Four Letters Re: Self-Defense Advice

I noted that some letters responding to the subject of unarmed combat (self-defense advice) referred to Tae Kwon Do as a form of self defense. I have been involved in the martial arts for over 40 years and my opinion is that most modern martial arts are sport forms and not suited to real world self defense. Even mixed martial arts (MMA) forms while formidable, concentrate on fighting in the ring (or octagon) and not on the street. My current pick for self defense instruction would be Krav Maga – Israeli hand to hand combat. It has the following advantages over more traditional forms:
1.       There is no “sport version” of Krav Maga. It is strictly geared toward defeating violent attackers.
2.       Its fundamental techniques are simpler and easier to learn quickly.
3.       There are no “katas” or “forms” in Krav Maga; these are a waste of time.
4.       While grappling is taught, it is taught with aim of getting to your feet as fast as possible. Krav Maga assumes there is always more than one attacker and the last place you want to be is on the ground.
5.       Drills are intense and as realistic as possible without actually killing or maiming each other. Example: in knife defense drills a shock knife is often used where if you screw up the defense you will learn in a painful manner.
6.       Weapons defenses against stick and gun are similarly intense.
7.       There is no aversion to firearms in Krav Maga as there seems to be in many traditional martial arts. Krav Maga practitioners who are willing and capable are encouraged to learn the proper use of firearms. At higher levels, weapon retention is taught.
8.       Krav Maga is a proven self defense system and is taught in many police departments and military organizations. Why? It simply works if you are  willing to put in the sweat and effort.
9.       Krav Maga also teaches third party defense techniques – handy if you have to defend your loved ones.
10.   Krav Maga is an open system – whatever works is adopted by Krav Maga practitioners.  
So – if you have access to a Krav Maga school I would recommend it highly over other martial art forms for actual self defense. – Phil S.

A few thoughts concerning the topic of self defense advice.  First and foremost, the question of which martial art is the best is not the right question.  All of the arts have something to offer, and the one being recommended is probably the one practiced by the person recommending it.  I’m partial to the art I’ve continued to practice for almost 40 years.  Is it the best art?  It is for me.  The best one for you is one you enjoy and one in which you will continue to train.  Which brings me to the next thing. 

Martial arts skills, like firearm skills, are perishable.  If you don’t continue your training on a regular basis your skill level will degrade.   If you’re not in it for the long run you’re wasting your time.  Most martial arts systems have a long learning curve.  It’s going to take a while for you to develop real competence.  (The two arts that may have the shortest learning curve are the Israeli art of Krav Maga, and the Russian art of Systema.  I’ve never practiced either of these so I may be misinformed.)   If you’re doing it because you feel you have to, or compelling your children to do it against their wishes, you’re probably wasting your time. 

Finally I’d suggest that if you’ve gotten to the point where you are faced with a physical confrontation something has gone terribly wrong.  The most important self defense skills you can possess are situational awareness, the ability to project that self awareness and self confidence, and the self assurance necessary to walk away from a potential confrontation.  Your best outcome is always to avoid a confrontation, and awareness is a significant part of that.  It’s been said many times, because it’s true, that predators look for victims.  Don’t look like a victim.  Be aware.  To my way of thinking a good martial arts instructor—in any art—is one who stresses avoiding conflict and confrontation, and teaches you how to do that.  If you learn that, you can practice that aspect of your art every day in all aspects of your life.  And that will make it less likely that you’ll ever have to use the physical aspects of your art.  – Rick S.

