Self defense has always been an interesting topic to me. My father practiced Judo many years ago when he was stationed in Germany with the Air Force. Throughout my childhood I would hear stories of his experiences and it helped build a base of knowledge for me as I grew up. When I turned 10, I joined a wrestling club with my local park district and I thoroughly enjoyed the technical aspect of the sport, but as I competed and saw other wrestlers winning matches using a combination of strength and technique, I started to wonder if concentrating mainly on the technical aspects was enough to have an advantage over my opponents. As a result, I started lifting weights to build my physical strength in an attempt to combine wrestling technique and physical strength together. Around age 12, I briefly studied karate for about a year but found my coordination with kicking and punching weren’t as good as I would have hoped and my progress was slow. I didn’t have the patience for practicing stances and forms and I didn’t understand how these movements could help me should I ever need to use the self-defense in a real life situation.
Becoming disenfranchised with Karate, I returned to my roots of wrestling during my sophomore and junior years of high school. My wrestling coach’s philosophy was that good technique would win every time over strength but what I witnessed in match after match was that good strength combined with decent technique seemed to win more often than not. During my senior year and to the dismay of my former wrestling team mates, I exclusively dedicated my time to working out in the weight room. For the next 10 years, I worked out in one gym after another increasing my muscle mass and strength. I wanted to become stronger but it was important for me to grow naturally, without the help of performance enhancing drugs. At one point, I even considered trying to be a professional body-builder. One day while walking through the magazine section of a local grocery store, I saw a childhood friend and former weight lifting partner of mine on the front page of a muscle magazine. He looked every bit a professional bodybuilder and I was both happy for him but also upset that I had not made the necessary gains in my own physique to achieve those same results. My suspicions about his conditioning were confirmed several years later when my friend passed away at the age of 29 due primarily to the use of steroids. It was at this point that I sat down and really considered how I wanted to focus my conditioning. On one hand I really enjoyed the advantage of the strength I had built-up in my body from years of lifting weights. One the other hand, I knew that to feel like I could handle myself if I was ever in a physical confrontation, I needed to have technical knowledge of some type of self-defense. I researched all the available forms of self-defense such as Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido, Aikido, Jujitsu, Karate, Sambo and Judo. What I knew about myself was that I was tall (over 6′) and due to my muscle mass, my flexibility along with my ability to jump and kick were severely compromised. After much research, I ended-up joining a local non-profit Judo club. Ironically, the Judo club I joined was in the same area I grew up and had been operating for over 30 years, which meant that it was in operation during my entire childhood.
The day I started at the Judo club, I was the only adult in the beginner program. For the next 2 months I attended class 3 times a week. The only thing we were taught was how to fall correctly. I came to understand that as a Judoka, I would be constantly thrown to the mat during practice sessions and if I didn’t understand how to fall safely, I was most certainly risking getting hurt badly. Finally, after I mastered falling forward, backwards and sideways, I was allowed to start attending the adult class. For the next 10 years, I studied a combination of Judo and Jujitsu 2 to 3 times a week at several different clubs. Since the clubs I attended were all not-for-profit, there was very little pressure on me to advance in belt rank and I was allowed to study and learn at my own pace. I never understood how a child could be ranked as a black belt in certain self defense systems. As the body grows, many things will change over time. A persons limbs will lengthen and strength will increase. Likewise the individuals sense of balance, coordination, and ability to move and react will transform. Most martial arts take a lifetime to master correctly. From a business perspective, the students generate income to pay bills and belt rank testing brings in money for the club, so rank advancement is often times pushed or encouraged even though it may not be warranted.
To my advantage, Judo incorporates both standing and ground techniques, but the most dynamic aspects of the sport lies in the throwing techniques which begin with an upright stance. Over the course of the 10 years I studied Judo, the clubs I attended changed as mixed martial arts (MMA) started to grow in popularity. Many of the instructors started incorporating Jujitsu into the class curriculum. Jujitsu incorporates both standing techniques and ground techniques but the most dynamic aspects of Jujitsu were the ground movements. I decided the best approach for me was a combination of both Judo and Jujitsu. By utilizing 2 different schools of technique for self-defense, I was becoming a more versatile and complete student. I was able to use my strength and balance in the judo portion of throwing opponents and I was able to utilize my wrestling background to quickly advance in the ground techniques of Jujitsu. I believe this combination of self-defense is more complete than just studying only Karate or only Tae Kwon Do. For example, during practice I was able to use full contact when applying Judo throws and I could apply every ounce of energy, strength, and technique when rolling around for Jujitsu. What I realized through observation and communication is that sports like Tae Kwon Do and Karate utilize a lot of kicking and punching techniques that can be very effective if applied correctly, but every practice I ever participated in or watched involved the use of body armor and practice dummies because an actual technique applied to another human without protection could be potentially lethal. As a student of Karate one can practice the strength and placement of a kick using a motionless dummy but the dummy never moves around. The foot movement and balancing aspects of kicking can be practiced with another live human student but the kicks can’t be practiced using full strength for fear of injury. Hopefully if the Karate student ever finds themselves in a real situation requiring their self defense knowledge, they can apply the lessons of balance and the lessons of strength together at the same time. My point is that although Karate can certainly be effective if correctly utilized, a student applies exactly what they practice and every aspect of a kick is practiced in parts – not all aspects of the kick are practiced together at the same time on a moving human. How does it feel to connect with a human bone? How does one shift the body, continuously correct the stance and apply a kick to another using full force if the student applying the technique has never actually combined all the applications of the kick together at the same time? The thing about Judo and Jujitsu is that every throw, every choke, arm-bar, and submission, either standing or on the ground was practiced full contact every time with no body armor or practice dummies. Every workout left me completely drained of strength, both mentally and physically. Moreover, I felt that by practicing full contact and actually feeling an opponent’s weight and reaction to techniques was a far superior way to actually deal with a real life situation. I never wondered what would happen if I tried a move on someone without pads or protection because the aspect of full contact practice prepared me for a real life situation. I felt confident that I could actually apply my knowledge in a situation in real time should one ever arise.
I am in no way knocking or trying to talk down about other forms of self defense. Everyone seeking knowledge in self defense should take a good look at their personal strengths and weaknesses to decide which sport or art is best suited for them. Based on my own personal experiences and background, I chose a combination of Judo and Jujitsu as the most efficient use of my physical attributes. The best way to decide is to first make a personal assessment of what your strengths are. Next do the research and see what clubs may be in your area that are both close to you and reasonable in cost. I found it helpful to talk with the club owners so see what their philosophies were in teaching before making any commitments. From my own personal observations I would also highly suggest that you take the time to sit in on several practices as a sideline observer. Watch the student’s reactions to see how they listen and interact with the instructor and each other. Lastly, if you start something and decide you don’t like it, then don’t be afraid to reassess your situation. If you’re going to dedicate yourself to something then making sure you’re happy and enjoying what you do is vitally important.