In This Hub:
Best MA for SD?
Cults in the MA
Evaluating a MA
Fighting vs. Self Defense
Four Focuses of MA Training
Know Your Tools
Lethal Force and MA Training
MA and SD
MA Short Cuts, et all
Mixed Martial Arts
Provoking An Attack
Sanity in MA/SD
Sports Martial Arts
Technique, Don't Dismiss It
Violence Geeks Blog
Walking the Talk
What Do You Want From MA?
What If Monkeys
Why We Do It
MA Training Hub
Self Defense Hub
NNSD Home Page
Then tell me what you don't know.
Then, and only then, tell me what you think
Military "intel" quote
On this page:
The term "bait and switch" should be familiar to anyone who didn't sleep through high school business class. But just in case you were snoring in the back of the room, it refers to an illegal business practice of advertising one item at a greatly reduced price, but having an intentionally limited supply. When a customer asks about the advertised item, the salesman regretfully informs the customer that the store is out of the item and can't get any more ... but, they do have this (more expensive) model, which is far, far better. The salesman then sells that to the customer.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but when it comes to self-defense (SD) and the martial arts (MA), it is bait and switch. You can spend a lot of money before discovering that what you're taught isn't a self-defense system that can -- and will -- a) hold up in court, b) save your life or c) keep you out of the hospital.
But let us point something out about this: You cannot have an idea that you are learning a credible and legal self-defense system -- until you have an idea what is and is not self-defense.
And that is where the average person gets screwed in doing business in this field. What they are paying for is self-defense training, what they are getting is what someone thinks self-defense training is. And going back to the page quote, what that is usually based on is the instructor skipping the middle part. The instructor takes what he knows (a martial art system) and then jumps forward into what he thinks (how it would work against a criminal). These instructors do this without ever stopping to examine the importance of what they don't know (how criminals operate and how violence happens). Quite frankly, this often fossilizes from what the thinks, to what he thinks he knows, which is a very dangerous state of affairs.
And yet, you're still supposed to pay these instructors for this flawed information
What you know, what you
don't know and what you think
This is not an insult about the person's intelligence, but a statement of fact. After all, most people don't have much first-hand experience with crime and violence. As such most people's beliefs about these subjects are strongly influence by movies, TV and news; none of which give you accurate nuts-and-bolts information about how crime and violence occurs. Yes the average person knows that -- in a generalized way -- how Hollywood portrays violence isn't "real," but do you know "why it isn't real?" In other words, you may know that something isn't right about what you know about violence, but do you exactly what is wrong?
This creates a huge opportunity for you to be fed misinformation. This is especially true if the misinformation parallels what you think you know already or -- and this really important -- what you want to believe. Those mistaken beliefs are actively fed by the instructor trying to sell his training as self-defense. This is where the bait and switch occurs. Instructors will sell you (insert whatever program they teach here) AS "self-defense." And they'll do this whether it can be used effectively for that purpose or not.
Unless the consumer already knows what is fighting, self-defense, sport competition, etc., how is he/she going to know he/she is being sold a bill of goods?
Let's take a look at how some of these misconceptions
can be promoted. To begin with, there is the name: martial arts. Doesn't that
mean the arts of war?
Then there's all that sparring.
And, of course, there are all those "reality based
self-defense" (RBSD) programs.
And what about women's self-defense (WSD)?
The short answer?
A longer and more in-depth explanation about both the similarities and differences can be found in the differences/overlap section of the martial arts hub page. Here, in summary, we can say the two functional differences are unique factors and training.
Unique factors are those elements whose presence or absence determine differences. These can be very small or big. Let's use, for example, a row of the same model of cars at a dealership. All are individual cars, but the unique differences are very limited (i.e., color, interior and accessories). Or perhaps they are all the same model, color and equipment. In which case the unique factors would be very slight. But what are the unique factors between a Ferrarri and a Kia? While one can argue that they are both cars, there are obviously big differences in the unique features.
Self-defense is a subject that has its own set of very unique factors. But both martial arts instructors and true believers would have you believe that martial arts and self-defense are the same car. This IS a Ferrarri, you'll be told. But MA and SD are not the same. Self-defense includes factors requiring specialized training, study and which must be specifically addressed (e.g., legality, crisis response, psychology, criminology, wide-scale strategic maneuvering, etc., etc.). And even within the subject, there are important differences, unique aspects and levels that must be tailored to an individual's circumstances. These unique dynamics regarding SD are not found in commercial martial arts schools.
These factors and differences exist even within the martial arts themselves where specialization in the four focuses determines what you are taught and its application. Anywhere you look, there are countless differences. After considering such a staggering number of unique factors, claiming there is no difference is absurd -- or a sales pitch to get your money.
The second functional difference is training. The nature of training is very specific. You do not train in a general way to do a specific job. Nor do you train in one specialty and expect it to translate to another. Training is specialized to teach you how to deal with identified conditions and do explicit jobs. While there is such a thing as generalized education, it is more a basis for further specialized training. Sure you may have a general introductory class in computers in high school, but every bit of training past that is for specific operating systems and programs.
You may not know it walking in the door, but many martial arts instructors would have you believe that their training is Dr. Bonner's Cure-all Elixir! Like the old West's traveling snake oil salesman's patter, this medicine will "Cure what ails you! Freshen your breath! Put spring back in your step and can be used as paint thinner!"
This is what they are going to try to sell you: a training system that does everything. No matter what you want out of MA, you'll get it there -- at least that's what they claim.
The more you know about training, the more you know this just is not the case. We said it once, let's say it again: Training is specialized to teach you the unique factors and how to address them. While there are points in common, the unique factors are critical because specialized training very seldom cross germinates into other circumstances -- especially in a crisis. And that is Self-defense Lie #1.
