Reality Fighting

Posted by on February 15, 2014 in Sensei's Corner | 0 comments

Sensei’s Corner – January 2007

Reality Fighting

The term “reality fighting” has been recently used to describe some self-defense training programs1. To the creators of these systems, the concept of reality fighting represents a brand new idea about how people should train for personal protection. This perception is rooted in a belief that traditional martial arts and combative sports lack complete applicability in the “real world” in a way that enables a practitioner to be successful in a self-defense scenario.

There is much evidence to support the belief that traditional arts as they are taught today do not prepare practitioners for modern self-defense scenarios. Many martial arts schools teach only the most basic of techniques and focus more attention on either flashy Hollywood-style techniques or tournament-style, rule-based free sparring. Needless to say these things are a world removed from actual combat. To the untrained eye, even well-executed and thoroughly studied kata practice can appear to have very little applicability to real combat.

The evolution of reality fighting is very understandable and stems from the same human instincts that created traditional arts in the first place; the instinct for self-preservation. It is true that many traditional martial arts, as they are taught today, lack much of the content that made them effective for self-defense2. The desire to create combative sports has caused the techniques of some styles to evolve into games rather than effective attacks and counter-attacks. When competition becomes the focus, techniques that truly damage your opponent go unpracticed or unlearned. In addition, many traditional martial arts are poorly taught. This is the result of years of degradation and “watering down” of the basic techniques. I have encountered individuals from different martial disciplines who practice movements they do not understand – kata steps that they believe are just for show or training drills that they say are just, “to get your heart rate up before class starts.” It makes sense that an outsider may conclude that a new training method is necessary, one that focuses only on techniques and tactics that are applicable in modern self-defense situations.

Though they intend to fill the void that has been left by sub-par instruction in the martial arts, what these “pioneers” of self-defense have actually done is taken their followers back to the self-defense stone ages. This is the same starting point from which every martial art originated. Every founder began with some intuitive knowledge and experience that helped them decide on a few techniques that were useful in real situations. From there, patterns of variations evolved, creating a system or style that was unique. As generations added new experiences and insights, the traditional arts developed into extremely sophisticated and highly effective fighting methods.

In fact, the same evolutionary phenomenon has already begun with these “new” reality fighting systems. Some have been around for more than a decade and just through a brief study of the articles and text books on the topics you can see that the techniques have evolved based upon research and practice. Despite the evolution of technique, however, these reality fighting systems still have not incorporated the essence of what I consider reality training.

The turning point in the development of traditional martial arts came when the art evolved beyond just a set of systemized techniques. By defining a set of core principles which apply universally to both the set of techniques in a style and the desired characteristics of the practitioner, the suffix -jitsu (techniques) became the suffix –do (way). It is at this point of evolution that the traditional martial arts have broad meaning and applicability in the “real world” while these new “reality fighting” systems do not.

I do not deny that many martial arts and combative sports practitioners are fooling themselves with respect to their self-defense capabilities. In fact, I strongly recommend that everyone seek out and read some form of “reality fighting” articles and books from a qualified author. Doing so will probably provide some useful information applicable to your training and it may also serve to validate or discredit some of what you have been taught. However, unlike the various “reality fighting” programs, the traditional martial arts are able provide you with much more than just the ability to strike down a mugger or survive a knife attack. I encourage you to challenge yourself about what you are studying and reflect on the usefulness of how you train in the real world – your world.


1 From
Reality-based self-defense is a personal protection system that usually combine techniques and attitudes from two or more traditional and/or non-traditional martial arts and/or fighting systems. Their focus is on what is effective in the street and not on tradition or aesthetics.

2 From
Reality-Based Self-Defense Training: 19 Principles That Will Save Your Life! By Jeffrey Miller

Other Resources and Background Information:

Reality Based Personal Protection by Jim Wagner. Publisher: Black Belt Books; 1 edition (December 30, 2005)

– Sensei Don Seiler