Martial Sports/Arts Do Not Prepare You For Real Violence

Every week people ask me which martial sport or art is best for self-defense; moreover, they are also looking to get a full conditioning workout.  As for the workout, forget it.  Even professional fighters do their conditioning separately from their martial regimen.  If you are looking for a Tai Bo type workout, well, that has nothing to do with fighting.

If you are a working professional, over 30 years old and looking for a program that teaches skills that can be used in a wide spectrum of situations, “From the smallest of daily intrusions up to dealing with a violent physical attack” – neither martial sports/arts will do an adequate job.  Having said that, I will also add; if you have the extra time, it is always beneficial to practice a fighting sport, however, few working professionals have that luxury. 

Inasmuch as the top tier [2% - 3%] of sports fighters and some traditional martial artists can certainly defend themselves in an unarmed engagement, most beginner and intermediate practitioners cannot – they don’t have the requisite skills. When it comes to fighting against weapons and multiple attackers I can say with certainly say that 99% of martial sports/arts practitioners will be seriously hurt. Why, because they don’t train for it, and if they do, it’s often unrealistic.

 A Difference of Perspective

Martial sports/arts have completely different goals than self-defense.  The sole direction of martial sports/arts is to fight and win in a supervised environment, with referees that will stop the action. 

The main goal of self-defense is to recognize, avoid and/or neutralize an attack and quickly escape to safety; this is in an unsupervised environment without referees to stop the attack.

 The Multiple Dimensions of Defensive Tactics

Martial sports/arts focus on one singular dimension; they are there to fight each other, one-on-one, and the fight is always unarmed.

 Self-defense situations encompass multiple dimensions, these include: #1) Situational-environmental awareness, #2) Passive aggression, verbal attacks that cross the line or seemingly innocent physical touches, that can escalate into more serious engagements,  #3) Preemptive strikes, #4) The actual fight, #5) Post engagement: i.e. self triage, dealing with police and legal issues, #6) Getting proper medical care, #7) Dealing with weapons and multiple attackers.


What’s the solution then? Sports fighting is a great adjunct to self-defense training if you have the extra time.  Traditional arts take too much time and teach too many non-effective tactics for the modern student of defensive tactics.  If you are a time challenged business professional and need to learn defensive tactics in the least amount of time, here is the formula, find a Reality Based program and take 1-year to familiarize yourself with the following: 

 #1) Learn situational and environmental awareness first, most overt violence can easily be avoided, #2) Train how to deescalate potential aggression, #3) Learn how to counter and escape from weapons and multiple attackers, #4) Learn how to deal with passive aggression, and last, #5) develop unarmed fighting skills.  This is where you can add a martial sport!

Muay Thai for Self-Defense Requires an Exceptional Coach!

Self-defense has become more complicated these days.  A street attack can likely be weapons based, perhaps with multiple attackers and street thugs have more experience in the fight game — some are even experienced in MMA. Defending yourself can also lead to a civil or criminal case against you. Simple self-defense skills are not enough anymore, learning how to fight can elevate your game.  

I think most people realize that you need both striking as well as grappling skills to be a well-rounded fighter.  For passive or covert aggression I prefer to use grappling.  When applying a restraint or a submission, especially at a public venue, there’s much less of a chance of being charged with assault. 

However if someone is overtly and aggressively attacking you, then by all means you are justified in striking him commensurate with the level of force he’s applying; and striking affords us a quick reply!

The only two striking disciplines I feel worthy of mention are boxing and muay thai.  Both are excellent, however, I personally prefer muay thai.  It has a distinct advantage in that the shins, knees and elbows are simply much more devastating than punching alone.

Muay thai is not only used in sport fighting but is also a great adjunct to self-defense training as well as fitness.  The benefits of muay thai for self-defense are obvious; with concerted effort most individuals can be fully prepared for unarmed confrontations well within one year!  The caveat is that many muay thai instructors teach it in one dimension – that is, for the sport!  For self-defense purposes, especially for older students the instructor needs to be cognizant of tailoring the course work to suit their goals. 

Inasmuch as muay thai is now popular internationally, not all instruction is standardized nor of high quality.  The general thinking by the public is “if this guy trained and fought in Thailand, then he must be a pro,” not necessarily true!  Many amateur fighters train and fight in Thailand but never get anywhere close to an official championship bout. 

Official muay thai fights are held by the two main organizations, and all legitimate and professional fighters belong to one of these organizations, they are: the WPMF “World Professional Muay Thai Federation” and the WMC: “World Muay Thai Council” and

Some of the very best muay thai outside of Thailand is in Holland and France.  Unfortunately in the U.S. muay thai is lacking somewhat in top talent.  It’s mainly because of the dozens of factions and associations and numerous amateur instructors representing themselves as professionals.  There are however a few good training centers such as Fairtex and Master Toddy’s among others.  