MA Training Prepares You for Crisis
To begin with, there are entire subfields on "knowledge acquisition" and training in ergonomic psychology that show how training in one field will not necessarily apply to other areas. There also is the more specialized field of study and development of effective crisis response training. In other words, there are countless Ph.Ds, military personnel, law enforcement officers, EMTs, fire fighters and medical trainers who struggle daily with finding answers to the complex and difficult task of teaching people how to effectively function in a crisis. Any and all of these experts will tell you that functioning in dangerous conditions has very unique factors and requires specialized training. They also will tell you that specific training doesn't necessarily function well in other kinds of crises.
Physical assault is a crisis. How big a crisis depends on circumstances. And being attacked has some very unique factors that will affect your ability to function. There also are unique factors that a soldier or a LEO has to deal with that a fireman or test pilot doesn't.
The problems of training to overcome response difficulties/performance issues/adrenal effects and other factors are known in other fields that routinely deal with emergency conditions. Since they deal with these problems every day, they constantly develop training procedures to overcome them. Furthermore, they actively seek input from outside fields.
But these problems are commonly dismissed, minimized or are flat out unknown in most MA training -- especially regarding crisis response. Unlike high risk professionals, most martial artists do not commonly seek outside sources of information. If specific training is addressed, it is spoken about in a simplistic and uninformed manner; usually along the lines of "this training will prepare you to handle a violent encounter."(1)
This kind of behavior is amazing. In one sentence, they have dismissed entire fields of study, countless unique factors and the specialized nature of training. They also have spelled doom on anyone who believes them and then finds himself in any live-fire situation outside a very limited spectrum. (See Lie #4: Levels of Violence). But the appeal of this kind of response is that it seems like a simple solution to a complex problem ... which is why so many instructors get away with it.
Defending yourself against an attacker is a little more complex than putting on a uniform and doing kata. But that is -- in essence -- what many an MA instructor will tell you. Another popular version of this lie is that if you develop a ferocious fighting attitude and then train in their ultimate fighting system, you will be safe. There are about 15 different flaws in this premise, many of which will be revealed as you read this page. In either case, though, self-defense is never about just your physical prowess.
Putting it simply, self-defense is an extremely complex issue. It involves many unique factors, aspects from fields outside the martial arts. Effective self-defense training needs to focus on your taking control of circumstances to prevent finding yourself in a violent situation. This is the primary goal, rather than winning, once you find yourself there. Without specialized training, functioning effectively in a crisis is nearly impossible. The unique factors of self-defense make simply training to fight in the safety of a school unrealistic. And it is NOT self-defense.
That last paragraph is a double whammy. That's because you now are aware of both unique factors and training goals. Since most martial arts training is NOT oriented on self-defense issues, you will not be adequately prepared to defend yourself. Odds are you will attempt to react according to the standards and goals of what you were trained for! (Like trying to spar.) It could quite well be training that had a very different goal, yet was called self-defense.
And as the rest of this page will show you, that's playing Russian roulette with your life. If you choose to hold a gun to your head and pull the trigger, that's one thing; it's quite another when someone has taken your money and tells you you have been given "self-defense" training. Return to top of page
Lie #2: Martial Arts
Is Self-Defense Training
It is a common misconception in martial arts circles that someone can be prosecuted for attempted self-defense (See Lie #6).The fact is, most martial artists are willfully ignorant about what is and what is not legitimate self-defense. If they find themselves in a situation, it is incredibly easy for them to cross the line into being an aggressor. This is especially true if they have trained in a system that prides itself on its "street effectiveness."
You will be held accountable as to how your actions conformed to the standards of the law -- not what you think you were doing or what your MA instructor told you was self-defense.
Unfortunately, most MA instructors -- although they use the term self-defense all the time -- fail to inform students exactly what the actual standards of self-defense are. In short, they constantly use the term to mean whatever they think or imagine it means at that moment! This is an ever-shifting and vague definition that justifies whatever the student does. It is not uncommon that, the more violent and excessive a move is, the more often the term "self-defense" is used to justify it.
We have actually seen a neck break taught for use on a downed and helpless opponent -- from behind -- and explained as a "self-defense" move! We have also heard martial artists state that losing a fight is sufficient justification to deploy a knife and stab someone in "self-defense." In fact, certain systems pride themselves on the completeness of their training because they teach techniques that can be used to stab someone from positions where your opponent has the advantage. (A knife vs. bare hands is shaky, legal grounds for a self-defense plea because of disparity of force.)
The simple truth is, if used in 99 percent of the cases, it will be found to be an excessive and unwarranted use of force. And that is what will put you in prison. Although you may justify use of a technique as your having been in fear for your life, if there is not a credible threat, then -- in the eyes of the law -- you have become the aggressor. And you will be prosecuted accordingly.
Credible threat means there is an immediate likelihood of death or severe injury. Not a maybe, not a could have, not a might, not in a few minutes, but right then and there! There's a big difference between someone saying, "I'm going to kill you," while standing, empty-handed, across the room and someone charging you, waving a knife and screaming the same words. While you may feel threatened by both, acting only on the latter would be self-defense because the danger is real and immediate. The other is merely a threat. If you're not being taught these concepts (using legal terms) then odds are you aren't being taught self-defense.
Self-defense in a modern, complex society is not dictated by ancient traditions from foreign lands. Nor are the conditions that you face the same as those on a battlefield or in the slums of some Third World country where law enforcement is either corrupt or absent (so you must handle all battles yourself). Unfortunately, training yourself to react as though you lived in the Third World slums is a very effective way of crossing the line from self-defense to fighting. And the more you tell yourself what self-defense is without actually knowing those legal and defined standards, the more likely you are to cross that line. Return to top of page
Lie #3: You'll Always Be the Good Guy
If a situation goes physical, your behavior before, during and after will be closely reviewed for appropriateness, as well as its contribution toward creating the violence. In other words, the authorities are going to be looking long and hard to see if you were fighting, instead of, as you claim, defending yourself.
The law views a fight as two citizens in dispute. Both of you have equal rights and responsibilities. So no matter how justified you feel you were, no matter how much you think the other guy "started it" or "deserved what he got," the law is going treat you both as equals until it is proven that he -- or you -- were the aggressor and in the wrong. If that cannot be clearly determined or if it becomes obvious that it was mutual aggression and escalation, it will be deemed a fight.
