Survival martial arts are techniques a person may utilize in order to survive a, usually lasting or recurrent, dangerous situation.
The underlying base of all survival martial arts is a philosophy of simplicity and economy of effort. Traditionally, only techniques that were proven effective in combat and could easily be taught en masse were retained. This allowed paesants, who were usually not professional soldiers, to protect themselves against foreign invaders. Some survival martial artists were part of secret organizations and had to keep the secret of their martial art to themselves and never reveal whom their master was.


Nowadays, survival martial arts also often involve the study of human behavior under extreme situations. Practitioners are put through vigorous training regimens that test their limits on both physical and mental levels and provide them with functional survival tools that should enable them to survive in the most adverse conditions or environments (desert, mountains, jungle).

However, the main principle is to render the adversary harmless while minimizing loses. That is why survival martial artists will engage in a battle only if no escape is possible. Part of their training will often include prevention of aggression and conflict resolution. The underlying principle is always that of economy of mouvement and effort.

Weapons and techniques

An important component of survival martial artists is the mastery of the environment: finding shelter, wild foods and water and having a sound knowledge of primitive medicine. Being able to analyze the environment, climate, soil condition (geology), botany, time of the day (in the absence of any mechanical or electronic device) is of the utmost importance in extreme survival conditions. Every environment, whether forest, jungle, or desert, has a rhythm or pattern: animal and bird noises and movements and insect sounds, which may help you to size up your surroundings and situation, including the presence of enemy movements or other immediate threats.

The weapons used by survival artists usually fullfill different purposes in one or are ordinary (peasant's) tools used as weapons. Often the weapons are carried concealed on the body or in the clothing so as to not arouse suspicion. Survival martial artists are also very good at turning any object they find in their environment into weapons. 

Unlike in traditional martial arts, in survival martial arts the strikes and takedowns can be delivered from any position and there is no pre strike chambering or positioning required. The advantage of this is that strikes can be delivered even in awkward situations such as when one is in a confined space.

Apart from traditional fighting techniques, both armed and unarmed, training also often involves disguise, concealment, sabotage. Attaining invisibility is a major criteria in survival tactics. Therefore, students are taught how to move silently and how to evade any situation or locus without being seen. Studying the opponent into details (clothing, character traits, body language) so as to exploite his psychological weaknesses is of the utmost importance.

Training should therefore focus on physical and psychological strategies that develop both physical and mental hardness. Rigorous conditioning exercises and controlled competition situations or simulation exercises should allow the survival martial artist to get used to the physical demands, uncertainty and stress of a survival combat situation.

Contrary to most other martial arts, avoidance, silence and invisibility are key components in the training of a survival martial artist.  As a consequence, mobility skills (stepping, slipping, dodging, and rolling) are primary tactics. Blocking, parrying, and breaking are practiced as methods of defense. Offensive methods include a variety of striking and grappling methods. To overcome an attacker, survival martial artists will usually prefer flowing movements requiring little involvement rather than charging in with wild aggression and muscular zeal. Contrary to a self defense situation, whose aim is to escape as soon as possible using the most explosive methods, survival martial artists should always apply the principle of economy of mouvement and effort as they are by definition in a situation that could last for days, weeks or months. The breathing skills are developed consistently throughout training so that, under pressure, the person can use them to remain calm and functional.
Mental hardness is created through a philosophy that encourages the acceptance of death. The process of accepting and embracing the worst is said to lead to liberation from fear and to the willingness to fight for total victory against the opponent and/or surrounding elements. Exercises stimulating mental hardness should help the student to remain calm and focused, with increased awareness levels.

Survival Martial Arts

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Photos by Gregory Brophy (hand wraps), Gerville Hall (TaeKwonDo girl), Lucian (Karate fight).
Kendoka head © Gregor Erdmann. Kendo fighter getting dressed © mamastock. Kendo fighter standing © Christofer Yie. Reproduction strictly prohibited.
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