Reality-Based Self Defense (RBSD) compared to Traditional Martial Arts (TMA)

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First of all, I am biased.  I train and teach what I love, just like many “martial artists” around the world.  You may not agree with what I say here but I urge you to consider it carefully and objectively before you pass judgment.  This is meant to contrast RBSD with TMA so people can understand how they differ.  The intent is not to show how RBSD is “superior” to TMA, but instead to show how it can be more effective and efficient for self defense training.  TMAs have their place and uses but in the 21st Century –when many people have a concealed handgun and even more people train in BJJ, wrestling or MMA– they are not often the most pragmatic choice for self defense training.  Also remember, these are all generalizations.  Not all RBSD schools teach good self defense techniques and not all TMA styles are ineffective on the streets but there is more to self defense than just the techniques and tactics.   The “more” part is where many TMA styles fall further from the mark than most RBSD schools.

For several reasons, Kajukenbo is not considered to be a Traditional Martial Art.  The same can be said for many other modern systems and styles, such as Jeet Kune Do.  Kajukenbo was originally created to be an effective self defense system used on the streets so it is generally expected to be more efficient for that purpose than most TMAs.  There are many types of Kajukenbo schools with many different focuses and training methods.  Some schools & instructors no longer even use the Kajukenbo name, for one reason or another.  CQB KAJUKENBO CLUB trains in a Reality-Based Self Defense (“RBSD”) version of Kajukenbo developed by Mike Griffin.

Not all Kajukenbo schools are RBSD, but as a Law Enforcement professional, Mike Griffin made certain that ours was.
I originally started in Traditional Martial Arts (“TMAs”) but I switched at the first opportunity after I witnessed various “martial artists” get stomped by run-of-the-mill brawlers.  While the TMA I studied taught me some useful fundamental techniques and strategies, it taught me even more bad habits and unrealistic expectations that I needed to overcome in regards to “self defense”.  Even while I was learning Kajukenbo from Mike Griffin & Rick Petrokovich {his senior black belt instructor}, I continued to train in the TMA until I passed my black belt test.  Mike Griffin himself encouraged me to finish what I started.

I find that the majority of TMAs do not lend themselves to real-world self defense situations without re-vamping many of the strategies and tactics to put personal protection (“martial”) first and the “art”, second.  This is often due to a misunderstanding of what “self defense” consists of, but more on that in a bit.  Some martial arts are simply not viable for “self defense” in the modern era unless you re-vamp them so much that they no longer “look” like the original style.

Due to things like the UFC showing TMAs losing to wrestlers and 12-year olds wearing one, many would-be martial artists and a segment of the “general public” are no longer in awe of the once vaunted “black belt”.  As a result, enrollment in TMAs is falling off somewhat while enrollment in “MMA” and things like “krav maga” (not the real IDF stuff, of course – I capitalize that…) is increasing. The press, movies and TV shows are always mentioning MMA or “km” but rarely do they mention something like shotokan or kobudo.  TMAs are losing market-share and “mind-share”.  The majority of TMA classes are filled with kids and paid for by parents who often use TMA classes as a babysitting service.  The second biggest group is usually the adults who already have years invested in that particular style or school of TMAs.  The problem with this is that few kids actually stick with martial arts so the TMAs themselves could be in danger of dying off.  New, young adults are needed to keep these arts alive.   Below is a comparison of RBSD systems and TMAs.  It is my hope that TMA instructors will look at this and consider the points so they continue to be relevant.

TMAs generally teach you to train the same thing as everyone else until you can make it work.
RBSD teaches you to train what works for *you*, in a manner that will let you use it against everyone else.

TMA people often forget when it took them 2 months to get a technique down and when they do finally get it, they almost never attempt the technique against a larger person who is REALLY fighting back.
RBSD techniques are usually simple, techniques using large muscle groups which are easy to learn and are trained against a resisting opponent; the bigger the better.

TMAs generally take a long time to learn because there are many details to train and consider.
RBSD is often faster to learn because the little details are sometimes glossed over.

TMA schools / instructors are often concerned with putting harmony, philosophy, community, values and the like first.
RBSD teaches you to end the conflict quickly and effectively so you can go home.  You can then study spirituality on your own time and in your own way instead of paying someone to teach you their beliefs on the subject.

TMA techniques are usually done one way because they were taught that way for years – and you better not question it!
RBSD techniques are done that way because they have been proven to work that way – but you better continue to test them because leverage and body mechanics might be different for you.

