Self-Defence vs Fighting Avoid, Assault, Alive Audio by Jonathan Fader

So you want to learn to defend yourself? Good, start training today! You never know when you’ll need the skill to defend yourself, and you better believe you’ll wish you had it in that moment of need.

This is the third post in this series about self-defence vs fighting. I will be focusing on self-defence basics, concepts, training, and mentalities so you can better understand what it means to train for for self-defence.

Fighting as part of self-defence has far more to do with overcoming predatory/prey behavior or power and the assertion of dominance. When it comes to self-defence there are a variety of scenarios that can occur, depending on the motivations of the attacker; some want your possessions, your body (sexual), or your life, or all three. This model fits well within basic situations like robbery, territorial issues, sexual urges, and even some political ideals. Another perspective related to violent interpersonal conflict is that you may be defending yourself against unwanted aggression, resulting in you pre-emptily striking because you think they will attack you, or you find yourself in a never-ending back-and-forth revenge cycle. This can be seen in things like family feuds, gang wars, or even international conflicts. Regardless of the perspective, dealing with self-defence situations is about dealing with unwanted violence, unlike fighting, where both parties willingly (or unwillingly) agree to fight in a mutual exchange situation.

Many fighting styles started as self-defence styles as, ultimately, humans and their genes all want one thing: to survive. In a Utopian world, which has yet to emerge, violence doesn’t exist, but, unfortunately, that is not a reality and possibly might never be a reality. By the shear nature of the evolutionary algorithms in the universe there may always be those who want more, physically, emotionally, or tangibly, as it gives them a better chance to survive and pass on their genes. But rather than go down the rabbit hole of what could be lets talk about what is, and that is humans are still, for whatever reason, willing to do violence to others and therefore those others must learn the skills to be able to prevent serious harm or death.

Training for Self-Defence

One of the biggest mistakes people make when thinking about training for self-defence is assuming that it is all about the techniques. But the truth is training for self-defence, in many ways, is far more complicated than training for a specific fight in a specific style. That is because the variables, tools, and possible complications in self-defence are far more broad, with little to no rules and endless scenarios. Training for self-defence is just as much about learning strategy, behavior patterns, principles, tactics, various applications of your tools, as well as the actual techniques.

Additionally, it is very much about training the body and mind to deal with unexcepted situations that, though they should have been avoided, were not. While the majority of time in training will be spent training the body and techniques, as these very much literally need the time and iterations to be effective, they must always be tied into principles and strategies.

Furthermore, training must do a good job at training individuals’ nervous systems and pushing peoples’ bodies to their limits, so that every individual bar is raised, thus the chances of them being overwhelmed physically or psychologically are greatly reduced.

Another major difference when training for self-defence is considering the duration of conflict. In a fight, a person may be preparing for a 5-25 minute specific time frame. While in self-defence you really are looking at situations that should last anywhere from 10 seconds to MAYBE a few minutes in the most extreme cases. It is very much about training individuals not to panic, use the most efficient methods and techniques possible to stop the threat, and/or get to safety.

Depending on where you are learning self-defence the techniques may vary slightly due to different beliefs on what is the most efficient option but what shouldn’t change is HOW you are training. It cannot be all about the techniques, but it cannot all be about Life or Death. Though Death is on the line now, as compared to professional fighting (it can happen still), it is very much about training to stop the initial attack and get out.

Though self-defence should be easy to learn, relative to a combat sport like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the reality is nothing changes with regards to how you get good; you must train regularly and train often to develop the skills and reflexes you need in order to get better so that you can survive any situations you might think you could possibly be exposed too.

The Self-Defence Mentality

The first thing to understand about the mentality for self-defence is try not to get into situations that require violence. For some people this can be a surprisingly difficult concept to understand, for others it is completely obvious. Also, you must understand that if you cannot Avoid and cannot get out non-violently, then your next best option is to fight, with everything you have, until the threat is no longer a threat or you escape to safety.

