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The truth about Self Defense training systems

Ok, so we have all encountered at least one self-defense training system that promises to teach you how to defend yourself in real life in a short time period, while criticizing all other practices, right? Well, I am going to tell you why all such programs and the claims they are effective is a myth, nothing more than empty claims and good marketing.

First, let me start by who am I and what my experience in the industry is so that you can decide whether my words can be trusted or not. I was a skinny boy all the way until I finished high school and although I always wanted to be able to fight, I was actually scared of confrontations and didn’t make much advancement in martial arts training until I was 20 years old. And then I started practicing BJJ, and then added freestyle wrestling, boxing, kickboxing, and Muay Thai, and even a little bit of Judo. 22 years later, I have a 2nd-degree Black belt in BJJ, have won many competitions in grappling, BJJ, Muay Thai, and have 24 professional MMA fights in countries like the USA, China, Russia, and several European countries. Last 10 years I spent in the United Arab Emirates where I was involved in the largest project of its kind, the implementation of BJJ in government schools, clubs, and the military and I was in charge of creating the training programs for kids and soldiers, law enforcement agents and other entities. I have personally interviewed more than 2,000 professional instructors many of which are still working on the project. I was a coach, referee, promoter, manager, and consultant in this field for more than 20 years now, so not to brag about it, but I believe my analysis has some grounds.

Now let me start by revealing some hidden truths about martial arts.

People and even countries have been trying to compare their signature fighting skills and systems to others for many centuries, and if you are interested in battles and wars, then for sure you have watched videos or read books about popular warriors and their combat tactics, like the Spartans, the Samurai, gladiators, Mongol army, and all other key historical figures that have impacted the world. In the last two centuries or so many martial artists and combat-sports practitioners had the chance of traveling to various countries where they spread their knowledge and skills, and eventually, common folks gained interest in learning more about these different styles of fighting. The different disciplines pretty much developed two main channels or models of practice, on one side there are the martial arts and combat sports that developed their competitions, where practitioners would face one another in simulated combat with some rules in place, and on the other side there are the ones that chose not to test their student‘s skills in such manner.

Truth # 1

If a martial art or combat discipline doesn’t offer the opportunity to its practitioners to test their skills against one another in a simulated fight, where both participants are committed to winning, there is no way their techniques can be classified as effective. You see much like anything else out there, if you are making a product you must test it before claiming it is good, so whenever you get exposed to a system that claims it can deliver training that will make you dangerous or it will help you defend yourself on the street, the first thing you must research is — do they have tournaments and competitions where these techniques can be seen in action. If that’s not the case, don’t expect to learn anything of value.

Truth # 2

The styles that have developed their competitions have also created a set of governing rules, under which the events are organized. Most times the rules started as an initiative that aims to protect the participants health and thus certain moves or techniques might be forbidden. However, so many disciplines out there have developed rules that are actually crippling the concept of real fighting and hence are far from the reality of a physical confrontation that you might experience in real life outside of the dojo. So, the more constraint a martial art or a combat sport is in terms of its rules system, the less applicable its techniques and moves will be in the real world where rules often don’t apply at all. Needless to say that with the birth of MMA and it’s growing popularity, there is hardly any other fighting discipline where a true martial artist or a fighter can prove his skills effectiveness, therefore, if anyone claims their discipline is most effective, simply find out how many people who practice it have fought and won in MMA tournaments. You don’t see many taekwondo or karate or boxing athletes win in MMA fights, do you?

Truth # 3

No matter the style, everyone must understand one undeniable fact to learn how to fight, and that is — there are no shortcuts to it. You see, believing that you can learn how to fight in a matter of months, that is if you have no experience in it, is similar to believing you can take a master’s degree in engineering in few months without previous experience in the field. First of all, mastering your own body and its abilities is a very time-consuming process, it involves muscle memory, cognitive memory, building reflex, timing, physical strength and endurance, cardiovascular capacity, flexibility, and tons of other elements all of which require years of dedication and discipline. Do you think a gymnast, swimmer, or dancer can learn the complex moves required to perform in a few months? How about learning all of that and be able to apply it while someone is deliberately trying to hurt you using striking or by tackling you to the ground? Have you any idea what stress and high adrenaline can do to you in a real-life fighting scenario?

No guys, there are no shortcuts to learning how to fight or how to defend yourself. Period.

Are all self-defense training systems basically a BS?

Now that’s a good question, how to tell if the proposed system is full of BS or it might be useful? Let me present my advice on how to analyze any training system and its claims. First, let me clarify again that I am discussing the effectiveness (or the lack of) when it comes to the application of the moves and techniques offered by the training in real-life scenarios. I am not criticizing any program that doesn’t promise you to become a ninja warrior in a few months.

