The Truth About Self-Defense

The Truth About Self-Defense

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011


For many who enroll in a martial arts program, learning self-defense is frequently a top goal. The truth is, that while martial arts classes can aid in self-defense, it’s not usually in the ways most new students think.

Let’s be perfectly honest. It’s unrealistic to expect to be able to fight off ANY attacker in ANY circumstance simply as a result of attending a weekend seminar or a few karate or boxing classes. The fact is, that unless you are practicing self-defense on a frequent basis, you are probably not going to be prepared to use those techniques when the situation requires them.

It is important to understand that several physiological things happen when we come under attack. This is what scientists refer to as the acute stress response, also known as the fight-or-flight response. Basically, this response prepares our bodies to either fight or flee the threat.

Once our brains recognize that we face a threatening circumstance, the hypothalamus, located near the base of the brain, triggers the adrenal glands to release hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline boosts your heart rate and blood pressure, causes your liver to release stored energy and sends blood to your large muscle groups. Cortisol slows the bodily functions that aren’t necessary when you’re in a serious bind, such as digestion and growth, to keep energy available for where it’s needed.

When our bodies dump that much adrenaline into our systems, our heart, muscles and lungs are set for a BRIEF surge of intense activity, be it a struggle or escape. What most people who have not trained for this reaction do not realize, is that this natural hormonal response actually DECREASES our fine and complex motor skills. Unless you train to work through the reaction, your ability to fight off an attacker may actually be compromised, if you expect to use some combination of self-defense techniques.

Additionally, during fight-or-flight situations, your pupils dilate, and your visual scope focuses in, decreasing the number of things you notice. This has the effect of making us less alert to our surroundings and reducing our situational awareness. In a panic, the result is often complete tunnel vision, seeing only the threat, not all of the possible solutions.

In truth, for most martial arts students, the biggest self defense benefit is really just improved fitness. Simply having a knowledge self-defense technique is not enough.

Experienced martial arts instructors train their students vigorously. They build activity to the point of physical exertion to simulate the body’s actual reaction in time of extreme stress. Practicing combat moves during these periods of peak activity teaches the student to control their movements even through the surge of hormones of the fight-or-flight response.

To overcome the confusion and tunnel vision which occurs during an attack, the student of the martial arts will repeat their combat moves again and again and again, working to build muscle memory for each move. Even during the intense confusion that occurs during the acute stress response, they are then able to execute those actions that may save them from danger.

Finally, the serious martial artist will train with a variety of partners. This enables them to learn how to adjust their technique to counter opponents of assorted body types, weights, strengths and abilities. This preparation is key to effective defense when faced with actual physical conflict.

If self-defense is your goal and time or budget prevents you from enrolling in a martial arts program, consider this: increasing your personal safety ALWAYS starts with awareness. Simply staying alert and mindful of your surroundings will do more for you than any one-shot seminar. Be prepared. If you do not have time to train, you may be better off investing in a can of pepper spray, a Taser or body alarm than a couple of classes. Remember that the bad guys hate noise, light and witnesses. Avoid threatening situations by thinking ahead, staying aware of your surroundings and whenever possible, traveling in groups of two or more.

If you are serious about self defense, find an experienced instructor who is about your size and build. Commit to classes and be prepared to work hard. Practical experience and knowledge of martial arts will not only prepare you to act, but will give you a realistic understanding of your ability to escape danger and better, how to avoid it.

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