Before we go on any further, it needs to be pointed out the law exists so citizens can resolve conflicts without resorting to violence. As such, if you have found yourself in a fight, you already are starting with a serious handicap. That two-citizens-in-dispute idea is not looked upon favorably when it comes to a fight because it means you both have decided to resolve it yourselves, instead of playing by the rules.
Upon investigation, the reality of most claims of "self-defense" is revealed to be mutual aggression. Both parties engaged in egregious behavior, while firmly believing that each was the wronged party. They fail to see the effects and unacceptability of their own actions. Caught up in the emotions of the moment, they both believe that their actions were justified and are shocked and frustrated when they do not have the expected results. This is one way situations can escalate to physical violence. While participants may believe their actions were in accordance with self-defense standards, the truth is that they are often driven by such motivations as fear, anger, pride, territoriality or selfishness. The resulting fight is anything but self-defense.
Unfortunately, if day after day, month after month in your MA training you have been told that self-defense is whatever you think it is, you are in double jeopardy. Not only will you have added a deep-seated belief in your physical capabilities (that is probably unwarranted in light of the wide spectrum under which violence occurs), but you also will not have established external guidelines about use of force that match both the legal and social definitions of self-defense. In other words, you can put yourself in both physical and legal danger. Because of their training, many a martial artist has decided to make a stand where an untrained individual would have withdrawn. That decision is an important point in whether it is self-defense or a fight.
You are legally obligated to conform to what is and what is not considered self-defense in the area of jurisprudence where you live. And if you have never been taught what constitutes self-defense, been incorrectly informed by your MA instructor or decide to willfully abandon those standards, you will be arrested and charged. This is not because the laws are unfair or allow you to be prosecuted for defending yourself, but because what you did was not self-defense. Integral to self-defense is NOT fighting, knowing how much force you can use and when to stop. If you fail in any of these areas, then you are no longer the good guy. Return to top of page
Lie #4: This Is Self-Defense *SNAP! CRACKLE!
Recently at a martial arts event in Los Angeles, we had an opportunity to talk to a famous pentjak silat instructor. He did a demonstration of his style on stage, then later approached Marc. "What did you think?" he asked.
"Not bad," replied Marc, "except for one thing. You just got your student convicted of manslaughter."
He was shocked. "What?"
"When the guy attacked you with a knife," Marc explained, "you slashed his knife arm while jumping out of range. That's a justifiable use of force because he was attacking, and you were in immediate threat by his knife." The instructor nodded and Marc continued. "However, once you slashed his arm like that, he's going to drop the knife. That means that the threat is past. But what the security camera is going to show is, after jumping out of range and disarming him with your slash, you jumped back into range, re-engaged and disemboweled an unarmed opponent. After you slashed his arm, he wasn't attacking anymore, you were."
It was obvious to Marc that this instructor had never thought of the legal consequences of this and many other dangerous techniques that he prided himself for having in his system.
Even if the attacker didn't immediately drop the knife, the instructor would have inflicted sufficient damage that pursuit would not have been likely. First, the attacker would have been bleeding severely. Second, having jumped back out of range, the instructor would have given the attacker time to realize he was badly wounded. (Most attackers decide to break off when they've found themselves gravely hurt.) Third, a knife is a limited range weapon, two steps away and you are out of range. Fourth, the instructor could easily have continued to retreat. How hard is it to outrun a seriously wounded attacker? Fifth, re-engaging with a wounded opponent and ripping him open from sternum to groin isn't going to be an easy "self-defense" sell to a jury.
This is the kind of nitpicky scrutiny that your case will be subjected to if you find yourself in a physical conflict. District attorneys are not known for their tolerance of claims that it was self-defense when you gutted someone like a fish or snapped someone's neck from behind while he was on the ground. Nor will parents and school districts be tolerant with an eight-year-old who is taught to do knee and elbow breaks in her MA class and then uses them on a fellow student.
Simply stated, anything that claims to be self-defense training (or good for self-defense) must start by teaching you use of force standards. What is and isn't defendable in court self-defense and when you can and can't use it will be the foundation of any legitimate self-defense training. That training should return to them again and again. These standards need to be as ingrained as traffic laws are to a driver. And they also must be verifiable by experts in the field (i.e., law enforcement officers, lawyers, district attorneys, law professors)(2).
Furthermore, whatever you are taught will be consistent with those standards. An instructor saying that 'you should run away' and then showing you 27 different ways to rip someone's lungs out with your bare hands is not being consistent. Being told you have the "right" to defend yourself and then being taught to jump repeatedly on his chest when he is on the ground is not consistent. Once you know use of force laws and degrees of threat, then your fraud detectors will trigger the red lights and klaxons when you are taught things like disemboweling an unarmed attacker.
If you are looking for legitimate self-defense training,
the warning sensors need to go off if these standards
are not immediately addressed. This is a litmus test. A
set of standards that once given allow you, the student,
to compare everything you are taught for its application
in self-defense. This will reveal if it is a
traditional martial art (or "combat" system) being
marketed as self-defense. If this is the case then
the definitions of self-defense will always be vague and
elusive -- even though the word will be constantly used.
A willful abandonment of consistency, standards and
accountability regarding SD is a clear cut indication
that what you are being taught ISN'T self-defense Lie #5: Levels of Violence (Combat
vs. Sitting on Drunken Uncle Albert) In the same way that traffic laws exist because there is traffic, the UOFC
exists because there are levels of violence.
Putting it bluntly, understanding the UOFC is what
separates the professionals from the fantasies of the MA/SD/RBSD/WSD(3)
worlds. Violence is not some homogenized problem that is the same in every
situation or everywhere you go. As such, there is no one-size-fits-all
training answer. Levels of violence -- and their appropriate response --
is a complex, multi-faceted problem that requires training from a multitude of
sources and fields.
