Why Self Defense Works!

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: Self-defense
11 Jul 2010

A man on vacation at a bar finds himself in middle of a fight and as so often happens – it is hard to discern the good guys from the bad. Well he puts some distance between the fight and his wife and scans for exits. One of the fighters notice and comes right at him! The vacationer side-steps the rusher and give him a little push into the table – grabs his wife and makes for the exit.

I don’t know about you but I’ve been in this type of situation before and it is a little scary if you have the family with you. This website has often evaluated different types of fighting styles and self defense but why does self defense work? I mean most bad guys can fight – right? If they can fight then why can some minimal self-defense training carry the day?

In this post I will delve into the question of why self defense works and what I think are some good ways to go about learning how to fight. Let me be clear that self defense is learning how to fight. More on that in a bit but first I’d like to show you the average caliber of fighters you have to prepare for in case you ever have to defend yourself. Take a peek at this video of a street fight – there are some weapons but no one seems to get hurt too badly.




I don’t know what was going on in this video but it seems to be one bunch of guys against some local guys. There were some clubs and a knife at one point but the injuries did not seem too bad. I saw one guy that seemed to know a few moves that kept him fairly safe. Without knowing if anyone was just in this fight I am just going to use this video to make my points.


Most of the guys in this video could not fight their way out of a paper bag. Sure they could wield a club, punch and kick but most of the moves were ineffective. I would guess that 80% of all fighters in the world are not good at what they are doing. I mean who cares how mean you look, how much you can drink, and how good your fight talk is?


Am I trying to be disrespectful to these and most fighters? Nope but I am making the point that if you agree with me that most people do not really know what they are doing when it comes to fighting – then you might understand why self defense training of any type – can work!


Let me point out that the 20% of people that can fight can include soldiers, cops, martial artists of all persuasions, and natural born fighters. Not all great fighters have been trained but more often than not – fighters had to have had some training to be good.


Are black belts good fighters? They can be but it depends on their training, ability and why they wanted to learn martial arts. I have known plenty of black belts that talk about what if this happened or that happened and wonder if they are ready.


How about soldiers? Can they all fight in hand to hand combat? I would guess that many that have been to war zones and have had to do it – can fight but not all. Many learn what they need to in modern warfare and depend on the weapons.


What about cops? Cops can learn how to be great fighters – many do not ever get proficient at fighting because it is not really part of their job. All cops have a black belt – you know the belt that holds their mace, baton, gun and radio.


So the point I am trying to make  is to be good at self-defense – you have to become good at fighting. While it is true that limited self-defense can be effective because most people cannot fight their way out of a paper bag (including people that should be good at fighting) – you should not depend on the other guy being inept like the guys in this video.


Take a look at Bas Rutten’s take on a bar fight and while you are looking at it, realize that most situations he is speaking about would only work on untrained fighters (80% of what you find out there). I’ll add that Bas Rutten certainly is one that can fight – but the video is showing close hand to hand combat where an attacker is standing right next to Bas – a mistake for any attacker (that wants to win a fight).




Trained fighters do not give stuff away for instance by talking smack right next to their opponent. Anyone can sucker punch or kick anyone else if they are inside the critical distance. That being said, Bas does make the point (my emphasis) how easily most people can be beaten in a fight since they leave holes in their defenses.


I had a stepson from a former marriage that used to get angry and fight at the drop of a hat. I noticed that most times he came back with a black eye or such and told very animated stories about the fights and why the other guy deserved to get knocked out. Most of the time he lost and I asked him the question why be fought if he realized that he could not fight?


He told me that the other guy deserved to get hit! I persisted by pointing out that it took work and training to learn how to fight – why didn’t he just back away rather than resort to a fight? He did not have a good answer other than he got so angry that he could not back down.


What do you think fighting is? Is it merely learning a fighting style such as judo, karate, boxing or mma? Would any of those mentioned martial arts help you in a fight? Are any superior to each other? Are they easily adapted to self-defense?


Fighting is any method of combat including weapons or hand to hand. I tend to focus on hand to hand combat because most people do not carry weapons legally.


Learning a martial art can help you learn to fight. I mentioned 80% of the people cannot fight before but I think that 50% of the people that take a martial art cannot fight. This is because learning the moves half heatedly will not adequately prepare one for a fight. It will give most people an edge against someone that has not learned how to fight so it is still a goal worth attaining even if you goal is not to be a great fighter!


