by Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2006, All Rights Reserved
Most people are unaware of this little fact, but Karate, and the other martial arts as well, do in fact have a dirty little secret that they try to hide from the public. I first became aware of this little secret when I was a teenager attending classes at my local Taekwondo school. I remember I had just finished a class and was tired and sweaty from all the punches, kicks, blocks, and forms when my instructor said something that shocked me. She said, "Next weekend we're having a self defense class and we'd like you all to attend. If anyone is interested the cost is $30."
To say that this confused me is an understatement. If I'm taking martial art lessons then why would I have to take a self defense class? Let alone pay extra for it? I figured that it was probably just a special class for beginners but I was wrong. When I went to the class I looked around and I did see beginners, but the majority or the participants were black belts, and not just from my school but from several other schools in the area. My surprise was increased when I saw that the instructor for this class was not our instructor, and what he taught was not Taekwondo. This "new" instructor that I had never seen before was teaching pressure points, leverages, and other things that I knew were not taught at our school.
This class was a big eye opener for me and it taught me two things. First, it showed me the difference between an "art" and "self defense". What we were learning at our school was the "art" of Taekwondo. We were learning to do big fancy kicks that were supposed to be head high, or higher for some reason, and all kinds of fancy punches, blocks, and forms. In contrast, during the self defense class we were taught totally different things like kicks to the knees, finger jabs to the eyes, and ways to get out of various holds. I learned that day that there are certain things that you do when training in a martial arts school, and quite different things that you do when someone is trying to take your life.
The other thing that I learned, the dirty little secret that martial art schools try to hide from the public, is that when it comes to learning to defend yourselves, black belts have to take self defense classes just like everyone else. Sure, they're not always called self defense classes but that is exactly what they are. Today I am a self defense instructor and the majority of my clients are martial arts schools. Martial art schools in areas all over the state contact me and pay me to come to their schools and teach classes on self defense, knife defenses, gun disarming, groundfighting, and defending against multiple opponents.
But here is the ten thousand dollar question...why do people with black belts have to take self defense classes? Isn't a black belt supposed to know how to defend themselves? After all, a black belt is someone proficient in martial arts and martial arts are self defense, aren't they? The simple answer is not typically. The truth is that most martial arts schools really don't teach anything other than punching and kicking techniques, and most black belts aren't taught anything other than how to throw punches and kicks. Some schools do teach knife defenses, some teach knife defenses but not gun defenses, and some teach gun defense but not knife defenses and so on.
The truth is that regardless of whether a particular school may teach an "art" or teach with more of a focus on self defense techniques, or whether they teach knife defense or not, if you're actually talking about self defense then all your fighting techniques are secondary. Why? Because if you try to "fight" with a real violent criminal you will lose. Real criminals set things up so you never have the opportunity to fight back. First, they set you up so that when they attack you, you will be trapped. Second, criminals don't stand there and trade punches with you like in a sparring session, instead they rely on sucker punches and surprise attacks so that you'll never see the attack coming, and as soon as they strike they try to completely overwhelm you. Therefore, it doesn't matter if you are a 7th degree black belt, or how good your spin hook kick is, because if an experienced criminal attacks you, very seldom you will never see it coming.
According to statistics, very few people who are attacked every actually see the attack. Sure, they might know that they are getting repeatedly punched in the head while it happens but very seldom do they ever see the attack coming, and while its happening they're too busy reacting to the attack to even look at their attacker. Also, around 97% of stabbing victims report that they never saw the knife that stabbed them. Most victims thought that they had just been punched really hard and they didn't know that they had been stabbed until after the attack. So if criminals like to attack by surprise and most victims never actually see the punch or the knife that injures them, how are you supposed to "fight" off a criminal?
The truth is that you can't. Since you probably won't be able to see the attack that is used on you the only thing you can actually do is try to see the criminals and recognize them before they strike. Very seldom does a criminal just jump out and attack a random person; what they do do is go to a place where people are, look around, size everyone up and look for specific vulnerabilities, then carefully pick their target, and then wait for the perfect opportunity to strike. Usually they will follow you until you come to a secluded area or an area that provides concealment, like a parked car or tree, and once you get there they surprise you from behind. Or they may learn your rountine and position themselves along your regular route. For example, if you take a walk around the block every morning, they might learn your rountine, show up early, and be waiting for you behind a tree.