Lie #5: Levels of Violence (Combat
vs. Sitting on Drunken Uncle Albert)
In the same way that traffic laws exist because there is traffic, the UOFC exists because there are levels of violence.
Putting it bluntly, understanding the UOFC is what separates the professionals from the fantasies of the MA/SD/RBSD/WSD(3) worlds. Violence is not some homogenized problem that is the same in every situation or everywhere you go. As such, there is no one-size-fits-all training answer. Levels of violence -- and their appropriate response -- is a complex, multi-faceted problem that requires training from a multitude of sources and fields.
No training system will prepare you for all the variances and complexities involved in the entire subject of self-defense. It is far too complex and varied. It's a convoluted cocktail of often conflicting unique factors. The reason this idea is included in the Lies section is because you will commonly be told the exact opposite by someone trying to sell you his or her training. Although they will claim such: No system is capable of covering all the possibilities, all the variations, all the facets of violence.
So how do instructors get around this little problem? Simple. They narrow the subject to their area of specialization -- while claiming to teach everything. A sports-oriented stylist will claim that it prepares you for "real fights," for example, and then proceed to teach sports techniques. A reality based self-defense instructor will claim "there are no rules in a street fight" and then proceed to teach going postal as the only response. A guru of an obscure and deadly fighting system will tell you how this works in the jungles/slums of his homeland and then proceed to teach killing techniques. A commercial martial arts school owner is going to tell you that what he teaches will work for self-defense. What none of them are going to do is:
Unfortunately, the pendulum seems to swing to either extreme. Training that not only will work in limited level engagements, but will do so exceedingly well is being sold as a cure all self-defense program. For example, grappling/submission fighting -- which is GREAT for when you don't want to hurt someone (like having to control drunken Uncle Albert at a family reunion) or in a one-on-one confrontation -- was being sold as the ultimate street fighting system. The other extreme is the RBSD, "combatives" (both modern and WWII) and deadly, secret fighting systems from distant lands (like silat, kuntao and Filipino martial arts [FMA]) whose tactical response to any level of threat is to go postal with as many lethal strikes as possible.
The best thing for you to do is to realistically assess your risks, the kinds of problems you are most likely to encounter and take appropriate training. For example, if you are not a SWAT officer, it is not incumbent on you to "charge down the guns" of a barricaded shooter. As such, the training -- while fun -- would not be necessary. If you are not in regular contact and business dealings with the lower socioeconomic end of certain cultures, odds are you don't need to know how to knife fight. If you are not hanging out in biker bars on a regular basis, then training to fight really isn't necessary either. If you do not surround yourself with violent people, then basic personal safety training (crime avoidance) and home security information will be most germane to your needs. Return to top of page
Lie #6: You Can Be Put in
Jail for Self-Defense
You will, however, be put in jail for fighting. And that is about as unpredictable as the sunrise. So it doesn't matter what you believe about which revolves around the other -- as sunrise is predictable, so too is jail for fighting.
Before we get into why "jail for SD" is a lie -- and the ensuing problems it creates -- let's take a look at why, to the uninformed, this claim seems to make sense. The simple truth is there is indeed a bias. But it is a well deserved bias. As we mentioned earlier, the courts exist to settle disputes between citizens. They get cranky when you decide to take things into your own hands by fighting. What you may not realize, however, is: Every day the cops and courts handle cases of people who decided to fight -- and then both called it "self-defense!" Yes, there is a bias, and, yes, it is against you. That's because of the last 97 knuckleheads who came down the pipeline claiming the same thing you are now claiming! Really now ... how can two people legitimately be engaging in self-defense against each other? If neither were attacking, they'd have been having tea and crumpets instead of beating the hell out of each other when the cops arrived. Bottom line: You're going to have to prove it wasn't fighting before the cops and the courts believe it was self-defense!
And if it was fighting, then you are simply going to be knuckleheads 98 and 99.
Now the really bad news: We're not making these numbers up. We've talked to numerous LEOs, defense lawyers, DA investigators, DA's and prosecutors about this subject. Their informed, professional opinion is that about 95 percent to 99 percent of the people they handle are guilty. Think about that: When a defense attorney tells you that 98 percent of the people he protects are guilty -- and he knows it -- there is going to be a bias.
Remember that we mentioned there is a chance of being convicted if you are innocent? Simply stated, the percentages we have just given lead to an undeniable fact: Most defense attorneys are better at getting guilty people off than they are at getting innocent people off. It is a known condition in the legal profession that you protect an innocent person differently than the methods you use to get a guilty person off.
While that may not sound important, the simple truth is that most lawyers don't know how to defend innocent people as effectively as they do the guilty. They often make the mistake of trying to defend them the same way. This can -- and does -- result in the innocent person being convicted. In such rare cases, you will not be convicted for self-defense, but rather because your lawyer's choice of defense tactics were inappropriate.
Realistically, the reason most people are convicted is that they weren't defending themselves. They were involved in the creation, escalation and continuation of the violence. In other words, fighting. They may feel in their heart of hearts that it was self-defense, but if their actions don't meet the criteria of SD, then they were in the wrong. The only justification in these circumstances is "self." Although when convicted, they will commonly whine loud and long to anyone who will listen to them that they were jailed for defending themselves.
Unfortunately, a crowd with very big ears for listening to this stuff are folks in the MA/SD/RBSD/WSD markets. And, boy, will they regale you with tales of people wrongfully convicted for using their fighting style to defend themselves. It is interesting to note, however, that they usually won't tell the same tales to attorneys or in front of people who have a firm understanding of use of force laws. Nor do they usually consult with such people nor do they take use of force training. Basically, it's a far better story if neither you nor they know why the person was convicted for excessive force.
