This blog post is actually a response to a question I was messaged. The martial artist is a new martial artist and looking to get answers. Some one pointed him this way and as I try and answer everyone, here it is:
The actual question was "is it better to learn a full martial art or a shorter self defence system when it comes to learning how to protect myself?"
Now I will have to admit I have shortened the question but that's pretty much it.
Martial Arts are described in Wikipedia as
Martial arts are extensive systems of codified practices and traditions of combat that are practiced for a variety of reasons, including self-defense, competition, physical health and fitness, as well as mental, physical and spiritual development. The term martial art has become heavily associated with the fighting arts of eastern Asia, but was originally used in regard to the combat systems of Europe as early as the 1550s. An English fencing manual of 1639 used the term in reference specifically to the "Science and Art" of swordplay. The term is ultimately derived from Latin, martial arts being the "Arts of Mars," the Roman god of war. Some martial arts are considered 'traditional' and tied to an ethnic, cultural or religious background, while others are modern systems developed either by a founder or an association.
Now that was a really long answer but the clue is in the bit that states Martial Arts are practised for a variety of reasons. Self Defence systems are practised for one reason and one reason alone, and that is to learn how to protect yourself.
Martial Arts to have cross over skills that really add to any persons ability to protect themselves. A Thai boxer is going to be very good at making sure he can defend himself. However self defence is an in depth study that involves criminology, fitness, crime prevention, physical skills, mental awareness and much more.
So my personal opinion is that martial arts deliver great things, you will develop in so many ways by studying martial arts. You will learn skills, get fitter and learn a new skill that will often have a rich history to it. So I really suggest that anyone and everyone studies martial arts.
I suggest that a person picks a good martial art to study at a good school, and in addition look to attend seminars and classes that focus on self defence. For example you could study MMA but also attend a self protection seminar from a British Combat Association Instructor. This way you get to have the best of both worlds. You get everything that martial arts offer but you also get to learn how to modify your skills for self defence situations.
However I will say that you should be wary of any person in the martial arts or self defence who promises to make you invincible overnight or after a short course. Such claims are ridiculous. To be able to look after yourself and protect yourself takes time. Success can come quickly but only after serious hard work, Serious study and focus. None of that comes in a few days. I am very wary of get great quick systems in self defence and martial arts. However there is another flip side to the argument.
Another hidden truth is that if you master the skills of 'awareness' or the ability to foresee potential risks and avoid them you can reduce the risk of ever being involved in a serious physical attack. These skills can actually take only a day to learn. However there is the paradox.
Martial artists and self defence students will spend 80% of their time training the skills they will not need to use if they put effort into training the 20% of soft skills(stole that phrase from Jamie Clubb, it basically means awareness and avoidance) that will actually help them avoid violence.
So the skills we spend the least time training actually can help us the most.
In conclusion I suggest you study martial arts on a regular basis and learn a good system. Try and reach instructor level in that system if you can. However at the same time study self defence. Find people who have real experience of violence, read books from Geoff Thompson, Peter Consterdine and Rory Miller to name but a few. Study criminology, attack rituals and body language.
As to which martial arts to study I will save that for another time.
Hope that answers the question.