Why Martial Arts are NOT Self Defense

Why Martial Arts are NOT Self Defense

The primary focus of martial arts has never been self defense.  Even though self defense is listed as a benefit of all martial arts, and you can use some martial arts to defend yourself, there are more efficient means to get better results from systems designed specifically for self defense.

First you need to look at martial arts as a business and a brand. 

Most people think the reason for the difference in martial art styles is because of different culture’s  solution to self defense or combat. This is only true when you talk about weaponry, but when it comes to man on man violence..in its raw form it all looks the same.

After all there are only so many natural weapons on the human body and so many vulnerable target areas to attack. All human physiology is the same so your ability and the way you generate power is finite and there are only so many ways to beat, bludgeon, strangle, gouge and bite your fellow human.

So why are there so many styles of martial arts?

Simple: nationalism, sport entertainment and business. 

Martial arts can be categorized into two primary subsets – combat sport and cultural fighting art. While every culture and civilization has had methods of fighting since the dawn of man, the modern concept of martial arts really isn’t that old.

The first modern martial art was JUDO founded in 1882. It was developed with the purpose of fitness. It’s founder, Kano, was an educator and felt the need to develop a national fitness program – however he also believed calisthenics to be boring and because of his experience in Jujutsu and political connections he and a team of experts developed Judo to exemplify the spirit of bushido. The purpose was to develop national pride based on Japan’s warrior culture.

Judo was also the first to develop dan ranking system and use of belts to identify levels of proficiency. He used the KYU and DAN ranking system that was used by GO practitioners (Go is a Japanese strategy board game where the object is to occupy more territory than your opponent). Kano’s reasoning for the belt ranking system was so you could immediately know where to line up and with whom you should practice with. One thing’s for certain, the black belt didn’t evolve from a white belt getting dirty over time.

Think I’m wrong? I challenge you to find references to the term BLACK BELT in books published before 1882. Books will use “expert” and “master” but not black belt. It wasn’t until will into the 20th century that the black belt became a widely accepted term.

Japan began exporting Judo in an effort to connect with the outside world. You will commonly see any Japanese martial art at the time referred to as Jujutsu (spelling varies) but for the most part, it was Judo.

In the beginning Judo had a robust curriculum of atemi waza (striking techniques) and a complete ground fighting system (look up Kosen Judo) however, Kano wanted to focus on Tachi Waza (standing technique) and not Ne Waza( ground technique) because he felt it best embodied the samurai spirit of ending the fight with one fatal strike, of in this case, a throw. This is why Olympic Judo, what you see mostly today, is primarily standing and most Judokas don’t strike…ever.

Judo was never developed for SELF DEFENSE – it was created for national pride, fitness, culture and sport. You can see how it has evolved over the years because of aesthetics and symbolism NOT self defense. It became a BRAND. 


The Martial Arts Brand

When you think of Karate, Akido, Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do, Brazilian Jiujitsu, Boxing, Wrestling, Sambo, Judo, MMA specific types of techniques and uniforms should come to mind. You certainly wouldn’t confuse a Tae Kwon Do practitioner with a BJJ expert, nor would to confuse a Kung Fu stylist with a Karateka.

Most of the stylization came about in the last 150 years or so. When countries were at war, similar today – the used technology to kill the enemy as quickly and efficiently as possible. The soldier of the Ming Dynasty didn’t care about style – he just wanted to kill the enemy. It was only later that styles were developed loosely based on training methods and weapons of the time. After all, training was still largely passed by word of mouth so most of what you see was literally developed in the early to mid 1900’s.


Martial artists love revisionist history and urban legend. 

Do you want to make your martial art look good? Tell a story of someone using your style to kill someone from the other style. In Tae Kwon Do I was told the flying sidekick was used to knock the samurai of his horse and in Bando, the Burmese soldier used the khukri to kill samurai at will – BOTH are not substantiated but told as fact to students.

Even today, BJJ will NEVER admit that it comes from JUDO. Even when we know Meada taught JUDO to Helio Gracie and when he fought Kimura the Brazilian paper referred to him as a 6th Dan in JUDO.

