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Self defence techniques arethe band aid of Martial arts.

Recently on line I have seen many people discussing the merits of what self defence training is and isn’t.

I would like to give you my personal take on what I believe is self- defence training in comparison to Martial arts/Combat sports.

My opinion is based on nearly fifty years of training. Much of my training is of an empirical nature having tried and tested my techniques in all arenas of combat.

First of all, self-defence is the physical part of the umbrella called Self Protection.

Self-protection is basically 95% awareness and 5% physical.

Training the physical techniques doesn’t require years and years of your time.

Although the longer you spend training your techniques the better, they will get.

In the world of Self- protection, the physical aspect is very small.(5%)

That said if you use the 5% use it with a 100% conviction.


Next, self defence is very much of a personal nature.

What I may find effective or not may differ to what another person believes.

Size, strength, speed, agility, physical fitness, age, mental capacity all play a vital role.

Self defence techniques should be kept basic and simple working behind gross motor skills that can be remembered under pressure.

The more complex the skill the less chance you have of recalling it under attack let alone applying it.


You don’t need to be a Martial artist to learn Self-Defence skills.

You also don’t have to devote years to training.

If you wanted to train in self-defence skills everyday week in week out it would become boring very quickly as you would be running over the same small handful of techniques.

This is where now a big majority of people now cross over into Martial arts to learn more techniques ,advanced applications etc.

Now your learning isn’t all about the practical, it becomes the discovery and journey of an art form that in this case is Martial.

Let’s look at it another way.

Take a painter for instance. Are all painters the same?

Well, there’s painter A who can paint a door (self-defence) and there is Painter B who can paint the ceiling of the Sistine chapel (martial artist).

Painter B has the complex skills for the ceiling but he can whenever he likes, paint a door with no problem.

To many Martial artists mistake their highly trained skilful techniques for self-defence.

Let’s look at another analogy.

I regard self-defence like first aid.

First aid is first response basis technique to help a person who is injured or ill. It does what it says on the tin.

A first aider is not a paramedic, nurse, doctor or a surgeon.

Those people’s skills are more complex and advanced.

Their brand of knowledge and expertise is not really required in first aid.

I see self defence as that band aid to do a job quickly and successfully if that is what is needed.

If a plaster is required and not open-heart surgery then you use a plaster nothing more  is needed.

Now if the first aider wants to move into medicine in a big way (martial arts) that is great but no matter what they end up learning the basis first aid (self-defence) will remain the same. It doesn’t have to be elaborated on.

Self defence techniques are not about adding and adding. It is more about taking away.

Sometimes less is more.

By all means learn grappling ,submissions ,flying kicks, nunchakus, bokken etc but you don’t essentially need them for self-defence.

A judo player maybe a master of Osoto gari(major outer reap) and be able to use it in real world self defence but would it be a universal technique to teach over say a thumb gouge in the eye.

A wrestler may shout the merits of a double leg takedown on the streets but would that be taught to a female over a palm heel to the philtrum and a knee in the balls.

As I said earlier on Self-defence  techniques are always of a personal nature.


Self -defence techniques are also scenario based. No two situations are the same.

The scenario will also decide the technique you will use.

There are no one fit all scenario techniques.

Not every situation requires you to knockout or choke out an attacker.

A rising level of force can be used depending on the level of threat you encounter.

As I have said many times in previous writings. ‘Fighting is not self-defence.’

To many instructors out on You tube are mistaking this big time.

When you open up your instructional by saying’ ‘In a street fight I would ……’we are already miles away from self-defence.

Fighting is of mutually consent. Self-defence isn’t.

Self defence is doing what you have to do to repel an  unwanted attack and escape.

It is not about doing the ‘dance of death’ on your falling attacker’s head.


Then of course you get the other guys online that are away with the fairies peddling bullshit techniques that would get you killed in real life.

We all laugh knowingly at them yet they are still out there pulling in students and making money from teaching implausible stuff.

My old friend Geoff Thompson used to say you know when you go into a club were the training is real because there is hardly anybody in the class.


I absolutely love the Martial arts and its many varied branches. I have indeed made a life time study of them but I also am astute enough to know if I am teaching a group of people physical self-defence techniques, I will only be teaching a small fraction of what I know to them.

Here is another analogy for you.(I am feeling very astute today)

Think of your Martial arts as a set of encyclopaedias on your bookshelf at home that you can delve into at your leisure for reference.

Now think of your Self defence techniques as a small slim note pad you carry around in your back pocket for easy access.

Don’t mix them around otherwise the burden of the encyclopaedias weights to heavy on you and 95% of their information you are never going to need to use.

Keep it simple. Keep it real .

Kevin O’Hagan.




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