How Long Do You Need to Train in Self Defence and Martial Arts?
As a self defence instructor, one of the most frequently asked questions I get is "How long do I need to train for?"
If you take martial arts as a basis for this question then it makes sense, we grow up watching movies about heroes who live in temples, lift boiling hot pots with their bare hands and train to pass extreme tests in rooms full of darkly clad foes and booby traps, battling to pass their final graduation test and leave the temple.
Before answering the question, I ask in return "What are you training for?".
To make sense of this conundrum we need to understand two key factors relating to real world assault and self defence, Victim Selection and Overwhelming Assault.
The time-frame here is often in milliseconds. The attacker spots an opportunity presented by the environment, the bevaviour of a potential victim and the context. They then commit to an act of aggression.
The attacker doesn't play by any rules of combat or fairness. They have already decided to act, now they want to complete what they started with the least possible risk to themselves. This is often achieved through a combination of deception, surprise and extreme aggression.
Deception is used to create opportunity, it may be a hiding place from where to spring, or by engaging in apparently normal behaviour such as asking for directions or even offering help.
Surprise is the difference between what we expect and what happens and it is magnified by deception. When deception is involved the gap is significantly widened and unless we have prepared for this level of extreme shift in circumstances then our natural reflex is to freeze in shock and indecision. This is exactly what the attacker wants. During these few seconds the outcome is decided. The attacker may inflict extreme harm immediately or stun the victim to the point that they cannot protect themselves, allowing the attacker do what they will.
So this is what happens in the real world, the attacker will seek to minimise risk to themselves through victim selection, deception and surprise and seek to overwhelm their intended victim before they ever have a chance to escape or fight back.
This brings us back to the original question of "How long do I need to train for?".
Well, if you are talking about real world self defence, the answer is 'less than 5 seconds', because that is where the outcome is decided.
If you are seeking to learn self defence, then it is very important that you ensure the focus of your training is on being able to protect yourself fast. You don't have time to wait because it's all over in 5 seconds.