Survival is the goal of martial arts.

Here’s a shock for you: martial arts are about survival. Yes, that’s right. The goal of martial arts is to have the skill and knowledge to be able to do the bad guy and still be home in time to walk the dog. Martial arts is not a trendy kind of workout designed to impress the ladies when you tell them about the tournaments or trophies you’ve won. While it’s certainly a great full-body workout and a great way to get in shape, many students pay little attention to the ultimate goal: survival.

Let’s talk about self-defense. I co-founded the United Karate Institute of Self-Defense, Inc. in Alexandria, Virginia. Three other instructors, my wife (also a black belt), and I decided that we had met far too many high-ranking black belts who had earned countless trophies in sports karate competitions. They were champions and winners and knew all the tricks of the trade to score points and come home with the big shiny plastic and marble trophies. It sounds great, doesn’t it? With the exception of one minor problem, virtually all of these black belt “champions” lacked even the most basic skills or knowledge of how to defend against even a single attacker, let alone multiple attackers. What about that?

They are black belts. They must be able to jump over tall buildings, outrun bullets, stop a moving train and run through the raindrops! Right? No, but it certainly seems to the average person that a black belt must be nearly indestructible and probably possess an almost mystical power and knowledge. Wrong again. If you’re not properly trained with a real emphasis on self-defense and street application of martial arts techniques, you’re just mimicking your instructor’s moves.

If you’re a black belt and you can’t even defend yourself from a wet paper bag, what have you been up to all these years? Let me say it again: martial arts are about survival. It is not about a fake point sparring match where the only techniques you can use in the ring are things you would never dream of doing on the street and where the most effective techniques from the street are not allowed in the ring.

When you study martial arts, it does not just punch and kick; you have to learn about many qualities of humanity, both positive and negative because your brain is your ultimate survival tool. Ultimately, the core is the need to survive, be it on the streets of New York City, the jungles of Asia, the deserts of the Middle East or even in a hostile business environment. To survive battles and harsh environments as a martial artist, you must have many skills and have developed many physical and character traits. To survive, you must improve yourself beyond your current abilities. However, remember that the best warrior is not warlike but is able to summon the warrior spirit within when needed.

Preparing to Survive: Adaptability and Versatility

Survival requires adaptability, that is, the ability to respond quickly, effectively, and without confusion to changing stimuli. These stimuli can be different training conditions. This could be new techniques, martial arts styles, weapons, or changes in lighting, temperature, speed, distance, surface, or some other feature of your environment.

To survive, welcome change by varying your training. The more you do this, the better equipped you are to adapt effectively, because you always do. Many martial arts systems have training sessions where their students practise their martial arts in the rain, snow, mud, swamps, and other rough and difficult terrain. In this way, students learn to be aware of environmental factors but also filter out distractions and focus on beating their opponent.

Don’t get frustrated when circumstances change or vary. Welcome to this. Everything else would be boring. Variety improves and maintains your survival skills. It is impossible to adapt if you are not first aware of what is around you that you can learn to adapt to. If you can adapt, you may survive.

Adaptability can also refer to the use of your environment. For example, you can use your environment by taking a handful of sand and throwing it into your opponent’s eyes. You can grab a branch on the ground to hit your opponent or push them head forward into a vertical post support on a subway or city bus. These are examples of using terrain or environmental features to your advantage to improve your combat techniques. Usually, these are chance weapons.

Versatility means having a wide range of skills; you can kick well, punch well, move well, think well, etc. Versatility is the quality of having many skills; adaptability is the ability to easily acquire new skills. As you become more versatile, you will gradually become more flexible. Do not confuse these two and train properly.

Realism and diversity in training

The more realistic the training experience is, the less shocking reality will seem. Practicing for realism is part of varying your training. Take your education seriously. If it’s a joke or becomes too much of a social gathering, you’ll easily be surprised or overwhelmed in a real-life situation. As I described before, some martial arts schools practise in swamps, rain, and all types of terrain and environments. Martial arts are a type of war skill where realism is a key ingredient.

Part of the reason for the diversity and variety in training is to introduce different realistic elements. Something curious happens when you make a training exercise very realistic; you get uncomfortable. Reality isn’t always pleasant, but reality is what you train for. Being uncomfortable is a good thing. So get used to it during training so you don’t get any surprises when it actually happens.

In a real fight, never try to show your opponent that you are injured. If at all possible, try to reverse your injury. Even if your injury is visible or noticeable, trick your opponent into thinking it isn’t affecting you. This will make him stop and think that his techniques may not be effective. In other situations, depending on the opponent and the circumstances, you may want to pretend you’re more injured than you are. Pretending to have a more serious injury can give your opponent a false sense of security, thinking you’re about to be beaten. Then you have him. This is cheating at its best. It also helps not to focus on yourself. Keep your eyes and mind on your opponent in a real fight. Injuries can be handled later; a real opponent must be dealt with immediately.

