Under: karate, martial arts, Self-defense
9 Nov 2011

Most of my early childhood years I wondered how to defend myself! I had the normal amount of bully experiences and soon learned the hard way that one had to stand up to bullies. The first lessons on how to defend myself were from Batman and Robin. It drove my dad nuts to hear me talk about how their punches would really work!


Anyway after years of learning and eventually teaching karate – do we really do a good job of teaching basic self defense? I mean there is so much fluff in the martial arts… all of that philosophy about only fighting if there is no other way out and the stuff about forms and even basics. Who ever won a fight by practicing punches from a low horse stance? :)


Well in this post I’ll answer the question about how well the martial arts teach self defense for the masses (most kids have had a lesson or two) and if all of the fluff actually helps but most of all I would like to say how I would teach self defense and why I would not open up a school teaching self defense.


First for your perusal is the episode of Longstreet (an old TV flick of my day) where Bruce Lee did a guest spot helping the blind man learn how to defend himself.


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What did Master Lee tell the blind man to be water? Really self defense happens in the mind first, before the first punch is ever thrown. If you learn the mechanics of how to fight and then let yourself go – you can achieve anything! Most people do not realize this so they really limit themselves (not just at martial arts but at anything).


Have you ever seen a bobcat fend off coyotes from a kill? Or witnessed a wolverine fend of a pack of wolves from a kill? Have you heard about a woman that was able to fend off a rapist by kicking the nuts or poking the eyes? Have you heard about a girl that was being snatched by a child abductor that was able to get away because she put up a fight? How about a guy that was able to fend off six attacker?


All of these situations are not the norm unfortunately but I have heard of or witnessed all of the above. Let me see on the wildlife shows I saw the smaller predators keeping the big ones away form their kill sometimes (I guess depending on how hungry they were). Plenty of women have escaped rapists and girls have escaped abductors if they do put of a fight. The guy fighting off six guys? Me back when I was a bouncer at a bar.


When I was a kid I dreamed of being such a good fighter that it would just be a game to me. That never came true but I did hone my fighting skills to the point that I always believed I would win if someone attacked me. I always did probably to the stills I learned and my attitude.


Lets get back to this question of all of the fluff in martial arts. Boxers, Muay Thai, MMA or Wrestlers might argue that all of the fluff in marital arts are useless baggage. The reasoning is kata and techniques just keep one from practicing the only real art – fighting!!! What??? Or maybe learning how to do old fashion moves (such as chambering your punches or standing in a low-horse stance) do not contribute to fighting skills. How about the philosophy of non-aggression? Oh yeah I can hear the full-contact types now… what a bunch of huey!!!! How about developing ki or chi? What? Why not just learn the touch of death? You see the critiques could be endless.


I’ll address many of these points but when I started learning karate at Tracy’s karate – my instructor told me if I wanted a black belt I was going to have to learn the whole system. I just wanted to learn how to fight at the time but saw value in attaining rank so I took the three or four years it took to learn the art.  Along the way I learned that one should not ever be the aggressor unless maybe you were outnumbered or the opponent had a weapon. You see it was hard enough back in the days before mobile phone video cameras to keep legal in a fight (not going overboard with witnesses) but nowadays even if you do everything right – you might have to answer to a court of law… it is better to try and avoid a fight at almost any cost (except life and limb of you and yours).


So I think the fluff in most cases is good. It is good to learn discipline and get into good shape. It is good to improve your mental awareness and thought processes. Kata take time and practice to perfect. Why not learn good balance and coordination? What about point sparring? It is good go learn how to hit someone without getting hit back. What about if you had to fight a MMA superstar? Just don’t fight toe to toe but rather employ self-defense moves and get the heck out of Dodge like one is taught in a non-aggressive approach to the marital arts.


But you might be asking if I think self defense could be taught better? Yes it could if a martial arts school understood the students needs. Not everyone wants to attain belt rank or fame and fortune by becoming a MMA superstar but the folks that do not have the drive to stick with a martial art could benefit from some age training much like Bruce Lee did for Longstreet (videos on youtube) or like I did for my youngest son 15 years ago.


You see he was getting challenged on the way to the store and his mom was worried – told me about the issues. I took my son out to the front yard and taught him critical distance and how to through a step back – counter punch. The next day the kid ran at him (part of 10 kids or so) and my son stepped back (letting the kids punch miss) and countered him to the bread basket! The kid fell over and could not get up for a few minutes until he caught his breath. None of the other kids wanted to mess with my son after that.


Self defense is not rocket science but rather just doing what makes sense. Anyone can learn basic self defense in a short amount of time such as distance, side stepping and a few strikes and that might be sufficient if they remembered it. I mean bullies being what they are – trying to pick on a kid they perceive as weak – do not keep picking on a kid if they fight back… win or lose – if you are willing to fight back and are smart about it… you too can beat the odds and actually defend yourself!!!

