I've been doing a spot of research. I'm sure I'm not the first, so it would be great if folks to fill done of the gaps.
In the UK, an estimated 0.2% of adults fall victim to a violent crime each year. For kids it's closer to 10% with the majority of such incidents being fighting or bullying at school. That's from the office of national statistics and takes into account a combination of police stats and estimates based on survey results.
So worst case, it's 1 in 10 chance that you'll be a victim of a violent crime in the UK (obviously that's not quite true - many factors can of course increase that figure substantially, but I'm on about national averages).
The ONS also looked at the extent of injury in such encounters. I can't remember the exact numbers, but I remember that more than half were no injury or minor injury, defined as minor cuts or bruises.
What surprised me was the section on assault with a weapon. Despite the recent emphasis on tragic events involving a knife, knives were not the weapon of choice in most assaults involving a weapon. But what surprised me even more was that where a knife was involved, most victims received only minor injuries. That's a stark contrast to what your average martial arts instructor says, that if you do nothing, you're dead.
I'm reasonably OK with the available stats on violent crime. There's plenty of reading to be had on the ONS website alone, and the stats there seem pretty solid.
Where I hit a dead end is when trying to compare the crime injury stats with training injury stats. There are a number of studies, but most focus on competition related injuries. Doing a bit of digging, I reached the conclusion that roughly 30% of martial artists will receive a training injury that results in time off training in any 12 month period. The numbers are vague but they kind of fit with my own observations. If anyone can add anything more concrete that would be great.
I haven't learned enough to form a conclusion yet, but I'm starting to lean towards the idea that in the UK at least, training in martial arts for self protection is utterly pointless and will actually put you at significantly higher risk of physical harm than not training. That's not even taking into account the liklihood that in a genuine encounter, most of our training goes straight out the window anyway as fear and adrenaline take over.
That's not for one second to say that martial arts or self defence training is bad. Of course it isn't. It's fun, it's social, despite the occasional injury (which you'd get in any sport or physical activity) there are many health benefits, but I think if the main driver is to learn how to protect yourself from harm in a violent encounter, then I think it's detrimental rather than beneficial.
So if self protection is not about combat training, what is it? And how does it differ depending on the audience? For me, as a middle aged dad that works in an office, self protection surely means trying to keep to a healthy lifestyle, while also keeping an eye on my employment related skills so that I can be confident that I'll always be able to pay for everything my family and I need. For my kids I think it's largely the same, but with some practice, somehow, at developing their awareness better, breaking down the childish taboos of not telling tales, because kids aren't good at dealing with problems, so I think anything that helps to ensure they communicate and ask for help is good.
So where do the martial arts fit into the equation? It seems you're far more likely to be harmed in the dojo than infamous Street. Well, it keeps you moving, so it's good for physical health, and many find it interesting, social or just plain fun, all good for mental health protection.