The media has fuelled the perception that ordinary people on the street are in constant danger from violent attacks, and self-defense classes promise to counter this fear.
To attract students, most martial arts schools in the U.S. teach self-defense methods. They make many claims about the usefulness of martial arts techniques in defending oneself against attack. Such situations of attack are rare, however, and can be avoided by not putting oneself in danger (for example, not walking around bad neighborhoods after dark, not buying or selling illegal drugs, not hanging around bars, not getting involved with gangs, and so on). Being alert and aware of one’s surroundings and recognizing the types of events that are likely to occur in certain locations is the individual’s first line of self-defense.
The media has fuelled the perception that ordinary people on the street are in constant danger from violent attacks, and self-defense classes promise to counter this fear. In truth, this perception is largely false, as more people are injured in incidents of domestic violence than on the street by strangers. To be effective, self-defense classes only need to reduce the feeling of fear.
When a person is actually attacked on the street by a stranger, the main problem in self-defense is generally not a lack of physical ability to counter the attack, but an emotional reaction, such as panic or anger, that can turn a bad situation worse. Panic can be paralyzing and invite attack, while anger can provoke harm as well by frightening or angering an attacker to further violence.
Serious training in the martial arts takes the emotional reaction out of violent confrontations. After many hours of practice, a punch or a kick becomes merely a physical force, a fist or a foot is easily handled, and an encounter is not even experienced as a personal attack. Students learn good coordination and self-confidence, characteristics that can discourage potential aggressors from becoming aggressive in the first place. In the martial arts, the simple act itself of practicing over a long period of time may be the most important element in effective self-defense than any specific technique learned.
Focusing on self-defense in today’s world has changed the techniques being taught in the martial arts. In the modern world, no one is likely to be attacked by a sword-wielding samurai. Instead, an attacker may be unarmed or have a baseball bat, knife, or gun. Battlefield combat techniques would not be very useful in these situations. The emphasis on such techniques has declined in most martial arts styles and has been replaced with techniques that are relevant to our times.