What is the difference between martial arts and self-defense?


"Self-defense and martial arts are not the same thing!

Many people have the idea that to learn to protect themselves against everyday dangers they have to learn a martial art--they have to learn Michelle Yeoh’s or Jackie Chan’s moves. This simply isn’t true.

While many martial arts did evolve as self-defense systems, they suited the needs of a people in a specific time and place (such as sword-fighting on horseback in 17th century Korea). They don’t necessarily translate well to practical, modern-day needs. You’re not, for example, going to do a flying kick to a potential date rapist, workplace harasser, or child abuser.

Instead, you can use self-defense techniques for the real dangers women and girls face in our society today, such as harassment, abuse, and sexual assault. These are best addressed through a quality women’s self-defense class.

Self-defense and martial arts each have strengths--and they do have things in common. Here are a few:

SELF-DEFENSE: Anybody can learn basic self-defense skills, even somebody small, elderly, with physical disabilities, overweight, or out of shape. It is not a form of exercise.

MARTIAL ARTS: Is a good workout. Will get you in shape and bring you the health benefits of fitness. Some schools are geared toward sports and competition and attract younger or more athletic people. Other schools are non-competitive and view martial arts as a practice open to anyone.

BOTH: Get you in touch with your physical power.

SELF-DEFENSE: Teaches skills to use against harassment, abuse, and assault, including everyday situations that don’t involve physical attack.

MARTIAL ARTS: May teach awareness to help with prevention, and may help develop confidence to handle daily situations. The physical fighting techniques of martial arts, though, are not usually practical or realistic for the kind of attacks that happen in today’s world.

BOTH: Increase confidence.

SELF-DEFENSE: Effective skills that can be learned quickly.

MARTIAL ARTS: Must be studied for a long time to attain proficiency; often a life-long pursuit.

BOTH: Create a stronger mind-body connection.

SELF-DEFENSE: Develops self-respect and awareness. Encourages personal insights into experiences with violence.

MARTIAL ARTS: Develops discipline, respect, focus.

BOTH: May spur internal change as well as learning specific skills.

SELF-DEFENSE: Depending on the program, may connect to feminism, anti-racism, and larger sociopolitical issues. Develops a broader awareness of issues related to violence against women and girls.

MARTIAL ARTS: Depending on the focus of each school, may encourage spiritual development and/or martial arts as sport and competition.

BOTH: May make connections beyond the particular focus of the program or school."

--From Defend Yourself, an organization focused on training to prevent harassment, abuse and assault.

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