The response they got was perfect. "Oh, so how many people have you killed?"
Now, I don't bring my students to competitions for multiple reasons (which I will detail in this article), but this was the type of person I'd rather not be on my side. Unfortunately, for most of the people who retort something similar regarding competitions (that they train for "the street", etc.), the real reason is because they're a terrible instructor and they're afraid of their students realizing that. That is not always the case, but it's people like that that make people like me look bad. That being said, what does it mean when you're a self defense school? Who is really qualified to make that claim?
All training has value, but in order to do something on an elite level, you must devote all of your attention to it. Point Fighting teaches you timing, distance and movement. Kickboxing conditions you to take physical abuse and push through. MMA teaches you how to combine all of your skills, both striking and grappling, into a well-rounded arsenal. I am not denying any of that. But to me, there is more to martial arts than being a fighter, and there is certainly more to self defense than what's allowed in competition. One cannot expect to just casually compete and win a World Championship. To be a champion in anything, you must be dedicated to your sport. And there's nothing wrong with that if that is your path. Keep in mind, however, training to function a certain way within a confined arena will create bad habits in all other areas of your training.
That is why I don't have my students compete. We do spar, often bare knuckle, and we cross train with practitioners of other styles. If one of my students wanted to compete, I would support them and insist they get with me privately for 1-on-1 coaching so that their competition training didn't take away from everyone else's training. But that's just not who we are. At the end of the day, we are a self defense school.
So for everyone out there claiming to be a self defense school, what does that even mean? Well, just as I pointed out the flaws in sport training, here is what's wrong with self defense schools. It's all theory! Self defense training, as practiced by most schools, involves theorizing various attacks and counter attacks. If they do this, you do this and this happens. The problem is two-fold.
One thing that is sacrilegious to martial artists: the person who gets the first hit is probably going to win. You can train all the counter attacks in the world, but the law of physics dictates that action is faster than reaction. Unless you are lucky enough to see the attack before it comes, you are going to get hit. It's what you do after you get hit that defines who you are as a martial artist. That is the true value of sparring, to condition you to take that hit and push forward (though getting hit with a glove is nowhere near the same as being hit with a bare fist or blunt object). However, a quick search of YouTube and Worldstar will pull up an infinite amount of fights where the first hit is usually enough to put the other guy to sleep.
The other big problem people forget to address is that the bad guy gets a vote too. Actually they get more than a vote. They are in complete control of the attack. They decide when and where they're going to attack, how they're going to attack and how much resistance from you will take to fend them off. What happens when they don't react to your death touch as you had hoped?
The sad reality is that the majority of martial artists just simply aren't qualified to teach self defense. We've forgotten how to be martial. We've become the industry of character development, rather than the community of self preservation. Too many instructors simply regurgitate what their instructors taught them without any real-world experience, or even pressure testing it within their own school.
Unfortunately today, just being a black belt or martial arts instructor is not enough qualification to teach people how to defend themselves, and most of what is readily available will get you killed. In reality, you should be looking for instructors with either Law Enforcement or Security/Executive Protection experience. People who have used their skills in the real world, know what it's like for their life to be on the line and how to survive. I'd like to include military experience in there (and please don't take this as disrespect for the military because that's the farthest thing from how I feel), but unfortunately there are just too many variables on what they could've been doing in the military to be a blanket go-to for self defense qualification. A cook or an IT guy does not have the same experience as the combatives instructor.
The biggest part of self defense training in my school is the adrenaline training. When you are attacked, the reptilian brain takes over. Adrenaline pumps through your system, your heart rate increases and your fine motor skills go out the window. Under duress, we revert back to the lowest level of our training. Punch, kick, strike. Precision is nearly nonexistent. You're not punching the xiphoid process with the second knuckle of your 3/4 rotated fist, you're hitting anywhere center mass with whatever makes contact first.
The only prayer you have of pulling off any throw, joint lock or precision strike is to consistently train them under duress with a fully resistant partner, and even then it is not guaranteed. You see, techniques are not really what we think they are. They are not "if he does this, you do this and this happens." Techniques were never meant to be finite, in the box, interpretations of idealized scenarios. A fight is like painting a picture, and techniques are the elements. As you paint the picture, you look at what you have and say "oh, this would fit perfectly there," and so you insert it. When drilling techniques, in reality you are training the body to recognize familiar positions and situations so that in the heat of the moment, your mind goes "oh, this technique fits here," and you pull it off. Some call it muscle memory. Some call it second nature. Call it what you want, the name is irrelevant. Techniques are not carved in stone. They are meant to teach you principles of motion, from which you extract a common denominator and apply it after it's been internalized.
So unless you are simulating all of the elements of an attack in your training, including giving the attacker the freedom not to stand still while you throw 57 strikes, it's all theory. Unless your students experience even the slightest fear that if they mess up they will be hurt, it's all theory. Unless your students are pushed to the limits, forced to overcome and harness the body's natural biological responses to an attack, it's all theory. Unless you're consistently watching videos of fights, muggings and/or weapon assaults, and training to simulate what you see happening in real life, it's all theory.
There are no guarantees in life. You could train exactly as I've detailed out, and still get killed. That being said, when that is a reality does that mean to just neglect training methods that could potentially save your life? Or would you still train with the utmost intensity so that if you are ever in that situation, you have the best fighting chance possible? I choose the latter. If either I or one of my students gets killed trying to defend themselves, that blood is on my hands, even more so if I do not train them to the best of my abilities. The best I can do is give them as many tools as I can and train it as realistically as possible, but at the end of the day, it's all theory.