What is Reality Based Self Defense?

There is a question for you, what exactly is reality based self-defence? Ask ten different instructors and you will more than likely get ten variations of answer. I say variations as most will probably agree on certain points such as awareness & avoidance, well any instructor worth their salt would. The term “Reality Based Self-Defence” is not one I favour and try to avoid using and will discuss why in this article.
The term “Reality-Based” is a term supposedly thought up by Jim Wagner, now this is a guy whose credentials have been discussed widely on forums over the years. Personally I have never met or trained with him, I have trained with a couple of guys who held instructor status under him and can vouch for their skills but I am digressing. In all honesty the origin of the term is moot but it has certainly brought about a lot of controversy over the years. Looking through his website, Jim Wagner describes RBSD as “self-defence training as realistic as it gets" which doesn’t really tell us much. You will also get instructors that tell you that RBSD is all about learning how to fight. This is another statement that I do not agree with and will address why in this article.
So, what exactly is RBSD? Self-defence that is based in reality I here you say, that is all very good but whose reality? In my opinion that is the crux of the matter, True or should I say realistic RBSD is a very individual thing because as a society live very different lives.
There will be some principles that should be the foundation of good self-defence regardless of the individual. I am not going to list them all here nor shall I go into details about the individual principles as it is not in the remit of this article, also plenty has been written on the topic by much better writers so it is worth doing the research if you have not done so and checking them out.
Any good self-defence training regardless of the length of time from a one day course through to regular on-going training must include the following:-
  • Awareness, Avoidance & Escape
  • Understanding adrenaline, its effects and how to control it
  • Emotional Invocation Drills
  • Body Language, postures, voice control & verbal De-escalation
  • An understanding of the law & self-defence (remember this will be different from country to country, possibly from State to State in places such as America, something to bear in mind if you teach internationally)
  • Preemptive response
This list is just to give you an idea and I am sure you could all add to the list. Going back to what I was saying earlier about self-defence being different for everyone. I believe that good self-defence training must focus on various scenarios and this is where it becomes an individual affair. Your reality is not the same as my reality, let me give you an example, a few years ago I used to live in Mottingham, a rough area of South East London. The street lived on was the first in the area to introduce curfews and no loitering laws for teenagers in order to try and reduce the level of trouble. Fast forward ten years and I am now living in a fairly small and quiet Burgh in Fife about 15 miles north of Edinburgh. Don’t get me wrong there are still low-lives who live around here but that is society today. So do I need to focus on the same type of training?
Another example, a few years ago I was working as a delivery driver for a supermarket, the area I had to cover included some of the less desirable areas of Edinburgh, deliveries could be made up to 10-11pm at night, on those shifts we would have to go out in pairs, vans were regularly stoned by gangs of teenagers or broken into in order to still the satnavs etc. High levels of awareness were required, adrenaline coursing through the body and on edge constantly, fortunately I was never involved with any physical altercations, not that I would want to get physical for a few bags of shopping. At the same time as doing this I was also studying at university, the campus was not a massive one and everybody went about their own business, I drove in most days and parked up about 100 yards from the door, In, out and back home. No stress, worries or high states of awareness required.
Hopefully you can see how from these examples how reality can change. This then begs the question, If one persons reality can change so much, how can we profess to teach reality based self-defence to a class of 10, 20, 30 people all living their own INDIVDUAL lives?
“Reality-Based” is just another buzzword or tag line that is used to try and sell a service, there is only good self-defence training or bad self-defence training. In a nutshell good self-defence training must involves pre-conflict, approaches, verbal, posturing etc. the conflict but not restricted to a purely physical responce and post conflict, the law, dealing with being arrested, it could be argued that emergency first aid falls into this category, how to deal with cuts etc.
This is what my old instructor Dave Turton, called the sandwich theory, pre-conflict being one slice of bread, the conflict being the filling and post-conflict being the other slice of bread. You will find that many people only teach the filling, the physical responses and they are very good at it but good self-defence requires all areas to be covered.
Looking at the conflict section, what is it you are actually teaching here? Let’s take a couple of examples, you will often hear people recommend boxing, kick boxing or Thai boxing as being great arts for self-defence. But are they in “reality” that good for self-defence? They are all effective, when taught properly in the arena they have been designed for but how many coaches of the sweet science teach you to deal with edged weapons threats for example. Yes you can learn to hit hard but training boxing but do you train with gloves on, hands wrapped, open hand or closed fist (and there is a whole article in itself), But it can teach you take to fight and how to take a punch, I say do I actually want to fight my attacker or do I want to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible? Do I want to fight the attacker rather than ensure that my wife or children are safe? Do I want to fight the attacker or multiple attackers? Fighting assumes that both attacker and defender are swapping strikes, I don’t want to fight my attacker, I want to BEAT them. Shut them down and put them down as quickly as possible. It is all about having the correct mind set and I one of the reasons why in my system, the Rider Martial Arts Cross Training System we prefer to use the term entries rather than defences. Defences infers a negative action, by defending we are already losing.
I’m going to finish up there, hopefully you can see what my view point is with regards to RBSD. I would like to reiterate, no styles, systems or arts were harmed in the writing of this article. Any art that I have named has been used as an example. I respect all martial arts and combat sports as long as they are taught honestly. Thanks for taking the time to read the article. Feel free to get in touch via facebook, twitter or my website if you would like to discuss anything I have written.
About the Author:
Stuart Rider is originally from London but now living in Fife, Scotland. He has been training in the martial arts for 25 years, and has been teaching and running his own clubs since 1999. 

Stuart holds a 3rd Dan in street Defence Combat under Dave Turton, 2nd Dan Choi Kwang Do and several other grades in other arts.

These days Stuart teaches his own system, the Rider Martial Arts Cross Training System (RMA-XTS) which is his interpretation of the various martial arts and self-defence methods he has trained in and studied over the years. Stuart also hold an honours degree from Edinburgh Napier University in Complementary Healthcare/Therapies.

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