The Problem of Self Defense
I was cleaning the gym while some members of another style were preparing a self defense demonstration for an upcoming tournament. I watched for awhile and could see they were having trouble with some of the techniques, but more importantly, the entire demonstration had almost no connection with how actual assaults take place. Most martial arts set up their "self defense" demonstrations as a voluntary duel between people. In a duel the participants voluntarily engage in a fight according to certain rules, using familiar weapons or techniques. That isn't how real violence goes down, and therefore isn't self defense. An actual assault usually goes down in one of two ways:
- The attacker confronts the victim, presents a threat of violence and makes a demand. The victim complies.
- The attacker attacks with a flurry of powerful strikes, usually to the head, from close range and with as much surprise as possible. The victim is overwhelmed.
In addition to the choice of time, place and prey, the attacker usually has several other advantages; sheer size, strength, a weapon, accomplices. If arrest records are a reliable metric, typical attackers are males (by far) and in the 200 - 250 pound range. This isn't to say that women don't engage in assault, or that smaller or larger men don't, but a man in the 200 - 250 pound range probably covers 75% of attacks.
Men are assaulted a little more frequently than women. The average size of the male victim is about 170 - 180 pounds, and the size of the average woman is 130 - 150. This means that the average attacker is anywhere from 20 to 120 pounds heavier than the victim. I explained this to the group -- most of which were young black belts -- and their faces dropped. One asked, "how can you possibly defend yourself from something like that?"
That was the right response. I know of no common martial arts program that prepares someone for this situation. In fact, it would be hard -- and highly unpleasant -- to do so.
The vast majority of martial artists, instructors and masters have never experienced or seen an actual assault. They have never studied assaults, criminal behavior or related statistics. They are very skilled at what they do, but they live in an insulated world of rules and fabricated traditions, and practice with compliant partners of equal or lesser skill, a world where you win by scoring points, having better technique, or simply because you have a higher rank.
I was one of these for many years.
The problem is that many people enter the martial arts either for the purpose of or with the assumption that they are learning self defense, which is quite different than developing conditioning, demonstration skills, and point sparring abilities.
In a competition between contestants of similar size and strength, technical skill means a great deal, but size matters... a lot; technique alone can rarely overcome a 100 pound difference in size and strength. If you don't believe this, then just ask yourself why every combat sport that has substantial contact also has weight classes (or is dominated by the large and the strong). A substantial size disparity is almost impossible to overcome, but our effort is to improve our chances by training in the following ways:
- Emphasize awareness, avoidance and fleeing whenever possible. Okay, so we're chicken.
- If you fight, do so to rapidly cause an injury and escape. You do not want to stick around and trade blows. Injuring and escaping from a larger, stronger person isn't easy, but is a lot easier than beating him.
- Develop as much strength, flexibility and endurance as we can. A 220 lb attacker will almost always be stronger than a 160 pound defender, but we can improve our strength to the best of our ability, and it doesn't require a great deal of strength to rip off an ear, break a collar bone, damage an eye or neck, etc.
- Learn and perfect technical combinations that target common vulnerabilities; eyes, ears, jaw/brain, neck, groin, knees.
- Carry and use an effective weapon. Our preferred ones are handguns and chemical sprays. The handgun in particular is reported to prevent a million or more assaults every year, usually without a shot ever being fired.
- Develop and focus on techniques that have the best chance of being effective against larger, stronger people.
- Understand that effective self defense will require turning into a monster for a moment -- you must be willing to viciously cause damage to another human being, violently and without any warning, attacking all out -- then be able to walk (or run) away. This is a mental switch. If you can't do this, your chances of prevailing or escaping are greatly diminished. Practice this on a heavy bag, dummy, or well-armored partner.
We welcome comments, questions and suggestions for improvement.
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