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Can Self-Defense Training Truly Prepare You For “Real Life”?

by Andre Vatke

Dynamic Self Defense

Every once in a while when I tell people about self defense training I will get someone telling me that no martial arts system can truly prepare you for real life. They argue that because systems like Krav Maga NYC use simulated drills it’s just not the same.

Usually these objections come from sport martial arts practitioners like grapplers or point fighters. They argue that by squaring off with a real opponent that has the drive to win, you get a more realistic “real world” training.

Let’s look at this for a moment…

Mental Conditioning

In my estimation 90% of self defense training is about awareness and mental conditioning. Being aware of other attackers, a weapon or even the possibility that a situation could go bad are all factors that can have a major impact on a self defense scenario.

Systems like Krav Maga NYC introduce stress into drills to get you used to the reality that in a self defense scenario you will not be at 100% physical or mental capacity. The so called ‘adrenaline dump’ will cause you to revert to instinct. Stress drills help you change your natural instinct (which is often to simply freeze) to one that will be much more beneficial to you in a real situation.

No Points, No Rules

We’ve had a number of skilled black belts in other arts come through our doors. They are typically very good fighters one on one. But placed into one of our multiple attacker drills they quickly find themselves overwhelmed and receive attacks from behind which would end a real encounter for them.

The problem is that self defense is nothing like point fighting or free sparring. Those drills can help you build technique and strategy but only against a single opponent. The problem is that you both know that there are rules to the fight. You size each other up, keep distance and look for an opening.

This is not self defense.

In real self defense the defender has an advantage in that the attacker doesn’t know what he or she is going to do. And when there is a defense given it’s not intended to be a back and forth exchange for the sake of ego or social standing. It’s very often life or death and that requires a completely different mindset and focus.

This doesn’t make previous martial arts training useless for self defense. It just needs to be applied with a completely different set of parameters – one where there are multiple attackers and weapons are in play and where you start from a point of disadvantage.

Build Up Rather Than Tear Down

One of the things I admire about Krav Maga is the focus on getting someone to be able to defend themselves as quickly as possible. And while this sounds simple in theory, not everyone starts with the same physical abilities and talents. Training has to differentiate between various skill and experience levels and it has to be safe enough to allow them to return to the next class.

Police and military units know this intrinsically. You don’t need to actually shoot someone to know how to shoot someone. They also know that stationary target drills train different aspects compared to active shooter training or room sweep and clearing.

Self defense training works the same way. Different drills train different aspects of self defense and utilize the right safety equipment to ensure that everyone is OK to go to work the next day. It may push you just beyond your limits physically. You may even get a few random bruises but it’s nothing you can’t handle. It’s all part of what makes you tougher and more prepared to deal with a real life violent encounter.

[author_info] Andre Vatke has studied and practiced martial arts for over 20 years. Mr. Vatke holds a 1st degree Black Belt in Dynamic Self Defense (a combatives based self defense training system similar to Krav Maga) and is an assistant instructor at the Dynamic Self Defense School in New Albany, Ohio.[/author_info]