Any fighting style is good to learn. I used to be prejudiced against most because I personally like karate. But over the years I’ve seen and heard examples of judo, jiu-jitsu and even tai chi practitioners using those arts in self-defense! Why a boy even saved a girl from a dog by choking it with jiu-jitsu last year!


Boxing, karate, kung fu, muay thai, mma, judo, jiu jitsu, wrestling and more are all good to train for fighting and ultimatly self-defense! There is no best style! If anyone tries to tell you their way of fighting is better then the rest – he or she is mistaken.  They will all work effectively in a real life self-defense secenario.


I’ve tried to make the point that most people, even people that say they can fight – cannot! Sure they know a few moves and against another inept fighter, it will seem to work but that does not mean they are any good.


It is kind of like learning how to play chess. Anyone can learn how to move the pieces and look like they know what they are doing but most will never be a master. If they ever play a master, they will be beaten 10 out of 10 games in short order. This is true even though they may play their peers and win 8 out of 10 games and appear to be a great chess player!


So if you agree with me that most people cannot fight, and if you take steps to learn how to fight and avoid beginners mistakes from the martial arts style you like (read Eastern or Weastern styles), you will stand a very good chance of defending yourself in a self-defense situation!


So I encourage everyone to head down to the gym, school, dojo, or club of your choice and learn to fight! If you enjoy the lessons, the school is good, and you have a desire to learn, you will be learning self-defense too. Here is a video of a school but there are many choices out there to make your self defense work!


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19 Responses to “Why Self Defense Works!”

  1. TheMartialArtsReporter Says:

    Very helpful post and I am sure you have inspired many
    to have closer look at taking up martial arts training.
    I am almost certain that a number of martial arts practitioners are now taking a closer look at the effectiveness of their own training/style etc.
    Just my humble opinion.
    Keep up the great work, John.
    TheMartialArtsReporter recently posted..Billy Blanks- Martial Artist And Creator of TaeBoMy Profile

  2. Anne Reade Says:

    This is a really terrific blog and you have just the right videos to demonstrate your points. If you can’t get out of a fight it is sure better to know what you are doing. Some form of self defense training should be part of any exercise program for both men and women. It is good for both mind and body even if you never have to use it as self defense. There are loads of martial arts out there and one is sure to be just the one that suits you.

    What if someone is help up with a gun? Is there some kind self defense for this sort of setting? There are lots of guns out there. Bad guys can always get one and most probably do. I think that it should be legal for responsible citizens to own and carry hand guns. Sometimes we need to seriously protect ourselves and our families. A Loaded shotgun is most effective against home invaders. I’d like to hear from some other people about they feel about this–legal carry permits and shotguns for the homeowner.

    All in all, your post made me stop and think. Martial arts for self defense and good health and fitness, but do we need more in these dangerous days?
    Anne Reade recently posted..Can Safe Coffee MugMy Profile

  3. Martial Arts News 7.17.10 « Striking Thoughts Says:

    […] Since self-defense is a theme this week why not check out Zimmer’s latest post? In this post I will delve into the question of why self defense works and what I think are […]

  4. Dr. J Says:

    I always look forward to reading your self defense blog, John! Don’t be disappointed in me, but I don’t drink so I am not in bars. With my being a surgeon, I’m sure you realize that most of the slow speed blunt injuries I treat come from bar or just outside the bar fights from which I get to vicariously experience the action when I ask what happened to you?

  5. John W. Zimmer Says:


    Self examination is good… not my main point but it is the key for continuous improvement.

    Hi Anne!

    Since you are bringing it up I do agree that defending against a firearm is problematic as bullets travel farther than kicks or punches. I have nothing against a gun used legally in self defense but I worry about accidents.

    In my one situation and after knowing of one kid (and hearing about others) that died in an accident in school – I don’t own a hand gun. I think I live in a safe neighborhood and am now an empty nester.

    If my situation changed like the danger level increased – I would and support people having guns…. I’m just not there yet.

    Here is the problem that is not mentioned with guns a lot; if you need a gun – you need it now… you don’t have time to mess with loading it and undoing trigger locks. Any delay can lead to a poor outcome.

    Having such readily available weapons can lead to children misusing them.

