Does martial arts training really matter in a life-or-death situation?
August 26, 2005 9:08 PM   Subscribe

Does martial arts training really matter in a life-or-death situation?

There have been a number of fight videos on and hedonistica lately, and after watching them I have to wonder what a person can honestly do in a situation where someone (or several someones) are determined to fuck you up. I've never been in a serious altercation myself, but I gather that [1] most fights are over in a punch or two and [2] brute force thereby outweighs agility or tactics.

To those MeFites who have trained in some form of martial arts: has your training ever saved you in a physical confrontation? Have you successfully defended yourself from an attack where the assailant was wielding a weapon (knife, gun, rasberry, whatever)? Or are martial arts more practical for exercise and discipline than protecting your ass from a thug with canned hams for fists?
posted by jojopizza to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've been in many fights, most fights end up in wrestling matches. I've also trained in a couple of martial arts and the main thing that any martial art, including boxing, can give you is confidence and an in-built reaction. You feel threatened, you punch, or you kick or whatever it takes to reduce the threat. The most important part of any training is removing the brain from the process. If you're like most people you'll try to avoid actual violence, in some circumstances this will lead to an increased chance of being maimed or injured.

Have I ever been saved by my training? That's debatable. Some of the fights I've been would've been avoided if not for my confidence, but I don't think that avoiding those fights would've been for the best, at least for other people.
posted by substrate at 9:45 PM on August 26, 2005

My son started his martial arts training when he was 5. He's 12 now. The best part of the training is the confidence he has in himself. He doesn't have to brag -- he knows he can "reduce the threat" in a situation without too much effort. That being said: I've never had a report of him being in a fight at school. When I see him with his friends and classmates, kidding and jibes seem to fall about him, and he just takes it in stride. I'm pretty sure kids have just gotten tired of making fun of him over the years.

Out in the wild, I have no doubt that one of the first lessons his Sifu taught him will come in handy: When faced with a threat that you have any doubt in your mind of overcoming, use the ancient art of running away really fast.
posted by thanotopsis at 11:09 PM on August 26, 2005

Only if it's full contact (or close to it).
Most people not used to fists(feet, objects, whatever) flying at them flinch away.
If you're used the sensation, it gives you an edge.

On the other hand, like substrate said, most bar fights and the like end up on the ground, so if you are planning on engaging in such activities, you might want to take up Gracie Jui-Jitsu or something.

That said, yes, my "training" has come in handy a couple of times. Being a small guy (5'7"), I've found the most useful blows are those that are taught in Krav Maga, the object (for me anyway) being do enough damage that the aggresor will stop long enough for you to beat a hasty retreat. The advantage to Krav Maga is that it focuses on just the type of thing you find in a bar fight (chokes, bear hugs, etc)

Thankfully, I've never been menaced with anything more intimidating than a beer bottle, I'm not sure I'd want to face down a gun.
posted by madajb at 11:16 PM on August 26, 2005

No, you're still going to get shot. It doesn't matter. You're dead.
posted by corpse at 11:27 PM on August 26, 2005

I trained in jujitsu for a few years. Most experienced martial artists' answers to the "has it ever helped you?" question sound like:

a) yes, I fell off my bike once, and knowing how to roll probably saved me serious injury (or any variant on how knowing how to fall proved valuable)

b) well, I was getting some bad vides from these guys in the park, so I took the long way around and avoided them. I think that might have avoided a confrontation, and I don't think I'd've been sensitive to that before my training.

You won't find many stories about cinematic scenes of being surrounded by armed thugs and beating them all into neat, suspiciously uninjurious states of unconsciousness. Because martial artists are good at avoiding that situation. (But you will find cool stories of Martial Artists defusing situations through verbal judo.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:39 PM on August 26, 2005

My judo sensei fought off muggers once. But he also ran from a guy with a knife.
My judo training is unlikely to ever do anythign for me, as I don't practice anymore. And was never all that great. And am fat now. And slow.
My friend who studies ninjitsu is about the least likely motherfucker to get into a fight ever (a combination of natural kindness and the fact that he's tall and built and just looks like he could kick ass in a second— without giving off that "I'm a badass, pick a fight with me" vibe).
posted by klangklangston at 12:08 AM on August 27, 2005

My friends - a mixed-ethnic group of 5 people - were confronted by a group of 6 nazi skinheads once. Unfortunately for the skinheads, the group were friends because they all attended the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu academy and had various other martial arts skills. I'm sure the nazis enjoyed their time in the hospital.

