Self Defense? Really?

Anyone who studies any form of martial arts is definitely a member of at least one, or many, group pages on Facebook. In one of the group pages I am a member of there was a post by an instructor that was a video of one of his students involved in an altercation at a local park. His claim is that his student keeps stating it was self defense but the video clearly shows that it wasn’t. Sadly, I can’t share the video because you have to be a member of that group to see it. Let’s examine what I saw in the video and why this is clearly a misuse of one’s martial arts training.

There are two young men, both probably teenagers, without t-shirts on in a local park. They are squaring off facing each other and both put up their hands. There is no words exchanged, they just begin banging. Eventually two adults break up the fight and you hear the videographer (cell phone video) state “You can’t just walk in and break up the fight”. The two kids get up and it is clearly over then the video ends.

Why can’t a claim of self defense be placed on this considering we don’t know the entire story (which is often the case with video) that led up to the fisticuffs? Quite simply both kids took of their shirts, they squared off against each other, had their hands up and commenced to bang it out. That is NOT self defense. That is two punks fighting plain and simple. Then you have the guy taking the video yelling at the two adults who broke it up that the FIGHT can’t be interrupted.

In the 26 years I have been teaching many of my students have had to use their skills. The majority of the time it was warranted and it was self defense but sometimes, mostly with kids, they were just fighting, not defending. Here are some reasons why actions cannot be classified as self defense (note these are things to avoid if you truly are a martial artist):

  1. Removing your clothing to show your machismo is a sign of fighting. I can’t count the number of times a guy I was throwing out of a bar back in my bouncing days would strip off their shirt and start slinging hash at us to fight him. We all just laughed at them (especially the out of shape, fat bodies that were clearly drunk).
  2. Anytime you square off against a person that is a fight. Self defense is the act of not wanting to fight at all and then only doing what is needed to get away safely.
  3. If someone is videoing the altercation chances are it is fight…especially if two people are just squared off at each other and then the fight begins.
  4. When someone talks smack at you and you step to them you are going to be in a fight, not self defense…big difference. Self defense would be to ignore the punk and walk away saving them a beating.
  5. Beating on someone to prove anything is wrong. Defending yourself because you have no choice is right…I think you can see the distinction.
  6. Hurt ego? Bruise emotions? These are precursors to a fight, not self defense. When you don’t just ignore them and walk on you are sticking around to be in a fight, not a self defense situation.

Self defense is not about proving anything to anyone. It is about staying safe, getting away and only having to use what you learn in your dojo, school, gym when there is NO other option…and then walking away to safety.

About 10 years ago a trend began popping where kids would gather in backyards and hold “fight night”. These were kids that watched UFC on TV and studied Youtube videos and thought this was martial arts. It isn’t, wasn’t and will never be martial arts. That backyard brawling is just punk ass fighting, nothing more. With the advent of MMA back in the 1990’s (technically it has been around since the 1970’s) it seems more and more people believe that proving one’s superior prowess is the goal of martial arts. It isn’t and hasn’t ever been so. That is the competition, or sport, aspect which is very minimal in true martial arts.

When I was a 20 something year old man I got caught up in that mentality. I fought in tournaments, cage matches a few times and some other less than honorable things. I had a strong desire to “prove” myself to others but in reality I was needing to grow up. When I hit my 30’s, and after years of bouncing, working as a correctional officer and bodyguard, I came to the conclusion there is only thing that will happen to people who feel the need to “prove” themselves through beating on others…they will lose and lose badly. I made a decision to turn my martial arts training inward instead of outward. Today, in my mid 40’s, I have no care to prove anything to anyone but my own self. That, my friends, is the true goal of martial arts…

During my journey I have trained and certified in many tactical defense methods available out there. I have done everything from PPCT (Police methods) all the way to Reality Combatives (Military methods). Along this path I discovered the same thing from the people teaching these courses…they all could care less how tough a person is. When I was younger I would have shown them my stuff. When I grew up I wanted to learn their stuff. Big difference in two ways of thinking. The young man way always led to a beat down eventually. The older man way lead to becoming very competent in what I do and a peace inside that I would never find as long as my ego wasn’t in check.

Final thoughts on this matter is that the student in the video was not involved in a self defense situation regardless of what he claims led up to the altercation. The instructor has banned him from his school and I give him kudos for doing so. I probably wouldn’t have on the first situation but I definitely would have that kid cleaning, mopping and running errands around the dojo for me to teach them some humility (sadly most of the kids that end up with this punishment quit…AND THEIR PARENTS LET THEM which is even more pathetic). Anytime you square off against another person you are wanting to fight them, not defend yourself. Understand that because, in matters of legal issues, that determines if you go to jail or you go home. Keep training and don’t worry about the punks out there, focus on improving you.

Steven Franz, Shihan
Franz Karate
Shorin Ryu Shorinkan




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