    I don’t writing about guns for self defense as part of my terms of service with my website host but I have no problem responding to inquiries in context of another topic.

    I don’t believe in gun control beyond what makes sense…

    As far as carry permits – same arguments – I think if well regulated it makes more sense for citizens to have weapons.

    I will probably not ever carry (can’t in San Diego county) as I do depend on common sense and hand to hand combat (using surprise and distance to my advantage hopefully).

    Dr J!

    I’m with you in about bars. Although I drink some I try to keep it so liver safe amounts as I try to not over do pain meds.

    I don’t like most bars because I’ve found since I stopped working in bars at age 23, I’ve had almost no fights in the next 30 years whereas I used to get into a least one fight a week in the two years I worked the door.

    Something about meeting (and competing for) the opposite sex in an inebriated state that does not make much sense if anyone stopped to really think about it. :)

    The only good thing I remember about the injuries is I did not feel them until the next day sometimes. I remember cutting my hand on a glass and for whatever reason I did not deal with it (it did not seem to be a problem at the time).

    I went into the emergency room the next day and as they were sewing my up – the doctor happened to ask, “when did you do this?” I replied, “last night.” Needless to say (but I did not realize then) that the doctor had to snip the stitches back out to minimize infection.

  6. mikeferruggia Says:

    This was a great post. As I watched both videos, I visualized myself in the given situations and how tai chi chuan and what I’ve learned would make out. I think I could acquit myself pretty well in the first situation, although I think I would have scrammed when the knife came out. I will admit that the second video is intimidating, especially as the fighter disguises everything and if you are not super aware that you are actually in a fight, you’re going to get hurt. NUmber 1, create the distance and put something between you and the agressor, and never ever underestimate the opponent. Finally, if you’ve been practicing for a while, you’ve got to trust your instincts and use what you know.

  7. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hey Mike!

    There is a lot to watching ones distance, especially since most people do not think of such a thing. I’m with you – I’d go with my instincts (honed by a lifetime of martial arts training for just such a day)!

    Knives are not good to face and if you have a way out – the wise fighter will take the out. Nothing is worth risking your life unless there is no way to avoid. Thanks for your sage wisdom.

  8. Matt Klein Says:

    Really enjoyed the videos John. Spot on about the majority of people not being able to fight their way out of a paper bag. The vast majority of people cannot fight, even if they “talk the talk”. Your first video just illustrates it. Bas Rutten’s video, now I can see some real street fighting wisdom in that. Most of what’s taught in kickboxing aerobics class is pretty useless, especially since they never spar–that gives the student a false sense of security. Your additional point above about not feeling the injury the next day is a very good point. A good fighter will just focus on the job at hand and never mind the pain–the adrenaline will take care of that. Getting hit a bit in sparring teaches you that you can take it and keep going, hence the value in it.
    Matt Klein recently posted..10 More Lessons Learned from the Karate Kid MovieMy Profile

  9. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Matt!

    Totally agree that sparring gets you ready for the real thing. Point fighting made me aware of distance – something most fighters did not really ever get.

  10. Zara Says:

    As usual you make a very good point John, a point clearly based on experience and not just theory or hearsay like about 90% of authors out there, including bloggers and so called ‘self defense experts’ or high ranking martial artists. This is why people less experienced than you (myself included) can learn much from it without having to bleed for it first, and why people with experience will nod in agreement. I’m greatly interested in the field of self defense, at the same time I know I’m not really qualified to talk about it since I don’t have that much practical experience. I do know a lot about martial arts and I can teach people techniques and the style I was taught but it’s not the same as self defense although it can be a good preparation for the physical part of it (the fight itself). There is indeed a world of difference between facing a guy who’s had his nose bloodied in the past, who learned from it and who doesn’t shy away from taking a punch to the face if it means he can get you and fighting a whimp who’s all talk and will back down when faced with serious resistance or who’ll swing wildly and leave holes in his defense big enough to move a freight train through. MacYoung, a true expert on self defense and violence (he’s actually been there), talks about the difference between fighting and combat: fighting is much like most of the altercations in the animal world; two males pose, make a lot of noise, occasionally bump into each other and one of them gives way before there’s actual damage. This is the sort of behaviour posers and would be toughs engage in: they aren’t really tough but they want to pretend like they are to feel like a man, to impress their friends and to look cool in the eyes of desirable women.

