Most experienced commentators agree that when studying self-defence, actual combat should be a tiny tiny portion of what one focusses on. I would state that it’s arguable that combat should be a mere afterthought in any self-defence syllabus.
Self-defence is by definition the act or policy that helps one stay safe and prevents crime being committed against one’s person. Therefore the bulk of self-defence must involve: understanding how people relate to one another on an intellectual level and on an emotional, visceral level; being able to recognise and read aggressive body language and pre-confrontational cues; maintaining awareness of one’s surroundings and one’s effect on other people through one’s appearance, attitude and behaviour; learning to recognise and deal with the effects of adrenaline; learning in detail the laws of one’s country/state concerning self-defence; having the self-discipline to avoid potentially debilitating conditions like intoxication, fatigue and irritability, and- perhaps most importantly- having the ability to control one’s ego and one’s temper.
Lastly and very much least, we come to the potential combative aspect of self-defence. I would argue that if one has to resort to violence to protect one’s person, then one has seriously failed in all the most important areas of self-defence. But let’s say that a student has gone about their self-defence study in the “right” way. They have studied psychology, body-language, criminology and done some serious self-analysis, they’ve innoculated themselves against adrenal dumps through exposure therapy,they’ve meditated on their own ego and have eradicated most of their arrogance/self-aggrandising delusions and now they wish to study the tiny combative portion of the self-defence syllabus that remains.
What will the combative portion actually consist of? What SHOULD it consist of?
This is the subject of countless debates both within the dedicated “self protection” or “SP” community (commonly represented by ex-military, law enforcement or door supervising personnel.) and in the general “martial arts” community.
However, a little application of basic logic will- I think- yield a convincing rough outline.
1. Strength & Conditioning: This must be the top priority of physical attributes for real-world self-defence. Real-world violence is… well… violent! And sometimes unexpected. This means that one will likely have to rely on reflexes, cardio and raw power to tip the balance of combat in one’s favour. Interval training at a high intensity is a must, because real fights (these can be observed objectively, as many are captured on film) are EXTREMELY intense, strenuous events, that take place over very short periods of time. In other words, if you have excellent conditioning, it’s likely your opponent will burn themselves out and gas more quickly than you will, having initiated a physical altercation with you. It’s been shown that excellent physical condition also helps one to resist knockout blows to some extent.
2. Technical application under high stress: One must be able to apply whatever self-defence techniques one learns under extremely stressful and difficult conditions, when faced with a fully resisting opponent who is expending 100% of their strength. This factor is more important than which techniques one is trying to apply!
3. Selection of techniques based on gross-motor applicability: Under stress, fine motor control reduces exponentially. While training at high intensity should offset this reduction to some extent, it would still behoove anyone trying to amass a self-defence arsenal to remember this, and not to spend too much time training shots that require pinpoint accuracy or fine dexterity, (nor those that require several rounds of cumulative damage to take effect.)
4. Proper goal-setting: When fighting in the ring or sparring in the training hall, there tends to be one goal: Win the fight. By points or by submission, this is the goal. But in acts of self-defence one’s safety is paramount, therefore the primary goal should be escape. If knocking someone down without knocking them out facilitates one’s escape, that should be the goal, and that should be the point during the fight at which one disengages and runs away. The only practical way to train for this shift in goal-setting is to role-play during training.
5. Technique in accordance with the law: Defending oneself successfully doesn’t require that one break the law. It doesn’t require that one break one’s opponent, for that matter. Any technique- especially weapon-based- that flouts the law of the land could wind up causing one more problems than it solves. Like being locked up in chokey.
To summarise, self-defence is not fighting, and fighting is not self-defence. All those clubs and schools claiming to teach self-defence are frankly conning people, unless their syllabus addresses the issues raised above.