What is (and isn’t) “Reality Based” Self Defense?

Posted by on Dec 28, 2011 in Self-Defense | Comments Off on What is (and isn’t) “Reality Based” Self Defense?

 Several months ago, I saw a Facebook post from another teacher of martial art and self defense use the acronym RBSD, and I had to ask the man what it meant.  After he answered that RBSD stands for Reality Based Self Defense, I knew exactly what his post meant.  However, many teachers of karate, taekwondo, judo, and other martial arts don’t understand the concept of reality based self defense.

In fact, I think most people have never heard of “reality based self defense” and don’t know there is a distinction between RBSD and other things called “self defense.”  Simply put, RBSD is education that teaches people how to protect themselves if someone attacks them during their typical daily activities.

In most reality based self defense classes, participants wear regular clothes and learn verbal and physical responses to various levels of threat. Most use “scenario based training” where one person plays the “bad guy” for the others to practice defending against.

RBSD does not simply mean hitting each other full force. In fact, any full force hitting should be done against padded targets or trained, padded pretend attackers so nobody gets hurt. A good RBSD class takes into account the safety of the participants while training, their physical safety on the street, and their safety from legal action when they use what they’ve been taught.

You may be wondering, “What is non-reality based self defense, or unrealistic self defense, and where did it come from?” Basically, unrealistic self defense comes from karate, taekwondo, judo, and other martial arts. It may have happened like this: Someone has the idea: “Let’s get a group of people together to practice how to defend ourselves from dangerous characters roaming the street of our city.”

Ideas continue to happen as follows:  Hey this practice is fun, let’s invite more friends who just like to have fun.  This is really good exercise, fun, and challenging. It would be good for young people to learn this, too. (Martial art was born.)  If we are teaching it to kids, we should probably take out the most dangerous moves so they don’t hurt each other practicing.  Hey, if we took out the most dangerous moves, maybe other people who don’t practice with us would enjoy watching us use our moves against each other. (Fighting sport was born.)

Even if I’m wrong about the goals and decision making process of the creators of main stream martial arts, or even if there are martial arts out there that have always focused purely on self defense, any group of people practicing self defense has a tendency to get more and more unrealistic as they practice. They usually focus only on the period of time blows are being thrown, because that’s the fun part to practice, and forget about the things that led to the conflict, like angry words, and the context of the attack, like whether the attacker is trying to hurt you or abduct you.

Furthermore, the group would usually practice moves with people who practice similar moves, so there are possible “attacks” for which defenses are never practiced. (Mixed martial art was born, in part, to counteract this last problem.)

However, I think the biggest problem lies in “thinking” about self defense. Instructors and students either don’t think about the practicality of their moves or think too much. While some martial arts people think that they must follow tradition and honor their instructors by never making changes, others try to improve their art thinking in ways they believe are logical, but actually aren’t.  I’ve seen it happen many times among my students and, for many years, was guilty of it, myself.

We take a certain attack like a wrist grab or punch and practice a certain defense.  Then we think, what would the attacker probably do next? Often we think we know what they would do next because, after thinking for a while, we decide what we think we should choose to do next if were the attacker.

What the reality based self defense people know, that the unrealistic self defense people don’t, is that people don’t so much choose actions during physical conflicts as much as “react.” There are certain common reactions that you can pretty well count on, like a person leaning forwards after a kick to the groin, and an attacker with a weapon pulling it towards their body after the defender grabs it. Reality based self defense teachers capitalize on these, but also teach in ways that let the students be able to respond well even when things don’t go as expected.

Martial art is great fun, great fitness, and can be great sport.  However, to learn really great self defense, it’s best to go to a class that focuses on self defense and nothing else.


We now have video self defense lessons for those of you who’d like to learn to protect yourselves from the comfort and convenience of your home computer!  See a free sample here: http://www.goldmedaltkd.com/dec/


This article originally ran as part of our column in the Las Cruces Sun News.

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