Martial Arts for Survival

Martial Arts applications to Fitness, Sport & Combat Survival

Read article by President Realfighting, WR Mann

You Fight The Way You Train, So Train To Survive

 Martial Arts for Survival

I was watching the morning news this week and came across a segment about a women’s [muaythai] self-defense program being offered in New York City. The women were bobbing up and down (rhythmically in Thai fashion) showering their training partners with elbows, knees and kicks. It looked good but I felt sorry for these girls, knowing their efforts were all for naught. If they were to encounter a desperate, determined individual on the street, there’s a good chance they will be instantly and seriously hurt – why? Because you fight the way you train, and they were training for the ring. Their movements were casual, and there was no intent.

There’s no doubt that muaythai is a formidable fighting method, and although a sport, can be readily adapted for the street by a well-trained practitioner, but there’s the rub. A “well-trained practitioner” can use it on the street, not someone who practices for several months or even a year or two. Yes, a champion sport fighter can out-fight/box and grapple a reality-defense practitioner on the mat or ring, but on the street, it’s a different game altogether.

The street has no rules and the environment can work against you; it can be pitch black and you won’t be able to see a thing, or deserted and no one will come to your aid. Weapons are used on the street and multiple assailants can attack you all at once with clubs, pipes, knives and guns. No referees will break you apart; you can be fighting for your life.

I have a problem with people teaching sport fighting for street-defense. Primarily because it doesn’t actually prepare you for a sudden and violent encounter, it prepares you for a fight in the ring. It literally takes years of hard training to become proficient in muaythai (or any other fighting sport), and even then, you won’t be ready. If you practice sport fighting because you enjoy it, and do it for conditioning benefits, that’s fine, but don’t forget to add a reality-based system to your regimen.

The Sport Approach

The sport approach seems to teach the necessary physical tools and attitude however; it actually leaves out quite a bit. That is, attacks to vulnerable areas such as the eyes, ears, groin, neck etc. Not that you can practice these techniques full power/full speed on a training partner anyway, but if you don’t practice these moves in some manner you will never use them. You fight the way you train!

Sport fighting was never meant to be the all-inclusive system for the ring and the street. Sports don’t teach first strike, awareness, stress management, and defense against weapons because they don’t have to, they’re sports. Sports fighting also doesn’t teach you how to handle weapons, but at least they admit that. Make no mistake, a champion level no-holds-barred fighter can decimate most people (including traditional martial artists), but when weapons appear on the scene, the odds strongly against him.

The Traditional Martial Arts Approach

300px Amadeo Valladares budoka Martial Arts for Survival

In my opinion, traditional martial arts fare much worse when it comes to realistic preparation for street attacks. Whereas sport training often teaches the proper physical schema, many traditional martial arts actually impede a student’s effectiveness by teaching artificial and contorted physical positions. Basing a martial art on the movements of an animal may have worked hundreds of years ago in China before people knew any better, but unless you haven’t noticed recently, people don’t walk, run or move like any animal. In contrast to the animals, man is a tool-using animal.

People training in karate, kung fu, aikido, ninjitsu and other traditional arts are inadvertently trained to be overly stiff and static to ineffectively mellow and relaxed. Mysticism is so pervasive in this environment that attending a class can seem more like a cult or religious gathering.

Traditional martial arts are usually taught in the “pillar of salt” methodology, that is, the instructor demonstrates a concept and is aided by the student; either by inculcation or loyalty, the student performs for the so-called master by jumping through the hoops. A perfect example is the classic aikido or kung fu demo, where the instructor taps the student, and he flies several feet. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but even the best fighters lose when weapons appear.

The Reality-Based Approach

Reality-Based systems distinguish themselves apart from sports and traditional systems in two important ways. #1. Reality-based systems concern themselves with all three stages of an attack. (Sports/traditional styles are concerned with only the attack stage) and #2. Reality-based systems are weapons-centric, (sports/traditional systems are non-weapon centric).

