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Finlay's picture
Can any system be adapted to self defence


was musing today about different curriculums and the purpose behind individual arts.

It would seem that to make Karate or Taekwondo a self defence system is, for want of a better term, relativley easy because that was its original purpose the sport application came later and argueably uses only a fraction of the arts' syllubus if any. By this i mean that the core of Karate was selfdefence it was then applied to fighting. People, like Iain, are now bringing it back to the origin.

However, what about arts who have their base in fighting/sports, how easy would it be for practioners and instructors of those styles to incorporate a self defence aspect.

In the past i believe that Iain has said that the cross over between sport fighitng and self defence is so small that it can be disregarded. My apologises if I am incorrect in this reference.

So for example, a person who is teaching Muai Thai and would like to bring a practical self defence side to some of his/her classes. How easy do you think the tranistion would be? how much would they have to leave behind? how much extra material would they have to study? would it get to the point that the amount of actual Muai Thai that was being done would be so small that they'd be better off studying a seperate art?

I used Muai Thai as an example but i feel the same question could be asked by people studying a number of different arts for example,  maybe Judo, Eskrima, or Capioera may face similiar challenges.


Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Finlay wrote:
In the past i believe that Iain has said that the cross over between sport fighitng and self defence is so small that it can be disregarded. My apologises if I am incorrect in this reference.

You are incorrect. Apology accepted :-)

What I have said is that we should not train for one thing because of the cross over to another thing. If you want fighting skills, then train fighting skills. If you want self-defence skills, then train self-defence skills. Don’t train for fighting if you want self-defence skills because of the limited cross over. This is what my fiend Jamie Clubb eloquently calls, “The by-product myth”.

There is cross over between the two though. More on that in these podcasts:




In response to the general question, they need to study self-protection away from their marital baggage.  They need to learn about home security, mobile security, the nature of crime, de-escalation, the law, escape tactics, awareness, and on and on. When it comes to the physical last resort, then the techniques they have learnt martially will be useful, but they will need applied differently and in accord with the tactics associated with achieving the new goal (avoid harm as opposed to win the fight).

No matter what the “art of origin”, martial arts are not self-protection and there is a load of work to be done if you want to be knowledgeable in both … and most martial artists can’t be bothered so they teach “martial arts in jeans” and call it “self-defence”.

All the best,


Wastelander's picture

I agree with Iain, but I will add that there are very few martial arts, if any, that cannot be traced back to comprehensive fighting systems with a focus on self protection. Even in the OP example, Muay Thai was a sport evolution of Muay Boran, which was much more comprehensive because it was a military and self protection system. If a Muay Thai instructor wanted to teach self defense, they would still need to educate themselves on all the realms of knowledge associated with it, of course, as Iain pointed out, but as for physical curriculum, they could go back to the origin of their art for such things.