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10 Responses to “How to Teach Self Defense? Be Water my Friend!”

  1. Matt Klein Says:

    Thought-provoking post John. I believe what attracts people to martial arts in the first place is the boost in confidence it provides. I’ve had so many mothers and fathers of our kids in the classes here in Sydney say their children are no longer bullied. The reason: the bullies sense their child’s newfound self-confidence. They usually move on to an easier target. It’s not only about the ability to fight, but also the mental strength and confidence to stand up, just like your son did to the bullies.

    Also agree with your statement that self defense is not rocket science. Actual self defense requires the willingness to hurt someone if need be. Many people lack this, but once they start sparring they soon learn to keep someone away with a stiff jab or a powerful kick, or develop an excellent defense using footwork, slipping and bobbing, and blocking. A good self defense program should include all of this.

    Kata and forms create a “vocabulary” of movements, stances, and strikes that are useful for self defense. But their most important value is the focus and concentration that they promote. This is especially valuable for children as it develops mental clarity at a young age.
    Matt Klein recently posted..How to Help Children Overcome the Fear of Their First Martial Arts ClassMy Profile

  2. Rodrigo Valenzuela Says:

    It is indeed very important to teach the art of self defense to children. Martial arts is something that will fill them with confidence and also give them the strength to face other tough situations of life. It will also help them resist in case somebody is trying to bully them. Thanks for a thought provoking post!
    Rodrigo Valenzuela recently posted..Las historias de amor mas bonitasMy Profile

  3. Dr. J Says:

    Well written as always, John!

    School “children” always argue about time wasting courses! Calculus, never used it :-) However, I’ve never used a push up either, but doing them made me stronger so I could do practical things. I feel it is the same with the martial arts. Every aspect develops the self. Yes, it would be possible to just teach self defense, and that’s martial, but not the artist.

    I had a friend in medical school who came to me complaining of being bullied by workers at his part time night job in a factory. I taught him the first Tracy combination technique I ever learned, a defense against a two handed grab with a double 12 to 6 elbow strikes to break the grip, then straight finger thrusts to the throat, followed by several other moves. (I imagine you are familiar with the drill). A few days later he came to me and told me that when someone at work pushed him on the chest, he reacted with this move, and after hitting them in the throat, which everyone else saw, the bulling stopped :-)
    Dr. J recently posted..Lab Notes: Beer in Moderation Can Be Healthy; Pill in Water Linked to Prostate Cancer RiskMy Profile

  4. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Matt!

    The willingness to hurt someone in defense can be brought out in students as you say and karate schools are a good place to learn this.

    Hi Rodrigo, Yep – confidence is a plus from training in the marital arts.

    Hey Dr. J!

    It is funny how fast bulling stops when you put up a defense. All of the “fluff” can come in handy too. I remember doing double inward blocks just in time to have two high-ball glasses shatter on my forearms.

    I like you thing the “artist” part is important too! :)

  5. Matt Klein Says:

    Hi John, Think Alexandra’s spambot just copied and pasted my comment to get a free backlink above. Just sayin.
    Matt Klein recently posted..How to Help Children Overcome the Fear of Their First Martial Arts ClassMy Profile

  6. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hey Matt – I try to be ever vigilant and only let folks opine if they say something relevant. I totally missed this from inside wpadmin console… I’ve been spammed. Oh well – easily remedied. :)


  7. Matt Klein Says:

    Thanks John, you know how much I hate spammers, they were the bane of my existence on my blog until I disabled comments after a certain period. Would love to send all my spam back to them.
    Matt Klein recently posted..How to Help Children Overcome the Fear of Their First Martial Arts ClassMy Profile

  8. Travis Burke Says:

    Thats a very interesting point. I was trained in Krav Maga for only a few days, while doing some military tourism. I dont think i felt at all like i was liquid. It felt the exact opposite, haha. but it was still really fun, and we did way more than just train krav maga. we shot lots of different guns, threw grenades, jumped out of a plane, and much more. Check it out if your interested, i did it through a company called lionops. their website is http://www.lionops.com

  9. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Thanks for the tip Matt… I get 30 to 50 spam a day… I’m trying your system! :)

  10. Hana Says:

    Dear Mr. Zimmer,

    I am more interested in self-defense right after I read the website.
    I am doing an article about self-defense for my University project and I would appreciate if I could have your opinion on it?

    1. What is self-defense?
    2. Will it be effective?
    3. Can self-defense be useful to those who are in need?
    4. Is it dangerous when practicing it?
    5. Could self-defense lead ones death when apply it to someone?
    6. Will it help decrease the harassment rate?
    7. Is it the only way to protect oneself from any danger?
    8. Is self-defense acceptable to any age children, adults, or even elders?
    9. What are the advantages and disadvantages of learning self-defense?
    10. Can it be used to assassin someone?

    Thank you.