And this brings us to the more insidious and dangerous side of this attitude. And that is how often the idea "you'll be convicted for SD" is used as an excuse NOT to learn the legal standards for self-defense. This may sound like an inflammatory comment, but it isn't. It's calling it for what it is. When you've heard as many people as we have who defend practicing a homicidal move or use of a gun by proclaiming "Ah'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by six," you'll understand that this is an intentional, well-practiced tactic. And it is one designed to let the person parroting it remain ignorant, continue self-reinforcing (and often dysfunctional) behavior and profit from providing fantasy training. It is too pat, too cliché and too widely used an answer for it to be accidental. They don't want to know why what they are teaching/learning is NOT self-defense.
Quite frankly, it has been our experience that those people who feel the court system is unfair about their "defending themselves" are the ones most likely to cross the line. After nearly 20 years of dealing with people in the MA/SD/RBSD/WSD world, it strikes us that a great number of the most fanatical are in fact, looking for an excuse to go off on someone. They've studied this deadly fighting art for years and are just itchin' for a situation where they can justify using it on someone.
It should be needless to say that learning "self-defense" from such people is unwise. Fortunately, the average person is uncomfortable around these extremists and soon quickly and quietly floats away. That is if they weren't turned off in the first place and didn't sign up. Unfortunately, if you scratch the surface of many commercial schools, you will find a milder, although just as misinformed, version. This still puts you, the consumer, in danger. Return to top of page
Lie #7: The Guy Will NEVER Stop
And that is a quetion that anyone who is in a system that prides itself on its:
Come on, let's face it, a lethal strike is...well...lethal. Doesn't that mean, by definition, the guy is going to change his game plan from trying to kill you to dying on the floor? Why do you need five or six of them -- especially if your goal is "self-defense?" Before we get to the common answer, let's look at some of the problems and unique factors that should make those lights and sirens go off when you hear it.
First off, odds are that a so-called lethal/deadly strike isn't. Usually this is because a) the move -- as it was taught to you -- doesn't work as advertised; b) under the stress of conflict you didn't perform it effectively; or c) a combination of both. Putting that in simple terms, neither the move nor your execution of it is effective. But since you don't run around doing killer ninja strikes every day, you won't know this.
Now before you go running out in order to learn a deadly combat system that will guarantee such a move, let's stop for a little reality break. Force, when effectively delivered into a body, WILL have an effect. The laws of physics guarantee this. While some true-believer might claim that they hold the secret of doing this in their art, the simple fact is that if you have to use five lethal strikes -- you are not effectively delivering power.
Putting this in shooting terms: You may have to shoot someone five times with a .22 before the cumulative damage causes him to collapse. If a .50 caliber bullet passes within an inch of your head, however, you're out of the game. Taking this analogy a step farther, if someone is telling you that you have to shoot someone five times with this kung-fu-killer-commando .50 caliber system then something is wrong. That's a .22 tactic.
Because you are shooting itsey bitsey little bullets via your trained techniques, you're going to have to pump more into him to get the same effect. Yeah, five of them will do the job. But let's take take this back to the legal definition of self-defense. The real problem with the idea of firing five lethal strikes into someone is that it is a behavior or strategy usually associated with murder. That's right, when most murderers get to the point where they are ready/willing/able to attack someone, they are so emotionally wound up that they go ballistic and repeatedly attack.
Remember that common answer we mentioned? Just so you know, it's going to assist in your creating a wound pattern, attack strategy that isn't even in the same state as self-defense. But they are very much in the realm of murder -- especially if you've been sold that you have to deliver five lethal strikes to get the job done. Forensics are going to seriously undermine your claim that it was "self-defense."
The goal of self-defense is to end the immediate threat to you. It is NOT to stand there and WIN a fight.
If you don't know this going in, you're either going to end up in the hospital, morgue or the prison shower. In live fire situations, most martial artists don't know when to stop! Worse yet, their training encourages overkill! And it is, this is going to take you from a defender to attacker.
Shifting from the idea of "winning" to the idea of "ending the immediate threat" is the first step to understanding what is and what is not self-defense. Not only that, but it opens the doors to options other than staying to engage in excessive force on someone. And one of the biggest options it is going to open up is running like hell!
Bottom line here, folks, it's hard to get killed, raped, robbed, shot, stabbed or beaten if you AREN'T there! If you stay and try to fight (much less win) you not only ARE there, but YOU, not your attacker, are extending your time there. This *gasp of amazement* increases your chances of being killed, raped, robbed, shot, stabbed or beaten! (4)
Having said this, however, how many martial arts schools teach running like hell as a primary self-defense option? Or do they mention it in passing and then proceed to spend hours, days, weeks, months and years on how to defeat someone in a blur of kicks, punches or flashing of weapons? If we judge them by what they do, rather than things to which they give a passing nod, we get an entirely different message about what they are teaching.
And the training itself is what is going to put you in immediate danger.
Marc has a demonstration that he uses in his knife seminars. He selects someone with FMA training and has them attack him with a knife. Now FMA is a weapons intensive collection of arts that work very well within certain parameters of attack/defense. It is designed as a training system for specific circumstances and, under those circumstances, it is smoking! But Marc moves in a way outside those parameters. The result is that a split second after the attack, the player has suffered a severe -- if not fatal -- knife wound while Marc is standing five or more feet away. (His complaint is that he doesn't have time to light up a cigarette to complete the picture of nonchalance). The point is, the attacker is there and wounded, while Marc is now over there and unwounded! On top of this, he is well out of range.
While many important lessons can be learned from this demonstration, the biggest one is that if Marc had stayed to "fight" his attacker, he would have been wounded. Perhaps as severely as the attacker. The reason is simple: If you stay to fight, you stay in range of his weapon.
Unfortunately, most so-called "self-defense" training teaches you to do this. It doesn't teach you to battle your way out of a trap and flee. It will instead teach you to stay there and try to win. This not only puts you in greater physical danger, but also puts you in legal danger if you do "win."
The same training that leaves you in dangerous proximity to your attacker also teaches you to continue to engage him. And since you're still in range, you're going to have to do this to keep him from hurting you. The common misconception is that you cannot safely flee until your attacker is defeated, so you believe you have to fight him.
