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Choosing A Self-Defense System

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Shutterstock / BearFotos

Every time you turn around, you hear another argument of why a Martial Artist thinks their system is the best for self-defense. They hold core beliefs that they use to support their statements. For instance, “90% off all fights end up on the ground,” or “you’ll be up against more than one person,” or “they’ll have a weapon.”

With these steadfast beliefs, some push for striking, while others promote grappling as their go-to fighting tactic. Some focus one one-on-one attacks, whereas others look at multiple attackers. Some introduce weapons into training, while others focus on unarmed combat. These perspectives are all viable and deserving attention; however, they often ignore the very people they want to help.

Ironically, most frequently omitted from the discussion of “which is best” is the person that wants to learn to defend themselves. Their needs, advantages, disadvantages, and resources are afterthoughts when they should be the focus.

So, what do we need to consider?


It does not matter if you are a man or a woman, no one is immune to attacks. That said, the kind of attack most likely to happen to a woman is not typically the same as that of a man. It is important to give thought to the types of attack a person is most likely to encounter and choose a system that puts the majority of its energy on dealing with those situations.

For instance, a woman is more likely to be grabbed by a larger male trying to subdue her through intimidation and oppressive strength. A man, on the other hand, will likely find himself attacked with punches or an old-fashioned tackle. He may also be more likely to be attacked by multiple assailants.

Of course, these are not definitively what will happen, but the probabilities are greater for certain attacks on one sex compared to another.

Ignoring sex is a mistake. Understanding the variety of attacks that are more likely to happen to one than the other should lend to choosing a system that addresses the primary necessities of the trainee.

Time Commitment

How long does the trainee intend to study? Is this a weekend seminar, a three-month venture, or a lifelong commitment? Once again, we must focus on the individual. The length of time a person plans to commit is a vitally important factor in choosing what must be taught and assimilated.

For example, women’s self-defense classes are frequently only a few hours. They’re a “one and done” class. There is no time to teach long katas to instill techniques or put in years conditioning the fists on the makiwara board or shins on the heavy bag. What must be conveyed in the short-term training approach are quick, effective, and simple means of escaping a situation that are easy to remember and apply.

If someone has a few months to commit to training, you can look at greater depth into more options of defense. Perhaps some simple punches like that of boxers and a few basic grappling moves can become part of a self-defense toolbox in that amount of time. Even with a few months, though, advanced kicking techniques or hand movements requiring extreme dexterity and coordination are most likely a waste of time and only serve to confuse the student.

Now, if the plan is to commit years or a lifetime to studying, the doors open to unlimited possibilities. With this option, people can learn to put self-defense techniques into action that they can’t even fathom at the beginning of their training.

So, which system do you choose or recommend? Again, this depends on how long will dedicated to training. That said, no matter how long a person plans to train, they should be taught some simple and effective techniques in the very beginning. This will serve as a means of empowering the student from the get-go.

Physical Abilities

Many of the Arts try to tailor the student to the art instead of tailoring the art to the student. This is a mistake. Sure, there needs to be a baseline of skills that an art teaches. However, the expression and use of the different tools are dependent upon the innate physical abilities of the practitioner.

For example, kicks may be a great tool for a 110-pound lady with excellent flexibility, where at the same time they may prove to be only a distraction to an uncoordinated big burly man. Time permitting, the lady may learn some very effective kicking defense options that are suited to her physical abilities, while the man may find more success studying the basics of boxing or wrestling to maximize the benefit of his size.

Choosing a system based in the natural strengths of the practitioner is a good first step towards building one’s self-defense arsenal.


When picking a system for self-defense, it is most important to keep the individual in mind. By understand the kinds of attacks one is most likely to encounter, how long will be committed to training, and natural physical abilities, one can more easily pick a system that will provide the best benefit for the Martial Arts practitioner.


Ian Lauer

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