Lethal Martial Art Training is Not Self Defence

Duty of care is part of a martial art instructor's responsibility and obligation!

There's so much baggage in the martial arts.

Martial art classes are often filled with young children whose parents are enthusiastic for them to acquire a mystical discipline from our practice of Taekwondo. Then there are adult classes who are filled with people coming to learn 'a little self defence' or gain 'some fitness.' Many will have little idea about the realities of violence. Few will understand that that learning 'a little self defence' will only fill them with false sense of confidence.

Before he has begun his class, the instructor is already caught between the difficulties of verbalising his way through difficult issues to an enamoured audience who don't really know what they really want from their martial arts training.

So let's just train martial arts to the best of our ability then. Train 'traditionally.' And do this with impunity: going to full extension on strikes, aiming one or two inches behind the target, break those boards, nodding at the right instances when the instructor tells us a particular technique is lethal, jumping around during sparring try to score on our opponent, and lastly, go as hard as we can because protective gear and soft mats prevent us from knowing the trouble our martial training can cause.

Train with DELIBERATION and safety. Safety first. Always


We also take the moral high ground throughout because we are not those who lurk in dark alleyways,

All of which seems 'legit' because we are told to avoid fights and practice self-control.

Yet all of which would contribute to getting yourself jailed because you had no idea on what constitutes reasonable force. In fact you've no real idea when self defence skills are warranted. Did you ever stop to think you have a moral obligation to defuse a situation and back away?

Think about it, the smart phones are out and what do the witnesses record? They might have first seen some shouting but then they've got that video of you ending the altercation with your karate chop sockey. You did what you do - just like you were trained in class. Excellent, slick technique, and you are standing over the 'bully.' But how did it play out on spectator video? Forget your moral high ground. It looked like you were the aggressor.

I train Traditional Taekwondo mostly in a garage dojang here in Perth, Western Australia. I also cross train with other schools and dojangs across Perth. However lethal I think I am, if I really do want to hurt someone, it would be far easier for me to reach for the spade or another blunt edge impact tool - and use that against my opponents. That of course will never happen. If possible, I want to use the system to eschew unfairness and injustice, to protect the weak and defenceless, and to protect my family and myself. The practice allows me to gain insight into the human condition, I enjoy the physical exercise, and my little school gives me fulfilment.

However courteous and morally upright I go about my life, when things go wrong, I need to be able to think clearly despite the turmoil or chaos. I need my students to do the same! I must seek to defuse the situation. I must sincerely attempt to de-escalate to the best of my ability. I know that no one wins in an altercation. So I'm constantly reading the situation - I may already have my fence up with palms facing outward, and I may be slowly backing away. Meaning YOU need to back away!!!

If things go south, I still attempt to disconnect and distance - putting objects in the path of my oncoming aggressor. I want to make sure I'm safe, so I scan the environment and perhaps look for equipment or weapons on the attacker that he might use on me. I also shout for the attacker to stop and to seek help or attention. A great idea is to ask the attacker some nonsensical question so the guy is forced to process my ludicrous logic.

If this fails, then I get my cover up and to start to move tactically. I might attempt to slow him down. Or deflect the strikes. Or gap close, go for limb control or a hair grab. Or do a safe takedown and immobilisation. All this while still trying to talk him out of it.

If your sincere deescalation attempts fail. If you could not control him with a lock or takedown, and you feel your life is in imminent danger ... this is when you go for your striking skills. It's not appropriate to strike someone if they simply look aggressive or whom are just standing there. It's not a great look to cross the threshold and king hit the bikie who's talking trash about your girl. Even if the person is holding a knife, but he's eyeing the door, not making a move toward your person, and is thinking of making an escape - you cannot use 'self defence' (read lethal martial arts) techniques on them.

Why teach reasonable force? Because
traditional systems need that
safety switch!


You have to use reasonable force to only stop the threat on your life. If your attacker is on the floor with a brain haemorrhage from the fall to the ground (you didn't think to hold him up), broken elbow from your arm break, collapsed trachea from the neck strike, and a subluxation of the knee from your low side kick ... well, your 'self defence' (read lethal martial arts) training did stop the attacker but the overkill will fail to protect you from the jury.

Don't fake yourself to think that people use self defence every day and are wrongly convicted by the legal system. Don't fake yourself to believe it is better to be judged by twelve than carried by six. It is your obligation to understand how best to manage your own training. You cannot practice lethal martial arts with impunity. The training message must be clear - dangerous techniques must be used with caution, with awareness that they are to be used only when you feel your life is under imminent threat. To put it in physical terms - and I know this must be difficult to hear - the knife must literally be coming for you if you aim to shut down his airway.

If you are interested in self defence skills you need to train with awareness. It's not all about the absolute speed you can throw that kick. You need to be sensitive and you have to be able to read your opponent. Spar slowly. Take off the gloves. Get close and personal. Mix it up and practice in a multiple opponent environment. You practice so you should be able to answer this one question - what did the opponent do? In a court of law, other practitioners will testify that your Taekwondo or martial art training helps you become more observant whilst under duress. You can use this to make better reasonable choices. You can decide when enough is enough on your part. You can use this to justify your actions when it comes time to.

Please research, seek guidance or legal advice on the use of force continuum.

Note: This article was submitted to Totally Taekwondo in August 2017.

Elevate Your Martial Arts Lessons into The Art of Living 

  • Black Belt Myths by GM Keith Yates: Taking misconceptions of the ranking system to clarify our personal progress through a system. The external ranking is only a small and superficial part of our training, the most important is the internal progress and maturity that occurs as you apply yourself. Don't externalise your reward system. Look inside for your own satisfaction!
  • The Fifth Precept of Gichin Funakoshi by Mireille Clark: The Father of Modern Karate talks about spirit first and technique second to stop us all from over intellectualizing and under committing to the path of learning a martial art. Be sincere in your training! Don't let yourself hold you back! 
  • Of Secrets and Hidden Techniques by Colin Wee: My secret is not a secret at all but a way to transform our system into pragmatic skills based off my worldview and what I need to make things happen. What do you need to do to make things happen in your own life? Would someone else value this? Of course not. Because they are not you! Gain confidence in what you have to do without looking externally for affirmation or acknowledgement. 
  • Etiquette for the Dojang and its Relevance by Colin Wee: Collectively these guidelines help you develop a mindset to complement your training and martial preparedness. They are a ritual to help you 'get into the zone' and to return to your 'A game' under duress!!! And then when you get there, bring your dojo or 'safe space' with you wherever you are through mental visualisation training. 
  • Warrior Personal Strength - Self Control by Tom Booker: Senior Instructor of Broadway Family Karate tells a story of 'Ike and George and the Tank'. Ike and George refers to Dwight D. Eisenhower and General George S. Patton. Questions included for you to respond to after listening to the story.
  • The Tenets of Taekwondo by Colin Wee: These are five points encapsulating the philosophical essence of our practice.  
  • How to Stop a Bully by Brooks Gibbs: Dealing with dominance behaviour, and tools to manage yourself. This is an extrapolation of physical self defence; this is mental self defence relevant to adults as much as it is with children. 
  • Avoid Psyching Yourself Out - Advice for Athletes During the Coronavirus Crisis by Dr Alan Goldberg: Learn to keep your focus on what you're doing to avoid the stress of your current circumstances. Recognise when your focus drifts. And then bring this concentration back into the present.


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