Self-Defense vs. Martial Arts

While many martial arts include self defense training in their curriculum, this is usually only a subset of the discipline and many martial arts were not originally designed to face realistic street fighting situations.

Martial arts literally stands for 'art of warfare' (from the Roman God of War Mars) and were, as the name indicates, often developed as military combat techniques and to a lesser extent as as competitive combat sports. Martial artists are expected to follow a certain code of honor and traditional martial arts instruction usually remains deeply linked to cultural traditions and philosophical beliefs such as Hinduism, Buddhism or Shinto. Some martial arts can even take the form of war dances.

From a legal point of view not many martial arts are fit for self-defense. In a training session a practitioner will either apply light to medium-contact force or his opponent will tap out. When used at their full potential these moves could be fatal. Real-life attacks often involve multiple attackers, while martial arts practitioners almost always train on a one-to-one basis. They are not trained nor is their art usually designed to fight several attackers simultaneously (except in films). Attackers won't follow any rules while the martial artist is legally bound not to use his skills at their fullest potential.


Origin, Evolution and Principles

With the time the awareness grew that these techniques had to be tested and evaluated against real fighting situations. Some traditional martial arts suffered from a lack of realism in training and that is how competitive combat sports evolved out of these traditional martial arts.

However, even martial artists who combat in competitions must do so according to the rules set by those competitions. In each combat sport these rules are set to protect the competitors and practitioners. However, the improvement and efficiency of their combat skills will be limited by those rules. Therefore, a traditional martial artist or sports champion will be in a bad position when he will have to defend himself against 'dirty' techniques that are forbidden in competitions. Moreover, practitioners in traditional or competitive martial arts will not achieve the automatism of using those 'dirty' techniques themselves.

That is why a self-defense systems, such as the Israelian Krav Maga, were created for close combat with the sole purpose of developing efficient personal defense responses to armed and unarmed attacks. These systems typically have no philosophical, rythmic or sport element in them, but were designed solely for the purpose of saving one's own (or someone else's) life. Another self defense style we have included here is Japanese Jiu Jitsu. Though Jiu Jitsu is one of the oldest martial arts, its take down and joint-locking techniques are surprisingly modern and very efficient in a modern self defense arsenal.

That is not to say that self defense is just about developing the best fighting techniques. The purpose is not the win physically, if the outcome implies losing legally. That is why a realistic and efficient personal safety strategy should always incorporate the following important elements:

1. common sense (avoidance of high-risk areas, situations),
2. observation skills (identifying pre-incident and pre-attack indicators),
3. self control (controlling your adrenaline level to take the right decision, avoiding escalation)
4. sense of analysis (evaluating avoidance opportunities)
5. strategies for retreat and escape

In many Nations retreat is a duty (unless it poses a danger to the person under attack), so self-defense systems should develop skills and strategies to facilitate retreat or escape.

In fact, one of the basic principles of Krav Maga is to avoid the confrontation by leaving the danger zone. As opposed to competitive combat sports, using one's common sense always prevails over seeking a forceful confrontation.

Jiu Jitsu, like Krav Maga, include techniques that are potentially fatal and are not permitted in most competitive combat sports. Therefore, these styles can not be practised in a competitive environment.


"Self defense" is the ability, when facing an attacker or when put in a disadvantageous situation, to control this attacker through the skillful use of techniques. In the martial arts sense of the word the term applies not only to the protection of oneself, but also to that of another person or one's properties.

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