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Putting Self-Defense Back in the Self Defense Industry

by: Ehren Hollander                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

The self-defense and martial arts industry experienced a resurgence and revolution of sorts over the last 20 years. Tied almost directly to the rise of the mixed martial arts (MMA) and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the industry has taken a dramatic turn, which in some ways has been very good, and in other ways not as much.

The UFC created a resurgence in the desire to train in the martial arts. This new phenomenon, seen first in the early 1990’s, largely introduced the United States to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and Muay Thai. In droves, people from all walks of life began to seek out newly-transplanted instructors and began their training in mixed martial arts.

Conversely, this same rise of the UFC took away from the initial point of the martial arts: self-defense. As BJJ, wrestling, and Muay Thai became the desired foci of training, the shift to a competitive mindset quickly began to dominate. Regional, national, and international organizations and promotions formed within these styles to provide a platform for practitioners to compete; martial arts classes shifted from self-defense to scoring points; the concepts of self-defense needed to be forced into class versus being the reason for the class. Today, a large proportion of martial arts and self-defense training has shifted to either the archaic or preparing for the next tournament or “smoker”. This dramatic change in the industry is more prevalent today than any time in the last 20+ years.

Let me be the first to say that I am not anti-BJJ, anti-wrestling, and/or anti-Muay Thai. In fact, I’ve trained in these over the better part of the last decade. Though not my focus, wrestling, BJJ and Muay Thai have played a large role in my development as a martial artist. I love and appreciate the intricacies of grappling probably as much as a lifelong BJJ-player does, just as I love and appreciate the skill and technique needed in Muay Thai. Not only do I love these, but I am the first to admit that each of these has real, applicable self-defense application. As mentioned in my previous blog (“The Disciplined Tasmanian Devil”), self-defense should be viewed as a toolbox where not everything is a hammer. I wholeheartedly agree that each of these styles provides true self-defense application.

However, real self-defense does not train for points or weight-classes. Self-defense trains for the unknowns and inequalities. Actual self-defense trains to engage only as much as needed and to get away from a violent scenario because: 1) getting home safe to your family is all that matters and 2) a prolonged altercation typically only raises the chance for serious injury. Before I get everyone up in arms (because I’m sure I haven’t done that yet in this blog), I understand and use the same mentality that BJJ uses for rolling and the Muay Thai uses for sparring: controlled, methodical practice to build sensitivity in training and transitions. There are three differences for me, though: 1) Our students build to use all of their tools at once (a hammer isn’t the answer to every problem because not every problem is a nail), 2) We progressively increase drills to induce and inoculate a stress response because a real violent encounter may not be against someone your size or skill level and definitely not happening in a controlled environment, and 3) We train for worst case scenarios and to disable our opponent, not for points or to cause an attacker to tap out.

Krav Oz specializes in true self-defense. We believe that for true self-defense all our students need the ability to de-escalate, strike, grapple and disengage. Further, we believe that our students need to be able to transition seamlessly between all areas of the fight because nobody can ever predict where the fight will go, and having the best toolbox possible is the only way to help ensure your ability to survive and get home. As part of our self-defense training, we grapple, we use kickboxing, and we wrestle, among others, but we emphasize these as methodologies to build transitions, sensitivity in training, and confidence as opposed to training for a sanctioned fight or tournament.

Krav Oz prides itself on being a leader in the new revolution: Bringing self-defense back to the self-defense industry. If your goal is to train to be able to defend yourself in the worst of scenarios, then look at how you’re training. Are you training in one capacity? Are you training for one type of fight? Do you feel as comfortable addressing being punched or kicked as you do fighting for your life on the ground? Do you feel comfortable employing those responses under stress?

If you question your training or what you’re training for, then ask the questions, seek other perspectives and make a change if it’s in your best interest. If you’re not sure if you’re training for self-defense or a tournament, take a look at a few YouTube videos of real fights (not street boxing, but real attacks) and ask if you feel you could handle yourself in that situation or if your training will lead to that level of knowledge and comfort.


Ehren Hollander is the owner of Krav Oz, Montgomery County Maryland's top self-defense school.  Ehren has black belts in Krav Maga, Shotokan Karate and Aikido as well as over 20 years of training in various self-defense systems including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, wrestling, Judo and boxing.  Ehren has been honored to teach thousands of civilians, law enforcement officers and military operators over the years and is committed teaching real self-defense.

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