And as great as I think Helio was they keep making that fight closer and closer every time they retell it the Japanese are no better…but in Kimura’s book My Judo he says that the mat was so soft, he couldn’t hurt Helio when he threw him.  He finally got him in ude garami and (to Helio’s credit) Helio would not tap…tough SOB. and Kimura broke his arm…and then Helio’s corner threw in the towel.

Another popular example is Shotokan Karate and Tae Kwon Do. The founder of Tae Kwon Do, General Choi Hong Hi studied indigenous martial arts as a child, but it was when he was enlisted in the Japanese Army that he learned Karate and Shotokan under Gichin Funakoshi. Choi earned a 2nd Dan rank before he returned to Korea. There are basic forms (kata) in Shotokan and Tae Kwon Do that are pretty much the same. 

Modern martial arts are brands developed to promote a sport, nation and or culture. We are told they were developed to be “the best” and are better than others for specific reasons…but that’s just marketing. The truth is, the martial arts are incenstious, when you look into their history, you’ll see the connections. 


Martial artists have a rich history of well…bullshit.

There’s really nothing documented or substantiated. Sure, someone is going to pull up a cave painting or a dead sea scroll and attach some elaborate story to it…but it’s just that, a story. Most martial arts use “creative” origin stories to promote their systems and legitimize them with myths and folklore.

That story your sensei told you…never happened.

The Martial Arts Business

How to martial arts businesses make their money? Through tuitions and promotions. The longer you train the more you pay. The higher you advance the more you pay. So it is clearly in their best interest to keep you training LONGER.

Fact it’s a lot easier to teach an advanced student than it is a beginner. Yet test fees escalate the higher you advance. Instructors will tell you it’s because you’re getting more knowledge and using more resources, but coming from a guy who owned three schools – that’s not true.

Some extra time during a promotion test and a few bucks more for pine boards isn’t a lot. Advanced students are great – they know what to do, where to line up and they can tech for you! Yet you still crush them come exam and tuition time!!!

Truth is, every school owner wants you there for YEARS. So they have no incentive to get you trained up in a few weeks. It’s  NOT IN THEIR BEST INTEREST.

This is the reason martial arts have become so complicated and a place a value on how long you took to achieve a certain level. Boasting that it took several years to attain a black belt starts to take on a different tone when you compare it to education.

Imagine if you bragged about how long it took for you to get your college or high school diploma. “It took me 8 years to graduate Glen Rock High School…man it was a tough school…best school around.”

The fact is, if martial arts are TRULY evolving, they should be training you FASTER and MORE EFFICIENTLY.

I believe my job as an instructor and a coach is to get you BETTER in less time than it took me.

However the martial arts fight this concept every step of the way. 

This is why does the Self Defense Training System works so fast.

  1. We eliminate all the sport and ceremony.
  2. We have a progressive learning system based on foundation techniques and principles.
  3. We use VIDEO and live coaching to help you.

These are modern learning techniques – yet when you mention video and books, martial artists go NUTS and actually claim that you can learn anything from videos and books…NO KIDDING. We should probably just burn them.

Fact is – in the martial arts you never know what you’re getting and there are a lot more CRAPPY teachers than there are good teachers. And in a completely unregulated industry – anyone can open a school.

Most martial arts teachers barely have a curriculum.

They “show up and throw up” as we like to say. They think of something that day and teach it that night in class with no regard as to where it fits into the grand scheme of things or even who’s in class.

You hardly ever know what’s going to be taught or sometimes who’s going to be teaching. This is why SDC Instructors have a strict curriculum and students use the SDTS video programs to preview and review class. I WISH I HAD THIS when I was training.  It would have taken me a fraction of the time to get my first black belt. 

Martial arts are still taught by word of mouth…it’s crazy.

In all of the American sports I have played and coached we use film EXTENSIVELY to learn drills, break down situations and create game plans. I mean if you don’t look at film, you’re in the stone age…but still, martial artists refuse.

Part of the resistance is that instructors need to have students dependent on them in order for them to stay longer. They don’t want them to train on their own. They hold the knowledge hostage and make you pay.

