Search NNSD

In This Hub:

An Intro to Self-Defense*
Economy & Stress Violence
Fear vs. Danger Management*
How NOT To Get Shot
Normal, Abnormal, Dangerous
Problem Neighbors
Provoking An Attack*
Child Safety Hub
Criminal Mindset Hub
LEO-Military Security Hub
Knife Fighting Hub
Legal Hub
Martial Arts Hub
Property Crime Hub
Psychological Survival Hub
Rape Hub
Robbery Hub
Self-Defense Hub
Stalking-Domestic Violence Hub
Street Fighting Hub
NNSD Home Page

Donate to NNSD

Marc MacYoung?
Dianna Gordon MacYoung?
Animal E-list
Crime Avoidance Lectures
Crime Blog
Colorado Classes
Contact Us
Hosting A Seminar
Our Linking Policy
On-line Store
Train with MacYoung
Terms of Use
Topics of Interest

Expert witness
Knives, Multiple attackers

Legal Aid/Training
for self-defense &
firearm use

Masters of Mayhem

RESOURCES at THE ZERO : The Official Website of Andrew Vachss

Go to RESOURCE section!

101 MORE Safety and Self-defense Tips
Alain Burrese
(SD, crime prevention) 

Boundaries in Dating
Henry Cloud

Good Manners For People Who Sometimes Say F*ck
Amy Alkon
(How not to accidentally piss people off)

7 Things you MUST Know Before You Draw a Gun
US Concealed Carry Association
(Firearms, use of force law)

Explosive People
Albert Bernstein

The Art of Everyday Assertiveness
Patrick King

Life At The Bottom
Theo Dalrymple
(Life and attitudes of underclass)

Nasty People
Jay Carter
(Boundary setting)

Emotional Self-Control
Daniel Goleman
(Emotional intelligence) 

7 Principles Marriage

Anger Workbook
Les Carter (Christian)
(Anger management)


A lie that is being promoted is that
sport based martial arts training
IS self-defense training. This lie has become
so endemic it is accepted as 'the truth' --
that's until you end up bleeding or arrested
because you discovered first hand
they aren't the same thing.

Are Martial Arts (or shooting training)


On this page:
Self defense | So What Is Self-Defense? | Do They Work? | Are You Helpless?

The short answer is 'no.' 

That answer, however, will create a storm of controversy -- especially from people who have invested years of the study and those who make their living by teaching martial arts/shooting AS self-defense.

(For communication purposes, we'll frame the rest of this page in terms of empty handed fighting styles.)

Although what you learn in the martial arts can be used for self-defense, martial arts are not synonymous with self-defense. These are two completely different subjects.  What defines self-defense is the law, NOT martial arts, not marketing and not what an instructor says it is.

Let's say that again: Ultimately, the law is the standard for what is -- and what isn't -- self-defense. Those are the standards you must meet. Not your training. Not your instructor. Not your lawyer. You. If what you are doing doesn't conform to the legal standards, then what you are doing is not self-defense, no matter your claim it is OR -- and this is important --what a martial arts instructor told you it was.

There are a lot of people who are sitting in cells because they thought what they did was self-defense. (Often because they used a weapon when they shouldn't.) And that's the happy version. Many more end up in the hospital or the morgue, because what they were taught couldn't be scaled to the danger they ran into. (Such as trying to use empty hands against a weapon.)

But even using that basic standard of the law, there's many factors involved in self-defense that aren't being taught by instructors who claim to be able to teach you how to defend yourself?

Here's a list of ideas/terms. How many ring any bells? Preclusion. Threat assessment model. Scaling force. Duty to retreat. Pursuit of an argument. Prior knowledge. Assigning responsibility. Affirmative defense. If you don't know them you're going to be in deep kim chee if you ever try to use your training.

Here's something else, how much time does your instructor spend on developing 'situational awareness'? Have you even heard that term? How about recognizing dangerous vs. odd, but not dangerous? If not, why not?

Bottomline, you are putting yourself into jeopardy by allowing a martial art instructor to not only tell you what self-defense is, but to teach you whatever he is selling as self-defense. This not just from a physical threat (what you're learning not working if you're attacked), but it's very much endangering you on both a criminal and civil front when that training does work.

