Do Martial Arts Work In A Real Fight?

By Tim Chesonis •  Updated: 10/05/20 •  6 min read
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I know that there are many advantages of learning martial arts, but do martial arts work in a real fight?  As an adult, will they help me when threatened?  What about my kids, will those skills keep the bullies away?

If one invests both the time and energy required to master martial arts to muscle memory, they can absolutely expect those skills to instinctively come out in a real fight.  However, if they do not commit to muscle memory the skills required, they will find themselves reverting to whatever comes naturally.

If you are looking into martial arts for yourself or for your child, you will find this article very beneficial.  We will talk about what it takes in order to ensure that the skills learned will actually be used in a real-world fight.

Practice Does Make Perfect

Bruce Lee practiced for 18 hours a day . . . every day, and is known as the greatest martial artist of all time.  Because he relentlessly practiced his craft, he became the best martial artist in the world.

Repetition Fuels Muscle Memory

There is a difference between knowing about something, (head knowledge), and knowing something so intimately that it becomes second nature.  Take a Navy Seal for example.  They spend so much time with their weaponry.  The sleep with it.  They take it apart and put it back together again hundreds, if not thousands of times.  They dream about disassembling their gun and reassembling it.  They get to know their weaponry so well, that they could take it apart and put it back together under any circumstances at any time.  

How can they do this?  Muscle memory. 

In the same way, if one invests their time and energy on mastering their skills, in time, those skills become second nature.  Even Instinctive.  So instinctive that if someone were to throw a punch, you would respond accordingly without even thinking about it.  Again, the objective in learning any one of the more than 170 martial arts is to develop muscle memory so that you react instinctively.

If you Dabble in Martial Arts, Don’t Wast your Time

The more training you have had, the more likely it is that you will use that training when those skills are needed.  This comes as no surprise.  If, however, you don’t take training seriously or have not committed to muscle memory the skills taught, you will not be effective at all in a real world fight.This is a sport that requires you all. You are either all in, or all out. There is no dabbling. If you dabble, you are wasting your time, and more importantly, you will deceive yourself into thinking that you are capable of something that you are not.

Muscle Memory without Discipline Makes you Johnny from the Karate Kid

OK, I have tried as hard as I could to steer clear of making any reference to “The Karate Kid”, but I just can’t help myself, especially when there is such a great analogy to be made.

You could be the best martial arts expert in the world . . . . when competing, however, in the real world, if you are not governed by discipline, you are a loose cannon . . . just like “Johnny” in the 1984 release of “The Karate Kid”.

Muscle memory trains your body to respond immediately in a given situation.  Discipline determines how, when, or even if you should respond.  In the Movie, “The Karate Kid”, Johnny had the muscle memory and instinct, but he lacked the discipline to know how, when or if he should use those skills.

Does Age Make a Difference?

Obviously if you are young and only have 1 or 2 years under your belt, you will not be as proficient as the adult who has been training for 5 to 10 years.  In other words, the longer that you have built up muscle memory, the more effective you will be in a real-world fight.

If you have not been trained properly, you may have developed some bad habits, and if so, the younger you are, the less you have to unlearn. However, if you have not had any training, age is irrelevant.  In fact, the older you are, (within reason), the more surprised an assailant may be at your response.  It may be just a jab to the throat, but a jab to the throat from a 70 year old woman just might provide enough time for that woman to escape.

There are some things that only time can teach you, but again, one can master a skill by creating muscle memory through repetition.  The key is finding a great trainer, one who will teach you proper techniques.

The Confidence Factor

When you start to train in martial arts, eventually, you gain a confidence you did not have.  Confidence changes the way one thinks about any given situation.  It shows them how to handle oneself in whatever circumstance they find themselves in.  It is not limited to martial arts, it shows up everywhere.

  • Confidence allows you to walk home from school without being afraid.
  • Confidence lets you hold your head high. 
  • Confidence allows you to take a walk at night. 
  • One who gains confidence is no longer afraid of the bully, be it on the school yard, or at the office.
  • One who is confident is not intimidated when giving a presentation in front of their peers.

Martial Arts delivers confidence to those who participate, and over time, their countenance changes.  Their demeanor changes.  People look at them differently, and think of them differently.  This is one major benefit of martial arts.

This confidence, (not arrogance), very well may prevent a real-world fight.  Why?  Because of the way that you carry yourself.  Again, I’m not talking about arrogance, where you feel the need to intimidate others.  I’m talking about your demeanor.  Training in martial arts provides this confidence.

Closing Thoughts

There is a lot of value in learning martial arts, including confidence, tenacity, and discipline. However, it requires a 100% commitment on your part if you are going to be effective in a real-word fight. If you can not make that commitment, you would be better served using a different means of protecting yourself.

Tim Chesonis

Tim loves writing and helping people succeed. He brings a wealth of wisdom and insight from an entrepreneur's perspective, loves Linux, his iPhone and his iPad. When he's not writing another article, he's probably binge-watching “The Middle” or “Breaking Bad”, (again). To learn more about Tim, click here.