Via Potentia ~ Modern Self Defense Training

Our next free seminar on self defense and physical conditioning is Friday, June 30 from 6 - 9 PM. Call or email to confirm availability and save a space.

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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:

  1. The attacker confronts the victim, presents a threat of violence and makes a demand. The victim complies.
  2. 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:

We welcome comments, questions and suggestions for improvement.
Via Potentia, 805 NW Alder St., McMinnville OR 97128
Telephone: 503-437-3450

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