We're going to take this one step further. Quite frankly, when it comes to teaching the realities of staying safe in a modern urban environment, most martial art schools suck -- especially strip mall schools. Your personal safety will be far better served understanding crime, home security and avoiding high-risk behavior than being able to break a board with your big toe.

If you are looking for self-defense training, know right now, that most martial arts schools cannot offer what you are looking for. You're already aware of the legal issue, but there are three more reasons why.

One, violence (and don't just assume you know what that word means, follow these links) comes in many different levels and for many reasons

Violence can range

  • from a screaming argument
  • from a threat display that escalates to a physical contact,
  • to an argument that goes physical,
  • to a date rape,
  • to having to 'sit on' a quarrelsome drunk friend,
  • to a fight,
  • to a robbery,
  • to someone trying to specifically kill you,
  • to being being caught in an active shooter situation,
  • to a SWAT team officer doing a high-risk entry into a room and having to shoot an armed suspect.

They are all violence. And ALL of these have different conditions, different solutions and pose different problems.  As such, they require different levels of response.

What's more is that you can get caught up in these situations and what you are doing is not self-defense, but participating in the situation. If you're a participant in fight, that is not self-defense.

Two, as violence is so varied, so to has to be self-defense. Because what works for one situation, doesn't work for another. Self defense can be a slap or blowing someone's brains into a fine pink mist.

On top of that, self-defense is a much more complex issue than mere physical prowess. Commonsense, lifestyle choices, certain habits and good manners will go much further to ensure your personal safety than any fighting style. This is despite what a fast talking MA school owner will tell you as he's trying to get you to sign the contract.

Three, martial arts is training -- but people mistake training for education. There is a BIG difference.

Education is a generalized introduction to many issues. Whereas training -- by its very nature -- only addresses specific conditions and problems.

For example that SWAT officer's high risk entry training isn't going to help him control a drunk in a bar. Furthermore, the conditions he is operating under are not the same as your needs and concerns. So his training won't work for your self-defense needs. Nor will training that works for you, work for an officer.

Self defense is an issue requiring education AND training.

You will learn very specific things in the martial arts, however, that doesn't mean you are prepared to handle all those situations we described above.

That is where education becomes an issue. Starting with the fact you need to be educated about what self-defense is and isn't.

 When we say that martial art techniques can be used for self defense, they also can be use as means of assault, fighting and even murder.  It's HOW they are used and in what circumstances that dictate if they are self-defense or illegal violence.

Unfortunately, that isn't how martial arts are marketed. They'll tell you they are one stop shopping for ALL of your self-defense needs. They claim their training is all encompassing education.

While we will address the physical effectiveness of what is being taught in a bit, you should know a common misconception isn't! In fact, it is spot on.

Many people believe martial arts are fighting. Martial artists insist "the MA are not fighting."

They do this because popular society says "Fighting is bad. Self-defense? Well, that's okay." In order to stay in business, no matter WHAT the school teaches they are going to market it as self-defense. Not only is there is a BIG difference between between fighting and self-defense, but there's a big difference between martial arts and self-defense.

Unfortunately, what most schools are teaching is in fact, based on fighting.

So What Is Self-Defense?
People always talk about how the martial arts are good for self-defense, but they are most often using the term inappropriately. It isn't only just that they are thinking of it in a limited context (usually based on limited personal experience), but the fact that the term has been deliberately misinterpreted and marketed. What they are talking about when they use this term is something completely different than self-defense.

What they are usually talking about is fighting or assaultive behavior. You should also know that we (Marc and Dianna) have a radically different definition of "self-defense" than how most people use the term. Shockingly ours runs along the lines of:

    DEFENSE, SELF-DEFENSE - A defense to certain criminal charges involving force (e.g. murder). Use of force is justified when a person reasonably believes that it is necessary for the defense of oneself or another against the immediate use of unlawful force. However, a person must use no more force than appears reasonably necessary in the circumstances. Force likely to cause death or great bodily harm is justified in self-defense only if a person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm (1).

Oddly enough, that's pretty much the legal guidelines as well. Yes, it will vary from state to state, country to country, but that's the general idea. Notice that it isn't a carte blanche; there are all kinds of checks and balances about how much force you can use to 'defend' yourself. Specifically: What you can realistically and legally do when you are physically attacked without provocation.