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the top muay thai fighters and coaches in North America, Mehdi Pouroskoui.  A gifted coach, he has fought and trained fighters for 17 years, and owns and operates KB-ONE Muay Thai, the premier muay thai academy in Vancouver B.C.

Among the pantheon of the world’s top 4-5 muay thai fighter’s (along with a few from Holland) he is one of the select handful of non-Thai fighter’s in the world who have beaten the Thais on their home turf – not once but on several occasions.  He is also one of the few Westerners to have fought an official muay boran match in Thailand.  No one in the Americas has come close to his record.  Mehdi retired from professional fighting in 2009 and devotes all his time to coaching now.

Mehdi has expanded his muay thai clinics to Toronto and New York, and is planning to teach several clinics a year in these two cities.  He recently held a muay thai workshop at the Vamos Bros. Jiujitsu Academy in Long Island.  Interestingly, he taught one workshop that offered useful and functional takeaways to students of different levels and different interests. Mehdi will present several seminars in Toronto and NYC this coming October.  

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A Brief Overview of why Kung Fu is Ineffective for Fighting

The closing of Santelli’s in the 1990’s left a vacuum in New York’s fencing community. However a few years later, one of their former instructors started teaching stage fencing nearby and I jumped at the chance to learn.  Inasmuch as the class was great fun, it was actually ruining my skills – I had to quit because my fencing skills were deteriorating.

That’s because fencing is based on small, exact and articulate movements in a few directions.  In olden times, duels were far from the 3-Muskateers swordplay we are so familiar with in the movies.  Actual duels contained minimal movements and ended quickly.  Stage fencing on the other hand is based on wide and sweeping motions, directed so the eye can easily follow the actions on the stage or a movie set.  These fantastic looking moves are the exact opposite of a real swordfight!

It was at this time when my “Eureka moment” came to me! I realized that kung fu was “stage combat” and NOT real fighting! Its wide and sweeping motions telegraphing every intent and purpose seems perfectly designed for the stage!  Although it may look beautiful in the cinema, even inexperienced non-practitioners recognize “the kung fu paradox;” students study kung fu for years and years and can’t even fight?

Many of the flaws are quite obvious, these include:  an adherence to techniques that look spectacular in the movies but don’t work in real life, a lack of solid balance, a fondness for acrobatic maneuvers, and an adherence to period costumes fit more for the stage than actual combat.

Obviously at one time kung fu had both gravitas and credibility. People fought and killed each other with skill and aplomb.  But over time it degenerated into a past-time where the attainment of beauty and form became the end goal.  Instead of pushing political correctness and shouting that all martial arts have equal value, it’s more important to understand the reason why kung fu devolved into a performance art.

The underlying reason why kung fu lost its effectiveness as a practical fighting system is rooted in China’s recent history, particularly the past 300 years when a series of “Black Swan” events began to erode the numerous styles and turned them into a nostalgic quest for a previous era.

Here are some of the event’s that helped to diminish kung fu from a fighting craft to an art form,  I only touch on them briefly since each factor is a story unto itself. 

#1. The diametric differences and incompatibilities between the dozens of unique kung fu styles;  #2. The fall of the Ming dynasty and rise of Ching rule and their abolishment of martial arts practice;  #3. The Boxer Rebellion, and the disastrous defeat of the Boxers;

 #4. The division and control of parts of China by Western powers;  #5. The Japanese invasion and occupation;  #6. The Chinese Civil War;  #7. Communist influence and control;  #8. The influence and popularity of Chinese Opera and its transference into Wu Shu;  #9. And the influence of Bruce Lee, who experimented with various fighting styles and left kung fu to create his own style.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule and I am not mentioning practitioners who have freely trained and mixed various fight disciplines. However I am a firm believer in the old adage, “You fight the way you train!” If you practice stage combat you will look good in the movies – but you won’t be able to fight!


Most of us are familiar with the Miranda Law, having heard it hundreds of times on TV cop shows – “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say will be used against you”- etc.

However on June 1, 2010, the Supreme Court altered Miranda, and we should all be familiar with the updated version. Miranda was meant to protect a suspect from being compelled to be a witness against himself. Once a suspect invoked his right to keep silent the police were obligated to stop badgering him. If authorities failed to advise a suspect or ignore his invocation of his rights, the statements could be thrown out as evidence in a case.

In reality, contrary to what we have seen on TV, the Miranda Law was never foolproof. There have been more than a few cases that fell apart after a suspect produced a covert recording proving his side of the story. Bottom line, you cannot believe the police. If it’s a case of who said what, the court will most likely believe the police.

