Effective self-defense?

Dennis Forleo
August 17th, 2021
I’m going to go out on a limb here and just say what needs to be said…most martial arts, including mixed martial arts (MMA), UFC type cage fighting, etc. is not effective for self-defense.

There, I said it.

I say this as a 30+ year martial artist with not just black belts, but master level ranks (4th degree black belt and higher) in 4 different martial arts. Please understand, I am not putting down martial arts. I LOVE the martial arts and all the benefits that they can give. They are amazing for helping a person (young or old) learn discipline, focus, respect, patience, self-control, and a long list of other life skills. They can excel at providing a positive outlet for physical fitness and stress relief. But for street effective self-defense, most of what is taught in typical martial arts classes in this country is ineffectual and unworkable without years of training under the proper conditions.

The biggest reason I believe this is that the martial arts, from which self-defense has been historically based, use principally what is called “symmetrical” training. Symmetrical training means that safeguards exist to equalize the training experience. This happens, for example, when students are paired up with partners of similar size and skill level, or when there are rules or other constraints to make things more “fair.” Sparring is symmetrical competition designed to replicate fighting. But it falls quite short in preparing for real life applications because of its rules. Even the UFC is symmetrical fighting. Although no doubt quite adrenalizing, it is still an agreed upon event with rules, referees and limits. Most importantly, both combatants are physically, emotionally and psychologically prepared to do battle. This is not how most real altercations occur.

Police and FBI statistics show very clearly that most assaults are typically asymmetrical events where the attacker has the psychological advantage of surprise and often of physical strength or some other element that would give them the advantage (i.e., weapons, multiple attackers). In fact, it is the very nature of a predator to use stealth, ambush and deception when it hunts. There would be few predators left on earth if they fought fairly. Human predators use these same asymmetric tactics and mind-set when selecting their prey.

After just a cursory search for some video footage – there is plenty out there on YouTube – of real life attacks, here are just a few for you to see for yourself:

MMA and traditional martial arts do not use asymmetric tactics or train in asymmetrical ways. There is a famous quote that many Sensei use, which is that “Karate is NEVER for attack.” Let me tell you something – if I knew that someone was about to do bad things to my wife or children, or to me and I couldn’t get away, I would, without reservation, use karate for attack. It would be foolish to wait until the bad guy makes the first move. You know why? Because ACTION IS FASTER THAN REACTION!

It is both naïve and foolish to think that anyone can train for an asymmetrical event in a symmetrical way. The bottom line is that you will do as you train. If you train symmetrically, you will be at an extreme disadvantage in a real-life self-defense situation. Don’t be fooled by MMA fighters touting their skills in the ring as some sort of proof that they know or can teach effective self-defense. I have never seen an MMA fighter ambushed in the ring by a second attacker or hidden knife, and I have never seen an attack that looks anything remotely like the over-exaggerated telegraphed strike or swing you’d see in a typical martial arts demonstration.

Please understand that this is not a criticism of those who train in MMA or martial arts. I admire the athleticism and strategy necessary to compete in these matches. I enjoy watching these sporting events just as much as the next guy, and I enjoy training in them. But I recognize them for what they are – sports – games and activities for amusement, entertainment and demonstration of individual skill. These are just a very different animal from self-defense.

I am not saying that a person can’t get any self-defense benefits from MMA or martial arts. There is plenty there that can be helpful – footwork, timing, understanding angles, body mechanics, the feeling of being hit, etc. But one of the most important pieces to learning effective self-defense is the instruction; the scenarios and methods used to learn, acquire and practice these skills. If the instruction is regularly set up in a symmetrical way, the training will likely prove to be ineffectual in self-defense.

That is exactly why we added training in FAST Defense to what we do at my martial arts school. As a long-time martial artist, I realized the limitations of traditional training and went looking for something that would provide a link between martial arts done in the studio environment, and self-defense done on the street. FAST Defense provided just that – the missing link – with a solid foundation of asymmetric scenario-based adrenal stress training.

FAST Defense takes the experience of training in the martial arts and adds a layer of realism to it. By realism, I don’t mean that we’ll be using real, sharp knives, guns, chains, etc. But the way we get the body and brain to feel will be real. One of the interesting things about the human brain is that it is very difficult for it to distinguish fantasy from reality. So, when you immerse yourself in an asymmetric scenario, it feels real. And to your brain, if it feels real, it is real. The chemical, hormonal and physiological reactions are the same. Fear is fear and the body’s response to fear is the same whether that fear comes from a real street situation or has been intentionally elicited or manufactured by a trained instructor.

When safeguards exist to equalize the training experience, you remove the realism. You end up with a bunch of nice people (not psychopaths) training nicely (using courtesy) and intentionally trying to not hurt their partner (control). No one wants to get hurt in a class, but there’s an old adage – you will play like you practice. If you don’t practice actually hitting a live body with intent to destroy it, you WON’T do it when it counts. There is no magic switch to turn on. You’ve either experienced it and it will come out of you, or you haven’t, and you’ll freeze. This is why I have seen black belts in martial arts get their butts handed to them in a real fight, not because they lack skill, but they lack real experience.

​So how does one get this most valuable experience, safely and quickly? Through the asymmetric scenario-based training of our FAST Defense classes and being able to strike full force on the trainer in the Predator Armor. When you fully engage in the scenarios and fights in a FAST class, you are training the correct part of your brain to harness the fear and adrenaline and use it for fuel to power you to success. Also, being able to hit a live person (who is safe in the Armor) gives a tremendous sense of confidence because you will see the result of your strike or kick in real time and you don’t have to worry about pulling your strike to not hurt your training partner.

To take an upcoming FAST Defense class, go to:
www.fastmontana.com and sign up.

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