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TRAINING FOR SELF DEFENCE: WHY MARTIAL ARTS ALONE DON’T CUT IT

Did you know the Directors of COBRA Sunshine Coast and COBRA Self Defence Australia are both highly experienced martial arts practitioners with decades of experience in martial arts training and fighting? In fact, Danny Watkins, our fearless leader, recently won double gold at the QLD State Jujitsu championship!


We are huge advocates for martial arts and encourage every child, woman and man of every age to get involved in these valuable sports and endeavours. However, we are the first to admit that, when it comes to self defence, martial arts alone don’t cut it.


Sadly, violence is bigger than all of us. Just as we will never understand people fully, we can never understand a subject as convoluted and complex as violence.

Unless you’ve been exposed to a lot of violence, your training will be subjective. Most people’s idea of violence is one based off their own interpretation of what they learn in the dojo, see in the ring, or watch in a movie. In rare cases it comes from personal experience working as a police officer or prison guard. But how many of us deal with violent offenders daily?



There is a story about a kung fu student who was walking down a street when the horse in front of him went crazy and kicked out. Using his kung fu training, he blocked, sidestepped, and was able to avoid a kick that might have killed him.


He was understandably upset when he told his Sifu, who immediately expelled him for being reckless. The curious student decided to follow his teacher, waiting to see how he would react. Many days and nights he kept his vigil, but his patience was rewarded. Eventually, he saw the same horse becoming agitated as the teacher walked towards it. He was at first disappointed when he saw his teacher cross the road and give the horse a wide berth. Then, he understood the meaning of kung fu.


We don’t know if the above story is true (spoiler; probably not) but it is very popular. You’ve probably heard several different versions of it, but the message is always the same – the wise/best martial artist avoids danger altogether rather than Jackie-Channing it with his fists of fury.


The thing is, martial arts are about fighting. That is the bottom line. They are definitely useful for other purposes too, such as conditioning and self discipline. But that is a by-product of your training. Your actual training is on how to fight; how to hurt people, pure and simple.

What that story outlines is that “self defence” is a very different thing from fighting; the two are often conflated and confused. This can be downright dangerous.


To quote Kurt Osiander; if your self-defence involves fighting then it’s usually because “you f****d up a long time ago, now you’re gonna have to work really hard”. Anybody who is really practicing self defence should be crossing the road, not fighting the horse; it’s way easier and all it takes is a little know how.


COBRA uses a tripartite classification when it comes to self defence. Things are split up into:


1. Risk Avoidance: there are certain things you can do to avoid being put at risk at all


2. Risk Management: this is by far the most important stage in any self defence practitioner’s arsenal


3. Crisis Management: fighting is only a solution when it comes to Crisis Management, and even then it’s only part of the time.


Over the coming weeks, COBRA Sunshine Coast will share more information on how you can exhaust a lot of non-martial-arts options in the first 2 stages before you get to Crisis Management. In order to be in a position where you actually need to use your martial arts skills you should already have failed at risk avoidance and management. If that’s happened because you have been careless, then kung fu your way to freedom by all means, but perhaps work on your awareness and people skills for the future.


Sometimes, however, risks simply cannot be avoided or managed, and that’s where crisis management plays an active part. Perhaps you can’t escape; maybe the stun and run hasn’t worked, maybe the threat is in your house, or you have to act to protect others from harm. Whatever the reason, it’s now time to dust off your black belt and deliver an ass-kickin’!


You have two considerations here, one tactical and one legal;


a) How to engage your aggressor in such a way as to minimise risk to yourself and those you are protecting (note: there is no such thing as “winning” a self defence scenario!)


b) What force is ‘reasonable’ in pursuit of that goal?


For the legal consideration, you need to know the answer to a raft of questions:

Can you perform your favourite techniques in your everyday clothes? On an uneven surface? In a confined space? In the dark, or when temporarily blinded? Seated, standing, or from the ground?


When adrenaline or shock are hampering your fine motor skills? When you’re exhausted?

What is the most appropriate strategy?

Is there one assailant? How do you neutralise him whilst causing minimal harm? Does he have a weapon? Do you know how to disarm it?

Is there more than one attacker? Do you have appropriate skills to engage a group? What if they all have weapons?


All of these questions are pertinent to training, and should be getting covered in your club’s “self defence” syllabus. These skills are the crossover point between martial arts and self defence, and if you are not able to answer them then it is perhaps worth considering the answers yourself, or raising the point with your instructors.


The main take away here, though, is that even if you are training well and can answer all of those questions in your sleep, and you are confident that should the need arise you will be able to defend your family from vengeful ninjas, that still doesn’t constitute good “self defence”.


Good self defence is building those habits which help you de-escalate confrontation or avoid it altogether, and learning how to put them into practice so that all of the martial arts training doesn’t have to be called upon.

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