Three Stages Of An Attack

  • There are three basic stages to all attacks: the pre-attack stage, the attack stage and the post-attack stage. The pre-attack stage consists of what’s happening immediately before the attack is initiated. Are you acting like a predator or prey, are you taking precautions if something seems out of place, are you living an avoidance lifestyle, do you have an escape route?
  • The attack-stage is the actual attack and how you deal with it. Do you have a fight-plan? Are you assuming a non-aggressive posture ready to initiate a sudden and explosive first strike? Are you looking at the attacker’s hands, ready to thwart deployment of a weapon? Are you ready to deploy your own weapon if this escalates, are you ready to take a life if it’s the only way to save your own?
  • The post-attack stage is the aftermath of the attack. Are you injured, if so, do you know how to apply self-medical care? Is your attacker injured, do you help him? Do you run away from the crime scene or wait for the police, do you ditch your weapon or retain it. If police arrive, what will you say? Do you have your attorney’s telephone number on you?

On Weapons

Sports/traditional martial arts for the most part disdain modern weapons. I can understand it with sports fighting, it‘s the nature of what they do, but you would think that traditional martial arts would be positive about modern weapons use. Instead of practicing with clubs, knives and guns, many traditionalists instead practice with totally outdated weapons that no one can possible carry on the street for fear of being immediately arrested. Do 6’-0” staffs, nunchucks, tonfa, sickles and Chinese broadswords have any practical value for the street today?

The unique difference about integrated reality-based systems is that they take a weapons-centric approach, which is, being prepared for a gun, knife or impact weapon first. That means you need to study how to deploy and use these weapons to fully understand their capabilities. The hospitals are full of people who thought they were blocking a wild punch that turned out to be knife, now it’s sticking out of their ear.

Summary of Reality Based Martial Arts

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In the old days there was no choice, if you were interested in learning how to protect yourself against violence, traditional martial arts were it. Sports fighting (boxing, wrestling) was not considered effective and was eschewed in favor of the mysticism of Asian arts. In the ‘70’s and ‘80s we all started hearing reports about traditional martial artists being beaten and killed by street thugs. By the early ‘90’s, sports fighters (NHB/UFC) began to dominate the fight game (and regularly trashed traditional martial artists at public events). Around the same time, combatives and reality-based fighting systems were evolving into the holistic defensive systems we have today.

Nowadays, if you wish to prepare yourself efficiently and effectively for a potentially lethal street attack [in a relatively short period of time] an integrated reality-based system should be your first and only choice, there are no other options. If you currently practice sports/traditional arts, that’s fine, add a reality-based course to your agenda. You can take classes or seminars, and it won’t take you months and years to master the basics either. The fact is, you fight the way you train, so train to survive.

Sports Fighting


  • Good sports fighters, (e.g., boxer, wrestler/BJJ, muaythay) will quickly beat most people in an unarmed confrontation, including most traditional stylists.
  • The physical workout is just as good as it gets
  • Advanced reality-based practitioners practice sports fighting to round out their program. Benefits include developing speed, distance, timing and power.


  • Just like anything else worthwhile, it will take years of practice
  • Against weapons, these unarmed skills become useless

Traditional Martial Arts


  • Culturally, historically and philosophically interesting
  • Some styles incorporate lots of exercise and physical activity


  • All schools are not as old as they insinuate, there’s a lot of mythology here
  • Takes too much time to develop minimal skills
  • Many techniques are not applicable for realistic street encounters
  • Many traditional schools string students along for long-term commitments with little gains.
  • Mysticism abounds, cult-like environment leads students not to question
  • Traditional martial arts is something you do with someone not to someone

Reality-Based Fighting


  • Focuses on all three phases of the event: pre-attack, the-attack, post-attack
  • You can learn the concepts and techniques in a relatively short period of time
  • The techniques are extremely powerful, much more so than traditional styles
  • Is weapon centric, prepares you for attacks by guns, knives, impact weapons


  • Minimal conditioning

WR, President, Realfighting

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