That said, against a gun, you're screwed. Other handheld weapons, maybe you have a chance. I agree with previous posts that the confidence and automatic reaction to aggressive stimuli are probably the best indicators of your potential success in surviving an attack.
posted by bedhead at 1:35 AM on August 27, 2005

In my experience, there are two things that my martial arts training has given me - the ability not to get into fights, and the ability to get the first strike in if the situation becomes otherwise unavoidable.

Absolutely, first is to try and avoid the confrontation in any way possible, be that running away, talking fast or begging for mercy - this isn't about pride, it's about survival.

But if you do have to fight, you're absolutely right - if a fight goes beyond the first couple of strikes, it becomes a wrestling match and the only martial art likely to do you any good there is Judo. But as has been said earlier, if you're trained and observant, you can see the signs of a confrontation, or see when you opponent has lost his patience and is about to do something, and you can do it first - one blow should be all you need, at least to give yourself the opportunity to effect a retreat.

That said, in a "life and death" situation that you postulate, which I have never been in, I would be confident that I could dodge faster, hit harder and more accurately, and and this for me is the most important thing be prepared to do whatever it took to finish the fight as quickly and as hard as possible. If it really is "life or death" then you have make sure you're the one alive at the end of it, and the ability to overcome emotional blocks and just kill or be killed is not inate, but with training in a martial art, you might just have that edge over an opponent who isn't, in reality, prepared to kill (most deaths in fights/muggings happen by accident, because one of the other person doesn't know when/how to stop)...
posted by benzo8 at 2:29 AM on August 27, 2005

If nothing else, you have to figure that training in a martial art gives you some (depending on the frequency/intensity of training) above-average level of physical fitness. Which is going to be better than just being of average physical fitness when you're trying to run away, right?
posted by juv3nal at 3:52 AM on August 27, 2005

I always though the most important thing in fighting is the acceptance that you will get hurt. If you've been involved in street fights you will know that it's not usually organised or fair (so basically nothing like most sports martial arts teach). The second most important thing to learn is that if you are going to take offensive physical action then you must do so 100%. You can't be waiting for the chance to pull off a particular move you learned, you have to get in there, put in the most nasty attack you can until the opponent is hors de combat and then run the fuck away before his mates give you a pasting.

I always recommend boxing and jujutsu as the best combo for realistic fight training (unless you are in the military in which case you'll likely be learning a variant of Sykes and Fairbairns methods). Learning to land powerful attacks in a clinch, attacking weak points and applying locks or pain holds is useful as long as you are only fighting a single opponent.

I was always taught to attack first in situations where you were likely to get hurt and to attack the loudest and biggest target. If you kick the tank in the nuts and then stomp him then the other people in a group will usually think twice. In my somewhat limited experience I found this tactic worked more often than not.
posted by longbaugh at 5:51 AM on August 27, 2005

longbaugh writes "You can't be waiting for the chance to pull off a particular move you learned"

This is a really salient point, which can be distilled down to: "A little martial arts knowledge is a dangerous thing - to the wielder".
posted by benzo8 at 7:36 AM on August 27, 2005

Most fights are over in a punch or two and the reason is that most folks don't know how brain-rattling a hard blow to the jaw feels. So training that familiarizes you with absorbing a blow and turning the resulting shock and rage into energy and determination can definitely help you in a fight. Many forms of martial arts also train extensively on blocking blows, which becomes an instinctual reflex with enough practice. So martial arts can prepare you for the physical reactions and that can save you in a fight or from a fight. But martial arts students are drilled with recognising fight or flight instincts and taking the path of least resistance.

Among folks that can fight, agility and tactics far outweigh brute force. Going back to my first point, if you've been hit before and are trained in how to react, it takes a nearly perfect punch to knock you out of a fight. So a brute might hit you once unaware, but your instincts will prevent you from even falling back. At that point, it is matter of whether you wish to quickly extricate yourself from the situation or beat somebody's ass. Size and strength doesn't matter, quickness and determination do.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 7:55 AM on August 27, 2005

In a knife fight, the winner is the one who ends up in the hospital. Think well on this, young grasshopper.

Kick, don't punch. Kick them in the knees, kick the knee like you're trying to break down a dead-bolted door - *as hard as you can*, with your entire weight behind it.

A couple of the previous commenters have it: the only thing that'll help you in a life-or-death situation is recognizing that and immediately changing your behavior to fit that new reality. You have to immediately enter an all-or-nothing, him-or-me, do-or-die mode where the norms of civilized society no longer apply and 100% of your bodily resources are available to you. Your best bet may be striking once and then running at top speed. It may be beating down the opponent and then stomping him on the ground until he stops moving. It may be just very calmly handing over your wallet and avoiding eye contact. Whatever it is, do it and do it without hesitation.

