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Self-defense training methods

This is a very complex subject with many real answers, many believed to be real answers, as well as some good guesses however, many points that I make here are hard to deny as to training and understanding to defend oneself.

Training methods in the dojo can prepare you for many things. How these methods are implemented will have a direct effect on what you are really being trained to accomplish. For example: If you train in your dojo to compete in point Karate tournaments, your training should be as close as possible to following a curriculum that is geared toward tournaments. Every method used should be relevant to preparing you for the task at hand. You should eventually, have mock tournaments in the dojo run just like the real ones. How else can you actually be prepared? Training methods to accomplish your training goal and, the goal of your training, are not the same thing. For example: If you train by hitting a heavy bag in your gym as a training method, are you preparing for a heavy bag hitting competition? Of course not! This is a training exercise as part of several other methods used to prepare you for your fight. If you jog as part of your training, are you preparing for a long distance race? Well…I hope you get where I am going with this. Now let us skip to self-defense training. One of the biggest misconceptions to date is many self-defense training methods being understood as the exact scenario in which these "training methods" will be used.

The basic dojo training methods for self-defense training are:

Kata: Learning individual defensive techniques with a cooperative partner to learn the principles and gain proficiency in the movements associated with a specific technique.

Sparring: Sparring usually involves pads for safety, light to no contact striking, no striking to vital targets, no grappling, and if someone falls down, they are permitted to get up. If this sounds like Karate tournaments, you are correct.

Grappling: Throws and ground work only are permitted. First one to get a throw, submission, or hold down wins.
If this sounds like Judo competitions, you are correct.

MMA: In competition, these fighters hit and grapple full force. In training they can strike, throw, wrestle, and practice submission techniques. If this sounds like UFC type tournaments, you are correct.

Ground Work: Only submission on the ground only.
If this sounds like ground grappling competitions, you are correct.

Hopefully, if anyone reading this has ever been in a real self-defense situation or witnessed one, you will think that these above training methods DO NOT SEEM LIKE ANY STREET FIGHT/ATTACK I HAVE EVER SEEN OR BEEN IN! You would be absolutely correct. You might also ask: Why is self-defense training practiced in this manner if it is not even close to a real fight/attack?

All of the above training methods have an important job of helping to learn, movement, techniques, hand eye coordination, balance, choosing the right technique for a particular application, repetition, and much more. However, all of the above training methods have four things in common save for the katas; they are all examples of physical training, fighting, competition and not self-defense. These training methods are only valid if students understand how these training methods fit in to an overall self-defense curriculum. If the goal of their training is learning to defend themselves, these above examples must be understood as PHYSICAL TRAINING METHODS ONLY. They also must know the differences between fighting and self-defense.

Fighting vs. Self Defense

Fighting always involves two or more WILLING participants. If someone attacks you and you cannot retreat, trying to ward of an attacker using whatever is necessary, is not fighting. Yes, you are trying to apply your own offensive techniques to stop them from hurting you however; this is defending not fighting on your part. In addition, by law you must stop your own counter maneuvers once the threat is ceased and you perceive you are no longer in danger. Anything more from you at that point is against the law and you can be arrested. What if this attacker hits you and runs away? If you chase him and hit him back, you are breaking the law. What if after you are assaulted and successfully stop the attacker from severely injuring you but, you have been injured from his attacks more than he by your defenses? Did you win the fight? Hopefully, if you were one of my students, you would answer by saying, "if I am not severely injured or dead, I guess I have won however, this was not a fight and, winning does not really apply here". Your goal should not be win, beat, or punish your attacker; it is to get away from danger as quickly and effectively as possible while keeping the laws outside of the ring/dojo in mind. The concepts of winning, beating, submitting, dominating, "owning", are made for fighting and do not apply to self-defense. These concepts must be understood by Martial Arts instructors or indeed, YOU ARE TEACHING YOU STUDENTS HOW TO FIGHT!

Now I will explain what other training methods should be included in self-defense training:


Some attacks are not avoidable however, many are. Because of this, students must understand why many self-defense situations happen and how to avoid them. Some of these methods are:

Using common sense to determine where/when is the most likely places/situations I can put myself in to be attacked and avoid them. Understanding that they will not always be successful in defending themselves and could be killed or severely injured therefore, students should also not want to fight to prove themselves. Martial arts instructors MUST keep students with big egos in check or, not teach them at all. Not having a big ego also makes it easier for anyone to deescalate a situation by not challenging a possible assailant or, just walking away if possible. Many people have been killed or are spending many years in prison over an ego problem. If someone puts a gun to your head asking for your wallet and you believe that is all that they want, give it to them. Nothing in your wallet is worth your life. Even if you are highly trained, you are in extreme danger when a weapon is involved. However, if you believe that you will be killed or wounded regardless of your avoidance strategy, you should try defend yourself.