While casually smoking a cigarette would add panache to Marc's demonstration -- the truth is, instead of stopping, he is free and clear to escape the entire situation. His attacker is in no great shape to pursue him. And even if he did, SO WHAT? It's hard to get a clearer demonstration that it was self-defense than you trying to escape and him following in order to continue attacking! "I tried to flee, he followed!"
On the other hand, turning to face an opponent in order to fight him, shows willful engagement. Your motivation may have been to further defend yourself, but that's still a choice you made! Furthermore, it is a choice that is overwhelmingly associated with people who are fighting. (Remember that bias of the cops and courts?) Since you didn't break contact, now it becomes a race as to who can hurt the other more.
And in an adrenalized, terrified state, your monkey brain isn't going to know when to stop.
This is where most martial artists really blow it when it comes to self-defense. They are so pumped up on adrenaline that they can't tell when their attacker's actions change from an attack to a struggle to defend himself from the damage they are inflicting. All you will see is that the person is still in front of you ... and you will interpret his actions as further attacks. While it's going to look mighty different to others or on the security camera, your monkey brain is convinced he is still attacking you! The problem is the standards define that you are accountable only for what a reasonable person thinks was justified. And reasonable people don't look kindly at going postal on the guy.
The simple fact is: Unless you are in a culture that is extremely touchy about honor (and their courts recognize that) or you have done something so seriously out-of-line as to enrage someone so badly he is willing to suffer serious damage or death in order to get to you -- once you break someone's arm you can pretty much figure that he's changing his mind about continuing to attack you. Odds are against you facing a PCP-crazed psychotic who will suffer any damage to get to you. This means that you DON'T have to move onto the crushing his throat and snapping his neck part of the technique. If you do, then it isn't self-defense anymore, it's at the very least manslaughter.
But that is exactly what most training will encourage you to do. What the what if monkeys fail to realize is: It is their presence in range that creates both the perceived and actual danger. A danger that wouldn't exist if they hadn't chosen to try to fight.
That's the perceived danger, but there is an actual danger. It is not, as many people think, from his continuing "attack." Odds are, he is going to start flailing in order to protect himself from your attacks! These strikes are wild in nature and are, in fact, harder to protect yourself against. (They have different physics and are unpredictable, so there is a good chance your blocks won't work.) You have created a legitimate danger to yourself by moving into range and giving him the motivation to flail and defend.
But your monkey brain is going to interpret his defensive struggles as his still being a threat, especially if you are trained to engage. Under these circumstances, you ARE going to continue to press your attack, which not only increases your risk of injury, but gives him more reason to defend. On top of this, you are now inflicting defensive wounds on your former attacker. That doesn't just sink, but entirely blows our of the water your "self-defense" claim.
And now, at long last, let's look at the most common answer to "Why do you need five lethal strikes?"
"Because he might keep on attacking"
On top of everything else we have said thus far, the single word in that answer that should set the sirens blaring and the lights flashing is "MIGHT." You cannot base your claim of self-defense on what he MIGHT do! You have to base it on what happens; what is a legitimate and immediate threat. You cannot immediately move from an arm break to a neck break because he might decide to keep on attacking. You are only justified in doing the next part of the move if he a) is still attacking and b) still poses an immediate threat of death or grave bodily injury (i.e., he still has the weapon in his hand).
In use of force decisions, what "might" have happened is trumped by what is
reasonable and understandable to a judge and jury, who probably have never
trained in any type of martial arts or self-defense. And unfortunately for
people who are trained to engage, the fact that you chose to stay and fight
is way more understandable than your claim that kicking him while he was on the
ground was "self-defense."
Lie #8: Knowing Use of Force/Self-Defense Laws Will Interfere with Protecting Yourself. The jaw dropping stupidity and ignorance of this concept is stunning. While we're at it, let's say that masturbation will make you go blind. That's about as an intelligent and well informed reaction.
While knowing use of force/self-defense laws can -- and should -- go miles in keeping you from fighting, this idea is usually promoted by people who don't want to know these laws. And this is an idea commonly by people who are impressed with the deadliness of the system they are learning. So when you hear it, start looking for the warning signs of a wannabe uber-warrior or tough guy who is looking for an excuse to put into practice for real the deadly arts they assume they are learning.
The fact is, knowing these standards and laws will go miles, for your being able to articulate to the police, your lawyer and the court why what you did was both justified and necessary. More importantly, knowing what constitutes justifiable self-defense will actually assist you in recognizing when it is appropriate to act. This concept has important implications in overcoming the normal and ingrained resistance to hurting other human beings. Although the psychology of this issue is beyond the scope of this Web page, the truth is that knowing when you are legitimately in the right about what you have to do is important in overcoming resistance about doing it.
Furthermore, knowing the laws and standards of self-defense will assist you to choose the appropriate level of force from the UOFC. Not every situation is going to be combat where you are justified in unleashing your deadly fighting art. Being able to safely and legally sit on drunken Uncle Albert until he calms down (or the police show) is going to serve you a lot better than explaining to your relatives why you snapped his neck, crushed his throat, ruptured his spleen and cracked his skull using your killer system.
Having said all this, let's go back to the idea that a fear of prosecution will interfere with self-defense. We find two major holes in this dogma. First, we have an unproven hypothesis based on observed behavior. That is to say that while we aren't quite ready to completely identify it as a duck, the way it quacks, floats and walks makes us strongly suspect "duck." And that hypothesis is: A more realistic reason why people hesitate to use their training is the fear that they will lose. This is especially true when it comes to MA/SD/RBSD/WSD training. They simply don't trust that what they are being taught will work. And, unfortunately, with the flawed or sports nature of the training they are commonly receiving, this is a well founded fear. This, more than fear of being prosecuted, interferes with doing something.
To which we say:
The second hole in this idea is: If you are looking for an excuse to fight, you betcha that knowing the standards of self-defense and use of force laws can get in the way of you deciding to do so. In fact, the reason there aren't more fights in this world is because most reasonable people say to themselves, "If I punch this guy, I'm going to go to jail." That is the mature and responsible decision. These are the people who usually decide to walk away instead of fight.