That last sentence may seem simple, but it is an incredibly slippery slope, as so many martial artists who were arrested for "defending themselves" have found out. Truth is, the reason they were arrested is because while they thought what they had done was self-defense, it was anything but.

Self-defense is a legally defined term and it is up to YOU to meet those standards with your behavior, not create your own standards and call it self-defense as so many do. Yet, that is not what you are going to hear from the instructor who got you to sign the contract.

What they are not going to tell you as they are training you physically is WHEN to use it. A critical element of 'self-defense' is context.

The exact same technique can be self-defense, assault, sport, attempted murder or manslaughter ... depending on when you use it, where you use it, and what the circumstances are.

Let us take a lowly punch. Some guy is huffing and puffing at you, and he swings. If you immediately counter strike as you block, you've arguably engaged in self-defense.

EXCEPT, throw that exact same punch again when the dude has backed off, and your stepping up to hit him again is assault.

You both stepping up and throwing punches at each other is fighting. This whether it is called mutual assault or consensual combat in your state, it is illegal

Two guys in their jammies in a martial art tournament (or undies in a boxing match) and it's a legally recognized sport.

On the other hand, a six foot four body builder punching a frail 90-year-old woman, and the results could be deadly. As such it's likely to be prosecuted as attempted murder or aggravated assault in different states.

You'll take a manslaughter rap if, in a fight, you punch the guy, he falls down and cracks his skull open.

It's ALL the exact same technique. What matters is the context and circumstances when it was thrown.

But realize when we talk about self-defense, we are referring to a small aspect of a larger personal safety strategy. A strategy that self-defense is a small subset of a bigger picture. At the very best, we look at physical self-defense as damage control. And no damage control is ever as good as not getting into the situation in the first place.

Unfortunately, what martial arts teach as self-defense, is not just damage control, but of questionable effectiveness at that.

Do They Even Work?
Not only does the subject of self-defense involve much more than physical motion, but -- in an overwhelming majority of cases -- the physical movement these schools do teach have been watered down for safety in sport competitions.

And yes, most martial arts have become martial sports -- regardless of what combative history or self-defense use they claim. Unfortunately, as there is a big difference between fighting and self-defense, there's also a big difference between sport fighting and defensive movement.

Recognize that sport movement is designed for two elements:
1) To ensure the safety of the participants
2) To extend the match for the enjoyment of the audience.

That is NOT to say that these aren't powerful moves. They are, but at the same time there is a built in safety factor. What we are saying is that the kind of movement done in sports competition is not designed to created the physics that create immediate damage to another human. By this we're not talking inflicting pain. We're talking about breaking something in the attacker to end the attack.

Sports fighting operates on the idea of victory through the collective -- whether it be collective damage or points. That is to say multiple attacks. Point sparring -- where each hit is worth points -- is a race to see who can either get the most points in a limited time or a race to a number of points. In full contact systems the idea is to create collective soft tissue damage and exhaustion until your opponent cannot continue or submits. Although 'knock outs' are the ultimate indicator of this, these are rare.

To once again bring up the idea that the average person is correct about what they think martial arts are about, take this test. Imagine the participants of one of these sporting events. First put them in normal clothing. Second, take the event out of the ring and super-impose it on the backdrop of the last bar you were in.

Then ask yourself ... is that self-defense or fighting?

Do this knowing that is exactly what the security cameras, the witnesses, the prosecuting attorney, the judge and the jury are going to see. Moreover, that's the question, those other people are going to be asking when they see the video of you using your martial arts training.

Let's take another look at the purposes of sporting styles, especially the part about extending the match. Take the shortest sports bout you have ever seen, do you want it to take that long before it is effective against a 250 biker with a knife? Or do you think he'd win in that time?

Our standard for an effective self-defense strategy is that it gets you out of danger in three moves or less (under five seconds is another way of looking at it). If it can't do that (or doesn't teach that) then it is a sports style that someone is trying to sell as self-defense.

Are there martial arts schools that still teach effective movement? Movement that you can use to defend yourself with? Yes. But even then, that teaching isn't likely to cover the legal and psychological aspects of self-defense. But finding them can be difficult.

Are You Helpless?
Upon hearing all of this you might think:
A) The martial arts are useless
B) We're against martial arts training

Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is ANY martial art style can be used for self-defense.

