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How to Practice Realistic Self-Defense Safely

It’s alarming to see crime rates continuing to rise in some locations, even as national crime rates continue to moderate. Unfortunately, anyone can become the target of physical assault at any time. While the probability isn't incredibly high that self-defense skills will ever be necessary, the risk is not negligible. That is why we are firm believers in the importance of learning realistic, practical self-defense.

There are many different martial arts systems that are practiced today, each claiming to teach effective self-defense skills. Unfortunately, many of these systems fail to pass the stink test. This is why, despite our focus on traditional Taekwondo as the cornerstone of our self-defense instruction, we incorporate many techniques and principles from Brazilian Jiujitsu. Allow me to explain why:

Is Jiu Jitsu the best self-defense system in martial arts?

Research shows that violent criminals are consistently younger, bigger, and stronger than their victims. Violent criminals are almost universally bullies and cowards, not to put too fine a point on it. This means that we must assume that in any ambush scenario, your attacker will be stronger, heavier, and faster than you.

Jiujitsu is second to none when it comes to helping ordinary citizens defend themselves in the streets. Unlike other self-defense systems, the techniques of Jiujitsu can be used by any person of any body type to more effectively neutralize the advantages of size and strength of an attacker.

Now let's not overstate the case; there is no system that can completely neutralize these advantages. The stronger and heavier your opponent, the more desperate your survival efforts will need to become. It is simply my belief--having studied several systems and been in my fair share of spats over the years--that Jiujitsu gives smaller, weaker attackers the best chance against attackers that outweigh them.

Should you practice self-defense against resisting opponents?

As this article points out, it’s extremely important for you to practice self-defense against a resisting opponent—so drilling and "rolling" (sparring) is key to Jiujitsu training. Even more vital is an activity we call "progressive sparring"--a light-contact but no-holds-barred exercise that encourages students to apply the self-defense techniques they learn against opponents who are actively trying to prevent the success of the technique. In a street attack, your attacker will resist and be uncooperative--they're not going to stand there like a crash test dummy with an arm outstretched waiting for you to counter their slow, awkward haymaker. This is my biggest criticism of Aikido or Hapkido, even though there is enormous overlap between their techniques and the techniques we learn in Jiujitsu.

Training against a resisting opponent is the best way to prepare you for a real-life street attack. Let’s say your attacker grabs you by the wrist. You decide to rotate your wrist and apply an arm lock. Your attacker is unlikely to wait for you to apply the submission like your partner did during the drills. In fact, he's likely to release your wrist and deliver a series of punches. You will be at a disadvantage if you’re not ready for this attack. Practicing with a resisting opponent is the only way to give you a semi-realistic idea of what forces and obstacles will be part of a real-life fight.

What steps should you take before you start training?

Our emphasis on realism and efficacy can make some students and their parents feel anxious about their safety. Safety is, of course, a very important concern during all of our training exercises--including progressive sparring. We spend significant time on training students on proper safety etiquette. All students are required to wear protective equipment during every activity that requires any degree of physical contact.

According to this source, mouth guards are necessary for protecting the jaw, cheek lining, tongue, and teeth during physical activities. For that reason, you should strongly consider wearing a mouth guard, headgear, and shin guards. Gloves and wraps are generally recommended to protect your hands from sprains or worse. These items will help protect you during intense training sessions with your partners.

The Gracie Self-Defense regimen isn't perfect. It assumes students already know the basics of striking, which may not be the case in the absence of cross-training. Often, it underestimates the challenges of no-gi combat (I pray every night that if I'm attacked, my attacker is wearing a leather jacket). Some of the techniques are not tactically advisable in the presence of multiple attackers. Even so, in my estimation, Jiujitsu has one of the best self-defense systems available. It works where other systems don't. At the end of the day, Jiujitsu may just save your life.

Ready to take a self-defense class? Enroll in a free trial class at Royal West Martial Arts today.

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