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There has been much discussion on the differences between self-defense training methodology vs. sport training methodology. It isn't necessarily a this vs. that since an individual is free to pursue either as the focus of their personal training. The purpose of this thread is to go into the differences in training methodology. It isnt' to say one is better or superior to the other as each has a different focus and a different goal. So from the very beginning I want to make it clear that this isnt' an 'us' vs. 'them' thread. It isn't a we're great and you suck thread. It is only to discuss the SD training methodology in and of itself and how it differs from the sport model. 

For the sport-only instructor/practitioner that has only the focus or goal of sport competition, this thread will probably be of little value. And there is nothing wrong with being a sport only instructor/practitiner as long as that goal is clearly stated up front.

For the sport only instructor/practitioner that wants to take a look at some SD options for possible inclusion into the training, this thread may hold some value for you.

For the SD only instructor/practitioner this would be a good thread to 'talk shop'.

For the purposes of this thread we can define self-defense as the strategies, principles, tactics and techniques to defend oneself and/or loved ones from and attack which can cause bodily harm, great bodily harm and/or death.

To begin with, most types of sport traing/competions revolve around some/most/all of the following considerations (be they TKD specific or a more general MMA).
  • Has a referee that enforces rules that both parties are required to abide by for the match.
  • The match is in a well-lit, dry, level, soft venue. 
  • The opponent is unarmed. 
  • The opponent is alone with no chance others will join in.
  • Some sort of safety gear is usually involved i.e. cup, mouth piece, gloves etc.
  • The opponent isn't trying to kill, maim or severely injure you.
  • You get a break in-between rounds to catch your breath, get a drink, get some advice or a pep talk.
  • If you've had enough, you can call a time out or tap out or simply quit and walk away. 
  • There is often an incentive or reward for competing and/or winning such as rank advancement, a prize or maybe cash.

As a comparison, self-defense training is for situations;
  • Situational awareness i.e. be aware of your surroundings.
  • Factors such as avoidance, evasion, escape and de-escalation need to be taken into consideration and trained for where appropriate.
  • Where there is no referee enforcing rules.
  • You are likely alone and/or at some sort of a place or position of disadvantage. 
  • There are no rules.
  • There are no breaks, water, advice or anything to assist you.
  • The assault can occur in a parking lot, elevator, side street, your car, your bedroom, in the woods etc. It will likely occur in dim light conditions in any type of weather.
  • The attacker may be armed, and should be assumed to be armed.
  • The attacker may have friends more than willing to jump in.
  • There is no safety gear, but likely a plethora of person-unfriendly objects like broken glass, traffic, walls etc. 
  • The attacker is looking to cause as much damage to you as humanly possible in the shortest amount of time possible.
  • To quit is to die (or something possibly worse i.e. rape, love one killed etc) 
  • The goal is survival, the method is whatever it takes and is appropriate to the situation.

When looking at the difference in training methodologies, consider for the student and scenario;
  • Do they always 'go for the knock-out', for points, for a submission? Is so, they've limited there response options. 
  • Do they have the option and/or opportunity to avoid or evade the potential conflice. Or escape or practice an verbal de-escalation skills?
  • Do they have the option of using an improvised weapon?
  • Does there opponent have the option of pulling a weapon (planned or improvised)?
  • Does there opponent have the option of having his buddies jump in to help?
  • Is the student required to observe certain rules?
  • Do your students always train inside the Dojang? Are opportunities provided to train inside a vehicle, stairs, elevator, hallway, small room, on grass, on asphalt, on a sloping or wet or slippery surface?
  • Do your students always where their uniform? Are they familar with what it would be like to be wearing tight clothing, foot wear, shorts and a T-shirt, a dress etc? Tt is one thing to be warmed up and stretched out and wearing loose clothing in the Dojang. It is quite another to try it in a dress in high heels, a pair of tight jeans, with a handful of groceries, a duty belt etc when you're not warmed up and stretched out. 
  • Have they ever trained in dim light conditions?
  • Have they trained with visual/auditory distractions?
  • Do we always use a closed fist when striking at the head while wearing gloves and padded helmets? A blow to the head with a fist in a SD situation may not be the wisest tactic. The chance of injuring the hand on someone’s head is fairly substantial even with a well-placed strike. That is why boxer as an example tape their hands and wear gloves. I'll say it again; the chance of injuring your hand on someone's head/face is fairly substantial. If this occurs, depending on the severity of the injury, it could very well limit your options for further SD. Anyone here ever try to manipulate a weapon with broken knuckles? Or a cell phone, or car keys? I've broken a knuckle before and my range of motion in that hand was limited for an extended period of time. Given that manual dexterity is already limited while under duress, you've just made it even harder by busting a knuckle or two, or spraining your wrist on someone's face. And there is no way to know ahead of time whether or not he'll actually be knocked out.

