Why MMA is not Street Self Defense

The rise in popularity of MMA and Jiu-Jitsu has increased public awareness of martial arts and created a current wave of martial arts enthusiasts. However, an unfortunate side effect of this popular martial arts movement is that the average person sees tournaments such as the UFC and thinks that self defense works like the fights that occur in the ring or octagon. Nothing could be further from the truth.

By street self defense I am not referring to a school yard fist fight whereby the loser gets a black eye and the winner gets to be the school champion or bully for a few days. By real street self defense I am referring to situations where there is no ring, no referees, no friends around to help you and to stop the situation before it gets to far out of control and no one to stop the attacker from beating you to death after you have been knocked down half unconscious. In fact in real street self defense the attacker may be armed with a knife or gun and the friends who are around may be his accomplices who are helping him to beat you to death. Also, in real street situations attacks happen without warning or provocation. Just being in the wrong place at the wrong time and having something that a criminal wants is enough to draw a vicious and unrelenting attack from someone who is experienced and who is larger, stronger, younger, faster, better armed and more ready for a conflict at this moment than you. As a teacher I always imagine one of my students who is female about 5’2 and weighs about 105 pounds and is over 45 years old (but looks 10 years younger than she is) being attacked by a 19 -23 year old, 250 lb male who is muscle bound and freshly out of prison with rape and killing on his mind. His legs are nearly as big as her whole body. Is she going to out box him? When he begins attacking her is she going to be able to grapple with him in a realistic way that will allow her any advantage before he pounds her into submission? If he has a weapon or friends will boxing, MMA or Jiu-jitsu give her any skills that will really help her deal with this attack? The sports mentality is one of “Get in there and fight!”. Does this sound like her smartest strategy in this situation? A ring/cage/octagon fighter may train some awareness skills but not the kind that is designed to help you recognize potential attackers in real life because in the ring it is very obvious who you are fighting, where they are before the fight begins and that they are there to fight you. The nice benefit for you in a ring fight is that at almost anytime you want you can simply yell, “I quit” and leave and the fight is over. Obviously this is quite different from a real street attack.
Please see our article “Attacks Vs Fist Fights and Posturing.

If someone steals your car (or any other personal possession) and they start driving it away right in front of you what is your best response. For a ring trained fighter the answer all to often has been to chase the criminal down. This has resulted in well known, respected and loved people being shot down by a criminal who was playing by street rules instead of sport rules. If someone commits road rage against you and after some sign language tries to get you to pull over and fight do you stop the car and jump out to go fight? There are famous ring fighters who have and even wrote about it like teaching the other person a lesson is the thing to do. This is all well and good if everyone is playing by ring rules. There are MMA fighters who have been shot to death when they thought they were about to engage in a lesson teaching street fight of this nature. In street/bar fights there are MMA and Jiu-jitsu stylists who have been stomped, gutted and shot because they made the mistake of confusing ring rules and sports with real street situations. Sports and street are not the same thing.

Street attacks involve brutal realities and call for intelligent responses starting with proper awareness, avoidance and deterrence skills and if all of this is appropriately applied in a situation and a physical answer is called for then the physical answer needs to be a response that will match the lethal nature of the situation and where safely exiting / leaving / getting away (ideally before force is needed) is always on the top of the list of priorities. Real street self defense is not as glamorous or exciting as the UFC and other sporting type events and I for one am glad they are not. Rape, murder, kidnapping etc are awful nasty and terrible (usually life changing) events for anyone and should not be acceptable under any circumstances. In real street oriented martial arts the training is geared around real street scenarios where avoiding and exiting at the first real opportunity is a critical and required part of the practice. In MMA and Jiu-jitsu sports training the critical part of practice is to work within a set of rules to pin or knockout the other person who is empty handed and fighting by themselves and whose only defense is that they have been training MMA, boxing and Jiu-jitsu so that they can have a match with / against another competitor. In real street attacks physical responses are mostly going to involve techniques that are brutal and illegal even in extreme sports competitions. The goal is to hurt them and get away. Some people call this an improper or inhumane response. I disagree. The criminal attacker is the one who committed the heinous act and is improper and inhumane and deserves anything they get.

One of the difficulties in demonstrating arts that teach real self defense skills is in demonstrating the techniques without really harming anyone. On our website we have a video that we made of a student defending himself against a surprise attack by multiple attackers armed with baseball bats. We told the attackers to go as fast as they could without risking their own safety. As it was, two of the attackers were mildly clipped with baseball bats and nearly injured. You can see it if you look close. It would have been nice for the scenario to have been performed faster and harder. The defender in the video (one of our students) actually asked for them to attack faster. None of the bat wielding assailants were willing and stated that they were afraid they would really get injured as much or more by each other than they would by the defender. Essentially, with proper strategy and movement it is relatively easy to make baseball bat swinging attackers get in their own way. The defender escaped as soon as he was in a good position to do so and in reality may have pulled back in towards the camera to escape if it was possible. Although you can not see it in the film, we had that side of the area completely blocked off with people and camera equipment. Also, the defender would have struck some of the attackers much harder and or in the eyes but he also was being careful not to actually damage his fellow friends and students. The saving grace of this is that we have students who have defended themselves against serious multiple attackers and in other real situations who have reported to us that our training methods made the difference to them in surviving and escaping from the situation(s). A lot of the reason for this is that we work scenarios utilizing our self defense skills and learning how to make the right kind of smart decision under the real stress that comes with scenarios and we work on the attacker producing weapons, friends and other realistic situations that are a true reality in bad street situations.

One of the things that I sometimes hear about training for real street scenarios regards the idea that most bad street attacks do not happen very often. I have several responses to this. Go to a bad part of town in any big inner city in America and see how long it takes to draw a nasty attack or to at least be confronted with unfriendly and illegal violence. In many places in America this kind of violence happens on a daily basis. Look at how many robberies, murders and other violent crimes happen in the average American city and then see if you feel the same about the possibility that you could be a target at some time or another. By the way, a smart criminal will come to the better part of town to steal your car and rob your home. After all, that is where the money is. Now, as far as the fist fighting and wrestling are concerned. I ask who other than MMA types and kids really get into these kinds of fights. I do not get into these kind of fights and I do not associate with those who do. To be in a fist fight you have to agree to be in it even if it is because you did not say “NO ” and simply pick up your things and walk away when the village idiot was cursing you out and telling you how he wants to kick your butt. Leaving the situation may not seem manly and good sportsman like conduct but it is the more appropriate legal and self defense response. If you are an MMA, Jiu-jitsu guy maybe challenging them to a fight with rules at the local gym is a good response but it is still not the proper self defense response.

May Peace and Safety be with you and yours.