Probing: preparing to attack

Whether your opponent is an army of a hundred thousand men or a single man, you must investigate to find weaknesses and gather information about your opponent’s strength, position, mobility, reactions, and abilities.

Attack your enemy where they are weak, but know this by probing first. Test for weaknesses. Pay close attention and observe possible weaknesses, signs of inexperience or disorganization. If you feint and your enemy doesn’t react in a way that’s appropriate for their own defense, you’ve discovered a potential weakness or area where you could make an opening.

When you examine your opponent in a certain way, note not only what their reaction was, but also how fast, precise, and strong their reaction was. These factors are important in determining how to attack and how to build and time your attack.

Deception: The Key to Victory

Sun Tzu said that deception is the key to victory in all warfare, but what is deception? If I want to apply it, I need to know what it is and how to apply it. What does “deception” mean? Creativity is the key to deception. Think of ways to keep your opponent on his toes. If they expect something, give them something else. Distract their attention from your true intentions so that when your true intentions are realized, your opponent will be caught unprepared and surprised. Don’t be predictable.

The components of deception are the following:


o Untrue or fabricated

o Distraction


These components, cleverly combined, give you the basis of a strategy. You have to practise your creativity. Creativity means developing new and different ways of feinting, methods of distraction, or the use of opposites.

You must always create or switch to new ways of deception, because once your opponent recognises a deceptive tactic, however elusive or cunning, he will be better prepared to counter it. Always give him something new to deal with. This gives you an advantage.

Distraction is not the same as faking it. When you fake it, you make your opponent think something is happening when it isn’t. Distraction gives your opponent something to focus on or deal with while you are pursuing your true intentions. The idea is that by the time you fulfil your true intentions, your opponent is still too busy with what came before.

The difference between a distraction and a fake is that you are actually doing something with a distraction; with a fake, you just make your opponent think you are doing something. This goes for combat, self-defense, and many other things.

Distractions aren’t necessarily always physical movements. They can also be psychological. By talking to an attacker who wants to harm you, you can distract them. You can use psychology to distract him and engage him in a conversation, essentially saving you time to better assess the situation or manoeuvre into a more favourable position.

If you are able to engage your opponent’s mind and distract him that way, then you may not need to rely on physical skills and attitude. Consider the possibilities. In this way, hostage negotiators prevent unwanted physical injury from occurring.

Counterfeits have to look real or they won’t work. A bad fake is worse than no fake because you make yourself vulnerable. The advantage of a credible fake is that if the opponent doesn’t react in time, you can just use the fake for real. To make a fake look real, you have to believe that you are actually going to do whatever it is. Then don’t do it at the last minute; cut the technique short and follow it up immediately with the technique you really intended.

The purpose of a fake is to get your opponent to react to it, usually to create an opening that you can take advantage of with a different technique. For example, a false kick to the head can cause your opponent to raise both arms to protect his face and head. This reveals their torso, where you may be planning to pack a punch.

Whatever technique you choose to fake, the two most important elements of an effective fake are that the fake technique must look completely real-especially against a skilled martial artist-and the follow-up after the fake should be quick and decisive to take advantage of the opening or opportunity you have created.


As I said, attack your opponent’s weaknesses. Of course, you must first discover its weaknesses by probing. Once you find these, attack them relentlessly. Don’t attack him when he’s strong or ready; wait and see, or you’ll be wasting your effort.

Attacks can take different forms. It can be like they peck every now and then to annoy your opponent and gradually wear them down. It may be that his greatest weakness is simply stamina or stamina. You can just hover around him and peck every now and then until he can’t go any further. Then kill him or leave.

An attack can be a short, concentrated burst, and then it’s over. You can use a short burst to distract and disorient your opponent, putting them at a disadvantage. Then follow up the attack with the grand finale to secure a final victory.

Another important concept to understand is that your survival in a self-defense situation may depend on hitting first. This concept is based on a philosophy embraced by Bruce Lee. If you think that an attack or attack is imminent when you are in a dangerous situation and you are convinced that your safety or life is in grave danger, then strike first. The Preemptive Strike can give you the edge you need to survive. On the street and in combat, there are no extra courtesy points to allow your attacker to make the first strike.


Do not hesitate. Wait, be prepared, time your technique and strike, but don’t hesitate. Grab the advantage before your opponent grabs it. Decisiveness is essential in survival situations so that you can get ahead of your opponent. Preemption is necessary when you sense or read your opponent and determine that they are about to strike or position themselves in some way that increases the threat they pose to you. Be decisive about a course of action to prevent your opponent from realising his plans.

Recycle your weapons.

Do not allow an opponent to reuse a weapon (rifle/knife/arm/leg) after you disarm them. Stepping on, throwing, or kicking the weapon will prevent recycling. You’ll want to recycle your own weapons, though, and reuse them as often as needed—circular strikes can be easily repeated, modified, and used repeatedly, and combined with hip rotation for extra power. If you grab an arm, wrist, or foot, don’t let go. These are weapons. If you have one, damage it or control it so that your opponent can no longer use it against you.

