Martial arts are an excellent way to stay fit, get regular exercise, and learn a valuable way to defend yourself from those who wish to harm you.
You’ve probably seen countless advertisements in flyers, park benches, or colorfully painted on dojo storefronts.
Slogans like “Join today and learn to protect yourself from bullies!” or “Defend yourself with confidence!” are plastered all over the place, enticing you to call, check the website, or walk in and observe a class.
If you have the opportunity to learn one of the many different martial arts, you will benefit greatly. Yes, you can get some exercise, relieve stress, and learn techniques to help you defend yourself if you are attacked.
However, there are numerous misconceptions about the martial arts world that must be addressed before you can tighten that colored belt around your waist and take on the “bad guys” of the world.
Joining a martial arts class is just the first step
The work begins once your paperwork is signed, your uniform is in your possession, and your class schedule is set. Making time for two or three classes per week is essential if you want to progress beyond the beginner stage of martial arts.
Consistent training is the only way to ensure that you not only understand but also perform the techniques taught. This is defined as… experience.
Without experience, all you have in your repertoire is a series of movements with a specific goal in mind—not movements that are second nature to you and will produce explosive results if and when they are required.
You cannot speed up the hundreds upon hundreds of hours required to become fluent in what is taught. Furthermore, simply attending a martial arts class does not constitute “time put in.”
If you come in with your gi (uniform) pressed and clean and leave in the same condition, it’s highly unlikely that you produced the required amount of sweat, intensity, and overall effort during your class.
If that’s the case, staying enrolled in martial arts will not benefit you in the long run (unless you’re only there for exercise). Remember that, like any other activity, you get what you put into it. Those who put in intense, rigorous workouts over a long period of time gain valuable experience.
All techniques work equally
In fact, if you did not do your homework before enrolling in a particular school, you may have enrolled in a style that emphasizes competition over practical self-defense, or one that focuses on forms and katas (detailed choreographed patterns of movement) rather than techniques that could possibly keep you safe if attacked.
Certain styles lend themselves far more readily to practical self-defense than others. It is your responsibility to do your research before signing up to ensure that you get what you truly require.
Also, if you have the opportunity to observe a class before making a decision, keep the following three points in mind:
First, does the teacher illustrate his techniques through words or actions?
Instructors who only discuss the validity of techniques without performing them do not allow you to decide for yourself whether these techniques would work in a real-world situation. To a point, teaching through speech is effective, but a demonstration speaks a thousand words.
Second, do they include training weapons in their classes?
With guns, knives, sticks, and even a simple screwdriver readily available to today’s attacker, weapon defense in class is a must. If it isn’t part of the curriculum, move on.
Finally, if you decide to enroll, will the school present you with a high-pressure sales pitch or a low-pressure short contract?
If money appears to be the primary motivator, the level of qualified instruction is always in doubt. Sign only for what you are most comfortable with, and if the pressure tactics continue, find a way out.
A fight will reflect martial arts class training
It is estimated that in a real fight or conflict, you will only use about 10% of the techniques you learned in class.
As a result, when an unprovoked attack occurs, the way you perform a particular technique will be drastically different from what you are used to. It should go without saying that any “safety” equipment used during training will not be available to you during a real-life self-defense encounter.
Some martial arts styles, for example, use floor mats to cushion falls, takedowns, or throws; these will not be found on the concrete sidewalks outside. As a result, your approach to the opponent must be avoided in order to protect yourself from potentially serious injuries.
To get used to fighting in the real world, hold some of your classes outside the school’s practice area or in a nearby parking lot. If this is not an option, practice on your own with a friend to determine which techniques would work well outside and which would need to be modified.
Also, keep in mind that your wrists will not be taped or protected by padded gloves, so incorrectly striking an attacker may result in dislocation, hyperextension, or fractures of your hands or wrists. To compensate, hit a firm target bare-knuckled in class or at home every day; this will condition your hands and strengthen your punch.
There are no sideline coaches during real confrontations
Whatever martial art style you choose as a self-defense option, you will almost certainly have your instructor’s guiding words with you at all times during your training.
He gives you on-the-spot tips for improving your technique and tells you what you need to do next or how to overcome a perilous situation with an opponent. In a true self-defense situation, however, you will be on your own. It will be up to you to make those split-second decisions that will determine whether or not you walk away from a confrontation.
Unfortunately, there is no quick solution. Constant practice and trial and error during regular classes will give you the confidence to react instinctively and without conflicting thoughts.
Self-defense techniques must come naturally, which can only happen after you’ve developed consistent, successful responses to almost anything your training partners can throw at you.
Martial arts training is an excellent way to supplement any personal self-defense program. You can really benefit if you do your homework, find the right school, and put in the necessary time to become proficient at what you learn.
However, if you enter the martial arts world with the expectation of becoming invincible and remaining unharmed in all conflicts, your martial arts “career” may be short-lived. And if you cross paths with the wrong person, your life could be in danger.