What about martial arts training-isn’t that self-defense?
Martial arts can compliment, improve, or steer you away from solid self-defense skills, depending on what you are learning, how it is presented, and if delineations are made between the katas, competitive sport applications, and personal defense skills, and whether or not the skills learned can apply to real world attacks. I am an advocate of martial arts training because of the positive affect it has had on my life: friendships I have made, learning movement and exercise, the foundation of skills I have built, and continuously being challenged are great things. Though, I have learned to take a step back and analyze what I am learning and where it fits in with respect to real-world self-defense.
A problem on both sides
I’ve seen self-defense instructors that neglect learning martial art fundamentals: lack foundational striking skills, grappling, footwork, and head movement, and do not have a desire to learn martial art because they think their reality based self defense training is all-encompassing.
I’ve also seen martial arts instructors that lack self-defense skills-they are unfamiliar or have unrealistic expectations of what attacks really look like and how they occur, they may have technical proficiency in movement, but do not have a grasp on what skills to use in the street, and in some cases do not seek out new concepts specifically addressing self-defense because they think their training is all-encompassing.
BOTH OF THESE situations are problematic.
My recommendation for those who enjoy training is that you can do both. For martial artists- I suggest immersing yourself in some type of broad, self-defense training that covers assaults (see the points above), then go back to your martial arts training and re-discover what skills will be useful to you in an attack. For self-defense practitioners- I suggest immersing yourself in martial arts that will give you a foundation of skills in multiple disciplines: try out a school that has multiple offerings or that integrates stand-up, grappling, and fighting from the ground and take what is useful for you- find something that you enjoy that engages you. I was fortunate that Cuong Nhu, where I started training martial arts, was based on multiple different disciplines and integrated these skills, so I had early access to many aspects of training.
At this point in my training career, I’m not really seeing new movement, just new ways of presenting and practicing or training with movement. I approach training with other professionals with the mindset of what are the best things I can take away from this training to better relate to my audience and make them safer.
When I do this I find great bits of information ALL of in the trainings I attend from other instructors, even if I don’t 100% agree with them.
A few correlations of useful bits of training from martial arts that I have experienced:
Wrestling/jiu-jitsu: I used to feel that training jiu-jitsu was giving me bad street-defense habits because 95% of the training I was doing started and stayed on the ground, but now the place I am training always starts their grappling standing up, so you have to either take the person down or get taken down to work your non-vertical ground game. This is a great opportunity for me to work my takedown defense under pressure with my personal focus being working skills that would translate better to the street: working to get to the back, flanking, arm-drags, and no slamming my knees on the mat on a takedown because in the street that will be concrete.
Boxing: footwork, head movement, angling, combinations, defense, and generating striking power. What's not to like!
Point sparring in traditional martial arts- barely making contact, more of a game of timing and speed- seems really impractical at face value but change the scenario to there being two guys trying to close distance on you and you have a small knife in-hand. Your understanding of movement and timing could help keep them off you.
Aikido: seems really complex and for the most part; the joint-locks and finesse are not something I would advocate during an attack-but the concept of redirecting someone into a wall could be very handy.
In conclusion, there are useful things you can take away from almost every martial art. Sometimes you have to be open-minded and re-discover them as an eager white belt.
Train smart & stay safe,
NOVA Self Defense