“Listening to the average martial artist talk about real world violence I like listening to ten year olds talk about sex.” SGT Rory Miller

What I did in martial arts class…and why it was pretty worthless for self defense;

This isn’t a put down to those doing martial arts. I spent a big chunk of my life doing martial arts. I currently have my son in martial arts. I believe it is great for kids. For adults it is great exercise, good for self discipline, balance, coordination, a fun hobby and a cool thing to spend time getting good at. What I have a problem with is when a martial art claims to be the ultimate in self defense.

I feel that I am pretty qualified to talk about both the martial arts and self defense. I started a “traditional” martial art in 1986. I won a national title in sparring, coached many national medalists and champions, spent many years teaching martial arts and was a fourth degree black belt in the art. In the late 90’s I started hearing about Krav Maga. I saw Krav Maga at a martial arts show and was fortunate enough to be in the very first Krav Maga instructor training programs in the U.S. I am now a third degree black belt in Krav Maga and travel the country teaching the system to gym owners and law enforcement groups.
The stuff we did in martial arts class;

BOARD BREAKING PRACTICE. We would take a kick and practice it for three or four months and then break a 1×10 piece of pine with that kick at our belt test. As we travelled up the ranks we would put on a show with our board breaks, breaking several boards with several different techniques. Why we spent so much time on that I’ll never know. At tests and tournaments we would spend five or ten minutes just setting it up. We had to have several holders, tell them just where to stand and how to hold and would run through it in slow motion three or four times before we ever started. The holders had to know what they were doing and not move at all. What were we preparing for…a fight against a bunch of mannequins? Those great, powerful kicks and strikes were never practiced dynamically. Never practiced against something that didn’t want hit and was hitting back. We certainly weren’t fighting smart and stacking attackers, the boards were on all sides of us.

KATAS; There are martial artists who can make a pretty good case for practicing katas…I hated them even when I was in the art. I was told they had several uses, one was practicing techniques. I am not sure how practicing to the air and not full speed was getting me ready for anything. I’d rather have been hitting heavy bags and mitts with power. I was told it was practice for multiple attackers. If that was true why in the hades did I keep turning my back to the guy I just hit? Why was I not stacking and moving dynamically and running away? To practice certain blocks and then punch and kick combinations was hoping that an attacker would come at me and strike in the pattern I was training. Hope ain’t a strategy!

ONE STEP SPARRING; Maybe the most worthless thing we ever practiced. I would get into a front stance, perform a low block with my front arm and chamber my back arm at my waist to punch from there. My “attacker” would then do the same. When I kiapped (yelled) he would take a step and punch from his waist to my chest and freeze there like a statue while I did my defense and counter attack. WTF!! This is screwed up on so many levels that I don’t know where to start! If I am ever attacked on the street it would be nice if the attacker gave me space, didn’t attack until I let them know it was ok to do so, kept their hands down, punched at an area that isn’t fragile, froze after one strike and stood there to let me do something back. If I had that attacker it wouldn’t much matter what I practiced for self defense! As Rory Miller says in Facing Violence “100 defenses to 100 attacks works for sparring, not ambush…and then it takes years of practice.”

TECHNIQUES; We were focused only on techniques. The martial arts are about the only thing you’ll find that works and works on answers without ever knowing the question. To work on defenses for attacks you would think that you would study violence and see how the scumbags actually attack. We had 30 defenses for a straight knife attack to the mid section. Say what? Hicks law tells me if I have more than one choice it takes time to decide between them. How much time do I have when a knife is coming at my gut?

When we practiced our kicks we would do 100 reps with each leg and then move on to something else. We never practiced with an attacker, with stress or exhaustion, while trying to hit something that didn’t want hit and was hitting back or with an attacker’s buddy approaching fast. We practiced self defense techniques but never once practiced self defense. Under stress I am sure I would have thrown one kick, stopped and re set and then threw another…just the way I trained.

We practiced for hours in front stances for me to learn later that they were developed for balance when fighting on ships. We spent hours in a horse stance for me to learn later that this was how peasants, who didn’t own horses, practiced for the cavalry. Our high flying side kicks were developed for knocking people off horse back. A lot of time spent learning how to defend myself against things that I would never run into in modern day America.

FREE SPARRING; Our sparring was kicks only and high and spinning kicks counted for more points. We feinted, circled, came in and went back out and danced for most of a two minute round. Sparring on the street is stupid. For one, sparring distance is run away distance…or pick something up to smack the idiot with distance at least. Self defense is going forward with hatred and rage to do the maximum amount of damage in the minimum amount of time and then getting to safety. If you are sparring the idiot’s buddy is closing in on you. Every asshole has an asshole buddy close by!

If you want to practice martial arts, do so. Just don’t confuse them with self defense. If you are wanting only to learn to defend yourself look for a self defense program. If it’s fancy, it isn’t self defense. BE SAFE!



  1. The truth about katas is that they are postures and breathing exercises designed to promote physical health. In fact, the Shaolin originally learned these exercises from an Indian monk, so the katas are basically yoga for warriors. The Shaolin hid self-defense techniques within them later to hide their techniques from outsiders. As you often say, “It made sense at the time.” I will earn my 5th-black in Kung Fu and do katas for the exercise and health benefits and for fun. At the same time, I understand their limitations and will cross-train in Krav Maga for modern self-defense. After all, a true martial artist is humble enough to learn techniques which work, regardless of who created them. After training in Krav Maga for a few months, I learned one valuable lesson: it works!

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