Self Defense can come in a variety of ways. Many folks take up a martial art in hopes of learning to defend themselves while others opt for a "self defense class". But are martial arts self-defense oriented and are self-defense classes worth your time and effort.
Many dojos across the world are directed towards the sporting aspects: tournaments, kata demonstrations, board breaking and extreme performances that are primarily focused on looking good and doing some pretty gym gymnastic feats. Tournament matches do not reflect good self-defense or even good fighting. Some permissions state that "free sparring" is the worst thing you can do for preparing for self defense or fighting. I tend to agree.
A fight is generally over with in seconds and the winner is the one who has the most body parts in tact. Self-defense techniques generally mirror those found in a fight. People get bloodied and have a tendency to lose body parts, particularly teeth. A fight may ensue from a confrontation that could be deemed self-defense. It could have been a mugging or an assault. You could be the victim of an ambush type assault because you look like an easy target. You may be sucked into a confrontation because you looked at someone wrong or are wearing the wrong color clothes in the wrong neighborhood.
Many confrontations begin with the "monkey dance". This is where one or both parties display aggression without really doing more than posturing. They attempt to intimidate the other party either by words or actions. Some confrontations start out with a sucker punch and go from there. Usually the person that lands the first blow wins.
Self-defense training can save your life, if done properly. If you have had improper training it could get you into real trouble. Taking a six-week self-defense class, in my opinion is quite worthless. In order to be able to perform the techniques you need to do them many, many times. You must understand how you will react when attacked and get a sudden adrenalin dump into your system. That technique learned in the self-defense class that was so easy to perform on a cooperative training partner suddenly just does not appear because your motor responses conflict with your mental processes at just the wrong time. Skills must be learned to the extent that your "reptilian brain", that part of your brain reserved for survival instincts, kicks in and you can perform without thinking. You must be able to hit any and all events presented and do it with sufficient intent and force to be effective. You must be willing to do what it takes to survive the confrontation.
In the martial arts we are taught that our entire body is a weapon. The best weapon in our possession is our brain. We must have a plan for our defense. Understand that the plan is excellent until the stinky material hits the high-speed rotary device. What you must plan for is 1) how to escape the locale you are in, 2) how to keep getting your head busted. Maybe planning where you are going is a better first step then you may not need steps one and two. Always consider the "What If" in making your plans. Always plan for a way out.
Skills for defending yourself must be "gross motor skills". When you get under a stress situation and the adrenalin begins pumping you will lose most of your fine motor skills and you may develop tunnel vision and tunnel hearing. Your arms and legs may not work as you think they should. Your thought processes are also eliminated.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to teach a self-defense class for my daughter and some of her associates. I told them what I thought of short-term classes and what they had to do to make the techniques viable (constant practice after class). Basic punching, front kicks, knee strikes and palm heels were the only things taught. Then we practiced them for three days doing hundreds of repetitions. Do you think any of these women will remember the techniques presented? Probably they will not. But at least they were exposed to the concepts of defending their person. Hopefully they will never have to find out the hard way.
In our society today we have the unfortunate situation where there are gangs. It does not matter who or where they are or what they call themselves. They are dangerous, violent and brutal. They carry guns, knives, screwdrivers and a variety of other weapons. They have a propensity for doing drugs such as cocaine, crack and meth. An encounter with several of these mindless creeps could be deadly. If you hit them they may not feel pain as a sober person would. Their strength may be increased exponentially because of the drugs. How would you defend yourself against someone or a group under those conditions?
A friend of mine used to work for the California Highway Patrol. He has related to me a story of a meth addict that was brought into the booking room under arrest. When the cuffs were removed he attacked the booking officer. The creep dug his thumbs into the eyes of the booking officer permanently blinding him. It took four or five officers to pull this cretin off the booking officer and then only after they had rendered him unconscious. Imagine encountering someone like that in a self-defense situation. Better have your self-defense techniques down pat and know what you are doing. A knee to the groin and a palm heel strike to the chin probably would not have the desired effect. Point scoring techniques are completely out of the question.
One of the best self-defense techniques I ever learned was running. In days of old if you could run twenty miles you might be able to catch me. Now I am lucky to be able to run across the street. Better to run away and live to run another day than to play macho-man and get the second place trophy. That's the one with the zipper up the middle and is constructed so as to not let body fluids leak out.
Constrictions (chokes and strangulations) are a viable option against an alcohol or drug impaired opponent but if you do it wrong you better be ready to face the court system. Maybe in your self-defense classes they should teach revital techniques, eh?
Some people advocate carrying a weapon. I am one of those folks. However just because you have a Glock tucked in your waistband does not mean you can effectively and prudently (or legally) use it. You must take the effort to get the training and practice, practice, practice. If legal, you may want to carry a knife. It does not need to be a large "Rambo" knife. Just think what a surgeon can do with a one-inch blade! I personally would rather face a gun than a knife. Knives can produce some very horrendous damage in a very short amount of time and they are always up close and personal. They never run out of ammo, there is no safety to miss and they are always ready to employ. Your choice of weapons is up to you. You may wish to not carry a weapon. That is up to you but remember a person with a weapon has a distinct advantage over any one of any size and skill that does not have a weapon.
Be wary of any self-defense courses that claim their techniques as undefeatable or that you can take on anyone of any size, strength, or skill and win every time. Every technique has a counter technique; Every counter technique has a counter, ad nauseum, ad infinitum. These claims can get you into real trouble if you try to use the techniques taught and you run up against someone that knows the counters. Street fighters know the counters to a lot of martial arts techniques and they practice them.
Pre-emptive strikes may provide a sound self-defense. If you know you are about to be attacked because of verbal threats and body language and you can articulate why you feared for your life or safety a first strike is allowable. It is also recommended. What did that Civil War General say? Get there the firstus with the mostus.
In a self-defense situation that starts with the monkey dance, always watch the other guy's hands. If you can not see them then it is likely that he or she is about to deploy a weapon. That changes things significantly. When a weapon is presented you now have justification for lethal force. Nobody pulls a knife just to scare you. Their intention is to harm you, permanently. A firearm is very intimidating and if they are more than arm's distance from you forget any nifty self-defense disarms. As good as you may be you can not cover the distance faster than Smith & Wesson. Someone placing effective rounds on target is another subject. [Author's note: when I attended the police academy we were told of a situation where a cop and a bad guy got into a gunfight at a range of six feet. Both fired all six rounds from their revolvers. When the smoke cleared both were standing there unscratched. Both reloaded and fired another six rounds each. Same result. Amazing what adrenalin can do for you!]
A good book to have and to study is: The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker. It talks about listening to your gut feelings, as your gut is usually right. If you find yourself in a situation that just does not feel right listen to that feeling and get the heck out of there. And it is OK to be rude. Better to wonder what might have happened than to experience it first hand.
I tell my students that all training is good even if it teaches you what not to do. So if you are planning to take self-defense with the idea that it may save your life please look at the training with a critical eye. Adrenalin based response training is probably your first best choice. I also understand that Gunsite Training Center has some openings.