Self defense... i guess its supposed to be the "noble" form of combat. If you study specifically "self defense", you're basically taking the standpoint that you're only interested in fighting if its for the sake of protecting yourself. Its a reactionary view on martial arts. You are "reacting" to someone else's evil aggression and defending yourself... thus... "self-defense".
(* A Note From Trav: Dude... I wrote this article just so that Google would know that my website is about Self Defense to some degree. This is not a good article. It's just me saying the words 'self defense' a bunch of times, and yelling angrily about 'reactionary' arts. There's no point in reading further.)
The concept of self-defense as a practice is bullshit. Either you have the ability to win a fight, or you don't. As the defender OR the attacker, you either have the right skills, or you lose.
A fight can start for any number of reasons: someone throws a sucker punch in a bar, someone tries to take your wallet in the street, someone has road rage and starts kicking your car at a stop light, or maybe you just wore the wrong colors in the wrong neighborhood. Once the fight starts, there's only one thing that matters, and thats ENDING it.
Self-defense classes usually start with an instructor saying, "So a guy attacks you like this..." and then he will initiate some nonsensically overaggressive assault, before showing you what to do in order to diffuse exactly such a situation. There's a few major problems with this type of martial learning structure.
The first attack is a MAJOR advantage. Think about it like this, do you ever see a boxer just walk across the ring and wait to be punched before he gets in his stance and starts moving like a fighter? Of course not. He's ready from the beginning, either to attack or to be attacked. Allowing someone to throw the first strike at you is almost like starting a boxing match without your hands up.
There are times when you can tell a fight is about to happen. It's just clearly unavoidable. If you acknowledge this type of situation, my recommendation is to hit that guy first and hit hard.
I understand that you might not be the kind of person to initiate a fight and throw the first strike. Some folks just want to avoid a fight so badly that they will allow themselves to be put into compromising and dangerous positions<em> in hopes that it just doesn't happen.</em>
If that's who you are, i strongly suggest that you study some head movement: basic slips and dodges. If you aren't going to strike first, then you meed to make the other guy MISS first. Once you make him miss, you need to counter-punch while he's off balance and vulnerable.
If you won't even counter-punch, then to be perfectly honest with you, you're hopeless. If you've taken the best defensive standpoint and dodged, you made the guy miss... great. Now what? You think that he's not going to try to hit you again? He certainly won't stop and think to himself, "Wow... that ninja that I just tried to punch practically disappeared... I better swing again." That dude will punch your face as soon as it comes back into his focus and you can bet on it. The best way to stop someone from hitting you is to hit in response (or initially) with frightening power.
Once an attacker realizes the damage that you can do, you will strike fear into him. Fear clouds the mind. He is no longer the attacker, he's worried about what you might do next. He will hesitate to punch and miss again, because of the damage that might ensue. His mind is on your attacks, not his own.
THAT is self defense.
I take issue with the actual instructional content within self defense classes... The moves are frequently ridiculous, they just don't work . For some reason, self-defense instructors love teaching throws. Some guy tries to stab you from high over his head, but you swoop in and grab his arm and flip him right over your shoulder. Nice move... Now what? Now he stands up. Did you already run away? Are you faster than him? If you didn't run, are you going to throw him again? Every time you toss someone, your faced with the same situation. He's going to stand up, and the fight goes on. Either you need to be the faster runner, or you need to be the better fight finisher. It's probably best to be both, but I'm just not interested in running. That said, to finish a fight, I believe in disgustingly powerful punches and kicks, not fancy throws.
The other issue that I find troublesome in self defense classes is the "If he does THIS, then you do THAT" attitude. Like, if he bear hugs you from behind, then you step on his toes, elbow his belly, and karate chop his brainstem. I just don't like it. It's based on your ability to remember some random circumstance, which will probably never happen. I find that most of the stuff they teach wouldn't stop an assailant anyhow.
Just to contradict myself a little, there's plenty of reactionary training in Jiu Jitsu, specific moves that you can do in response to your opponent doing something first. The main difference is that as fighters, we go to Jiu Jitsu class EVERY DAY. We run into similar positions and circumstances EVERY DAY. We practice the same moves for hours at a time and we get used to our opponents attacking us with a ton of different techniques. If you're not going to repeatedly train a defense for the "choke from behind" technique for many repetitions every week, then you'll never be able to defend it in a real situation.
It would be best to teach someone how to punch in a self defense class. Not only can you practice it on your own, without someone to simulate an attack, you're not going to find yourself in a dangerous situation and say to yourself, "Wait... What was i supposed to do again?"
While our philosophies on "how" to defend yourself might be different, awareness is consistently of paramount importance. If you don't want to throw the first strike, pay close attention. Are his fists closed? Is he close enough to hit you? There is NO good reason to let someone stand close enough to hit you. If you don't want to push him out of your face (which i don't recommend yo do... you might as well hit him at that point), you should put your hand on his chest and move YOURSELF backwards until you are a full arms length away. Be very clear at this point, "if you try to get close to me again, I'm going to hit you". If you let him move in again without cracking him in the jaw, you are ASKING to get hurt, sucker-punched, or even stabbed. You gave him the chance to leave you alone. When he's close enough to hit you, you are in danger... To let him be in that position would be foolish on your part.
In my humble opinion, self-defense is the same thing as self offense. Kill or be killed... actually, that's a little harsh. Maybe just "win, or be beaten". That said, the threat of death is always present in a self defense scenario. Its not something to be taken lightly. For this reason, i would recommend REAL preparedness instead of a false sense of security.
You should have power in your strikes, and you should throw them in combinations designed to make them more likely to land. I would be sure to have at least one good range attack, Like a front kick to keep your opponent away from you, or a simple jab, with focus on using it at its maximum length.
From a more advanced standpoint, the concept of fighting on an attack angle keeps you safe. To summarize, "attacking on an angle" means moving to the left or right while striking and doing damage. Because you hit the guy and you're not right in front of him to be hit back, you do a lot of damage while remaining untouched (ideally). It seems like a no-brainer, but if you don't have any idea how to attack on an angle, you miss out on an incredibly simple way to defeat people safely.
All of these topics are covered extensively on this site... be sure to look around.