The Difference Between Martial Arts & Self-Defense

Many people look to the martial arts with the purpose of obtaining fighting skills to protect themselves on the streets. But what’s the difference between martial arts (in their technical aspect) and self-defense?

Classical and Traditional

In the classical, or traditional, martial arts such as Karate, Tai Chi, Wing Chun and many others, one typically learns specific techniques, ways of breathing and relaxation, fixed movement and set patterns, generally crystallized into “one way” of doing things. The martial arts are a great way to express the human body and develop on an emotional and spiritual plane. But typically, effective self-defense is not their primary goal. That being said, however, these arts are not without merit. I am not stating these martial arts have NO self-defense value. I am merely expressing that self-defense is not typically their PRIMARY goal. They can in fact be functional and effective at times, but not generally recommended as the first choice for self-defense.

Generally, martial arts practitioners are used to fighting in a controlled environment, wearing appropriate clothing, set rules, and a referee. The goal of martial arts competition is to win, to show your technical superiority over an opponent. But you don’t compete with an assailant on the street – your aim is to protect yourself; to survive and go home to your family and friends. The street is different from the ring and the dojo.   In the ring you’re prepared for the fight, but on the street people are usually faced with sudden, unexpected violence. Thus, you have no time to develop a strategy – you have to go into action immediately.

Street Fights Have No Rules – Expect Dirty Tricks

On the street, situations change dramatically. An attack might occur in an unfamiliar place, surrounding conditions may not be on your side (slippery ground, poor lighting, bad weather, etc), your clothes may be not good for fighting, too bulky or restrictive, and confining any moves you may make. Martial arts have certain rules, ethics, and admit fair combat. Some techniques are forbidden for safety reasons. But street fights have no rules, and you should expect every dirty trick possible from an assailant.  Never put your faith in fair combat.

Contrary to sparring, in a self-defense situation you may possibly have to deal with two or more attackers or an attacker might be armed (with a knife, bottle, club, gun, etc.). You should realize that there’s no need for you to prove your fighting abilities to somebody on the street – your safety is crucial, and a quick escape might be the optimal solution.