Self Defense and Mixed Martial Arts are different. In addition to training UFC fighters, boxers, grapplers, and special forces soldiers, I also host a site on self defense and receive many emails from people asking if martial arts training will help them defend themselves.
We can expand that question to include many of the popular combat sports training programs out there, including boxing, judo, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, karate, UFC style MMA, etc.
Ok, so what’s the answer?
If you become proficient, you will be better able to defend yourself than if you have no training whatsoever.
However, it is important to understand the following differences between self-defense and mixed martial arts (including UFC style MMA).
o Karate, judo, martial arts, boxing, etc are all governed by a set of RULES. A self-defense situation has no rules: you can be kicked in the groin, poked in the eyes, bitten, and even worse have a bat, knife, or gun pulled on you
o The “other guy” is not drunk, on drugs, pissed off, and wanting to maim or kill you. In every self defense situation, you have to assume your very life is in jeopardy.
o In mixed martial arts, you know ahead of time when you are fighting, who you are fighting, what size they are, what style you will be fighting in, and can prepare. The majority of self defense situations will come when you are ill prepared and least expect it, your opponent can be bigger or smaller, and could be anything from a punk with a knife to a drunk ex-marine.
o Mixed martial arts, taekwondo, jiu-jitsu, kenpo, etc are considered sports. As such, you are doing this voluntarily for money, a trophy, respect, etc. You know there will only be one opponent. In contrast, you are usually not in a self defense situation by choice, and there can be more than one attacker. There is no “winning” in a self defense situation; there is escaping without major injury.
o Most sporting events last a while, you catch your breath between rounds, there are score cards and judges, and you try to win by scoring points (and in some cases by submitting or knocking your opponent out). Almost all self defense situations end in less than 30 seconds. The bad-guy is not going to stop just because you connected once, tap, say ‘I give”, or appear to be injured. There is no doctor standing by to immediately help you, and no referee to make the attacker stop.
o Luckily, in training for mixed martial arts (mma), karate, etc the person you are facing will use defense AND offense. In reality, a bad guy is going to concentrate mostly on offense (attacking you). In the opening seconds of the encounter, the odds are they will not be expecting you to know any defensive technique, or to attack them!
Here is a critical rule to remember: You react the way you train
When taking classes in a “sport” type of fighting, mostly you train to score a point in a competition. You train for a 2 or 3 minute round. You get rest breaks. You engage 1 person at a time. So, in wrestling, jiu-jitsu, etc, you often go to the ground (you cannot fight more than 1 person if you are engaged in grappling).
If you know these differences, then you can optimize whichever classes you are currently taking, be it mixed martial arts, karate, aikido, kenpo, judo, kickboxing, grappling, taekwondo, etc. You will get incredible fitness benefits, and be more skilled in a self defense situation.
Keep in mind however: Studying Self-defense is a completely different animal than a karate class at the local mall.