If you want to be able to have any chance at defending yourself you have to be able to look around you and detect the criminals that are sizing you up. Once you detect them you have to know what signals to give them that show them that you don't have the vulnerabilities that they are looking for. Only after you learn how criminals think, how they pick their targets, what vulnerabilites they are looking for, and how they commit their crimes can you then start to think about using self defense techniques.
Even if you are doing everything correctly you can still be taken by surprise. In the same way that most victims never actually see the attack that got them, most real self defense situations will actually start with you being grabbed, hit, stabbed, or shot. The attack may actually start with you being struck in the back of the head and being knocked half unconscious, then falling face first onto the floor and breaking your nose. Even if you do do everything right the first sign you may get that it is time to defend yourself may come while you are on the ground, face covered in blood, with someone standing over you. Unfortunately that is quite realistic.
The reason that even people with black belts have to take self defense classes is that very few martial arts schools know or teach all these things. Like I stated above, the vast majority of martial arts educations consists of punching and kicking techniques and little more. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to make the martial arts look bad because I actually love the martial arts, I'm just stating the truth. When I go to teach a self defense class for a room full of black belts its quite obvious that they have never been taught about any of this.
One thing that I do in almost every class is demostrate the violence of a real knife attack with my assistant instructor as he does a common knife defense technique. Everyone is expecting me to dance around and try to cut him, with a rubber knife of course, but you should see the sheer terror in their eyes when instead I run over to him and start violently "punching" the knife into his torso before he can even do his technique. Then after I knock him on the ground I continue to violently stab him as he trys to control the knife. All in all the demonstration is about 15 seconds long and I stab my partner, who is actually trying to stop me with his technique, at least 10 to 15 times. After the demonstration I turn back to my class and watch their faces go from a look of sheer horror to uneasiness because they honestly don't know if the could do any better. This demonstration is a great tool for showing people the actual violence involved in a real attack.
I know several people who make a very good living by giving self defense classes to martial art schools. I even know a guy who makes a good living by teaching the exact same 3 night self defense course just once a month, and every single month his class is full and according to him almost every single student is a black belt. The only techniques he teaches are a poke to the eye and a kick to the knee, but the reason that black belts, capable of far more advanced techniques, show up for his classes is because he actually teaches HOW to use the techniques against a violent attacker.
The point I'm trying to make here is not that the martial arts are ineffective because they are actually very effective. The only problem that the martial arts have is that they spend all their time teaching you how to DO techniques rather then what it takes to actually USE the techniques.
The point I am trying to make is that if you are honestly looking to defend yourself don't immediately rush out to a martial arts school. Instead look around for a self defense class first. Check with your police department, your yellow pages, your local parks and recreation department, and local gyms and you probably can find a self defense class in your area.
Also, be very weary of self defense classes offered by martial arts schools because I can tell you as a martial arts instructor myself, most instructors look a giving self defense classes as just a way of trying to get you to enroll as a student in their school. Also add the fact that if the instructor has no other self defense education other than his karate training he or she is probably not going to be able to teach you all the things I listed above that you need to know about criminal behavior.
If all you want to do is learn to defend yourself I recommend finding a self defense class with an instructor that only teaches self defense classes and doesn't also teach martial arts, because if he or she does they might only be offering classes as a marketing tool. I also recommend that you take one or two self defense classes before you consider joining a martial arts school to learn self defense. That should help you be able to distinguish the difference between and "art" and dealing with "real violence".
So if you are considering learning to defend yourself please don't rush out to your local martial arts school. Often the instructor at the self defense class will be more educated about real self defense then a martial arts instructor, its probably cheaper than attending a martial arts school, and if you take a self defense class you just might end up sitting next to your local martial arts instructor anyway.