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Martial Arts Vs Self-Defence – Which One?

This is the question I get all the time…

Which one would you recommend and why?

In this article, we take a look at the difference between martial arts and self defence.

There are many differences in both terms, but knowing the difference can help you determine which one will work best for your needs!

So let us dive in.


The Difference Between Martial Arts and Self-Defence Training

The difference between Martial Arts and self-defence is more than just a question of semantics.

Martial arts are a type of physical activity that uses techniques from sports and other types of fighting, while self-defence is more about defending yourself physically or verbally against an attacker or an aggressor.

In martial arts training, students learn to resist the use of force through defence moves with their hands, feet and body.

They might also learn about the culture and history of the art, practice movements through dance, for example, the Martial Art of Capoeria using dance and music at its core.

Also, the student might learn to use weapons such as in Karate with Nunachku or in Kung Fu with a sword or spear.

It is about learning an ‘art’ and everything they encompass that study.

Self-defence training is about learning to defend yourself and your loved ones from physical attack using immediate techniques for the real world.

Students might also learn how to use weapons, or use improvised weapons such as using phones, car keys or any items you can grab in the event of an attack.

The goal is to teach people how to avoid conflict by using mental and physical skills that allow them to de-escalate potentially dangerous situations when necessary.

And of course, if required to physically defend yourself or your loved ones.


Are Martial Arts Any Good For Self-Defence?

When people want to learn self-defence, the first place they often turn to is traditional Martial Arts.

But is this wise?

On the surface Martial Arts often promote themselves as being great for self-defence. However, not all are and can promote delusional methods.

Some Martial Arts are more focused on sporting skills, and others may not have the right techniques that will be effective in a real-world attacks.

The usefulness of some martial arts for self defence is debatable.

But before you do, it is important to actually ask yourself why you want to learn self-defence?


The Benefits of Self-Defence Training

In the past, when someone was looking for self-defence training, they often turned to traditional martial arts schools first. And not wrongly so – many of these instructors would promote their classes as being great for self defence and physical fitness at the same time.

But this isn’t necessarily the case.

While most martial arts are great for fitness, their actual self-defence ability is often questionable.

When learning self-defence, a good instructor will undertake a wide variety of training skills into their syllabus.

This includes soft skills such as verbal aggression management, body language, awareness of attack, avoidance of attack, crime prevention, threat management, de-escalation and etc etc…

These skills cannot really be learned without sitting down and talking as well.

And if you have ever been to a Martial Arts class, you know that most of them are all ‘go-go go’.

Aside from the soft skills, the self defence will involve things such as 3 on 1 defence and attack, close-range combative skills, attachment drills which is (grabbing, pushing and pulling), open and closed fist strikes and grappling which is fighting on the ground.

Yes, these drills will get your heart beating and sweat pouring out of you by stressing these drills.

But they aren’t designed just for that purpose.

The workout is a by-product of your learning.

This has always meant that self-defence instruction is not an activity but also an education. 

You learn things that you can apply later or when is necessary.

And these are skills that will help you to stay safe and keep your loved ones out of danger.


Martial Arts V’s Self-Defence Fitness Training

If I have painted self-defence as something that does not focus on fitness, I have not really made myself clear. 

Good self-defence is rooted in fitness as you need to stress your body to the max dealing with multiple attackers.

But that doesn’t mean it is a core part of the training.

Self-defence is not a sport. And many self-defence encounters end quickly. But physical fitness is part of self-defence, and your instructor may choose to make sessions very demanding or educate you so that you can stress your training and take it home.

Because the subject is so vast, many instructors will focus their time on the best reward for students within the set time frame. 

So attending a weekly class will be very different from a 6-hour workshop or even a 4 week course.

Martial Arts, on the other hand, are often competitive sports, many focus heavily on fitness training, mental and spiritual development through discipline and meditation and participating and winning in competitions.


Choosing Between Martial Arts and Self-Defence

Many people might be thinking, ‘which should I choose? Martial Arts of self-defence lessons?’

It is a fair question.

And one that I get asked a lot.

My actual answer might shock people.

You should train in self-defence for the real world before you choose a traditional Martial Art.

Let me explain why.

When you generally have a desire to learn self-defence, it tends to be because of a life event, either yours or another persons. 

You might have been attacked, seen footage of an attack on the news, or had a verbal confrontation or had a bad experience.


You may have been been inspired by watching a movie.

Whatever the reason, you want to learn how to defend yourself.

And so, you do what everyone does, you look for what you associate with self-defence training, and that subject is Martial Arts.

Martial Arts are generally seen as the ‘parent topic’ for self-defence and self-defence has taken many of its skills and techniques from within the Martial Arts.

However, as stated, traditional Martial Arts are activities.

So, you should try and enrol in a self-defence-focused class first, be that a course, workshop, or part of a Martial Arts school.

This might be tough to find and certainly challenging to find a good one that can provide actual self defence training for the real world.

I firmly believe you should educate yourself on self-defence BEFORE going down the route of traditional Martial Arts.

Once you feel that you have a good understanding of self-defence, it will be time to start taking your learning to the next level by taking up a traditional Martial Arts.



When deciding on Martial Arts or Self Defence, it is essential to understand the difference between them. It is also wise to educate yourself on self-defence before taking up a traditional martial arts.

So, check out our Evolution Martial Arts and Fitness Academy and see the difference and what we can offer that can meet your goals…

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