The Truth About Martial Arts and Self-Defense


The Truth About Martial Arts and Self-Defense

I understand that this series of articles is not going to appeal to every many martial arts school owners. However, I feel that we are all best served by the truth. But I also realize that nobody and certainly not I, seldom if ever sees the whole or absolute truth about anything.

After forty years of studying and teaching martial arts and spending the last twenty of those years teaching self-defense only, I feel I must communicate to the public in general that martial arts training is simply not true self-defense training for today’s world.

Yet having said that I sincerely hope that I will not be misunderstood to be implying that martial arts is not well worth anyone’s time and dedication to study, because it most certainly is worth that study.

Martial Arts has done a great deal for me in my life and on so many levels too. I was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame and awarded the Instructor of the Year Award in 2008 and I hold rank in three major martial arts. Martial Arts training really does have so many health benefits both physical and mental.

What I am simply saying here is that for most people classical martial arts training will very seldom meet their self-defense needs in a crisis.

For economy of communication and clarity here I will phrase some ASSERTIONS often made about martial arts followed by the ACTUAL FACTS and thus the rebuttal to that assertion:

Assertion one

Martial Arts are the result of a thousand years of development and the techniques taught in them are the ones that were proven and survived on the battlefield.

ACTUAL FACT: False on every count. Empty-handed martial arts as we know them today are a very recent historical development. Karate was unknown in Japan until about 1920. Tae Kwon Do was consolidated into an art in 1950. Man is the tool user and he fights with weapons and always has and not bare hands and feet. No martial art has any true historical record or proven experience on any battlefield either and for this very same reason.

Assertion Two

Asian Martial Arts Provide a Complete system of self-defense which when mastered is well sufficient for one’s self-defense demands in most cases.

ACTUAL FACT: This is also fundamentally false. Empty-handed Asian Martial Arts largely developed from weapon arts long after the periods of civil war and fighting had ended (in Japan for one example). These unarmed martial arts were not directly developed for self-defense purposes either really. They were developed as cultural ‘arts’ and later ‘sports’.

There creation was sometimes a means for some ‘martial heritage families’ to continue to make a living through teaching these cultural treasures. In this way these families also maintained their martial traditions after the habitual carrying of weapons such as the sword was generally forbidden and the Samurai class was legally dissolved in Japan at the later part of the nineteenth century.  is a Korean form of Japanese karate, largely based on the Japanese style Shotokan. . The Korean Patriot General Choi felt a Korean form of “karate” would be beneficial for a rebirth of Korean national pride after the defeat of the Japanese in the Second World War. The Japanese occupation of Korea was a rather brutal one and it was designed to eradicate all Korean culture and supplants it with Japanese culture.

General Choi, the basic founder and promoter of TKD saw the Japanese practicing karate during their military occupation of Korea. He changed the forms a bit so TKD could easily be identified as ‘not being Japanese karate’ but a Korean form and a Korean art.

The techniques and forms added to the Japanese karate (TKD) were not meant to add any self-defense value to the Japanese art form but were added simply to make it visually apparent that what was being seen practiced was Korean and not Japanese.

Later what self-defense value TKD did have was mostly lost when it became an Olympic sport and most all training followed the rules of that Olympic sport. Now I am not saying that there are not some tremendously powerful fighters turned out by TKD schools but that is much more the result of the individual and not the TKD training method or the training syllabus of the art.

Further still, a complete system of self-defense, if such a thing could exist, certainly would have to include much more than ‘physical technique’, such as how to kick or punch etc. Once a situation gets to that physical point in the real world you have an uncontrolled situation where anything can happen and regardless of ones’ martial skills.

The true objective of self-defense is to survive and escape death or serious injury from an attack. That objective is very clearly first and best accomplished by conflict avoidance which is made much more possible by knowing the ways of the human predators. That is how they think, how they chose their victims and thus how not to appear as an unattractive and ideally unacceptable victim to them. Self-Defense training must also include de-escalation and conflict avoidance training and skills.

Asian martial arts do not even address or acknowledge the need or existence of any of these critical survival self-defense skills at all. Instead Asian Martial Arts follows a syllabus almost wholly devoted to the practice of physical technique alone. The majority of that physical technique is wholly impractical for most people to employ effectively in an actual self-defense situation too.

Assertion three

The founders of these arts were proven masters of self-defense and knew exactly what they were doing in creating the techniques and training syllabus of their art.