Realistically though, someone who is really looking for a fight is going to do it whether they know the laws or not. They are so intent on venting their spleen that it doesn't matter that what they are doing is illegal. To these kinds of people, not knowing the law is a way to ease the justification for their behaviors. It's kind of like an abuser getting intentionally drunk in order to give himself permission to go off on someone.
You don't have to worry about defending yourself nearly as much as you have to worry about becoming the aggressor in what was a self-defense situation; that is, it was self-defense until you started kicking him while he was down. This is why you really need to be skeptical of training that puts all kinds of aggressive techniques under the umbrella of "self-defense" and then ignores, or actively dismisses the idea of learning use of force standards and the UOFC. That's when the warning bells need to go off.
Now what was that about being afraid to "defend"
yourself because of prosecution?
Lie # 9: I Gotta Handle This
Our point is this is a double-edged sword. Yes, self-reliance is good, but it also can shade into something bad. There are many ways which insisting on handling something yourself can become not only problematic, but actually make the problem worse. The challenge is to know when it is time to call in the cavalry.
One of the most common -- to the point of where it is almost programmed -- responses about why a married male martial artist can't extract himself from a situation revolves around "protecting his family." Children and grandparents (more than wives) are the usual, "Well they can't run" excuse for his decision to stay and fight. This totally ignores the question: Why can't the entire family avoid going into such a situation in the first place? While mentioning protecting the "little woman" is likely to get a skillet bent over your head in these days of equality if spoken in her presence, the idea of protecting their wives/girlfriends from an attacker is still a common (although privately expressed) assumption of many martial artists.
The problem with this is that often it will result in a refusal to withdraw. A refusal that is more common among trained than untrained people. We are not talking about "duty to withdraw," we are talking about plain ol' common sense. Avoiding the situation altogether is the honest answer -- instead of preconceived notions of staying and trying to win. The idea of a lone martial artist protecting his family from a horde of attackers is functionally ludicrous. Simply stated, the reason criminals and violent people attack in numbers is because it works so well. The reason the idea of defending your family against a horde is ludicrous can be explained mathematically: A one-on-one fight allows each participant to devote 100 percent of his effort to each other. A four on one conflict means that the defender would be required to muster 400 percent to defeat them all. Whereas, the four attackers would only need to muster anything over 25 percent to effectively overwhelm the defender. The presence of weapons among the attackers really skew the numbers. So much for the idea of holding off a gang of attackers because your family can't flee. Because when you go down, they'll get to your family. Both more realistic results come from you and them standing there. Far, far better that they do a quick withdrawal with you maintaining a rearguard action, instead of trying to stay and fight.
As we said in the crime avoidance tape Safe in the Street, "the family that flees together stays together."
Putting aside all fantasies about defeating imaginary attackers with a blaze of martial art glory, we really need to look at an important factor in bullying behavior. And that is victim selection. Putting it bluntly, bullies know to prey on people who won't call for help. Whether the potential victim feels he or she must handle it himself or herself or literally doesn't know that help is available doesn't really matter. The tendency to isolate oneself is critical factor in whom the bully chooses to victimize. Bullies do not pick on people who are well socialized, part of a strong group and who have no hesitation about calling for back up. The bully knows that if he tries to pick on such a person, he is the one who will be suffering.
Many people in the martial arts have been bullied in the past. And, to a particular mindset, the idea of going out and learning how to fight off bullies makes perfect and logical sense. What it fails to take into consideration, however, is that it is often a continuation of the exact same mindset that got them selected for bullying in the first place! Sure, it's now on steroids, but it's the same core idea. He's going to handle it by himself.
This is why we are such strong advocates of taking a
good hard look at what you want out of this training.
There are a whole lot of pitfalls out there that you need to know about.
Pitfalls that can make your situation worse instead of better. What you also
need to realize is how often marketing for MA/SD/RBSD/WSD training is
specifically designed to appeal to certain personality types or set of
assumptions. There is a lot of money to be made selling people what they want to
believe, but it isn't legitimate self-defense training.
The Chocolate Cake Diet
And a thinking person really needs to stop and consider its implications. We will assume that those offering to teach you their kung-fu-killer-commando style will poo-poo it. They aren't selling the Chocolate Cake Diet! As will those who want to be the reality-based-ultimate-street-fighting- bad-ass or a mystical and deadly master of a secret fighting art used by warriors for thousands of years to repel invaders(5). They aren't buying the Chocolate Cake Diet!
In short, those who both promote and buy into fantasies about violence and their "deadly" fighting systems will deny the Chocolate Cake Diet aspect of what they are doing. The bottom line is that these people are the very ones who made that publisher rich, along with whatever self-defense guru or grandmaster they follow.
What perhaps is more scary is the number of otherwise good and honest martial artists and school owners who will also fail to realize what they are teaching -- and calling "self-defense" -- also fall into this category. The question that needs to be asked is: Where does it change from simple naiveté to intentional deception.
But the question YOU need to ask yourself is this: When it comes to personal safety do you want to pay for and invest lots of time following the Chocolate Cake Diet plan? Or do you want legitimate, reliable personal safety instruction for what you need and then to get on with your life?
We'll give you a hint: Self-defense is a very small subcategory of the larger subject of personal safety. So be less concerned about the physical techniques of self-defense and more concerned about the wider strategies of personal safety. Martial arts aren't going to teach you how to burglar proof your home, nor will they teach you how to recognize and avoid developing crime so you can get out of the area without fighting. Physical techniques are part, but they are not the whole of what you need to stay safe.
Even though self-defense is a small part of a greater personal safety picture, it's still loaded with unique factors. We have repeatedly pointed out on this page: Self-defense is a whole lot more complex a subject than jumping around in your pajamas and being able to break boards with your big toe. It is a complicated and multifaceted issue that far exceeds simple physical technique or martial art style. It covers a wide variety of topics, disciplines, fields and processes. And that is what we have tried to introduce to you with this page.
