Martial arts is not self defense

While it may help in a bar fight, knowing BJJ, MMA, even kali/krav maga doesn’t make you a combat or self defense expert

So Tim Ferris is stretching his boundaries, putting out some footage about ‘fighting’ and self defense, and I’m going to have to go ahead and call bullshit.

I’m not going to go into the technical aspects of why I think the material is crap, but it’s really crap. It might help if your buddy is play fighting with you and he’s taking a little long to stop after you tell him to quit. And that’s about it.

martial arts self defense bullshit


While we all probably know Ferris is not really an authority on anything combat or martial arts related, there’s an annoying habit of martial arts teachers and even (eek!) cardio-kickboxing teachers to plaster on, “…and self-defense” onto the end of their courses or benefits.

Uh, I tutor physics & math but do not also offer rocket science. I have the first principles and a basic understanding of how it works, but you don’t want me to be the lead on your Space-X project.

Similarly, people who study ring fighting or martial arts have experience in what they learn or practice—they don’t get the other stuff for free. Fighters scoff at non-fighters giving ring advice, and rightly so to a large degree. But killers scoff at fighters, and this is the world we’re talking about.

By the way, they used to have taekwondo and judo as part of military training in certain branches. Not to shit on TKD/judo, but surely you see that your BJJ or wing chun is just as preposterous?

Not useless. Just not what the doctor ordered. No one’s saying jump spinning back kick or triangle choke won’t work. It’s just irresponsible from a statistical analysis.

Attribute development, sensitivity, fitness, camaraderie, there’s hundreds of reasons any martial art could be beneficial as part of military or police or nut-job survivalist life, but rarely does it form the core of what’s needed.

martial arts self defense schools

…and self defense! Maybe.

And the problem (outside of feeling you need it in the first place) is most people have no idea what’s needed. I don’t—I just have some appreciation of my ignorance. The odd self-defense seminar I’ve looked into with what I’ll call semi-open eyes pretty much looks like a dad in a gi, thumbs in his belt, giving some ‘common-sense’ advice to his kids and a few tricks to let them know their old man is still the bomb. While it may be better than nothing, that’s pretty much what I’m comparing it with.

The few people I’m familiar with that I may associate with having the skill set required don’t advertise it loudly, especially if they run a gym, because they know it’s not what people actually want. Maybe what they think they want, definitely not what they want to practice everyday for the next 20 years.

Most martial artists live in fantasy land, and I’m all for living in fantasy land if it keeps you healthy and having fun. Sometimes we poke out heads up with comments like, “this actually works…this is more for sport and fun.” But let’s know at the core what we spend most of our time practicing so we don’t delude those who need real information.

It takes a remarkable amount of courage to own up to the fact that your kung-fu doesn’t work.

Don’t be a pussy.

I get the value in selling, “…this may even save your life one day!” and that watering it down to, “…this has virtually no real combat value, but is better than nothing!” isn’t very compelling, but please don’t sell your women’s self defense seminar as primarily life-saving in the combative sense if you haven’t at least had a cop trainer review and agree with you.



2 thoughts on “Martial arts is not self defense

    • Hello Muay Thai Teacher!

      I think the post covers it fairly well. Some martial art includes self defense, which is forced combat where typically people are seriously hurt or die.

      But the majority of most martial arts classes are about movement and attribute development, which I’m 100% for, because I think this has far greater value to quality of life. Will they enhance your self defense? Sure. So will knowing anatomy, but I’m not about to hire my family doctor as a body guard.

      It’s just not the same thing, and knowing that and being honest about it can be difficult both from a self-examination and marketing perspective, which I suppose is the point of the article.

      Do you find your blog layout gives you good click through rates? I’ve tried to minimize ads and affiliate links because I find them annoying, but my numbers reflect that :-p

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