Which Martial Art is the best for self defense?
Knowledge of self defense does not grow on trees. You need to train in order to remain sharp. One of the central tenets of self defense is hand-to-hand combat prowess, but, which is the best martial art to practice in order to become more skilled in self defense?
Let’s first think about the skills needed in self defense.
The first thing needed to fight an opponent is a competent mindset. You will need to become aggressive and violent. This is not an easy task nowadays, particularly in North America and western Europe where any sign of aggressive behavior is instantly repressed from a very young age. Whether that is right or wrong is a different discussion, but the fact is that, aggression is a natural part of life and in order to defend yourself effectively you must learn to channel that inner aggression.
Most street fights, although usually short (50 secs or less), are very physically demanding. Hand-to-hand combat requires high intensity outbursts of cardiovascular endurance, explosive power, balance, agility, speed, accuracy and coordination at extremely high levels.
Fighting stimulates our sympathetic nervous system, triggering the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline which causes our heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate to spike up significantly.
Complex motor tasks abilities and dexterity are reduced, vision and sound are impaired making it nearly impossible to maintain adequate levels of awareness and sound decision-making. On a positive note though, our pain response mechanism is diminished by adrenaline secretion and our exalted cardiovascular activity will make it seemingly easier for us to perform acts of brute force.
It is clear that hand to hand combat requires skill in various disciplines such as striking with hands and legs, wrestling, ground survival, weapon defense, etc, thus requiring a multi-skill building approach during training.
There is no clear and obvious answer. Most martial art and self defense system has had its own “15 minutes of fame” with enough subjective evidence and witnesses to claim how efficient it is.
As the ultimate “test” of self defense is so complex and involves efficient usage of several different skills and disciplines. The ideal training regimen for a self defense scenario would involve a few different martial arts such as boxing, grappling, Brazilian jiu jitsu, kickboxing, knife fighting, defensive firearms training. Furthermore, It would require function specific fitness training (which can itself include various disciplines) as well as character building preparation to build mental toughness and resilience. Finally, self defense requires a certain degree of mental “gymnastics” and security related knowledge to enhance our awareness, planning, deescalation and decision making abilities under stress.
Training separately in all of these disciplines might sound too scattered for you, but focusing on each skill is the best way to become proficient at them. Once you are proficient in each of these subjects you will then learn to transfer the skills effectively in order to apply them together. One of the best ways to ensure you are merging skills effectively is to find appropriate “tests” or simulations that will mimic the conditions of the real life scenarios you are training for.
One of the most popular ways of testing these concepts is force-on-force training simulations in all of its modalities but specifically at extreme close distances where you will encounter challenges in the biggest range of skill application.
Unfortunately, Today’s realities make it extremely hard to find the necessary time to train effectively in several disciplines in order to reach a high level of proficiency. Surprisingly, military and law enforcement tactical units rarely provide such an environment and the majority of well versed individuals are often people with decades of training and experience.
The regular person will need to focus on one overlaying program or two that can allow them to gain knowledge in as many aspects as possible. You may not be able to cover everything, but something is always better than nothing. One very common and effective strategy is to become good at one thing then transfer and adapt to whatever your self defense scenario is. Such is the case with so many people who are serious about jiu jitsu or muay thai or karate.
One very popular option is Krav Maga. This is a self defense system that incorporates many sub categories in training. On paper, Krav Maga should be your training of choice in order to get the most varied input of skills. Unfortunately, most Krav dojos today produce a watered down version of what real krav maga once was and fail miserably at preparing people for real life threatening scenarios. The reason for this unfortunate turn of events is subject to a complex answer, but overall the main issue has something to do with the type of people who sign up to do Krav Maga.
Some years ago, I was a young instructor of both Kickboxing and Krav Maga in the civilian sector. I was teaching part time since I was in active service with Israel’s National Police. My kickboxing students were people who came ready to work very hard, endure a lot of pain, but most importantly, they were in for the long term. They wanted a life changing habit and understood that mastery takes practice, and that to become somewhat good at this it will take a long time and lots of effort in the mats and beyond.
Traditional martial arts such as Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu jitsu, wrestling, boxing etc are fighting disciplines that have become sports and attract people who want to become or are already an athlete of sorts. Reaching a proficient level in full contact martial arts requires life changing habits such as discipline, fitness and athleticism, nutrition, mental toughness and more.
Furthermore, traditional martial arts have a system of “reality checks” in place which other systems lack. Beginner and intermediate level practitioners have access to many amatuer competitions with a large number of participants. Advanced students have the option to compete in professional and semi professional tournaments which attract very skilled candidates at both local and international levels. These matches attract high level individuals due to the popularity of these sports. In order to succeed in these events, a student must possess a high level of discipline, physical fitness, skill and mental toughness. These requirements are hard to accomplish for regular people and require numerous sacrifices in order to meet the standards.
The truth is that the majority of Krav Maga practitioners want nothing to do with this level of commitment and sacrifices, they are looking for the shortcut. Many Krav enthusiasts don’t want to put in the work it takes to become hard to kill. Krav dojos often adapt their content and marketing towards these individuals in order to gain more customers, further exacerbating the issue.
Try this experiment at home. Drop in at your local Krav Maga evening class and see who is there. Are the soccer moms, the older guys, the people full of injuries associated with sedentary life there? What are they doing? Does it seem like they are skilled enough to survive in a violent encounter?
Now repeat your observations in a classic boxing gym or an up and coming MMA training facility. Who are the people training? Most likely younger, more athletic and more intimidating than the folks you saw at that Krav place.
This is a very important aspect of choosing a place to train. Tell me who surrounds you and I will tell you who you are.
If you can train one thing only, train MMA. The reason I will recommend this as a foundation is because MMA will teach you striking, wrestling and ground fighting at a competitive level and these are the foundations of hand to hand combat. Furthermore, the sport specific “test” of MMA is a real fight (with rules) at an amateur or professional level. This is probably as close as it gets to what a real fight is going to look like in the street except for weapons and rules. The competitive mindset of full contact martial sports is also a good avenue for developing mental toughness. Committing to an official fight, even at the lowest amateur level is a true character building experience. Performing in the fight and dealing with the outcome is another feat of mental and character strength that is hard to come by in normal life. Unfortunately, in the business of self defense, traditional martial arts do not offer a whole encompassing solution either. Complement your MMA training with tactical and combatives training such as defensive pistol, retention and counter retention courses, weapon disarm and defense, etc.