While it's true that "self-defense" is offered in many martial arts schools and even some fitness facilities, we must ask ourselves if it's really self-defense that's being taught. Are the students of these schools and facilities really learning to protect themselves or are they just learning simplified martial arts under the disguise of "self-defense"?

I cannot honestly answer this question as it pertains to each and every facility making such claims, but what I can do is provide simple guidelines to help you, the reader, decide if your school or facility is teaching real self-defense or some fake imitation.

As previous articles have pointed out, there is a difference between martial arts and self-defense. While there may be some similarities in the physical applications between the two, this is generally where the similarities stop. Martial arts self-defense programs, what I refer to as traditional self-defense, generally over-emphasize the physical skills while under-emphasizing or even neglecting the psychological and analytical skills needed to deal with life-threatening situations. The belief is that it's the physical skills that determine the outcome of the altercation when, in fact, it's what the student does before the situation turns physical that will determine the ultimate outcome. While physical skills are vitally important, they are the least important of all real self-defense skills.

Self-defense is about staying out of harm's way. It's about learning to detect possible violent situations and dealing with them before they turn violent. Self-defense is NOT about letting someone physically assault you so you can, in turn, defend yourself. Once this is understood, self-defense can be approached in a direct and realistic manner.

So, what does real self-defense training consist of? That's the question I intend to address. The first step to answering this question involves analyzing violent situations and then reverse-engineering them. In other words, we must take a look at how violent situations occur in the first place so that we can learn how to prevent them from escalating to a physical level. Analyzing the situations in this manner can help us understand that there are so many more things we can do prior to using last-ditch physical skills. In other words, while physical skills are necessary, they should be used last and least.

Let's start from the beginning. How can we prevent potentially violent situations? That's easy, we AVOID such situations. To AVOID situations we must be AWARE of such situations before they happen. So, the first step to dealing with violent situations is using common-sense awareness & avoidance strategies. Ultimately, awareness leads to avoidance and avoidance leads to prevention. Understanding this is the key to real self-defense. If we are aware of potentially violent situations before they happen and we avoid those situations, it's highly unlikely that we would ever have to physically protect ourselves. In short, awareness strategies should form the foundation of any realistic self-defense program that is designed to protect lives. Any program neglecting this foundational area is not based on reality.

What about other necessary skills when awareness & avoidance fails? What about methods of escape? Obviously we don't live in a perfect world. While we may have excellent awareness & avoidance skills there is still a chance that we might find ourselves in potentially violent situations. Based on this fact, we must have a solid understanding of how and when to escape.

What about verbal and non-verbal de-escalation strategies? As we know, conflict resolution is about learning effective communication skills in order to successfully deal with conflict in our lives. Wouldn't potentially violent situations be considered an extreme form of personal conflict? This being the case, doesn't it make sense that we should first attempt to resolve such conflict in a non-violent manner if at all possible?

As we can see, there are many steps that can be taken to be aware of and ultimately avoid potentially violent situations. When those situations can not be avoided, there are still steps that we can take to avoid possible physical altercations. Simply put, physical survival skills should be used only as a last resort when all other options have been exhausted.

Don't be fooled by imitation "self-defense" systems that only teach physical skills and avoid or neglect the most important components of all, the non-physical skills. As I have pointed out, a system based solely on physical skills does not prepare the student for the realities of violent altercations. In fact, it does not provide the student with options and instead conditions them to rely on physical skills regardless of the level of threat.

If self-defense is truly the goal, I recommend that you search out an instructor or a system that offers a comprehensive program including an emphasis on non-physical skills. As our lives may someday depend on our training, we should make sure that our training provides us with the necessary skills to not only survive but to win!

Author's Bio: 

Steve Zorn has been involved in the field of personal safety for just over 17 years. He holds multiple martial arts black belts, is a certified law enforcement trainer, and is a recognized crime prevention specialist. He is also the founder of Personal Safety Unlimited, an organization devoted to empowering lives through personal protection education.