of it? Hell no! In fact, I’d think you were nuts if you “liked” getting hit, kicked, or having your joints sheared, etc.

But that’s not the point of training. Just like my experience in the Army, the point of training is having to put up with all of those things…and still doing what you have to DESPITE them!

Self defense is a mind-set. It’s a way of thinking about conflict in a way that:

  1. Acknowledges that danger exists and that you have a choice to be a victim or to be able to deal with it for what it is – painful and deadly. You don’t have to like many aspects of training, any more than you like paying for car insurance. But, should the unthinkable happen, you’ll be glad you had it!
  2. Assesses the situation so that the appropriate techniques can be used
  3. Applies the principles and concepts of “energy conservation” and avoidance – this means not fighting at all if you don’t have to. And, if you do, to do the minimum necessary to do the least harm and to neutralize the situation with the least amount of wear-and-tear on yourself. And…
  4. Considers more than the situation and recognizes the possibility of further conflict or the consequences as a result of your actions. Whether from the law, or his buddies at the bar – it is important to understand how to be able to deal with the situation you’re in, without causing problems with the law or in other areas. It’s also the knowledge and understanding that, if you go around showing off your skills -there may be someone watching who now knows how to beat you!

Remember – your belt only says that you have learned certain skills. And, whether or not it’s taught in your program or by your teacher, you are responsible for understanding how to best use those skills against different attackers and types of attacks – in a real-world situation.

If you don’t know – ask. And, even if you get an answer, ask someone else! You need options, not just skills.

And you need to both know your skills AND understand the practical application of those skills in a real situation…

  • Under pressure…
  • With only gross motor skills, and…
  • Against someone who is NOT going to let you do it to him if he can help it!

Don’t fall into the same trap and “game-playing” that most martial artists (including black belt instructors) fall into. Never forget that…

  • It’s a self defense situation – not a sparring match with rules!
  • You’re going to be up against an experienced attacker who isn’t going to let you do your cool moves on him, and…
  • Your attacker won’t care about your belt, skills, or level of confidence. Because…

…if he’s picked you as a target – he already thinks he has the advantage!