I was a U.S. Marine undergoing some training on an Army base. One evening walking back to the Marine barracks, a group of Army guys called me over - "Hey buddy, come here and check this out". My spidey-sense started tingling, but I walked nearer to them anyway. They spread out and attacked me.

I was in the best physical shape of my life, fresh from bootcamp which includes unarmed combat training. No weapons were visible. About 6 of them. Deserted field on an Army base, near midnight.

I ran through the nearest guy and ran like my ass was on fire for the Marine barracks (which I knew had someone on duty 24 hours). As I passed him I hit him with my elbow and I got hit in the ear and side. I have no idea whether they followed me or not, I ran like I was trying out for the Olympics.

Had I chosen otherwise, I might be here today, but it might be minus a bunch of my teeth or some other parts of my body which I value. Or, hey, I might not be here. My ear swelled up real nice for a few days.

In my experience martial arts training makes people stupid. You won't win against a weapon if you don't have one. You won't win against multiple opponents. "Wrestling" indicates that neither of you are really trying to hurt the other one - if you were "wrestling" for real, you'd put your thumb in the other guy's eye socket and insert it up to the base of your thumb.
posted by jellicle at 8:24 AM on August 27, 2005

I broke my toe sparring and decided that if I continued It'd be a lot harder to play the guitar with jammed fingers and sprained parts so I quit. I kinda miss it, 15 years later.
posted by craniac at 9:11 AM on August 27, 2005

My sifu, an ex-cop, always taught us to run like hell from any weapon confrontation. In almost all circumstances you are better off. Even with a gun pointed at you, run. It is very hard to hit a running person with a handgun, especially if the gun-wielder does not practice or is holding the gun "thug-style".

That said, my training saved me twice, both times because I learned break-falls very well in my Kung-fu classes. I never knew I was going to have to do break-falls on people's windshields, but I'm glad I did. Gymnastics would have been another path to that end.
posted by Invoke at 10:40 AM on August 27, 2005

+1 for Krav, at the school I've been going to the first thing they teach is the "Nike defense". And the second thing they teach is to be as vicious as possible towards the agressor to disable them long enough to use the Nike defense.

And the training to become moderatlely proficient is not out of the reach of anyone.
posted by CCK at 2:24 PM on August 27, 2005

Took Tae Kwon Do for a few years. Never, to my amazement, have been in anything worse than a few shoves. However, knowing that I could, if push came to shove, do some serious damage quickly to someone has given me the confidence to control some heated confrontations peacefully.

Simple rule for punching, btw: Don't swing. Push straight out. Your energy is much more efficiently focused.
posted by mkultra at 6:25 PM on August 27, 2005

My Aikido instructor always said `In a fight, the first rule is RUN. If they catch you, use what you know'

A good friend of mine who has studied martial arts for many years (and is a Karate instructor / student with the Gracies) has been in a couple of situations.

The first, three against him, the technique was to kick the first guy in the crotch and throw him into the others before running, the second involved restraining a guy who was laying into a security guard.

Neither of these are similar to a martial arts fight as often seen on TV, but the training enabled him to act appropriately.
posted by tomble at 9:11 PM on August 27, 2005

I recently asked a friend of mine who has spent a good portion of his life in the armed forces a casual question about martial arts and I found a few things that he said to be very interesting and a bit surprising. I'll try and quote him as best as I can remember.

"I once fought a black belt. He had a hell of a kick, and it looked really nice as he delivered it, but I won the fight. Martial arts are just that, an art."

(In response to a question I asked about a particular martial art (perhaps Wing Chun?) and its usefulness in fighting two or three opponents) "If you're in a life or death fight against three people, you're probably dead. Your best bet is to kill or seriously injure the first person as fast as you can, to discourage the others."
posted by Rictic at 11:04 PM on August 27, 2005

Years of martial arts.

In a conflict you have the fight or flight response. If it's "fight" at least you won't freeze.

Mostly where it works out, however, is that the sort of people who're looking to victimize you are, as predators, going to pick out the people they're pretty sure they can take easily. The confidence one gets from MA appears to make one a less likely target for such predators.

If it does get fuzzy, however, at least you'll be able to keep your wits about you. There's a lot to be said for that.
posted by Elvis at 9:36 AM on August 29, 2005

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