I’ve decided to take up judo as both a form of exercise and a self-defense tool. After reviewing numerous martial arts I settled on judo for two primary reasons: it’s an art that focuses on throwing and can be practiced against a fully resisting opponent. The reason I’m interested in a throwing art is because throwing opens an opportunity for running and running is what I really want to do in a self-defense situation. But the second reason is more important in my opinion.
When it comes to self-defense arts there are two schools of thought. The first school, which includes arts such as aikido and most forms of karate, teach self-defense moves by having individuals practice against fully cooperative opponents. The second school, which includes arts such as judo and Brazilian jujutsu, teach self-defense moves by having individuals practice them against fully resisting opponents. Often the second school is criticized for being sport focused, which is a criticism often made against various shooting sports such as United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA). Critics often claim that the skills learned in these sports don’t transfer over to self-defense. In the case of martial arts that practice against fully resisting opponents critics claim that the moves, being safe enough to practice on a fully resisting opponent, are ineffective in a real fight. The criticisms against USPSA usually revolve around the “bad gamer habits” that one develops when shooting competitively.
One of the first things I heard when I decided to start USPSA was that the habits it caused me to develop would get me killed. But these claims are, in my not so humble opinion, malarkey. USPSA teaches you several important skills including operating a firearm under stress, shooting while moving, and the ability to engage hostile targets efficiently while avoiding friendly targets. All three of those things and many of the other skills one picks up by participating in a combat handgun sport are transferable to an actual self-defense situation.
Martial arts that allowed one to practice against fully resisting opponents share similar criticisms. Critics often claim that the “bad habits” learned in a sport such as judo will get one killed in a real fight. One of the toughest problems with self-defense situations is having to deal with one or more human beings. Humans, being creatures capable of thinking, aren’t restricted to acting in predictable ways. Prearranged scenarios involving cooperating opponents are not going to prepare you to deal with uncooperative attackers. While arts that allow fully resisting opponents may not have a repertoire of especially lethal moves (although throwing a guy against a concrete sidewalk can be extremely painful and potentially lethal) they will ensure you have actually practiced the moves you know against opponents who were trying put you on the ground.
There is no way to fully simulate a self-defense situation. Critics of USPSA often cite force-on-force training as the ultimate method of realistic self-defense training. While force-on-force training certainly offers different elements than USPSA it’s still the same as an actual self-defense encounter. After all, the chances of you getting seriously injured or killed in force-on-force training is practically zero. Likewise, martial arts that rely on cooperative opponents can teach you far more dangerous techniques than arts that rely on resistive opponents. But when the time comes to actually utilize one of those moves you may find yourself screwed since you’ve only practiced it on a cooperative opponent and a resisting opponent is unlikely to offer you the window needed to perform the move.
Let’s cease this constant sport versus self-defense debate (I know my plea is falling on deaf ears but I’m going to make it regardless). Combat sports can teach you many valuable skills when it comes to self-defense. While the sporting nature of those combat sports may lead one to develop skills that aren’t effective in a self-defense situation you must be able to overcome numerous ineffective responses when entering a self-defense situation anyways. At least you will have a solid foundation of effective skills to work with though.