The thing about self-defense is that you never know what you’re going to need. Attacks and situations vary tremendously, so there is no way that you can know in advance what technique will serve you best. So, What is the Best Martial Art for Self Defense?
I’m Roger Luri, Head Instructor at Kensho Martial Arts in Chicago. In over 35 years of training and fighting in many different styles of martial arts, I’ve seen a lot of techniques that are really practical and useful; others not so much. If self defense techniques are our tools, it’s important to use the right tool for the job. If you were trying to use a screwdriver to do a job where you really needed a pair of pliers or a hammer, you won’t have much success.
Boxing and Kickboxing Techniques
In urban settings, one of the most common scenarios is that someone throws a punch at you. In this situation (assuming that you see it coming), boxing can be our go-to art. We find that the footwork, head/body movement, timing and sense of distance that we gain in our boxing training goes a long way in this type of situation. At the same time, it is probably not wise to engage in a boxing match with an attacker. Often a good strategy is to counter the punch with a low kick as is often done in Savate or Jun Fan / JKD and then finish with punches. For those of you not familiar, Jun Fan / JKD is the mixed martial arts system developed by Bruce Lee who was not only a movie star, but an innovator in martial Arts. He trained in many martial arts styles , but his “system” was that each individual develop their own “way”.
Savate is practiced with shoes which is of course very practical since we are almost always wearing shoes and a shoe can be an effective weapon. Low kicks used in combination with punches is the way to go.
High kicks and fancy jumping / spinning kicks are awesome to watch and lots of fun to train and learn, but normally not considered a go-to self-defense technique for the street. A good rule of thumb is that for self-defense, we keep our kicks below the waist. When it comes to low kicks of course Muay Thai is extremely effective at close range for combinations of kicks, knees and elbows and punches.
Of course anyone who has ever punched a person bare knuckle would tell you that it is very easy to injure your hand. Our hands have lots of small bones which can be easily broken, so we need to learn to strike without injuring ourselves. That’s why for boxing training we protect our hands with boxing gloves and wraps. Often palm strikes, slaps or other types of strikes can be safer for our hands than punching with a closed fist. These strikes can be thrown with the same or similar body mechanics to that which we use in boxing.
Judo and Jiu-Jitsu
Judo throws can be very useful. Few things surprise and literally take the wind out of an attacker like being slammed to the ground. Judo throws can counter a punching attack, but we often find that they work best when an attacker tries to grab us or shove us.
In Judo and Jiu Jitsu, we are normally training in the dojo on mats and working on throwing or taking our opponent to the ground for a submission hold. On the street (concrete or pavement) where more often than not we may be facing multiple attackers, it can be very dangerous to become entangled on the ground with one attacker while his friends are free to attack us.
In a self defense situation on the street, it is almost always preferable to maintain our mobility and ability to escape by staying on our feet. At the same time, it is important to know what do if we are knocked down or thrown or taken to the ground which is something that can easily (and often does) happen.
Weapons Training / Filipino Martial Arts
Often an attack involves a weapon or weapons such as a bladed weapon. In this circumstance, it would be as silly to drop into our boxing stance and try to box as it would be to attempt a high kick (or perhaps a kick disarm as we’ve seen in the movies). Likewise, it would be equally foolhardy to attempt to grab the person and throw them.
When faced with a weapon attack, we need specialized training with weapons. In the Filipino Martial Arts (Kali, Arnis, Eskrima), we begin with basic weapon (like a single stick) training. We learn basic movements and counters and work our way up from there. The movement we learn can be applied empty hand (without a weapon) or with any improvised weapon (keys, book, shoe, hammer, knife, etc.).
In the military, new recruits are first given weapons and taught to use them. It would not make sense to send someone into battle without a weapon. If you are unable to defend yourself with a weapon, isn’t it unrealistic to think that you could do so empty-handed?
In Filipino Boxing, many techniques are rooted in Kali knife technique. In our Kensho Mixed Martial Arts Blend, we find that Kali and Panantukan (Filipino Boxing) techniques blend well with Muay Thai and Savate technique.
Running away when possible is best!
The first thing we should learn about weapons is that your best bet is to run if possible. A knife can inflict a lethal blow in a matter of a couple of seconds. Just to be clear. Lethal means that you are dead! Facing a bladed weapon or firearm is by definition a life or death struggle. Avoiding it gives you the best odds of survival.
That said, if you find yourself in a self-defense situation where fighting for your life or loved ones is your only option, you will in that instant wish that you had made it your business to learn as much as you possibly could and trained your reflexes to be as quick as you possibly could. It may make all the difference.
We find that in life or death situations, the most important thing is that we fight back immediately, without hesitation using everything we have at our disposal. We have students who have successfully fought off armed attackers and home invaders with their bare hands and whatever else they could find handy. Obviously, if the attacker is better armed than we are, we will be at a disadvantage. Our mind is our most important weapon. If we develop the mindset of a person who will not be beaten, we can be a formidable foe. This is but one of the benefits of martial arts training.
At Kensho Martial Arts in Chicago, our signature mix (or blend) of martial arts is designed to help each individual to develop an effective self defense / martial arts style that is uniquely their own. To be effective means that our techniques can adapt to respond appropriately to the real world situation at hand.