Riz's Martial Arts Training

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The Truth About Self Defence

Knowing is not enough,

We must apply.

Willing is not enough,

We must do.

 ~ Bruce Lee

A few weeks ago, out of curiosity, I signed up for a free trial of what claimed to be a 'no-nonsense guide to effective and easy self defence'. And sure enough, every few days for the past couple of weeks, I have received a new video tutorial 'teaching' me what are allegedly battle-tested, highly effective self defence techniques.

Now, here's the sad truth – it's mostly just a lot of nonsense; there is no easy fix to self defence. It's not something that can be learnt through watching ten videos online, nor is it something you can learn by attending a trendy two hour seminar. Here's why:  

Fight, flight or freeze

The 'fight or flight' syndrome is our body's natural response preparing us to either 'confront' or 'flee' from a perceived threat. Physiologically, this is a result of our body's sympathetic nervous system inducing nerve cell firing and chemical releases (casually referred to as an 'adrenaline dump') that boosts the body’s ability to run away or fight. Typically as a result, the respiratory rates increase; blood is shunted away from the digestive tract and directed into muscles and limbs (i.e. more energy/strength); pupils dilate and impulses quicken (resulting in a 'slowing' of time and more focused line of sight); the immune system intensifies, and our ability to feel pain diminishes.

As wonderfully super heroic as the above sounds, an adrenaline dump is also accompanied by a severe decline in our fine motor skills (small, precise movements like using your car keys to unlock your door) as well as impairing our ability to make rational judgments – this is often what leads to a 'freeze'. Tunnel vision can sometimes also occur.

Since conscious judgement and fine motor skills are impaired, self defence responses must be instinctive, primarily relying on your gross motor skills (less precise movements such as pushing a swinging door open).

Self defence / martial arts are essentially training a Pavlovian response to situations of threat. Following extensive training fine motor skills can be used (mainly because of training techniques into 'muscle memory') and rational judgements can be made in the midst of an adrenaline dump to a certain extent however, there will always be a certain level of impairment by nature of our physiology.

As such many of the movements in 'quick-fix' self defence courses become inapplicable due to the requirement of fine motor skills (Exercise: Find a small spot on the wall and try to very quickly poke it 25 times returning your hands to your sides after each attempt…fidgety, right? Now imagine you were trying to do the same to someone's eye while disoriented, feeling the effects of an adrenaline dump, and while he viciously attacked you…). Furthermore for those techniques that are effective, a two hour course (even a two day course!) is simply not enough time to train an instinctive response.

Monkey Steals the Peach, Deity Picks the Grapes

Most self defence programmes promise something other than what is available in the general mainstream. Often these techniques have been lost in the annals of time or have been hidden from you by the government (or another such illuminati-esque organisation). However, there's no such thing as a secret technique (even if you believe in ki, classes are commonly accessible!). As humans we are all pretty much identical in an anatomical sense (the only difference is that between sexes) – that is, everyone (of the same gender) possesses more or less the same vulnerabilities.

True, different arts focus on different methods to target these vulnerabilities but ultimately, a punch is a punch – the important thing is finding something that complements you as an individual; something that you feel works for you (as well as something you enjoy – cause if you hate it, chances are you won't stick with it!). 

Battle of the Sexes

No doubt this final point has the potential to generate a fiery backlash but it does need to be mentioned. In general, men are naturally bigger and stronger than women. And in most self defence cases involving women, men tend to be the attackers (this doesn't include street fights though). Simply put, defending yourself against a bigger and stronger assailant is hard; it takes a significant amount of earnest training to handle someone who is much stronger than you (even if he/she has no clue about martial arts), especially if they are seriously trying to hurt you.

Size matters. Don't expect to be able to easily handle an attacker after two months of training. Size matters…but only so much. With regular training over a long period of time you will be able to handle bigger, stronger (untrained) attackers. For example, I'm usually one of the smallest, physically weaker fighters wherever I go – this doesn't mean that I'm constantly losing but, it does mean that I have to make sure to constantly train harder than people who are more naturally athletic.  

The Art of Fighting Without Fighting

The best form of self defence is no self defence at all. Just as it is safer to move completely out of a punch's trajectory, it is safer to avoid situations where you will need to defend yourself. You don't need to be a hermit to do this, just follow some simple safety tips (that said, nothing is for certain – be prepared!). Have a look at this Personal Protection website:


The website is tailored to female university students but the information available is applicable to most people (should you browse the 'Past Instructors' section, please do excuse the horrible photograph of me; I don't usually look like I've been pulled out of a cartoon).


Post a Comment 5 comments:

Man said...

Dear Riz,

Please check out :






February 12, 2009 at 7:46 PM

Riz said...

Hi Man,

Thanks for your comments - but believe it or not...I already know about the sites you've listed! Saya Yuree is my uncle! (And yes, his courses and classes are among the best I've ever experienced).

February 12, 2009 at 11:24 PM

Michele said...

Excellent post.

I think you touch on a very important point regarding self-defense...it must work for the individual. My self-defense is different than my husband's for reasons such as body type, strength and preference.

February 24, 2009 at 5:14 PM

Riz said...

Hi Michele,
Thank you for passing by my blog. Please do visit often.

February 24, 2009 at 10:09 PM

Anonymous said...

Ouch looks painful..

March 4, 2009 at 1:26 AM

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