Look – I know there are a lot of good people out there teaching – and martial arts has its place, but the model is flawed and when it comes to self defense…it’s just not that complicated. It can’t be.

Train Honestly,


Published by theselfdefenseco

Founder, The Self Defense Company

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  1. Well written and accurate insight again Damian. Thanks for always keeping it real. I have trained in both traditional martial arts and of course the SDTS and there really is no comparison. Martial Arts are not necessarily a bad thing, however, they are not Reality Based Self Defense.

  2. Well said Damian I totally agree, I used to like martial arts until I woke up the truths you just mentioned so clearly. I would rather train in the SDTS now as its far better more logical far more practical and effective for self defence and I’m getting far better quality instruction from the SDC than I ever have in all my years of interest in the martial arts in fact since I’ve been a member of SDTS I’ve totally lost all interest in martial arts and now I’m just going to concentrate on the proven methods of the SDTS I’ve finally found the system for me i just wish i would of found SDTS years ago because it would of saved me a lot of time effort and money that i wasted on classical traditional oriental martial arts that ultimately were all bullshit when it comes down to real street fighting self defence. I thank you Damian for showing me the Truth about real self defence and how to train honestly you’ve changed my life for the better.

  3. Well said Damian, I remember learning about self defense more in 10 minutes than 5 years of Tae Kwon Do when I walked into a reality-based system called Senshido at the time… Boy I was shocked that I had been fed all that bullshit about self-defense for years

  4. Damian,,Great Article! So many points-u hitvright on the money. Lots of stories,lots of bs..and keep junior coming..I need a new sports car.Hope I can train with u and your guys again,,meantime,ordering that dummy today.Train Honest..a Whole New Outlook on Preparation/BRAVO!

  5. Interesting and well written, do you know of any books or bibliography for further reading?


    1. The history of the martial arts I learned by training in it and studying. You can find the origins of martial arts on their own websites and (dare I say) wikipedia!!!!

      But check out Donn Draeger Koryu Jujutsu (guy’s a rock star) and one of my idols.

      Also, Fairbairn’s DEFENDU and GET TOUGH – you can find get tough in the SDC library.

      Kawaishi’s My Method of Judo and Kimura’s MY JUDO are good places to start.

  6. Exactly! As a former United States Marine and a police officer, combat should be simple, basic quick techniques to end the fight. The military doesnt take years to train up a guy before he goes into real life combat. Yes I believe time is great overall because you only get better, but the basics of real life combat should be fairly simple and quick to arm up the student.

    1. AMEN TO ALL OF YOU GUYS THANK YOU FOR KEEPIN IT REAL – After the first of 5 black belts I began to intensively gear my life and practice toward self defense – growing up in Brooklyn NY and Trenton NJ was very inspiring to that end LOL but 4-real ! You guys are great I really enjoyed the article and the comments

  7. God article. Traditional (post secondary) education is also a business–don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

  8. Good article. Traditional (post secondary) education is also a business–don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

  9. @damiansdc I’m looking for some good combatives or self defence books stuff that’s essential to the history of combatives and self defence if you get the time Damian could you recommend some of the essential classics for me stuff that ties in SDTS

  10. Great post with some great history. Agree on all points. Nothing wrong with learning a cultural arts, but lying to students to make them think they can defend themselves is just awful.

  11. It always should and be a simple application with a realistic scenario in every time you train. Fight like you train and train in a realistic situation so you can develop how your body reacts in realistic environment. Thank you.Damien for another great.article.

  12. I was in TaeKwonDo for many years and I learned all the one steps and forms. It was a great work out each time we sparred and practiced. But Damian is correct. I could do very limited moves at first to possibly defend myself. This program teaches you better, more efficient and effective ways to send yourself in a life or death situation.

  13. Spot on Brother! I always said belt’s hold up your pants, Martial Arts is all about muscle memory and kata’s . Ill pass Thank You!

  14. In confrontations, (I have had a few) is the quick and real life straight forward taking control that works best. No crazy stance or yells. Just see, think move and adjust. Finished. Very simple and with the military training and experiences. These really work best. What we learn and teach now, is many steps above what I learned and is even quicker and more effective! Love it!

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