It has occurred to me that practicing martial arts for self-defense is not that sensible an idea. On the surface, it makes a lot of sense. I mean, train in the martial arts and you learn great skills for fighting and you can protect yourself if you are attacked. And yes, I have read the anecdotes of people who have used martial arts for self-defense. In addition, I’ve been training in various martial arts for over 25 years, during which time I have touted the arts I train in as wonderful forms of self-defense.
Lately though, I’ve been reconsidering the equation. I can use martial arts to defend myself if I am ever attacked. This may help me avoid injury and losing personal property. These are both laudable things. The odds of my ever being in a situation where I will need these skills however is small. It is even smaller if I take very sound and excellent advice of Marc MacYoung at No Nonsense Self Defense and simply avoid areas where violence is likely. Since the vast majority of violent crime happens in very concentrated areas this shouldn’t be difficult.
Basically, the odds of being injured and/or losing property in an attack are really small if I avoid dangerous areas. OK, but I still think self-defense training might be a good idea.
Let’s see, martial arts classes run anywhere from $50 to $150 per month. That’s $600 to $1800 a year in most cases. Since, in my experience, you need to practice techniques regularly for them to be effective when you need them, basically you are going to be paying this as long as you want your skills to be effective. So over 10 years you will pay $6,000 to $18,000 just for the training. That doesn’t include the cost of any uniforms and equipment you might need. If you go on for 20 years you’re at $12,000 to $36,000. Now you are way over what you can expect to lose in some sort of robbery of your person. I know never carry anything close to that in cash and valuables. About the only way you could steal anything close to that much from me is to take my car, and that’s insured, so fighting for it would be a stupid risk.. Besides, in 2002 the rate of carjackings in the US was 2.1 per 10,000 people. That’s 0.02% chance of being carjacked. Add to that that carjackings are most common in particular, known and generally lousy neighborhoods where I don’t go and the odds get even less likely.
Ok, so maybe martial arts training isn’t a cost effective way to protect my property. What about protecting myself?
I can guarantee one thing that will happen if you practice martial arts. You’re going to get injured. It will happen. It’s the nature of what you’re doing. Just like football, in martial arts practice people bang into each other and the ground, so from time to time people get hurt. It’s going to happen, and just like in football, it’s a known and accepted part of what goes on. Every person, EVERY PERSON, I know who has trained martial arts such as Judo, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Aikido, Jujutsu, Hapkido or any other vigorous, useful martial art, has been injured. The longer we train, the more injuries we accumulate. In my more than 25 years in Judo I have broken a collar bone, cracked several ribs, sprained my ankles a few times, hyperextended my elbow, torn my ACL completely, and accumulated more bumps, bruises, strained and pulled muscles, torqued joints and other assorted injuries than can possibly be remembered. This list, or something like it, some with worse injuries, some not quite so severe, can be rattled off by anyone who practices a martial art for any length of time. If you insist on a practicing an activity that has lots of hard contact you will be injured. Not a question of if, just when.
So wait a minute. If I study martial arts for self-defense, but I keep getting injured studying martial arts, have I really gained anything? Lets see. Someday I might be violently attacked and injured. OK. That’s bad. If I train in martial arts, I am certain to be injured repeatedly. Um, let me think about that. I might be a victim of a violent crime someday, but if I train in martial arts to defend myself I am certain to be injured repeatedly as long as I continue to train.
Somehow this doesn’t make training in martial arts seem very sensible. There is a small chance I will be a victim of crime at some point in my lifetime. During such a crime I could lose personal property and may be seriously injured or even killed. If I train in martial arts, the cost will be tens of thousands of dollars over my lifetime (far more than could ever be stolen from me by anyone other than a banker or a hacker), and I am guaranteed to get injured over and over.
Dang. It’s a good thing I don’t do this stuff for self-defense. The cost-to-benefit ratio for training in the martial arts for self-defense is so bad I’d have to quit. Fortunately I train in the martial arts because I love the training and the arts for what the teach about all sorts of things that have little to do with self-defense.
I didn’t write this to knock martial arts for self-defense. I believe they can have immense value, but this value is not easily quantifiable in dollars and cents. How do you quantify the feeling of security and confidence that training can impart? That’s a tough one, especially when it is so different for everyone.
I do know that with a little discretion about where you go, what you do and how you behave, most men don’t really need self-defense training. Stay away from places known for fights and violence, and your odds of needing to defend yourself go way down. Detroit is known as an incredibly dangerous place, but even there most of the violence is concentrated in a few really awful neighborhoods. I love going to Detroit for shows and food and cultural activities, but I know enough to avoid areas of the city where violence is not uncommon. This strategy works great for men.
Women have a whole different paradigm to deal with. Women have to deal with men, and the do so from a position of being smaller and weaker. The statistics for violence against women are much higher than those for men. In one subset, 5 times as high. For women, martial arts training can be exceptionally valuable. Not that there is any particular style of system, but that they learn that it’s ok to fight, they should fight, and that they can do so effectively. Any reasonable martial arts system can do these things, and the effect on their lives can be far wider than just knowing how to fight back if assaulted. it can translate into being treated with greater respect everywhere in their life, because they don’t accept intimidation from anyone. That alone might be worth the monetary and physical costs of training.