The New Miranda Law

The new law states that you must be assertive in invoking your rights to remain silent. There cannot be any uncertainties. However, be prepared to be ignored, they may still try to get you to confess to something. In addition, police no longer need to get a waiver from a suspect acknowledging that he or she is foregoing their rights. 

General Tips (For the United States)

DO provide police your personal ID such as name, address, date of birth if they ask

DO NOT provide additional information beyond this, tell them you will NOT answer their questions without an attorney present

DO consent to a search of your person if you are arrested, or you will be resisting arrest Police have the right to search you for weapons, contraband etc. for obvious reasons

DO NOT consent to a search of your vehicle or home without a search warrant. If the police produce a warrant, do not resist them from fulfilling their duties

DO NOT believe the police, they will manipulate you to get a confession 

DO be silent but first state LOUDLY and CLEARLY that you will remain silent

DO ask for an attorney (either your own or request one be appointed for you)

DO NOT try to explain your innocence, let your attorney do that



In Western media there seems to be an over-enthusiastic apotheosis of the samurai. I’m not denying that the samurai were skilled and valorous warriors but let’s take a step back, remove the blindfold and evaluate them more objectively.

Myth #16 - The samurai were the greatest warriors in world history

False – Physically, samurai were not very formidable; unlike the samurai portrayed in the movies, most of them were extremely short and not well built. In the 16th-Century, observations by Jesuits and traders remarked about the small stature of the samurai being more akin to children than those of grown men. A visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Japanese armor display confirms this; much of the adult male armor reflects a diminutive stature of approximately 4’- 5” to 5’-4” in height. In contrast, the western armor exhibit in the adjacent room displays European knight’s armor of which the average wearer was between 5’-4” and 6”-1”. There were exceptions of course.

Myth #17 - Samurai were the bravest, fearless and most honorable warriors in history

False — Regarding the question of honor, bravery and fearlessness in the face of death; many warriors throughout history have all shared the same values: including a varying dedication to a set of prescribed virtues and/or principles. Whether it’s the Ancient Greeks, Roman’s, Crusader’s, Viking’s, American Indians, Napoleon’s “Grande Armee,” the Zulu’s or the U.S. Marines, there’s no lack of warrior spirit and/or deed among any of these groups. My vote for the top three spots in the category of “history’s greatest warrior’s” would be #1. The Spartan’s, #2. The Mongols, and #3. The Viking’s.

Myth #18 - As a group, samurai armies were the most formidable in history

Not by a long shot — The Mongols were history’s most formidable and successful conquerors, generating more terror and gaining more territory than any other people in history. Fortunately for the Japanese, the Mongols two invasions were unsuccessful due to a quirk of fate (both coincided exactly with major typhoons).

Every major western nation at one time or another has followed this example to a lesser extent. Early Japanese armies were never that large and battles for the most part consisted of skirmishes and one-on-one duels. Later, in the 16th and 17th Centuries, battles started becoming large affairs, but they were hardly the size of the great European wars.

Myth #19 - The Japanese sword was history’s most fearsome and dangerous weapon

Not by a long shot! — at the end of the day, a sword is a sword is a sword. In terms of techniques — Japanese fencing is not too dissimilar from European Medieval broadsword fighting. But the Europeans (especially the Spanish and Italians) evolved their methods to emphasize the more efficient point instead of the slash, and developed a more sophisticated methodology of swordplay. All things being equal, IMO, a samurai would be at a disadvantage against a Spaniard with a rapier.

Myth #20 - Samurai swords were the best made swords ever!

In terms of materials — modern steels are far superior to the best metals used by Japanese sword smiths. What is not widely known however is that Solingen, Toledo and Damascus steel was every bit as good as the finest steel from Japan. Recent excavations in China have revealed extremely well -made swords that have retained their edge to this day. Some rare Viking swords were also fashioned in the same manner as Japanese swords, hundreds of years before.

Myth #21 - The Japanese sword was considered the soul of the samurai

Not completely true – for a good deal of Japanese history the warriors of Japan did not emphasize the sword at all. The first samurai were highly skilled archers, especially on horseback. They were also trained to use the spear, sword and a multitude of smaller weapons. The sword really became more popular with samurai around the end of the Heian period (794 ~ 1191)

Myth #22 - Samurai have always been part of Japan

False — Although Japan had a warrior class going back to about 200 AD, the samurai class as we know them, began during the Kamakura period (1192 ~ 1336).  These warriors believed in duty above all and received land for their service; very similar to European knights. Under the Tokugawa shogunate, the samurai were removed from direct control of the villages, moved into the domain castle towns, and given government stipends. They were encouraged to take up bureaucratic posts. As a result, they lost a great measure of their earlier martial skills.