We have primarily focused on the legal aspects of self-defense for four reasons. First, they are, the most easily demonstrable, unique factor that separates self-defense from martial arts. We all know the law exists. Second, the basic concepts are easily explainable (although, their practice and application can be complex). Third, so you, as a consumer, will have a basic set of functional standards by which to judge any training that calls itself self-defense before you sign a contract. It's your money and, by being an informed consumer, you can spend it to get what you want not what they want to teach you. And fourth, we used such a bedrock concept as the law so the fruit loops who are peddling/promoting their deadly fighting style will be revealed as such when they try to dismiss it. There's a reason why you should smile politely and start quietly edging toward the door when you see some of the stuff that is being sold as "self-defense" out there. And now you know them and what lines the fruit loops will use to convince you that you "don' need no stinkin' use of force knowledge" (with apologies to the Treasure of Sierra Madre)
The study of the martial arts -- as we say elsewhere -- is a worthy, noble and wonderful practice. There are all kinds of valuable benefits that can be gained from the pursuit of the martial disciplines. And despite what you might suppose from this page, we will be the first to admit that martial arts training can be used for self-defense purposes. It is not, however, self-defense training. This misconception has been promoted by commercial schools, who every year make a lot of money doing a bait and switch on uninformed consumers walking through the doors looking for self-defense training.
Note to instructors: Our opinion is if you are going to teach martial arts, teach martial arts. If you are going to claim to teach self-defense, however, then what you teach had better be self-defense. This page will serve as a good starting point for your homework regarding the differences between MA and SD. Otherwise, you're at the very least pulling a bait and switch. At the most, you're putting your students in danger because what you're teaching either won't work outside a narrow spectrum of violence or it will work wonderfully to put your student in prison.
Incidentally, by doing this, you might also find why so many students don't continue with training. A common reason for dropping out is that they weren't getting what they wanted. With this in mind, you might want to take another look at the quote at the top of this page.
1) Some schools take alleged training to the other extreme. Some engage in elaborate "black belt" rituals, tests and (what can only be called) "initiation rites." These events put the student under stress and strain and serve as a rite of passage. Other schools are like clubs where the initiation into the club is one's willingness to "bang" (fight hard and be hit). The common justifications for these behaviors is that they are designed to teach the student to function under stress and not to give up.
The simple fact is that rites of passage play a very important role in human existence and social status (i.e., rituals of adulthood, marriage, etc). They also have a proven psychological benefit and influence, especially in regard to self-image. The importance and significance of rituals and initiations is studied in the field of Cultural Anthropology.
Having said this, however, the benefits of these rituals to ensure a student functions effectively in a crisis remain questionable. It can be argued that the confidence one gets from undergoing such a test has a strong influence on deterring would-be attackers -- especially important for individuals with low self-esteem. It can also be argued that having the experience and confidence of being hit reduces the likelihood of freezing in a violent encounter. On the other hand, it also can be argued that such experiences do not prepare an individual for the myriad unique factors that arise in violent encounters. And there is a valid point that training so you don't freeze or react inappropriately only works under very specific circumstances (e.g., your response in a boxing ring isn't effective in an assassination attempt -- if you could respond at all). It also can be very strongly argued that such rituals can instill false, if not over-, confidence. This could increase a student's risk (e.g., someone who's overconfident is more likely to chose to remain because of his or her belief in the training, instead of withdrawing as an untrained person would choose to do). In short, the jury is still out on the exact benefits and effectiveness of these initiation rites. Return to Text
2) A shorthand version of this (and a quick spot check) is to ask the instructor where he got his information about self-defense standards. He should be able to immediately AND specifically reply with something along the lines of, "I took Massad Ayoob's Judicious Use of Lethal Force class." Such a reply not only specifically names a credible source, but is verifiable -- since records are kept of who underwent this training, and certification is awarded. You should be suspicious of vague answers like, "I spoke with a lawyer." First, the instructor should be able to specifically name the attorney he spoke with (i.e., Bill Poundsand). Second, like medicine there are specialized fields in law. Talking to a patent attorney about self-defense is not the same as speaking to a district attorney or a defense lawyer. You need to be careful of someone who is intentionally vague about his or her research. Be especially wary of an instructor whose only source of information is the claim of having "looked it up." Without specialized training or consultation, there's a good chance that the person didn't fully grasp what he or she was reading. Return to Text
4) When we say this, some what if monkey always asks, "What if I can't run?" The simple fact is that in most cases -- if you aren't so focused on defeating a horde of slavering barbarians with your awesome killer kung fu commando fighting system -- you will see that you have ALL KINDS of chances to escape rather than engage in violence. People, who are looking for an excuse to use their training on someone, will allow themselves to be "rattlesnake cornered" (cornered in an open field). Usually because their "what if" game blinds them to the actualities of the situation at hand. The truth is, it's really hard to corner someone who doesn't want to be cornered. That person will squirt out through the smallest hole and, if need be, climb over an attacker to escape. On the other hand it is really easy to corner, people who aren't paying attention, rattlesnakes and what if monkeys -- because they allow themselves to be cornered. Return to Text
5) So secret in fact that they only revealed it in the last century in order to throw out foreigners -- who had just so happened to have occupied their countries for hundreds of years, despite this deadly fighting art. While it sounds impressive, the rest of the world calls it the ending of the Age of Imperialism. When historians talk about it, they discuss economic infeasibility of the colonialzation system in the industrialized 20th century (especially in the face of mass insurgency by the populace). But those selling these deadly arts would have you believe that it was the system's mighty fighting prowess that repelled the invaders, implying an integral connection with the guerrilla insurgents in the hills and countryside. This ignores economic realities of occupation, social factors, world events that affected the occupiers ability to supply money and troops, guerrilla tactics combined with modern weaponry from outside sources, and often the communist doctrine of many resistance groups. These are things that ended occupation, not a martial artists ability to waggle a blade around or kick. You learn about these things of you read real history -- or even watch the History Channel -- instead of believing martial arts promotion. Return to Text
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