    Combat is something entirely different: this is not about looks or pride or ego but about winning and about survival. Combat means one or both parties getting seriously hurt, maimed or even killed. Facing really dangerous individuals and skilled fighters (the 20% you mentioned) is a totally different scenario than sparring in the dojo or taking down some idiot who doesn’t know what he’s doing and I seriously doubt I’d do well if it happened for real. Sure I train hard and we try to be as realistic as possible without really injuring one another but is it enough? I used to think I was pretty tough and against most people I can probably hold my own but if I look at the few fights I’ve had there’s only one conclusion: I’ve never been truly challenged since those guys were wannabees and posers, not real fighters and I probably never was in any real danger. Even the time a knife was waved in front of me meant nothing since a) he was drunk and didn’t have experience and b) he obviously was afraid of me since he stuck to insults and threats and never moved into effective engagement range. I’m glad I didn’t panic and I probably could have taken him easily but he wasn’t a real threat so how do I know if I really have what it takes? Not that my ultimate goal is to be the world’s greatest fighter (bit too late for that) or the meanest bad ass on the block (those people’s lifespans are usually significantly shorter than most) but I’d like to progress from being an amateur and someone who looks good in the dojo to the level of basic fighting competence and real world knowledge (can’t teach proper self defense unless you’ve been there yourself), preferably without getting killed in the process or doing outright illegal things. Any suggestions? Suggestions on upping the ante in training are also more than welcome.

    About cops: my best friend is a police officer in one of the rougher neighbourhoods in our capital and he has some interesting stories to tell yet he never had to engage in hand to hand combat (cuffing someone is not combat, nor is wrestling a drunk to the ground) and he says cops always rely on their weapons since it’s safer and police combatives are fairly useless since a) there’s not enough time to thoroughly practice and b) there are too many limitations on what they’re allowed to do due to legal considerations. I think soldiers do have an edge in a fight since they’re supposed to be pretty well conditioned and in great physical shape. Those who saw real action have the advantage of baptism of fire (their life has been in real danger and they stuck it out) and they know what it’s like to feel fear and still push on (more than half of the battle and a sign of true courage). Yet in modern warfare true hand to hand combat (two or more soldiers fighting to the death with fists, knives, clubs or bayoneted rifles) is almost unheard of and the unarmed programs in most militaries are designed to instill confidence and fighting spirit in the students, not learning how to kill a man with your bare hands. Especially in the sort of low intensity conflicts we see today superior firepower will stop the enemy before he gets into hand to hand range and peace keeping and apprehending suspects using soft force is more important than doing maximum damage. No wonder the US military introduced BJJ into their training regimen: hardly a true fighting art and more suited to competition than anything else yet it’s a great workout and offers many mental advantages. Same reason why modern soldiers still carry bayonets and are fairly well trained in bayonet fighting although they’ve never been of true military value, not since the Napoleontic wars anyway.

  11. Zara Says:

    @Anne Read: I’m clearly no expert and fortunately I’ve never been held at gunpoint but if you’re ever in that situation smile and hand over your wallet, carkeys, cellphone… Anything they want as long as they’re not out to rape you or take you to a secondary location (this usually means they’re going to kill you unless they can use you for ransom). No material possessions are worth your life and if you move in the wrong way or badmouth him or try to put up a defense he’ll pull the trigger, even if he didn’t really want to in the first place. The mere fact you even saw the gun or it’s being pointed at you means he wants something from you. If he would have wanted you dead he would have pulled the trigger, most likely from a safe distance and preferably out of your line of sight. Yes, there are defenses against handguns but a) they’re useless when he’s more than 3 meters away from you (you’ll never reach him without getting hit), b) they’re only there as a last resort since they’re inherently risky and c) you have to be highly trained to effectively use them (count on hundreds of hours of practice under qualitfied supervision before you’re sufficiently trained to pull it off in reality). I can recommend krav maga for effective defenses against weapons: in essence it’s a military system, usually modified for civilian use, and everything in it (especially gun disarms) has been tried & tested, i.e proven to work under real stress and danger. For our gun disarm section of the curriculum we copied their defenses since they’re reliable, simple and safe (at least as safe as you’re going to get when guns are involved) and that’s what we’re looking for.

