Can Real World Self Defense be Incorporated Into Your Traditional Martial Arts Program?

In recent years there has been an ongoing argument between avid traditional martial artists and avid “reality based” street fighting defense advocates.  Research has shown that a sudden “adrenalin dump” under extreme pressure will preclude the best of us from being able to use anything remotely related to fine motor skills (e.g., complicated martial arts techniques) or to even think rationally for that matter.  The argument that martial arts self defense skills do work is absolutely valid but you have to consider the conditions in which they are going to be used.

What is the difference between most martial arts ‘self defense techniques‘ and the commonality of what are considered “street fighting self defense techniques?  In a word…..”application”.  This author has researched this subject for quite some time and of the most knowledgeable and experienced (i.e., those who have been in violent confrontations more or less regularly) there seem to be certain very basic, if not primitive, techniques that simply work under extreme pressure and duress.  These techniques are, not surprisingly, some of the more basic martial arts striking techniques taught in most martial arts schools and systems.  The only difference is, again, application.

Let’s take a look at the most commonly touted and proven ‘street fight defense’ techniques:  They are simply Palm Heel Strikes, Elbow Strikes, Head Butts, Knee Strikes and ear slaps.  Of course in the real world of survival and self preservation there are also ear rips, eye gouges, biting and other “unmentionables” which actually do work but which are rarely even addressed in the typical martial arts environment.

Primitive?  Indeed they are but they work and they have been proven to work over and over and over again “on the street” and elsewhere.

So how can you incorporate this approach into your martial arts system or teachings without violating the traditional teachings and/or style that you advertize and in which you were trained?

The first step is to get a thorough understanding of why and how these particular techniques have been successfully used with a great deal of consistency in real world street confrontations.  There are hundreds of dvds, videos and YouTube presentations touting their exclusive solution to street violence, taking down any martial artist or street thug in seconds and all the rest.  Most are (this author’s opinion) frankly pure hype and a waste of time and money.  Many are presented by martial arts instructors who obviously never been in a real fight but who have only trained in controlled environments.  In this case it’s all purely theory and if you look at it with a critical eye and an open mind it is indeed ‘hype’ and intended solely to make money and not to offer a solution to the ever growing problem of violence on our streets.  There are, however, a few very experienced and capable folks out there who have lived in a violent en environment, who have been in unexpected and violent confrontations and who, in some cases, have jobs or professions which force them to deal with these situations on a daily (or nightly) basis.  These people can teach you what you need to know.  When you check out the background of someone who is selling “street self defense” videos or manuals find out what their real background and experience is.  If it is limited to teaching martial arts or controlled fighting (including MMA) you will be getting an inferior and possibly useless product.  IF, on the other hand, their background is indeed based on having to handle real world confrontations on a regular basis, pay attention.

Once you understand the application of the above referenced techniques and how they are really used (not in theory but in actual tested practice) you will see very quickly how you can incorporate them into your system.  You may be creative enough to do this without anyone even realizing something is different.  After all, palm heel strikes are palm heel strikes, elbow strikes are elbow strikes, etc.  Aren’t they?


Dan Rank has been practicing martial arts for nearly two decades.  He is currently teaching advanced black belt and ‘real world’ street defense techniques to a select group of advanced students.  The goal is to integrate real world self defense into the traditional approach so that an unexpected ‘event’ can be handled with minimal problems. For more information please visit 
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