Martial Artist should have a better sense of their surroundings than non trained individuals. However, this is not always the case if this is not a subject of importance in the dojo. A heightened state of awareness can keep you out of danger. Always being aware of who and what is around you as well as where you should or should not be, is critical to avoiding danger.


Getting away from a bad situation should be priority number one. No room for egos here people! Running away is only second to not being there in the first place. Escaping also applies to situations where after a situation has gotten physical, you can "stun and run". Remember winning does not apply here. An attacker does not have to submit, be unconscious, dead, or crippled in many cases for you to get away. One stunning blow to give you a head start can make a difference.

How do real self-defense situations usually start?

Because we are not talking about fighting here, and there is no "ready, set, go!" it is important to understand how these attacks usually happen.

The interview

This can take on many forms however, for this article I will give a brief description. In many cases there are noticeable signs that something is just not right when an attack may be coming. Someone acting odd around or towards you, someone coming up to you asking for the time, spare change etc. It also could more direct like someone physically challenging or harassing you to size you up. If these individuals were certain that they wanted to attack you, they would have just done it. Interviewing you before an attack is their way of really determining if they want to pick you and/or so they can dictate when to attack to catch you off guard. How you handle these situations is critical in helping these individuals decide whether or not you are a good target. This is a very deep subject and beyond the scope of this article however, the point here is: students must be trained to notice these interviews when they happen and respond appropriately.

The challenge


This also is sometimes part of the interview. Do not take a challenge to fight. This is a prime example of fighting, and not, the reason for your training. If you can not walk away from a challenge, the mental aspects of the Martial Arts should be a priority not the newest ultimate fighting method. Furthermore, Instructors should never teach defensive or fighting methods to anyone incapable or not interested in gaining the maturity to use said techniques responsibly.

Surprise attacks

Sometimes regardless of your heightened awareness, you can get attacked without any warning. An example would be: you are putting you key in the car door when someone jumps you from behind. Training for self-defense should cover these scenarios.

Sucker punch

This one is extremely popular when the interview or challenge goes in the wrong direction for the victim. Street fighters really know how to fight! This is why they want to fight with you. They would not if they thought you could beat them. They want the deck to be stacked in their favor by controlling the situation. Do not play their game! They realize the value of getting in the first good shot to your head. MANY FIGHTS BEGIN AND END THIS WAY! Obviously, if you are not prepared for this first full power blow, you will not be able to avoid it. This is what the suck puncher is counting on. Even if this strike does not hit with full force, it will be followed up with more of the same without giving you time to recover. Needless to say, it is all over before it really began for you. I cannot stress this enough, YOU MUST EXPECT AND BE ABLE TO COUNTER THIS SUCKER PUNCH if you have any chance of avoiding it. This must be included in your training.

Self-defense scenarios

I believe that self-defense scenario training is the best method to learn self-defense. Yes, I do believe that the aforementioned physical training methods are very important as well to polish techniques; however, scenario training is putting self-defense into the context of how these situations occur. Furthermore, scenario training should be the most practiced out of all of the methods. Keeping with the goal of training, we want spend the most time on the scenarios that are closest to the real thing. This method also increases the stress levels of the participants because they really have no idea as to what is coming at them if anything. This adrenaline stress conditioning is VERY important. In addition, the attackers in class have a great responsibility to attack like real attackers do and not turn these situations into grappling, sparring, or MMA competitions. Furthermore it also gives us a chance to test our counter interview skills, deescalating, sucker punch defenses, and many other important techniques. The big difference here is that the attackers are actually "attacking" you and not fighting. There is a big difference between the two.

The main point here is that, most self-defense training methods are not even close to the scenarios in which you are training for (self-defense) nor do they include (in most cases) other very important mental techniques. Some questions to keep in mind when evaluating your own self-defense training are:

Jim Barry
Budokai South Defensive Arts Institute

Budokai South Defensive Arts Institute
Minami Budo Ryu
Ju Jitsu / Aiki Jujitsu / Judo / Self Defense
Aiken, SC
Phone: (843) 864-3125
Email: newtobudokai@gmail.com

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