Mr. Rawles:
In reference to the letter looking for an online self defense course for her children, I would like to recommend the Gracie Bullyproof program.  You can find the info at  I am in no way affiliated with the Gracie’s or their course. 
I recently found out about Bullyproof while researching bullying for my church’s youth group program.  Having had about six years of Jiu-Jitsu training, I could immediately see the practicality of the program.  It begins with a series of 10 games (for children ages 3-6 or 7).  These games introduce the fundamentals of Jiu-Jitsu in a fun format for kids.  For older children, they can go directly to the Jr. Combatives program.  One note:  be sure to watch the Parent Preparation course (it’s free).  In it, they describe their teaching method, which I found helpful in daily life with my kids, not just with their program.
I started immediately with my three year old daughter, and she loves it.  After the first time, she has asked to play the games since.  The great part is, the Gracie’s offer enough information to get started right away for free.  You can purchase the remainder either on DVD or download the videos directly from their web site.  (I found the DVDs on Amazon for less than what they offer it on their site.)
Be ready, because this isn’t learning by watching;  you have to participate with your child.  Check it out!  It’s proving to be a lot of fun for my daughter and we spend more time together. Thanks, – Dusty 

James Wesley:
As a master in Kung Fu and having multiple black belts in several systems, I would like to comment on the Happy Homemaker in California’s question.

Ideally any system will teach the student discipline, balance, and muscle memory. The key to using them in a self defense situation is quite different than simple kick, block, punch, technique, or drill. I agree with the fact that learning online with videos by themselves will not equip the student sufficiently. They can be used to supplement training and give them more in depth understanding of the techniques they would experience they would receive under a qualified instructor. 

What is lacking (sadly in many run of the mill schools) is adding stress to their training. The ability to respond in stressful situations is the end goal for self defense. Whether learning from home or any school, the lack of putting stress on the student has resulted in what many call ‘paper black belts.’ Without stress, students are simply learning basic routines choreographed in a curriculum only to give them a false sense of confidence in their skills. Any skill learned must be proven on the mat.

An example of what I am talking about is an anti-abduction drill I use when working with kids. We setup the floor to have an open space of fifty feet whereby a child can use any technique they are taught to get away from their abductor. The abductor is one of the instructors or adult student who will wear full pads including head and groin protection. The abductor will then grab the child and try to drag them to the end of the fifty foot space. If a child is dragged across that line, they have failed the drill and have to do it over. We encourage the children to use full force to simulate what it would be like for real. Even with pads and protection, instructors end up with bruises at the end of the day. Training this way is just like anything in life. If you don’t put the proper energy and diligence into it when practicing, more likely than not you will not have high results when you have to use the skill for real. Without actually beating the students black and blue, this is one of the safer alternatives to put the students under stress to perform.

I don’t believe one system is better than the other. It is more of what a person has an affinity for. I don’t feel that jumping systems for one set of techniques or another is a good idea simply because a system is built to train a person from the ground up. Learning ala carte doesn’t give the student skill mastery necessary to be able to use them effectively as most skills are built upon others as the student grows. This belief comes from popular beliefs held about different systems and propagated in the mixed martial arts arenas.

As for grappling and ground fighting, many systems incorporate this training at different levels. In Tae Kwon Do, you don’t learn these techniques until a much higher level do to the concept of building a strong body first as a foundation for striking, then learn to use the same techniques for grappling and take downs. A perfect example of this is a simple outside to inside middle strike. In preparation, one hand is brought up in a fist next to the ear with the elbow out while the other hand thrusts forward in a counter punch. Then the hand which is next to the ear strikes forward with the elbow brought in allowing the hand to strike with either a hammer fist, or striking with the bottom two or top two knuckles with a twist of the wrist at the finish. This same technique can be applied as a hip throw. The list goes on and on when you combine stances and transitions which are taught from the very beginning which later can be applied and figure four locks, or popular moves such as a ‘guillotine’.

Now, only after studying several systems in my life did I come to this understanding that any system taught by a quality instructor will give a student the self defense skills they need. So when looking for a school, don’t look for a set of techniques, look for a competent instructor. A good instructor will be able to help you reach your specific goals. Don’t forget that a good school will incorporate realistic combat/self defense  exercises which will teach you to perform under stress. Most importantly, a student will only get out of it what they put into it. – Jeff B.