    This also doesn't touch on the possibility of blood borne pathogens the bad guy may be carrying. And now you've put yourself in a position of cutting your knuckles on his teeth or 'bleeding' him from the mouth or nose. 

Is the student (or the instructor) well versed in the state statutes of force and deadly force? In consideration like bodily harm, great bodily harm and/or death? Subject factors? What a reasonable person would do in the same situation? Are you required to retreat in your state? Does your state have a 'Castle Doctrine'? An instructor doesn't need to be an attorney, but providing the resources for the student to check into it and touching on some of the topics during class time.

Is the student (or the instructor) well versed in the O.O.D.A. loop? Fight or flight? Flinch resonse? Adrenaline responses such as tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, loss of manual dexterity in the extremities? Considerations can include;
  • Even powerful strikes in non-lethal areas can fail. 
  • A situation which starts out at less-than-lethal levels can quickly escalate.
  • A proper joint lock, at the appropriate time, 'can' immobilize even an EDP (emotionally disturbed person) even if strikes fail and if properly applied.
  • Be as patient as possible for the situation, look for openings.
  • The attack will probably take place at the most advantageous time to the attacker and the least advantageous to us. We may be tired, sick, distracted etc yet still be forced into a situation. 
  • Some of these predators come in packs which backs them bold. And even being physically big isn't always a deterent. 

Physical conditioning is also helpful during training, or at least encouraging it. Being physically fit can help us in several areas of a SD situation. It can also help if an injury has been sustained. 

An interesting tidbit on Judo training; During WWII, Dermott 'Pat' O'Neill was the highest ranked non-Japanese Judoka in the world. He was also a member of the Shanghai Municipal Police Department with William Fairbairn. At the time, it was described as the most dangerous city/job in the world. O'Neill was eventually chosen to teach the First Special Services Forces (also known as the Devil's Brigade) which was a combination of U.S. and Canadian special forces (the movie of the same name was not an accurate portrayal). When designing what is now known as WWII Combatives, O'Neill (and Fairbairn who was a 2nd Dan under Jigoro Sensei) put no Judo into the system. When asked why, O'Neill replied that Judo was useless unless the enemy was wearing a Gi.

Now that was a bit of tounge-in-cheek humor on the part of O'Neill, but the point he was making was that Judo has a lot of sport techniques that require the opponent to be wearing heavy clothing for grip. If they aren't, or the quarters or conditions aren't what is needed then the number of Judo techniques that are possible become limited. Also, while many Judo techniques and principles are excellent for balance displacement, they aren't necessarily lethal which was often necessary on the battlefield or in special ops where stealth and quiet were essential.

Does this mean that Judo is useless for defense? No. Quite a bit in Judo can be effectively applied defensively against a resisting, determined attacker. The goal, for the defense minded Judoka, is to know the difference.

The same can be applied to TKD, or Karate, or any martial art that has both a sport and a self-defense component. For a competitor, who's goal is to win tourneys we need movements that fit within the rules of engagement. While kicks and punches are okay, it probably woundn't prolong your sport career to intentionally elbow strike the opponent, or use an intentional groin strike, or brachial plexus strike or head butt or eye gouge etc. For the defense-minded practitioner, limiting training to sport-geared sparring would limit ones total options as well. Again, the goal is simply to know the difference. One doesn't translate very well to the other. Each has there own specific training methodology and that is fine. The only time confusion or contention enters the picture is when one trains one way and believes it covers the other as well. 

That is hopefully a good start for consideration/discussion. Be safe.