Mixed Martial Arts and Self-Defense

Mixed Martial Arts and Self-Defense

Most people, whether they are involved in Martial Arts or not, have heard of the UFC ( Ultimate Fighting Championship ) or mixed martial arts. It’s the latest fashion in combat competitions and designed to test someones all round martial arts skills. Boxing still pulls in huge audiences but it doesn’t have the variety of skills necessary to master mixed martial art competitions.

But is it something useful in everyday street self-defense?


The argument for yes is that you learn a range of exceptional skills, stamina and toughness that an average person simply doesn’t have. So if you ended up in a physical confrontation you could dominate with ease and your opponent would be in serious trouble.

And no,

Alternatively, the argument for no, is that this very same skill level and the sense of confidence it brings can land you in serious trouble as your awareness levels and thinking skills take second place. This can put you in dangerous situations that you could have avoided in environments beyond your control, where there are no rules and no sense of honour.

Self-Defense expert Marc MacYoung puts it this way,

“But realize when we talk about self-defense, we are referring to a small aspect of a larger personal safety strategy. A strategy that self-defense is a small subset of a bigger picture. At the very best, we look at physical self-defense as damage control. And no damage control is ever as good as not getting into the situation in the first place.”

Marc MacYoung

An example for no

I remember a story backing up the argument for no. It involved a seasoned and skillful boxer. To all intents and purposes, if you were to have any issue with him, you would probably get knocked out very quickly. He was an instructor and also trained in a gym near where I lived. Then one day I found out he was recovering in hospital having been involved in an altercation. He was stabbed trying to stop a fight and someone had taken a dislike to him.

In the end, he was lucky and survived, but it struck home to me that, for all his skill and know-how, he had made a basic error and paid for it. Groups of young men arguing are extremely volatile and there is no such thing as a rule book. He probably didn’t stay aware of what was happening around him and suffered for it. This is just one example of the difference between a martial arts “skill” and what can happen in the harsh reality of street violence.

And the argument for yes?

In some of the previous articles, we have looked at boxing skills, striking skills and also grappling skills. These are all part of an overall self-defense training structure that is vital in keeping you safe in a violent attack. This is the process of learning motor skills that can end an altercation very quickly, or if not, helping you develop the stamina and know how to get out of a difficult spot. So it’s a big yes in general when it comes to self-defense. 

Mixed Martial Arts are a fantastic thing to learn, but is it the same thing as Self-Defense?
Mixed Martial Arts are a fantastic thing to learn, but is it the same thing as Self-Defense?

But. Of course, there is a but,

The problem, as mentioned at the beginning of the article, is that it isn’t the whole picture. It’s a large part of it, but it misses out these important aspects.

  • Training situational awareness
  • The law and self-defense
  • Understanding distancing and controlling space
  • Learning about fight or flight and its effects
  • Use of psychological techniques 
  • General personal safety to stay out of trouble in the first place
  • Development of the correct mindset to deal with an altercation or attack
  • Improvisation 
  • Weapon defense

So, essentially, you could develop a lot of mixed martial arts skills that are outstanding in a dojo, but not necessarily useful in the outside environment. Ground fighting skills are an obvious example. The floor in the gym tends to be quite comfortable, but rough concrete not so. You could also be controlling your opponent very well, but then comes along his girlfriend with a small blade and then you are not only tied up on the floor but vulnerable to her sticking it in your side. Not a good place to be.

All the skills you learn have to be analysed and put into the context of how they would be used in robbery or violent confrontation on the street. It’s a totally different environment to the dojo and should be addressed as such in training. If you leave the training area thinking that you have all the answers you need to defend yourself, simply because you can kick and hit hard, then you could have a rude awakening one day. 

To conclude:

Mixed Martial arts are a fantastic thing to learn. You raise your fitness levels and you learn some excellent “fighting” skills. You meet lot’s of new people and improve your health, flexibility and build up confidence in yourself. If you take part in competitions it’s a whole new and exciting world that test’s you in many ways you couldn’t do in many other things. It’s not something you could say was negative. 

The important point to understand, when it comes to actual “self-defense” is that all of the above is great, but not exactly the same thing. There is nothing wrong with the mixed martial arts ethos or it’s training. For what it is. The reality of self-defense is different and a more complex beast. Another good Marc MacYoung quote put it this way,

“Although what you learn in the martial arts can be used for self-defense, martial arts are not synonymous with self-defense. These are two completely different subjects.  What defines self-defense is the law, NOT martial arts, not marketing and not what an instructor says it is… Unfortunately, that isn’t how martial arts are marketed. They’ll tell you they are one stop shopping for ALL of your self-defense needs. They claim their training is all encompassing education.”

Marc MacYoung

So are Mixed Martial Arts suitable for self-defense? Yes. And of course. No.

Author: Andrew Johnson

I trained many years in Kung Fu, fought in full contact competitions and am a qualified instructor at The Combat Academy in the UK. The aim of this blog is to look at what modern self-defense training actually is and what it most probably should be.

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