Myth #23 - Bushido was the standard code for all samurai for a thousand years

False — It did not become a standard code until the Tokugawa period in the 17th Century. After the Meiji restoration (1868), it was the basis for the cult of emperor worship taught until 1945. Inasmuch as the codes of Chivalry for European Knights were rooted in Christianity, the code of Bushido was born out of a combination of Buddhism, Zen, Confucianism, and Shintoism. Never written but passed from generation to generation by word of mouth, it nevertheless was a guide for the Japanese nobility. The code was first formulated in the late Kamakura period and put into writing in the 16th century; the term “Bushido” however did not come into use until the 17th Century.

Myth #24 - Samurai were always steadfastly loyal and honorable to their lords

Nothing could be further from the truth — although many samurai were devoted to their lords, many others were treacherous and deceiving. Japanese history is rife with tales of betrayal. The most popular method of betrayal was waiting on the outskirts of a battle to see who was winning, then suddenly change sides if it was to their advantage.

Some noteworthy examples of betrayal included: Minamoto-no-Yoritomo, who threatened the emperor for the sovereignty to rule Japan, Taira-no-Masakadoa revolting against the Kyoto government, Matsunaga Hisahide rebels against Oda Nobunaga, Tokugawa Ieyasu betrays Hideyoshi by taking the throne away from his son Hideyori. Samurai from the Choshu and Satsuma were responsible for overthrowing the shogun in 1867. When feudalism was abolished after the Meji Restoration, former samurai also took part in the Satsuma revolt under Takamori Saigo, in 1877.

Myth #25 - Ronin carried on the noble traditions of the samurai

Starting in the 17th Century, many ronin (leaderless samurai) became outright criminals, robbing and killing powerless townspeople to satisfy their own greed. One story suggests that the Yakuza was founded at this time, machi-yokko (servants of the town) to protect the locals from these “wave-men” (ronin). This is very similar to the rise of the Mafia in Sicily, in the 1800’s.

Myth #26 - Samurai were all macho, masculine and heterosexual

False — Homosexuality was an integral part of samurai life and was actively and cooperatively practiced. Although very few of the hundreds of samurai movies made in Japan hardly hinted at it; “nanshoku, the love of the samurai.” The indelible fact remains that one of the fundamental aspects of samurai life was the emotional and sexual bond cultivated between an older warrior and a younger (male) apprentice. Although women were deemed important because they continued the family line, many samurai preferred men for their emotional and physical relationships.

Known also as wakashudo, “the way of the youth,” it was a practice engaged in by all members of the samurai class, from lowliest warrior to highest lord. Indeed it has been said that it would never have been asked of a daimyo, “lord”, why he took boys as lovers, but why he didn’t.

Samurai shudo had its early beginnings in the Kamakura period in the 1200’s, and reached its apogee at the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603 and subsequently declined as the country was unified and the importance of the warrior class diminished.

Myth #27 - Japan was already civilized when the West was still primitive.

Completely False – Japanese like to think that. Although primitive Japanese occupied many regions of present-day Japan, their civilization and culture started to form during the Asuka period (538 AD ~ 710 AD), when the Yamato polity gradually became a centralized state — 1,000 years after the height of Greek civilization Remember, Japan’s prehistoric/protohistoric age lasted well into the 5th-Century A.D. At that time, the Western Roman Empire had come and gone and the Eastern Roman Empire was thriving in Byzantium.

Myth #28 - The most skilled samurai lived between the 17th and 19th Century

False – With a few exceptions (i.e., Musashi, the Yagyu family, etc.) this was actually the worst period for samurai. There were no more wars, thus the samurai’s skills deteriorated. Most samurai at this time were given bureaucratic positions by the shogunate, and could only dream about their past glory. With time on their hands, many samurai of this time became scholars, studying poetry, tea ceremony, calligraphy, and flower arrangement. The code of Bushido was first written during this era.

Myth #29 - Samurai considered the ninja as warriors, like themselves

False — Every culture in the world has always used spies and assassins. Essentially, ninja’s (or shinobi) were Japan’s spies and assassins. These skills were transmitted to the Japanese through Chinese monks sometime between 600 AD ~ 900 AD. The best description of ninjitsu is that it’s guerrilla warfare. Overall, samurai despised ninja for their less than honorable methods but they also needed them. Ninja would do anything to accomplish their goals. Most ninja did not have highly developed fighting skills, rather, they used tricks and deception to escape.

Myth #30 - Yakuza trace their lineage to the samurai

False - Inasmuch as many Yakuza fantasize they are samurai and follow the way of Bushido, they actually don’t. At the beginning of the Tokugawa era, up to 500,000 samurai suddenly became unemployed. Many joined the merchant class but some of these ronin turned to crime and preyed upon small towns. To defend themselves against these masterless samurai from raiding their villages, the macchi-yokku (servants of the town) was born. Very similar in structure to the Mafia. Over time, like all gangs they began to prey upon their own people. Yakuza have no lineage to the samurai