That is if your idea of self-defense is to block and extract yourself from danger. It's when you start trying to make them work for other goals that things begin to deteriorate. This is especially true if you start calling those other things 'self-defense' (such as fighting).

Do we recommend people have some kind of physical training? Well, it's not a bad idea. It's like having jumper cables, a spare tire and a jack in your car is a good idea. Hopefully you'll never need it, but just in case. But to get this training you don't have to sign up for a three year contract. You can get some training in short bouts and when combined with personal safety strategies it's often enough to keep you safe.

When it comes to studying the martial arts we have a saying: People come to the martial arts for self-defense. They stay for many other reasons. If you're looking for some other things in your life, then maybe the martial arts are worth investigating. But we're not going to tell you that the martial arts are for everyone, because they aren't. But for those who get something from them, they are spectacular.

However, if you're only interested in learning self-defense, then save your money because long term studying isn't what you're looking for. In fact, most people who we've spoken to who dropped out of the martial arts, tell us it was because they were disappointed in what they were being taught ... because, although they were told it was, they weren't being taught what they had come there to learn.

Conversely, there aren't any short weekend seminars that will teach you everything you need either. No matter how appealing these programs may appear, short cuts that seem to answer all your fears about self-defense are another form of dangerous misinformation.

While there are many benefits to be gained from the study of the martial arts, unfortunately, due to commercialism, self-defense really isn't one of them. When it come to that, physical ability is only a small part of your overall strategy.

Return to top

1) Notice the two important words there "immediate" and "harm." Immediate means that, you're about to be attacked NOW! Not threatened, not intimidated, not insulted, not your feelings hurt, not scared, but about to be physically attacked. The other important word is 'harm' That's an important term because it implies not pain, but intense -- if not permanent -- phsical injury. A fat lip hurts, but it is not harm. Yet, this is the kind of stuff you will NOT be taught in most martial arts schools. By instructors who claim to teach you self-defense. (Definition source 'Lectric Library.) Return to Text

What You Don't Know Can Kill You
(How your SD training will put you into prison or the ground)

Law of Self-Defense
Andrew Branca
(Legal issues of SD)

Survive a Shooting
Alain Burrese
(Active shooters)

Why Me? LEO teaches how to avoid becoming a victim
Robert Bryan

Five Essential People Skills
Dale Carnegie
(Developing social skills)

Complete Idiot
(Boundary setting)

Marc MacYoung
(Crime recognition/avoidance) 

Emotional Vampires

Albert Bernstein
(Boundaries with dysfunctional/ manipulative people)

FTW Self- Defense
Clint Jahn
(Street culture, self-defense)

Ape In the Corner Office
Richard Conniff
(Human animal behavior)

Self-Defense for Women: Fight Back
Price/ Christensen
(Women's Self-Defense)

Boundaries After A Pathological Relationship
Adelyn Birch

Straight Talk on Armed Defense
Et al
(Firearms and self-defense)

Beyond the Picket Fence
MacYoung, et al
(Social skills for survival)

Effortless Combat Throws
Tim Cartmell
(MA, SD, law enforcement)

Surviving Survival
Lawrence Gonzales
(Survival psychology)

A Time To Kill
Greg Hopkins
(Christian Self-Defense)

About navigating this site | Animal List | Bibliography | Bullies | Burglary while on vacation | Classes in Colorado | Car Jacking | Children and Martial Arts | Child Safety | Criminal Mindset | Cults in MA/SD | De-Escalation | E-mail Dianna | E-mail Marc| FAQs | Have MacYoung speak about crime avoidance | Home Page | Home Defense | Hosting a Seminar | Fear | Five Stages of Crime | Knife Fighting | Legal Issues | LEO/Correctional Officer/EMS | Linking policy | Links | Martial Arts | Photo Gallery | Property Crime | Psychology | Rape | Robbery | Safe Dating | Self-Defense Training | Selling your books/DVDs on NNSD | Seminar Schedule | Stalking/Domestic Violence | Street Fighting | Terms of Use | Testimonials | Train with Marc MacYoung | Who is Dianna Gordon MacYoung? | Who is Marc "Animal" MacYoung? | Victimhood | Workplace Problems | Zero Tolerance