    As to gun permits and concealed carry and the like: I agree with John. Unless you live in a particularly bad neighborhood and there’s a fairly high risk of mortal danger I’d abstain from guns since they’re usually a lot more trouble than they’re worth. Getting your house broken into is always a possibility but if it happens in the majority of cases they want money & valuable items, not your life or body. Making a lot of noise, putting on all the lights and yelling you’ve called the police will send them running and keep you safe: if you go downstairs you’re presenting a direct threat to them and they will use their guns if they have them. Do you really want to risk losing your life over material things? In any fight there’s risk and even if you’re armed there’s a good chance you’ll be hit, especially when they outnumber you. Again: unless they’re psychos out for blood or someone put a price on your head they have no reason to use violence against you unless you give them one. Leave the criminals to the police and don’t go looking for trouble, fight only if your life or the life of your loved ones is in danger. If you do plan on acquiring a firearm there are three things you should do: a) make sure you’re prepared to kill with that gun if necessary or you’ll get shot instead (kill or be killed), b) take a good, thorough course in firearms handling and combative shooting and be prepared to put in the hours to thoroughly master your weapon (an unfamiliar weapon is useless in a fight and can even be of greater danger to you than to the enemy) and finally c) thoroughly acquaint yourself with the applicable laws in your area regarding self defense and legal use of force (especially pertaining to a firearm), as well as safety procedures regarding guns in the house. If you open fire and you can’t prove it was in self defense you’re facing criminal charges and possibibly jailtime, the last thing you want is for your children to find the weapon and hurt themselves or others with it. Guns hurt more innocent people through accidents than the bad guys, be aware of this and weigh the risks to the possible benefits and the chance you’ll ever going to really need a gun to defend your life. This isn’t the far west and if you do live in a dangerous place move, that’s far wiser than going on the warpath.

  12. Eharris Says:

    I support you with the need to prepare for self defense. Far too many people go day to day without any preparation. And, if you look in the newspaper, you’ll see them. BTW, I carry the Best Stun Gun

  13. Tim Says:

    Interesting video http://stoneybrookkarate.com

  14. James Says:

    Your feed backs says it all. It just goes to show that you have a wonderful blog and that everyone who will read this will admire you and will probably do just what you did. Even your videos are interesting! Thank you for this.
    James recently posted..Staying On Your Feet For More Effective Self DefenseMy Profile

  15. Thomas Says:

    Magnificent post. Very informative. Security is something we cannot guarantee all the time. Anyplace there is danger, said to say, including our home and I’m sure we cannot afford to risk our lives with some unwanted events. Therefore, self defense is something we have to give priority like martial arts.
    Thomas recently posted..The Little Engine that CouldMy Profile

  16. Donald the self defense weapons guy Says:

    John, this post could not be further from the truth. I love the videos you chose to make your point. It is very important to learn self defense and hand to hand combat. Crime rates are on the rise with the bad economy and people are starting to get desperate. All too often people put false hope into leathal weapons and think they are protected, but they never consider the fact that anything could happen and the weapon can be taken from them and used against them. Knowing some self defense moves for such an occasion could be life saving.
    Donald the self defense weapons guy recently posted..Why is Pepper Spray the Most Used Choice for Self DefenseMy Profile

  17. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hey Zara! Good points about combat vs fighting. A wise man once said is experience is what you get after you need it. :)

    Hi EHarris! I think legal non-lethal weapons can be part of any layered self-defense strategy. Thanks for your insight.

    Tim, Thanks for the video link.

    Thomas, Thanks for imparting some sage advice.

    Hey Donald, I don’t know if you read the post but I agree learning self defense is important. Not sure how many will go all the way but everyone should have some moves… kind of why I exist here. BTW you have a cool looking website!

  18. Ronald Says:

    Valuable information! I would like to think you for sharing your thoughts and time into your comments! Thumbs Up! I am really satisfied with this posting. This is really a stupendous work done by you. Thank you and I am looking forward for some more of your posts.
    Ronald recently posted..The 3 Basic Self Defense Tactics That You Can UseMy Profile

  19. J Samanaz Says:

    I’ve taken Karate and I carry a TASER Gun. Even though I know I’m prepared, I still am very cautious no matter where I’m going or what I’m doing. It seems personal crimes continue to increase. Sad state of affairs our country is in…..TASER GUN