Do Tradtional Martial Arts Teach Self defence banner

Listening to a Tik Tok video a self defence instructor stated that traditional martial arts do not teach self defence. This is not the first time that I have heard this statement, but personally I disagree. You may think well you train in a traditional martial art and so your opinion will be skewed, but I assure you this is not the case.

So if you look through the history of martial arts and you will find that their purpose was for civilian self defence. Now if we look at Karate as an example, originally when it was taught on the Japanese island of Okinawa, its sole purpose was civillian self defence. So if self defence was the purpose of martial arts then why do people make claims that they don’t teach self defence?

The answer to this is simple, over the years societies objectives for training have changed. Lets start with karate as an example, when it was taken from Okinawa to mainland Japan during World War 2, many of the throws, takedowns and ground techniques were removed. This was due to the presence of Judo on the mainland and they could not see a reason to have two martial arts that taught the same techniques. The Japanese also removed some of the lethal strikes from karate to make it more child friendly and so watering down the self defence element of the martial art. After a period points sparring was introduced and sports karate evolved, giving practitioners another reason to train. 

Fast forward to the present, there is a practical karate movement which is attempting to take karate back to its self defence roots through the study of kata and its hidden self defence applications. Traditional martial artists mainly fall into two camps: 1. Sports martial arts and 2. Self defence martial arts. These labels are usually determined by where their strengths lie. Those that learnt from multi time champions usually have the goal of developing champions and competing in tournaments. This is a formidable goal, but they will also spend the majority of their training time working on exercises that will allow students to develop the skills required to win medals and trophies, such as perfecting ultra low stances and super sharp “perfect” movements in kata. Those that have the goal of learning self defence will focus the majority of their training time on exercises that will help to develop skills that will be relevant to self defence, such as studying bunkai and oyo hidden in the movements of kata to learn self defence principles. Through a lack of education and knowledge that there are subtle differences in the goals of martial arts instructors gives rise to misconceptions such as traditional martial arts do not teach self defence.

A classic quote from the karate kid movie series ‘if karate used defend honour, defend life karate mean something. If karate used to defend plastic metal trophy, karate no mean nothing.’ Again this supports the theory of purpose and the instructors goals for their students. Mr Miyagi in the movie series was teaching karate for the purpose of self defence and did not see the advantages of karate for sporting purposes.

In conclusion traditional martial arts can teach self defence, however it depends on the objective of the instructor. Do they teach with the goal of developing champions or do they teach with the goal of developing strong minded students with strong self defence skills that will serve them well should they have to use them at any point in life.    


If you like the views in this article why not check out our other article regarding the evolution v extinction of karate by clicking below: