June 8

Martial Arts Vs Self-Defense: What is the Difference and Which To Learn


In this article, we take a look at the difference between martial arts and self defense.

There are many differences in both terms, but knowing the difference can help you determine which one will work best for your needs!

So let's dive in.

The Difference Between Martial Arts and Self-Defense Training

The difference between Martial Arts and self-defense is more than just a question of semantics.

Martial arts are a type of physical activity that uses techniques from sports and other types of fighting, while self-defense is more about defending yourself physically or verbally against an attacker.

In martial arts training, students learn to resist the use of force through defense moves with their hands, feet and body.

They might also learn about the culture and history of the art, practice movements through dance, for example, the Martial Art of Capoeria using dance and music at its core.

Also, the student might learn to use weapons such as in Karate with Nunachku or in Kung Fu with a sword.

It is about learning an 'art' and everything they encompass that study

In contrast, self-defense training is about learning to defend yourself and your loved ones from physical attack.

Students might also learn to use weapons, fire a gun, or use improvised weapons in the event of an attack.

The goal is to teach people how to avoid conflict by using mental and physical skills that allow them to de-escalate potentially dangerous situations when necessary.

And of course, if required to physically defend yourself or your loved ones.

Are Martial Arts Any Good For Self-Defense?

When people want to learn self-defense, the first place they often turn to is the Martial Arts.

But is this wise?

On the surface Martial Arts often promote themselves as being great for self-defense. However, not all are.

Some Martial Arts are more focused on sporting skills, and others may not have the right techniques that will be effective in a real-world attack.

The usefulness of some martial arts for self defense is debatable. But if you really want to know what's best for you, this article on the best Martial Arts for Self Defence can help guide your decision making process.

But before you do, it's important to actually ask yourself why you want to learn self-defense?

The Benefits of Self-Defense Training

In the past, when someone was looking for self-defense training, they often turned to martial arts schools first. And not wrongly so – many of these instructors would promote their classes as being great for self defense and physical fitness at the same time.

But this isn't necessarily the case.

While most martial arts are great for fitness, their actual self-defence ability is often questionable.

When learning self-defence, a good instructor will undertake a wide variety of training skills into their syllabus.

This includes soft skills such as verbal aggression management, body language, awareness of attack, avoidance of attack, crime prevention, threat management and de-escalation.

These skills cannot really be learned without sitting down and talking.

And if you have ever been to a Martial Arts class, you know that most of them are all 'go-go go'.

Aside from the soft skills, the physical skills will involve things such as 3 on 1 defense, the 'fence' (a concept developed by self-defence expert Geoff Thompson), close-range combat skills, vertical grappling, open and closed fist strikes and grappling.

Yes, these drills will get your heart beating and sweat pouring out of you. But they aren't designed for that purpose.

The workout is a by-product of your learning.

This has always meant that self-defence instruction is not an activity but an education. You learn things that you can apply later.

And these are skills that will help you to stay safe and keep your loved ones out of danger.

Martial Arts V's Self-Defense Fitness Training

If I have painted self-defense as something that does not focus on fitness, I have not really made myself clear. Good self-defence is rooted in fitness.

But that doesn't mean it is a core part of the training.

Self-defence is not a sport. And many self-defense encounters end quickly. But physical fitness is part of self-defense, and your instructor may choose to make sessions very demanding or educate you so that you can carry on the training at home or in the gym.

Because the subject is so vast, many instructors will focus their time on the best reward for students within the set time frame. So attending a weekly class will be very different from a 6-hour workshop or even a 4 week course.

Martial Arts, on the other hand, are often competitive sports so, many focus heavily on fitness training and also mental and spiritual development through discipline and meditation.

In short, if you are looking for a workout, self-defence training is unlikely to be as beneficial for your health.

Choosing Between Martial Arts and Self-Defence

Many people might be thinking, 'which should I choose? Martial Arts of self-defence lessons?'

It's a fair question.

And one that I get asked a lot.

My actual answer might shock people.

You should train in self-defence before you choose a Martial Art.

Let me explain why.

When you generally have a desire to learn self-defence, it tends to be because of a life event, either yours or another persons. You might have been attacked, seen footage of an attack on the news, or had a verbal confrontation.

You might have been been inspired by watching a film. Whatever the reason, you want to learn how to defend yourself.

And so, you do what everyone does, you look for what you associate with self-defense training, and that subject is Martial Arts.

Martial Arts are generally seen as the 'parent topic' for self-defence and self-defence has taken many of its skills and techniques from within the Martial Arts.

However, as stated, Martial Arts are activities.

So, you should try and enrol in a self-defence-focused class first, be that a course, workshop, or part of a Martial Arts school.

This might be tough to find and certainly challenging to find a good one, so here at The Self-Defence Expert, we are building a whole range of courses and programmes.

But for now, check out the reviews of these online courses. Combat Fighter and First Strike.

And if these don't look like something you would consider, I would suggest that you check our Dead or Alive by Geoff Thompson and also the Gracie Combatives course.

However, I firmly believe you should educate yourself on self-defence BEFORE going down the route of Martial Arts.

Once you feel that you have a good understanding of self-defence, it will be time to start taking your learning to the next level by taking up a Martial Art.


When deciding on Martial Arts or Self Defence, it is essential to understand the difference between them. It's also wise to educate yourself on self-defence before taking up a martial art, and we have plenty of options for that here at The Self Defence Expert.

So, check out our content and join our email list to make sure you never miss out on our training.


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