TMA techniques are generally rather pretty and elegant, often relying on a lot of fine-motor skills which degrade a lot under stress.
RBSD techniques are brutal and efficient, relying mainly on gross-motor movements which degrade far less under stress – and actually improve in a few edge cases

TMAs often teach “1-hit, 1-kill” type of techniques or go overboard with half-a-dozen moves to counter a grab or strike while presuming the Bad Guy is going to stand there like a statue.
RBSD usually teaches the “Justification for the use of Force” (aka the Force Continuum, etc) and trains to do as much damage as necessary in the minimum amount of time.

TMA often teach a concept of “control” which is often little more than stopping your strike before you actually make contact.  This “control” results in many “black belts” who have never had their bells rung. When they get hit for real -for the first time- in a real fight, training often goes out the window.
RBSD usually trains full-contact, with minimum amounts of training gear (like boxing) so general durability and pain tolerance goes up. When hit in real fights, RBSD proponents often find that they were hit harder in the gym.  There is little shock or surprise when hit and therefore very little hesitation or delay when responding to the threat.

TMA usually teach you to “take turns”; waiting to block or defend and then engage in the fight.  This makes TMAs generally more passive and reactive due to a belief that self defense always means you must wait to defend yourself.  Again, that hesitation could be costly.
RBSD teaches you to strike first when practical. Strike hard, keep fighting and maintain forward pressure.  RBSD teaches you to ramp up to a proportionate response of aggression and violence as quickly as possible in an attempt to end the fight before it escalates out of control.  Action Beats Reaction, First Strike Advantage.

I am sure there are other examples, as well as examples where TMAs could be considered the superior choice.

An important take-away is that you are not usually supposed to *test* if the techniques work in a TMA but you seem to always test the effectiveness and efficiency of tactics in RBSD, at least after the techniques and tactics are learned.  Furthermore, there is rarely any concern for how realistic the training or techniques are in a TMA.  Realism of training and tactics is integral to RBSD.

You often take the practicality of TMAs on what amounts to “faith”.  You may get in certain classes where you train TMA techniques with your training partner helping you along the whole time, every time because they do not what to “hurt” you.
This is completely unlike a self-defense situation where there is the real stress of a realistically resisting opponent who is intending to do you harm.
TMA instructors probably have not tested TMA techniques either, at least not for real against someone really fighting back.
So TMA schools go along training or teaching things that *might* work in a classroom environment, under ideal conditions.
The ability to use the TMA for “self defense” is assumed. But you know what they say about assuming things…

You will fight the way you train. If you pull punches in class, you will often pull your punch in a fight – I have seen it happen.
Bad guys are not impressed by your demonstration of “control.”
Most TMAs do not prepare you for the physiological and psychological changes and stresses of a real conflict, so you hesitate.
Sometimes you hesitate because you are waiting for the bad guy to make the first move so you can “defend yourself.”
That is not self defense, that is taking turns. That hesitation can get you or a loved one put in the hospital, or worse.
By the way, you are probably not as fast as you think you are, especially under stress.

Implying that training in “martial arts” and “self defense” is the same thing shows a lack of understanding of how real violence and conflicts occurs, escalates and is resolved.
But that implication also demonstrates an ignorance of how the body responds to stress.  If you do not train for {and under} real-world stress hormone levels then you are not training for realistic self defense.
You might be training otherwise viable strategies and tactics but that is rarely enough.

If you are not covering the local LAWS regarding self defense then you are not teaching self defense.
This is not the same thing as “my neighbor’s friend is a cop and he said…”
For my classes it is Missouri Revised Statutes, Chapter 563 – Defense of Justification:

Justification generally:

Use of force in defense of persons:

How many TMA instructors have read the laws that apply to them?  If they have not even read the laws then how can one cover them in classes?
And if the applicable laws are not covered in class then you are not teaching what “self defense” is.  It seems unethical (at best) to claim you are.
You do not need to be a lawyer to discuss this sort of stuff in class, but discussing it implies real violence and that is not a comfortable subject for some people.

People do not usually look critically and objectively at what they are training or why.
Training something “on faith” for years -maybe paying hundreds or thousands of dollars along the way- only to come to realize that you, your abilities or your style is not what you thought or expected can be unpleasant.   But honestly examining your training, your motivations and your goals is necessary, especially if you wish to grow as a “martial artist”.

All martial arts -TMA, RBSD, combat sports and anything in between- have things to offer but you must honestly analyze and evaluate the techniques, your capabilities and your expectations.   TMA instructors should consider teaching real, viable self defense classes –not just a watered down introduction to their particular TMA with eye gouges and knees to the groin– and then show how useful self defense techniques and principles can be derived from their systems.  This way TMAs may be able to continue to provide value in the 21st Century and TMAs might not be relegated to the past.