Functional martial arts are systems that train practitioners to injure or kill people. Functional self defense is about avoiding or surviving an attack. The two are substantially different.

Martial arts can be used when all else fails in self defense, but the goal in self defense is not injuring or killing an opponent. The goal is to survive and prosper. Even in martial sports, from boxing to MMA, the goal is to beat your opponent by fighting. In self defense, the goal is not to fight.

Martial Arts Are For Killing

Most martial arts have roots in military combat or war, and many of these original systems placed more emphasis on armed rather than unarmed fighting. In war, participants are obligated to fight, and killing your opponent isn’t legally punishable in the country you’re fighting for. But in nearly every country, there are self defense laws that limit your use of force. You can’t whip out a sword and decapitate someone who threatens to punch you…at least not without severe consequences if you’re caught. And you can’t pull a gun and shoot a guy for mouthing off without risking going to jail for the rest of your life.

Self Defense Is About Prevention

98% of self defense is about awareness and prevention, and although some martial arts emphasis this, the vast majority of training time is spent on taking out an opponent. Of course, training to avoid or prevent an attack takes far less skill and training. And that’s a good thing! Learning to successfully stop, injure, or kill a larger, stronger, potentially armed attacker, one who has chosen you and initiated the attack, is hard. Really hard. So it does take much more training to physically beat an opponent. But that’s not the main reason most martial arts spend so much time training physical techniques and so little on avoiding or preventing an attack. They do so because martial arts are not self defense.

Why Train Martial Arts

If you’re not going to war and/or don’t plan on assassinating someone anytime soon, why practice martial arts at all? Training martial arts only for self defense is likely a waste of time, since avoiding and preventing an attack is relatively easy and highly effective. If you do understand violence, why people use it, where they use it, who they use it against, and how they use it, and you put that knowledge to use, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever be attacked. And if you are, you’re likely to be out-gunned or out-numbered. Escape or compliance is probably going to be your best bet for survival.

The best reason to train martial arts for most people is enjoyment. They’re a great deal of fun. And, functional martial arts are great exercise. No other sport or training method puts you in touch with and works your body like martial arts. They’re outstanding for balance, coordination, speed, and strength, and you can train them for your entire life. Since there are no rules in functional martial arts, anything is possible.

Functional martial arts training can save your life if you do find yourself under attack. They’ll be tremendously useful for those in combat or in law enforcement. And, understanding how to manipulate distance and position will tip you off to when a potential attacker is attempting to set you up. Martial arts may be a useful part of self defense, but the best reason to train is for enjoyment.