Strategy is everything. If you build yourself up to not look like an easy target, and you make smart decisions in who you associate with and where you go, there is a good chance you may never need to defend yourself. But this should be because of smart choices and not just circumstances. It may not be what people want to hear, especially anyone who has been victimized, but the reality is (as you will hear over and over) how you carry yourself, talk, and the choices you make, have a lot to do with whether or not you regularly find yourself in these situations. When I was younger I found myself in numerous conflicts that could have gone very badly. It is of course my fault, as I had a big mouth, but I often ask myself why I was never really jumped or things never went worse, and the answer was probably because the individuals involved knew I would fight with everything I had, even if I didn’t know how to fight at that time. They probably were never sure if I was fake crazy or real crazy. This probably left enough doubt in their minds to think, “maybe I could beat this guy, but I might get injured in the process, so it’s not worth it.” This is very much in line with the predator/prey mentality, as those who wish to do harm want to pick people who are easiest and least likely to do them harm in the process. A great podcast to listen to on this and similar ideas is Episode #3 of the Ron Engelman podcast with Prof. William Von Hippel

When it comes to violence, often individuals who grow up in good neighbourhoods and have stable lives do not understand the need to prepare for violence, as in their world it is unneeded and often something they look down on. Their assumption is based on the normalcy bias, which leads you to believe that if everything was fine yesterday and is fine today, it will be fine tomorrow. A quick look at history suggests this is a problematic mindset. This mentality works well until it doesn’t, and all of a sudden you find yourself in a situation where you were naïve and now need to fight or run. Just because you think violence is distasteful and brutish doesn’t mean others care at all what you think, and your beliefs and values will not deter their violent intentions toward you. It really is a naïve and arrogant stance to take, so don’t be one of those people (“Karens” for example)

Mentally you should always set yourself to avoid conflict, but always be prepared and understand that one day you may need to be violent. This is the first step mentally.

The next is to train your mind and body (nervous system) to being able to handle the immense stress and pressure you will face if you are ever in a violent confrontation. For if you are mentally and physically overwhelmed you body may very well shut down or not operate as you wish during violent conflicts.

The major difference again is that such situation should never be expected for if they were they should have been avoided. Unlike a fight with a set date and a specific plan, learning to defend yourself must be a constant consistent practice both physically, mentally, and spiritually. As you are not expecting to fight the best in the world you do not need to train every day, but some kind of consistence in training is needed so that you maintain the correct mentality towards self-defence.

Essentially, it is about hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. If you find yourself needing to defend yourself physically or mentally on a regular basis, you really need to take a hard look inside and at the environment you are in, then ask yourself “what can I change so that the violence, which has become normal to me, ceases to be so.”


Self-defence is many things. It is physical training, mental training, strategic training, and so much more. To reduce self-defence down to just techniques is silly and incomplete (unfortunately many people do this). There is a reason that at UTKM the first step to self-defence is Critical Thinking. Without this you will not be able to effectively avoid conflict or make smart decisions in life. To be able to critically think you, of course, need knowledge and experience as well as a deep understanding of violence and how it works, whether you like it or not.

Training to “Fight” is certainly part of self-defence, as a trained fighter will do better in self-defence situations than a soccer mom any day, but that’s not a guarantee. Any individual who is physically gifted AND trained, in any style, will always do better, and 9 out of 10 times they should come out on top. However that 10th time is what they should worry about, and if you look on YouTube or the Internet in general, you will find story after story of professional fighters who did not fare well in a self-defence situation. The issue was usually their ego and lack of situational awareness.

It also means understanding yourself and your own psychology, in addition to the psychology of others and their cultures. Self-defence is so much that it can be overwhelming, but know this; if you walk into a school to learn self-defence and they only ever teach techniques, with no explanation of how or why, and no discussion of other theories or concepts, then it may not be the best school in the world, just saying.

No matter what school you find yourself in your goal will remain the same: So you can learn to be a better version of yourself, mentally, physically and spiritually, so that you can walk in peace and never be the victim.

Written by Jonathan Fader

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