ACTUAL FACT: Few if any of the creators or founders of unarmed martial systems had ever been involved in any real fight at all in their entire lives. These arts were created in modern times and in societies more peaceful than ours are today. So about the only thing resembling an actual fight that most of these founders were ever involved with was an ‘athletic contest’ with another master in order to show the superiority of their style over that other master’s style. And in so doing they aspired to acquire new students for their own system. It is essential to understand that no ‘consensual athletic contest’ such as this is a self-defense situation in any significant way at all.

Assertion four

It is undeniable that martial arts training has created some extremely formidable fighters who would make very short work of the average untrained street assailant.

ACTUAL FACT: There is some clear and demonstrable truth to this assertion. But these people are the exception. The study ”Traditional Martial Arts Overview”  shows traditional martial arts fails most people in being able to apply it to an actual attack successfully.

Further, it is largely the proper mindset and personal physical qualities and attitudes of these individuals that allows them to make their martial arts training effective to an actual self-defense situation. And make no mistake here, the street thug is not untrained, he learned the best way possible and that is ‘ by doing it’. The street thug is very seldom in his ‘first real fight’ when he attacks someone.

However, if that someone he attacks is a martial arts trained person it is much more likely that this will be that ‘martial arts persons’ first ‘real fight’.


I can say without any doubt whatever exactly what this problem is, and martial arts training very seldom prepares the student for it properly at all.

That problem is the only thing one can absolutely count on occurring in any real self-defense situation too, and that is the problem with dealing with the powerful adrenal stress reaction.

Martial arts training almost always occur under non-adrenal circumstances. The training hall is correctly a place of respect and courtesy. The real world of violence and human predators certainly is not.

Even the most demanding tournaments with significant levels of physical contact do not approach the adrenal levels that actual combat engages in a person.


The repeatedly observed reality for this writer is that the adrenal stress reaction (to those not previously conditioned to it) will affect a decided loss of motor control; especially fine motor control that so many martial arts techniques demand. I have observed this for many years in training even very accomplished martial arts people in self-defense using ‘scenario based training’ and our RMCAT armored assailant instructors.

Once the conditions of an actual self-defense situation are authentically simulated by the instructor in a scenario, that is the body posture, verbal abuse and the body carriage and projection of true malevolent intent, etc, the ‘body does not know the difference’ and we see these adrenal affects display themselves every time.

When the instructor who is training the ‘student’ for adrenal stress management assumes and displays the same physiological cues of the actual human predator, the martial arts person and the previously untrained person are often indistinguishable in their fight performance against that armored assailant instructor.

To be frank here, even well-trained black belts often flail ineffectually and seldom land any effective blows at all or defend themselves effectively in their first fight simulation scenario against the armored assailant. I feel that this would be their performance in their first real assault too.

You might reasonably imagine how “playing the role” of a real aggressor can affect these dysfunctional adrenal reactions in the student. The truthful and economical answer is both ‘easily” and ‘reliably’.

The adrenal release is not a voluntary action. It is autonomic and automatic, ‘hard wired’ response to the cues of danger. Thus if you authentically present those cues of danger, then you will get the adrenal response. In twenty odd years I have never seen this fail.

The difference of course is how the student handles and manages that adrenal response. Since most of us are not accustomed to or experienced with ‘life and death’ situations and the adrenal rush most people are overcome by it. By this I mean they ‘choke” or ‘freeze up’ and they are unable to use the martial technique they may have learned because they learned them under the non-adrenal state of martial arts study.

Now are there exceptions? Yes, there clearly are exceptions. If a student performs effectively in their first adrenal stress driven scenario there is almost always a single reason. That reason is because it’s not their first adrenal stress driven ‘fight’. They have had previous experience with the ‘real thing’ and the adrenal rush it elicits.

What the RMCAT fight simulation do is to provide that ‘biochemical experience’ without the dangerous experience of getting into a real attack!


The more modern training methodology of simulation and adrenal stress driven scenario-based training has scientifically proven itself superior to any other training method and in many different and varied fields.

Fighter pilots train in aircraft simulators, tank crews do the same in computer modeled tanks, commercial airline pilots are required to maintain their emergency skills through periodic simulator training to qualify and maintain their fight worthy status.

It should thus be no surprise that this simulation training methodology is superior when applied to unarmed self-defense training. More so than any alternative methodology including any title “Will Universities Save the Traditional Asian Martial Arts?” ” Asian based martial arts systems.

This is precisely why I have employed the simulation based, adrenal stress driven scenario methodology in my self-defense classes for two decades now. It simply works!

In the next installment in this series we will look briefly at the martial arts business model itself and thus see its innate problems in offering true self-defense training.

We will also begin our examination of how adrenal stress conditioning provides benefits in every aspect of one’s personal and professional life and well part from self-defense issues entirely.