Imagine you’re in the stereotypical self defense situation: you’re walking down a dark street, someone lunges out from a dark alley and grabs you.
Responding quickly you break his grips, kick his legs out from under him, and knock him out with a punch from knee mount.
This is a situation where your striking and grappling abilities made the difference.
Had you not known how to strip grips, kick, and punch properly you could have gotten pretty badly hurt.
But the term ‘self defense’ covers a huge range of topics; it’s NOT just about punching faster and grappling better.
It also includes verbally defusing a road rage incident where the other guy may or may not have a handgun in his glovebox…
Crossing the street to avoid a couple of shady guys hanging out on the sidewalk would also count as self defense…
Plus installing security cameras and intruder alarms on your property…
Knowing what to do when someone is menacing you with a broken bottle…
Or running like hell when you’re facing a group of hooligans who mean you harm…
Self defense runs the gamut from a life and death knife fight, to restraining your uncle at a family BBQ after he’s had a few too many drinks. A wide range of skills is needed to handle lethal force situations as well as nuisance attacks.
There isn’t one magic set of solutions for all situations; after all, you’d probably be on your family’s naughty list if you slashed your uncle’s throat with your Emerson folder at the BBQ after he shoved you into the hedge.
Many martial art programs might teach you the punching, kicking and grappling that you need for self defense. But you also need to develop basic proficiency in dealing with weapons (including firearms), cultivate your street smarts, stay in shape, and improve your 360 degree awareness.
I would even argue that health is part of self defense…
What’s the point of learning how to protect yourself against others if your biggest threat is your own body crapping out on you?
If you’re a deadly killing machine carrying multiple knives and handguns but your doctor keeps on warning you about heart attack or stroke, then your number one self defense priority should be getting healthy, NOT learning another punch defense technique or placing your shots in a tighter pattern at the range.
Generalists vs Specialists
When it comes to self defense, do you want to be a generalist or a specialist? Should you focus on just one martial art or spread your limited training time out across different disciplines?
It depends on what your goals are…
For example, if your main goal is to develop good self defense skills then it’s very useful to know a little bit of kickboxing to protect yourself…
But if your main goal is to win a lot of titles as a kickboxer then kickbox! Spend all your time jabbing, crossing, round kicking, front kicking and upper cutting. The more time you spend in your sport, the better you’ll get at it.
Similarly if your life goal is to represent your country in judo at the Olympics then you’re silly if you don’t spend almost all your training time doing uchikomi (repetitions), tachiwaza randori (standing sparring), newaza randori (ground sparring), kumi kata (gripfighting) and conditioning.
This applies to all sports; to get really good at a sport you’ve got to specialise in it.
— SelfDefenseTutorials (@SelfDefenseTut) January 24, 2017
The best golf player on the PGA probably isn’t also a world class ping pong player. That’s because he or she simply can’t afford to divide their time training in both sports. To get good at golf they have to spend every available moment on golf-centered activities.
Successful multi-sport athletes are so rare that we’re still talking about Bo Jackson (who was an All Star in both football and baseball) 25 years after his retirement in 1991. Super gifted people who can can function at the elite level in more than one sport simply don’t come along every day.
If your main goal is self protection then you have to be a bit of a generalist.
To be a generalist you have to split your training time between different disciplines; this is because self defense is such a broad topic and covers so many different areas.
For example, all the following are examples of what you need to be able to do to have confidence in your ability to defend yourself
- You need to know to swing a stick, stab with a knife, and shoot a gun.
- You have to be able to damage your opponent with punches, kicks, elbows, headbutts and knees.
- You have to be competent at escaping the mount, defending strikes from the bottom, and choking someone unconscious.
- You have to be able to sprawl on a tackle, strip the grips of a stronger opponent, and dominate in the clinch.
- Your awareness and street smarts need to be finely tuned so you don’t get ambushed
- And you need the verbal strategies and tactics to defuse common types of street problems and extricate yourself from them.
Do You Need to Master Every Single Area of Self Defense?
The number of skills and areas you need to know for self defense could seem a bit overwhelming but the good news is that you DON’T have to master every individual field of martial arts to have decent self defense skills.
You don’t need to become a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt as well as a kyokoshin karate champion, Olympic wrestler, escrima grandmaster, certified firearms instructor and a Crossfit Games competitor all at the same time.
You just need to acquire basic competency in each area while at the same time specialising in one or two areas that you really enjoy. That way you won’t have any huge blind spots in your game while having an ace up your sleeve that you can always go to.
It takes about 10 years to become a BJJ black belt, but in just 3 to 6 months of concerted jiu-jitsu training you can acquire enough skills on the ground to blow the doors off of someone who doesn’t know what to do on the ground.
If you learn the basic strikes and footwork from escrima and then cement them into your brain with a few full contact stick fights (experiential learning at its best) then you’ll be light years ahead of anyone whose weapons knowledge is entirely theoretical.
And while it takes years and years of insane training to become a champion wrestler, you can learn enough clinching to have an advantage in the standing grapple fairly quickly.
Unless you need your skills to be very high level in an area (e.g. national level judoka or expert marksman) then it doesn’t take as much work to maintain basic competence as it did to develop those skills in the first place.
Once you’ve done the hard work to develop basic competency in an area you can then go to a maintenance schedule. Occasional refresher sessions will maintain those skills into the future without having to train them every day. And you can now use that extra time to go develop skills in another area, or spend it specialising in your favourite area.
First become a jack of all trades so you don’t have any blindspots… and then get really, really good in a few areas so you have an ace up your sleeve when things turn ugly.