Self Defense Techniques Reality Check - Self-Defense Global

Self Defense Techniques Reality Check

self defense techniques

The Self Defense techniques Disconnect:

There is a big problem with the subject of violence in self-defense training and self defense techniques. Many instructors start first with self-defense technique, rather than starting with what violence really looks like. The problem is that most people are using the same words - Violence, and Fighting - but are describing different things.


Movies, TV, comic books, and even sport combat teach us that violence means fighting, and there is a storyline to it. There is a build-up, and then a fight settles either who is better, or justice is served. We put a human face on all of it, and the term for this is anthropomorphism. This is so prevalent, that humans even view nature through this lens - many people are surprised and disturbed to see the way animals treat each other when the video is not edited to make us feel good about nature. The truth is, nature is red in tooth and claw, and looks nothing like a Disney movie when you look at it directly.

In short, it is amoral - apart from the human values we put on behavior.

Self Defense Techniques and Real Violence

There worry and complaint about the violence kids are exposed to in popular entertainment - the cartoon violence of video games, the comic book violence of TV shows, and the over-the-top celebration of stylized violence of a Tarantino movie. None of this is the real face of violence, and everyone who studies self defense technique or any kind of martial art should look at the real face of violence.

The Real Face of Violence:

Real violence is not part of a storyline, and the right and wrong of it is sorted out later. Real violence may start as a fight but is not about a fighting exchange - it is one human hurting another human, and people who are really good at it often have little or no training.

Real violence always looks excessive, even when justified. Normal people who see or even watch videos of real violence recoil and want it to stop.

The struggle in a truly violent situation is usually over at the first decisive injury, just like predatory ambushes in nature.

When there is no quick decisive injury or diminishment of the threat, things go very badly. The shorter a violent episode of any kind, the better.

Violent behavior looks nothing like the self-defense training that is practiced in most martial arts schools.

Antisocial Behavior vs Asocial Violence

Some of the worst outcomes in a violent encounter come from a disconnect, when one person understands a situation to be an argument or fight - anti-social behavior but a more restrained form of violence, and the other side resorts to pure, asocial predatory behavior.

Bullying is made into a big deal now, but has always been with us. This is a form of juvenile affective violence - which is anti-social behavior, but still in the social realm. Behavior includes jockeying for position, putting someone in his or her place, and the occasional "educational" beat-down. We have all seen schoolyard scraps, and although these things have to be dealt with, there is rarely a serious injury inflicted in these situations.

I remember seeing many fights as a teenager. There were a few bloody noses and scrapes, but there is one fight I remember more than the others. The fight went to the ground, and one of the guys bit the top of the ear off his opponent. The crowd scattered and was shocked. This was NOT part of the script. This was real violence...and people always recoil when the real violence happens.

What kind of people might unleash real violence in a social conflict or antisocial confrontation?

  • Sociopaths or psychopaths who have no restraint and don’t feel empathy for others. Review how methodical committed knife attackers are - this is a visual demonstration of psychopath behavior.
  • Men who have lived in and through environments where real violence is common - such as prison, or close combat in war. (Remember - We always learn about real violence from the best of us, and the worst of us.)
  • Groups who have entered a mob mentality, or have been helped along in this through the use of drugs or alcohol.

This is where Krav Maga, MMA training, and any kind of martial arts training can create confidence that is actually a problem - because a truly violent person possesses a mindset that is different than 99% of the people we come into contact with. He isn’t interested in fighting, only in hurting or escaping and getting to the next thing in his day.

Who is scarier - a UFC champion, or Hannibal Lector? Hannibal Lector does not have a knockout punch, and doesn’t know the submission game. What he has is high intelligence, cunning, and a willingness to use everything in his environment, and all of his capacities to inflict violence with no restraint whatsoever. He enjoys planning and carrying out his attacks, and they make perfect sense to him.

Real Violence and Self Defense Techniques

Too often, self defense technique and training becomes a ritual that is completely separate from the situations in which the skill would be required. We must train individual self-defense technique, but there is a problem when training becomes entirely technique-driven. Here are some things you can do to make sure your stays tied to reality:

  • Periodic Review of Real Violence - By video, as an eye-opener and reminder. The question should always be “what can we learn from this?” Many good people have been hurt or lost their lives and have something to teach us.
  • Train Rules of Engagement - Clear line in the sand for when social interaction is over, or recognition that it was never present to begin with. With more understanding of real violence comes both the ethical and practical desire to avoid it as much as possible. Avoidance first, preemption second. 
  • ​Shutting off the Social - Shut up during contact training drills and scenario training - No teaching, no communication or encouragement, only social interaction if there is a safety issue and the drill must be corrected or ended. Training is a social activity, and one of the reasons adults continue training. During drills and scenario training, it’s easy to get chatty and break character.
  • Neutralization Goal - Clear guidelines during training for when the threat is neutralized - on the ground, neutral or defensive, providing no threat in the near-term. A neutralized threat will need medical attention and recovery time before he or she could pose a threat again. Think of a football player needing to be carried off the field and sitting out the rest of the game.

Avoidance First, Preemption Second

​Sounds great, but what does it really mean to preempt violence? Preemption is at the heart of both modern self-defense training, and classical Japanese swordsmanship. The founder of Israeli Krav Maga and the greatest Japanese swordsman of all time agree on tactics.

Learn why in our Free 1 Page Tactical Cheat Sheet

The Importance of Scenario Training

Most self-defense training includes just one plot path - a specific attack, and a specific response with the right self defense technique. Good scenario training should include multiple potential outcomes and include:

  • Verbal and negotiation skills - Using command presence to give orders, and recognizing when a threat is not responding to verbal commands at all and there is no chance for communication.
  • Cues for when to act - Based on threatening indicators such as proximity, gestures, language being used, blocking travel path. 
  • Environmental factors - Such as having to escape a room, run down a hallway, open a door, and get in a car. When we do scenario training in women’s self-defense seminars, about 10% of the participants who solve the physical problem run down the street rather than getting into the car and closing the door! Environment is frequently overlooked when training self defense techniques.

krav maga training video - real violence

Note - These are the types of videos we show at the beginning of training, with commentary from instructors. We put these together for learning and guiding our training, not entertainment.
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I'm Eric Scott, and I'm the self-defense instructor writing most of the articles and courses on this site. I'm the founder of Self-Defense Global. I've been training and teaching self-defense for most of my life. My goal is to provide you with useful information that helps you live a safer, happier life.

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