What is self defence?
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In a nutshell

Self defence is the ability to protect yourself from harm: physically, mentally and emotionally.
It is not about fighting.
The aim of self defence is to incapacitate the attacker and walk away; ideally unharmed.


Self defence is legal. Fighting is not.


Appropriateness is a major concern in self defence.
You must take into account:

The situation
Your surroundings
The degree of threat
Multiple opponents
Your own capabilities
The potential legal ramifications


There is no consensus on what self defence actually means:

  1. Some people see self defence as being tips & pointers that will enable you to handle any manner of assault

  2. Martial artists often regard self defence as a weak, limited aspect of combat

  3. The Police see it as being a reasonable, considered, appropriate response to an assault

Tips & pointers

The problem with learning tips & pointers is the question of what you can actually pull off when faced with a genuine threat.
In all fairness most people will go to pieces and have no real skill whatsoever.
A self defence course that teaches tips & pointers usually gives the individual a bloated sense of confidence but no functional skills.


Combat never goes as planned.
Real skill takes time to acquire and there are no shortcuts.
Martial artists train for years to handle a knife attack and still cannot guarantee a favourable outcome.


When asked how he overcame his opponents, Hadrat Ali explained,
"I never met any man who did not help me against himself."

(Hadrat Ali)

Experienced martial artists

The idea of 'self defence' for an expert martial artist is not appealing.
It sounds like fighting with a hand tied behind your back.
Virtually everything you know is way too serious for self defence.
The traditional aim was typically to maim the opponent.
This is not appropriate for self defence.

Inexperienced martial artists

An inexperienced martial artist is in the opposite situation to an expert.
With a very limited repertoire of skill, their main concern is how to pull off any of their skills well enough to protect themselves in real life.
Most of their training has been in a safe, controlled training environment.
When faced with real danger, what can they do?
Mistakes in the street might cost you your life.

Reasonable force

It is necessary to avoid prosecution when using self defence.
Employ restraint (reasonable force) and only apply your skills only when you have no other choice.
You should never use your art in anger.
Laws exist to ensure the safety and wellbeing of society, and a martial artist should respect this.

One rule

There is only one true rule in self defence: Never underestimate the opponent. (Sun Tzu).
To do so would be your biggest and perhaps only mistake - an attacker's capabilities cannot be discerned from appearance alone.
Under the right set of circumstances, anybody can defeat anybody else.
Can you see an attacker who approaches from behind?
Can you dodge a bullet?

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Page created 5 April 1995
Last updated 09 June 2019