You can start your analysis by finding the answers to the following simple questions:

Who is the instructor — is he a martial arts individual with a proven track record, did he fight in competitions outside his discipline, what are his achievements? A simple question to ask here is — did he fight in MMA and if yes how did he do? If he did and he did well, then you know the guy is worth it. Remember, if you haven’t been hit, if you didn’t experience the adrenaline of fighting with limited rules, under the eye of cameras and your students and friends watching, then you don’t know much about fighting do you.

We also see much ex-military personnel transition into self-defense instructors, and that’s very appealing from a marketing perspective, but then again, did soldiers really fight without weapons, and how often do they do that, under what circumstances? If the training system promises to teach you how to defend yourself on the street against an aggressive attacker, then you can’t count on support from our military unit, you have no weapons, no helmet, and no bulletproof vest, so an ex-military expert teaching rookie civilians to defend themselves on the street is an oversell for me. These guys must be teaching other experts and they must stick to their field of expertise.

How long is the training course — most of the self-defense courses or systems are using time frames or specific duration. They do that because they wish to sell you unique training that doesn’t require years of practice, and that’s how they market their product. So next time you come across something like that, check how long the course is. If it’s anything shorter than 3 months, believe me, you will not learn much that you can practically use, or not unless you are a person with decent experience in fighting looking to add something new to your arsenal. If you are a beginner and have no experience in fighting sports, you can’t expect to learn how to fight in a short period of time.

Does the training focus more on striking or grappling techniques — if the system in question uses more striking techniques in its advertising materials, keep a conservative mind about it? Systems like Krav Maga for example are using so much striking because it looks real when performed by someone with experience in striking and when executed upon a sitting duck partner who doesn’t respond. For the untrained eye, this may seem like a killer style, but in reality, these techniques are not applicable. Boxers, kickboxers, and Muay Thai fighters spend their lives practicing punching and kicking and still face difficulties when a drunk guy confronts them in the bar. Striking accuracy and reflex demand years of dedication, so don’t be fooled by Hollywood style presentations. The only striking you are better off learning in a short period of time is boxing, and boxing instructors are rarely involved in self-defense courses.

Real street fighting is often ugly or boring guys, sometimes people get in the clinch and spend long minutes wrapped up like puzzle pieces, and sometimes it takes a couple of punches and everything is over, no beauty shots, no flying knees. So, if you are new to combat, you will likely learn how to defend yourself better in a shorter time frame by understanding how to close the distance to the attacker and use the clinch to avoid harmful punches. That requires some practice in grappling disciplines like BJJ, wrestling, or Judo, so if the advertised program looks more boring, and it seems to involve such grappling techniques, then the chances of it being more effective are higher.

What should I sign up for if I want to defend myself then?

Well let’s get to the real question here, you have no experience in fighting, you don’t have the time to dedicate years of your life to practicing multiple martial arts to gain skills and knowledge, so what can you do to know just enough to defend yourself in case you get attacked by a bully or a thief?

My advice to you my friend is to first sign up for boxing and spend at least 3 to 6 months practicing any opportunity you have. Boxing will give you vital skills in protecting your processor (your head) and it will teach you how to avoid dangerous blows to the head. You might also learn how to throw a jab or a hook, and these come at handy when under attack. Unless you are professional, you don’t want to go to the ground with your attacker, so knowing how to keep distance, how to defend your chin, and how to throw jabs is a much better option. Once you complete this task, consider spending the same time period practicing Judo. Judo involves throws with the use of the kimono uniform, and that is helpful because most people that might attack you on the street will be dressed, hence you can use their clothing to apply the throws you learn. When Judo practitioners learn how to fall, they protect their bodies from the impact of a throw, but if the same throw is applied on someone not familiar with breaking falls and especially if that happens on the hard floor, believe me, it can be very dangerous. So by spending some time learning how to take someone off balance and to potentially smash him on the ground from high altitude you will be able to remain to stand and very likely on the winning side of the battle.

The combination of boxing and Judo is likely the best short-term combo that can help you gain true skills that will come at handy in a bad situation. Additionally, the chances of you becoming addicted to training such discipline are very likely, as their teaching methods are developed in a way that is suitable for kids and youngsters, and that can change your life. Self-defense systems on the other hand are not using such methods, and will rarely give you the feeling of fulfillment and self-confidence. They have a limited life span and a short progression cycle, which makes them more of a product that doesn’t offer a life-changing experience.

So next time you come across these self-defense courses ask yourself honestly, do you really want to learn how to defend yourself or you just want to show off to your friends with the certificate? I know that many people will still choose the easy way out, but if true warriors are reading this article, then I hope I was able to direct them to the right way of learning how to defend themselves, and who knows, some of them might become the new champions in MMA, Judo, Wrestling, Muay Thai, boxing or BJJ.

Written by Lubomir Guedjev, Sports Management Consultant, former MMA fighter and promoter

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