Martial Arts vs Self Defence: which one is best for me?
The prevalence of violence today astounds and terrifies me. How did our amazing world get to this point? One day one of my friends was just walking down a busy street in the middle of the day when she was randomly attacked for no reason. I’ll get back to that story in a sec but the reality is we need self-defence training of some sort to feel safe in this society.
OK so you have decided to learn how to defend yourself but it’s so damn hard to know which style to choose! Which ones work, am I too old, too big or too little, I’m not strong or flexible enough, I've never done this before? Eager to learn you jump online to start your search and suddenly you become inundated with seemingly endless pages of schools informing you that their style is great for self-defence. You know you want to feel safer, the world can be a dangerous place. You know you want to know how to protect yourself if you need to but how do you know which style will be the most effective when you feel you are drowning in a sea of information?
Traditional martial arts, whilst being valuable and highly skilled styles they are often no longer contemporary, I can’t wax on wax off an attacker. They require the kind of flexibility that at my age and size, feels like I’d need to be an Olympic gymnast to actually manage. They rely on your own strength which is completely laughable to use against some guys out there. It also might take me 10 years to learn the system, super-effective if a situation unfolds next week.
Furthermore, they aren’t often trained in scenario-based, one-on-one contact situations which is imperative to developing an understanding of adrenalin responses or when to start and when to leave. When under attack our ancient brain kicks in and I can tell you, it’s like your body is being controlled by some unknown puppet master.
This brings us back to my friend's story…. At the time when she was attacked Andrea(not her real name) was a black belt in both Taekwondo and Kobudo. Andrea realised in that very moment that she had some skills to defend herself but she had never been taught when and how to start her defence. Nor did she know when to leave. As a result, not only was Andrea hurt physically but she also lived in fear for a long time and it took a toll on her mental health. Luckily for Andrea, she survived the assault but it left her questioning martial arts as a form of self-defence, she realised she needed to seek out something more reality-based that would better prepare her for real-life violent situations.
“Nothing is more harmful to the world than a martial art that is not effective in actual self-defence” – Motobu Choki
Reality-based self-defence systems have been developed, tried and tested in and for real-life situations. Real-life violence has changed a lot in the past thousand, hundred or even fifty years and the style you choose needs to have changed with it so you can be fully prepared to deal with the way perpetrators deal out violence in the now, in your immediate world.
For me personally, I learnt self-defence to feel freedom from fear. To not let fear dictate my choices in life. I was sick of fearing to walk at the creek because one day I was followed, scared to catch public transport because a gang tried to attack me once or not go out because I feared walking home alone. Once I knew how to defend myself I reclaimed my autonomy and empowerment in life and that is what truly effective self-defence can do for you too.
Now I don’t want to add fuel to the fear fire but ignoring it won’t make it go away. As women this is our reality - 1 in 4 women experience sexual violence and 1 in 3 experience physical violence. Nearly 6500 women die due to violence each year just in Australia, Britain and America alone. But did you know that research shows women who fight back have an 86% increased chance of stopping the assault. Let that sink in…...what amazing odds. I was blown away when I learnt that, definitely worth learning some skills. But again it comes back to which style to choose?
Don't get me wrong, traditional martial arts offer incredible value to our community. Confidence, coordination, self-esteem, self-discipline, respect are all things these styles can provide. They are everywhere so it’s tempting when your local school is just around the corner, advertising their style as self-defence and to be fair those skills may help you in some situations. A brilliant reality-based system such as Krav Maga will help you in ALL situations.
You need to look at the style and ask:
How quick is it to learn?
You only want it to take a couple of years maximum to learn the entire syllabus, 6 months for a solid course. Even a simple short course will give you invaluable skills if it's real self-defence.
Is it reliant on strength to be effective?
A good system will use biomechanics (using their body against themselves) to work. When under stress and dealing with an attacker who’s using full intent there is no way you can peel back a hand, out punch them or use your arms to get their hands off your throat. It's just not realistic.
Do size, age, gender, flexibility affect the learning outcomes?
It shouldn't! The style you choose needs to be realistic for ALL people because we could all face violence someday. Flying, spinning high kicks have no place in real self-defence, not just because of the lack of balance they create but because we can’t all do them.
So before you jump in, do some research. You can research different styles using the guidelines I have mentioned, read website reviews and testimonials, call or look online to check the school’s policies on inclusivity and safe training practices, do a free trial or you could consider an online option. Find what feels right for you.
Remember why you are looking in the first place - to feel safer and have more control over the way you live your life. This is autonomy and empowerment and they are your absolute rights to own! Once you have found the right fit for you get out there, rise-up, learn some skills and say NO TO VIOLENCE. Together we can make a difference.
Chief Instructor/Founder of Guardian Women.