It damages their weapons.

Strike the arm or block the arm that strikes to hurt the arm or wrist. Damage the knee, foot, or leg so that it can no longer be used for kicking. If the situation is serious, break the wrist, shoulder, elbow, or fingers so that they cannot be used again to hurt you! You must decide what is appropriate based on the threat level.

Strategy based on the environment and terrain

The things around you shape your environment. This includes the terrain, the surfaces that cover the terrain, objects, artifacts, obstacles, structures, and people around you.

Your environment can be used to your advantage. It can also be used to your opponent’s advantage. Watch out here. The ways in which the environment can be used are many. You may be able to hide or escape from an opponent in the dark or fog. Perhaps you can use everyday objects around you as weapons to bolster your empty-handed defenses.

You can use a wall or railing to push off or as a support when throwing a kick to make you more stable and less vulnerable. You can throw objects in your attacker’s path or face to distract him and give you time to manoeuvre or escape.

You can use almost any object around you to quickly and easily throw, swing, tip, spray, or move to determine time or distance between you and your opponent. Consider the possibilities often, and you will be surprised to find that you hadn’t noticed anything. However, don’t get too caught up in a desperate self-defense situation where you try to find too many objects or obstacles that can actually slow you down more than your opponent.

Any time you use chance weapons or aspects of your environment, they should be easily accessible and usable, and it only takes a split second to grab them or use them to bolster your defence or gain a momentary advantage. offer. Anything more will actually put you at a disadvantage.

You can train, study, and prepare, but if you don’t have a handle on the terrain and surfaces in a self-defense situation or any other form of combat, you can be surprised and defeated.

Variation in your training is essential. This includes varying the type of terrain or surface you train on. Your training should allow you to train on grass, dirt, gravel, in water, mud, or on slippery surfaces such as ice or tiles. All of these surfaces require you to adapt and select different techniques and strategies from your library.

Terrain is not just the surfaces of the ground you stand on, but the contours of the ground beneath those surfaces. As Sun Tzu said, terrain can have many characteristics, which can give or take away its advantage.

Terrain can provide an escape route, such as in large open areas. Another escape route could be a wooded area or a maze of alleys where you can slip past your opponent. You can use terrain as a vantage point, for example at higher altitudes. You can use it to surround or otherwise trap an opponent. You can use the terrain to both hide and protect. This can be good or bad for you, depending on whether you are the one hiding yourself or if your enemy is hiding themselves.

On any surface or terrain where your footing or balance is compromised or impaired, you must either grab a handle or railing to stay upright or lower your centre of gravity and posture to avoid falling.

Use the terrain or objects around you to your advantage. Rocks and boulders offer a shield, concealment, or protection. You can kick loose dirt or throw it in your opponent’s face. You can also do this with water or other liquids.

If another surface is so unpredictable or adverse that you can’t maintain balance and control, you might even consider pulling your opponent to the ground and lowering the conflict, provided you’ve trained and studied ground combat. Then you have an advantage, even in unfavourable terrain.

You can use icy, snowy surfaces for a ground fight, and then you don’t have to worry so much about maintaining your balance or footing because you’re already down. If you choose to remain upright, you will need to widen your stance to be more flat-footed to maintain traction. Kicks and sweeps are more risky because they reduce your stable base. In these cases, hand techniques may be more appropriate. Your techniques and strategy will vary with the terrain and surfaces. Find benefits where they don’t seem to be. This is the essence of victory!

Also, keep in mind that the same perks you find can be used by your enemy. Don’t assume that your opponent will not use the terrain or surfaces to the same advantage as you. You have to train on different terrains; flat, uneven, hilly, rocky, wooded, strewn with rubble or rubble, in narrow spaces such as alleys or elevators, in wide-open spaces and streams, in cars or moving trains.

The terrain is a big part of the environment, as I discussed. The more often you train in different terrains and settings, the more versatile and flexible you can become.

It’s about survival.

I started by saying that martial arts are about survival. The topics I’ve covered in this article provide a brief look at a few key concepts that are completely foreign to most commercially trained martial artists. I encourage you to study combat techniques and tactics for city battles and street attacks and incorporate what you learn into your training. Check out books and videos to better understand these tactics, and study how techniques learned in your martial arts training can be incorporated or adapted for practical use in a real-life situation rather than just as a form of demonstration for your next belt test.

We had a saying at United Karate: If you can’t defend yourself, the rest doesn’t matter.

Kevin Brett is a certified martial arts instructor with twenty years of martial arts training and teaching experience. He and his wife, Lana Kaye Brett, were two of the five co-founders of the United Karate Institute of Self-Defense, Incorporated, in Alexandria, Virginia. He has taught martial arts and street self-defense to local law enforcement, military, and federal officers, focusing on martial arts techniques’ realistic and practical application.