It is one of my pet hates when sport fighting clubs like some tournament orientated karate schools, kickboxing clubs and Jujitsu clubs advertise that they teach self-defence. What they do is okay for some situations but consider this:

  • Roughly 40% of self defence situations involve multiple attackers, which by its nature is a very dangerous situation. No sport fighting clubs will teach you the strategies needed to deal with this. Brazilian Jujitsu training is almost certainly going to make a multiple attacker situation worse as it only teaches ground fighting and being on the floor against multiple attackers is a catastrophic disaster.
  • 42% of fights end up on the ground, and for ladies some most dangerous and terrifying self-defence situations will be on the floor, yet sporting karate, and kick boxing will never teach you how to defend yourself from this.
  • Judo and Jujitsu clubs also rarely teach defences against strikes, and even if they do it is frequently in highly stylised choreographed drills which bear little resemblance to the reality of self-defence.
  • In most styles of karate, hook punches and haymakers are illegal to throw in sparring so even though they are by far and away the most common attack in self-defence, in a tournament club you will never developed the conditioned responses needed to deal with them.
  • The most dangerous assaults involve weapons – knives and bats etc, and of course defence against weapons is never taught in sport clubs.
  • Sport fighting clubs also never teach dirty self-defence tactics which can level the playing field against much bigger and stronger attackers, and can help end a situation much, much faster.
  • The most important and best self-defence skills of awareness, avoidance and de-escalation are also never taught.

How would you rate a martial art that is advertised to teach self-defence but then leaves you completely unprepared for 40% -80% of self-defence situations?


It is a common misconception that most self-defence situations will be a dukes up -stand up fight. But the reality very, very different. 

Now if winning medals is the number one thing you want from your martial art and you have no interest in protecting yourself then by all means join a club that focuses on the sport.


What is the difference between self-defence and combative sport?

There is a wide range of self-defence situations like bullying, street fights, serious assaults, multiple attackers, knife and other weapon attacks, abductions and sexual assaults. Sadly unlike in sporting competition the encounter is highly unlikely to be fair and symmetrical. Criminals will use their size, numbers, weapons, attacking from behind, surprise, deception and even location to give them whatever advantage they can. Circumstances also vary widely, sometimes you will need to deal with a surprise attack, sometimes you will have the opportunity to talk them down and de-escalate the situation, and sometimes with awareness and avoidance strategies you may even be able to avoid situations completely, which is the best self-defence.


Hopefully you are already seeing a big difference in what happens in the competition ring to what happens in self-defence. Sadly there are even martial artist instructors don’t know the difference and who think that learning sport fighting, even highly stylised karate points fighting, is all you need to defend yourself. They are fooling themselves in thinking that every self-defence situation is a one on one stand up street fight where you start a suitable distance, and equally naively that the sport fighting that they practice is all they will need for every eventuality in this scenario. This is of course simple not true, obviously most self-defence situations are not fights where both parties agree to fight in an open area (studies of police reports prove this).  And even if every self-defence situation was a street fight even MMA doesn’t include skill sets like dirty fighting after all – if you are in a fair fight – your tactics suck.


The problem all combative sports have is that they are limited by their one on one format in an open space, as well as the rules for safety and worse their rules for style. Obviously the best combative sports for self-defence are those that have very few rules. The worst are those that have lots of rules, especially rules that are about style rather than safety. Myamoto Musashi said you can only fight how you train. The more stylistic the rules of sparring are the more likely they will lead to bad habits that will let you down in self-defence. Even a layman can see this just watch Brazilian Jujitsu championships or Olympic Judo or Taekwondo. 


Lets not throw the baby out with the bath water. There are also many really useful and functional skills that you night not pick up by only drilling self-defence. And competition also helps train people to deal with pressure and how to handle the adrenaline rush they will experience in a self-defence situation.


The higher end of combat sports especially MMA have served to show us what works and what is fantasy, which is a really big problem in the traditional martial arts world. This may be in what they demonstrate works in high stakes full contact competition and also what is excluded by their rules. For example MMA is the most brutal full contact combative sport with almost no rules for style and only a handful of rules for safety. So as a self-defence practitioner you would be wise to adopt those illegal or dirty techniques in your skillset as they have likely been proven to be too dangerous or give an unfair advantage in a competition that allows you to break your opponents limbs, and elbow and knee people in the head.


Namely these would be:

  • Small digit manipulation- breaking people fingers
  • Striking the throat including grabbing the trachea.
  • Poking, gouging or scratching the eyes
  • Raking the face, fish hooking the nose or mouth
  • Attacking the groin
  • Twisting manipulation of the neck
  • Pulling hair
  • Striking the back of the brain stem
  • Biting
  • Head butting

What is Shinkyu’s solution?

First and foremost we drill loads of actual self defence.  In fact our syllabus has been specifically designed to prepare students for all the most statistically probably habitual acts of violence.  We not only drill these defences we also pressure test students with varying degrees of unpredictability and difficulty, with the goal of building people’s confidence while ensuring they can handle the stress of a real situation. We also teach awareness, avoidance and de-escalation skills.

We have three levels of sparring so as a student advances sparring becomes more and more realistic while still maintaining safety. And of course we teach and then pressure test wholistic self-defence skills to make sure our students are conditioned to deal with all of the most statistically probably self-defence situationsgroundg