Reality Self Defense vs Combat Sports | Training for Self Defense

Knowing the difference between combat sports training and reality based training is critical for every person that joins a martial arts school. I have been training in martial arts for the better part of 25 years. Like most people I was first introduced to traditional martial arts as an “outlet” when I was a young man.  In those days the choices were few and the qualified instructors were even more scarce. We all took Karate. It didn’t matter if the system being taught was actually Karate. Karate became the generic term for martial arts and seemingly overnight there were dojos popping up everywhere.


Fast forward 25 years and the boom in the martial arts business is in full swing. MMA is leading the way by quickly becoming the world’s fastest growing sport with the youngest fan demographic and the billions of dollars in revenue it produces annually it’s appeal has crossed over from fringe to casual fans in homes across the country. There has however been another impact.


MMA is has a rugged look, from it’s cage, to the four ounce finger-less gloves, the tattooed , mohawked, multi-colored haired fighters could easily confuse the casual fan into believing that MMA is ‘just like a street fight', but that’s where they are wrong!


I’ve had the pleasure of training at one of the top MMA gyms in the world. I have trained with and sparred with some of the world’s best fighters, trainers and coaches from around the globe. MMA athletes are incredibly skilled but MMA matches themselves are not street fights. To call these great athletes street fighters is disrespectful to them and to the sport itself. Furthermore when I hear people refer to MMA as a street fight it reminds me that the general public has no idea what a real live street attack actually feels like.


You play like you practice” - Vince Lombardi


Combat sport fighting and reality based self defense are completely different. They both serve different purposes and while they may look similar you have to know the differences between the two. Sport fighting has rules. There are weight classes in combat sports and an expected decorum between the combatants.


Despite all of the bravado neither combatant really wants to kill the other in these contests. Neither fighter comes to the cage or ring with murderous intent. They are not armed in any way and both fighters know that there will be no interference from anyone during the fight. Street fights do not come with these types of guarantees. In fact, Street attacks are guaranteed to produce more than one attacker and in many cases armed attackers. MMA training alone will not prepare you to deal with these things.


MMA and for that matter BJJ are not designed for the street. Does that mean an MMA fighter would not fare well in a street altercation? No. Have you ever seen the video of MMA fighter Roger Huerta fighting a guy outside of a night club?



What I am suggesting here though is that there is a science to surviving a violent altercation and that training in combat sports can help but it can also be a detriment as well.


Think about the type of training that happens in the typical MMA school. Everything is geared towards what happens in the cage and as I alluded to earlier, none of the things that happen in a cage are going to happen in the street. At least not in the same manner that they occur in the street. How much time does the average MMA student spend training against an armed attacker? Zero. Did you know that 73.10 % of all aggravated assaults that occurred in 2011 involved some type of weapon? Weapons are defined as firearms, knives and other manufactured or improvised weapons. If you spend zero time training for something that happens 73.1% of the time during a fight, I don’t care who you are, you are in big trouble.


When and prospective MMA student joins a gym in order to learn “self defense” I wonder if that person actually understands the difference between self defense and sport fighting. I describe them as two separate roads that intersect at various points. They certainly can share some similar traits however they are two distinctive roads. Knowing how to navigate these roads is crucial if you
want to learn how to survive a real street fight.


I am a Second Degree Black Belt in Krav Maga, the world’s most respected reality based martial art. Krav Maga is the official hand to hand combat system of the Israeli Defense Forces. It is used by law enforcement and military units around the world and is the go to system for Tier 1 operators who fight in the darkest places known to man. Krav Maga was created out of necessity as all combat systems have been throughout history. What is Krav Maga exactly and how does it compare to MMA?


Krav Maga’s founder Imi Lichtenfeld was born in Hungary and as a young man he survived the Nazi occupation by fighting back and using hand to hand techniques, grappling, boxing, wrestling, improvised weapons and unconventional tactics to fight off the the Nazis. As Imi’s reputation grew so did the need and demand for his style of fighting which he would call Krav Maga, which is Hebrew for Contact Combat or Close Combat.


Krav Maga is quite simply a devastating system that is void of rules, pageantry or code of conduct. It exists for one reason only,survival. Groin kicks, eye gouges, biting, joint locks, head butts, knives, sticks and guns are all part of this combat style. The Krav Maga practitioner is taught to use any and all means to stop his/her attacker from harming them or their loved ones. This does not mean that there isn’t a science to the system though. Krav Maga is a principle based system that has specific techniques that are deployed at combat speed for maximum effect.  So if Krav Maga is considered to be the go to system for law enforcement and military why are so many police officers enrolling in MMA/BJJ schools? Why are so many civilians convinced that MMA is the perfect self defense system? Television. It’s that simple. MMA is everywhere and companies are spending millions to associate themselves with MMA and the major company, UFC. As a fan I love what the UFC has done for martial arts. But it has also created a false sense of security in the minds of people who want to use it as a  primary self defense system.


Training against a fighter is one thing however training against a crazed, armed assailant is something completely different. It is impossible to prepare for every scenario but to not train for them at all is foolish.


“All martial arts are good for what they were created for” - Llyod Irvin


Every system has merit. In fact Krav Maga while effective in the street is by its very nature of very little strategic value in the cage or ring. That does not mean that it is entirely useless it just means that the tools that are developed by training in Krav Maga are not the best tools for ring or cage fights. MMA is a fantastic combat sport and a wonderful way to learn the art of hand to hand fighting. The physical fitness benefits are undeniable and the overall effectiveness of MMA as a combat sport is unquestioned. However the lack of training and preparing for what we will see in the streets puts the MMA fighter at a disadvantage if the fights escalate beyond a one on one encounter and involve weapons if, the MMA fighter does not train for these possibilities. In short - train in both if you have the ability to do so, continue to expand your knowledge and your skill set so that in any arena you will improve your chances for victory.


About the Author:


Donavin Britt is a Second Degree Black Belt under John Whitman. He is the owner and Chief Instructor of Las Vegas Krav Maga in Las Vegas, Nevada. Donavin has trained with many of the top Krav Maga and BJJ instructors in the world. 

Donavin has a background in multiple Martial disciplines and continues to be recognized as one of the most dynamic instructors and innovative trainers in the game today.


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