You are here:

Self Defense/Choosing a martial arts school


QUESTION: Hi Marc. I read a lot of articles on your site including all the info in the "martial arts training" hub. Still I have some questions regarding choosing a martial art school. Yesterday I went to the introductory training of the Kempo Arnis ( I noticed that instructors there "ignore" the appropriate use of force and legal repercussions (you can see that in the video), there is a lot of full contact sparring (not on the first day of course) which personally I don't like cause it teaches you more how to fight than to put someone down and arrest them asap (I'm a cop). They also don't teach you why does the technique work (physics, range, structure) but rather they show you and then correct you if you are doing something wrong. Again without explaining why do it like this and not like that.

But there is the bright side to this as well (or so I think). They also teach some control techniques (as you can see mostly from the second part of the video) that look like they might work. I don't know. I don't have a lot of experiences with martial arts.

What do you think? Should I "join the team" or try a different school? It still seems the best school in the area (all other schools are mostly sport oriented).

I appreciate your thoughts on this.

ANSWER: Okay, I'm going to answer this in a strange direction. I spent some time in Southern Oregon. I'd just come from Southern CA where there were lots and lots of beautiful women. Yet, I'd landed in a place where the women were U.G.L.Y!  After the buffet of beauty down south, we're talking famine time in Oregon. I found myself desperately seeking to find attractiveness. It was so bad I ended up having to part out beauty. I ended up walking through town saying to myself "She has nice (fill in the blank). She has a nice (fill in the blank)"

I like women. I appreciate beauty. Most of all I like the whole person. But to get my fill of eye candy, I had to focus, not on the whole, but parts.

Odds are seriously against you finding one school that has it all -- especially for your specific needs.

Looking at that clip, I have to go into 'parting it out.' They have good mechanics.

And that, believe it or not, is way more important than a lot of the things they fail at. Good mechanics make up for a lot of short falls in other areas. Because you can work with good mechanics.

You asked if you should 'join the team.' My response is don't think of this as a marriage. You're not stuck there. Nor do you have to buy into everything they do (including drinking the Kool-Aid).  While you're there, take the best of what they got and work it into your own arsenal.

You're not there to 'learn their system,' you're there to extract useful parts.

I saw a lot of excessive and unnecessary movement there. But buried inside those seven moves are three really effective moves to end the situation. The trick is for you to extract those three. So in a sense, it's you panning for gold. There is gold in that stream, but also a lot of sludge. You need to get a sluice box to extract the gold and let the sludge go on it's way.

So let me help you build a sluicebox.

There are three main problems I saw with what they are doing. All of which result in the 'fighting' you see.

First is range.  They're trying to do moves from 'punching' range.

Another thing I will give them is that they are moving off line. Yay them. Frickin' awesome that. The problem is they are moving from punching range into punching range. This rapidly becomes a self-eating watermelon, because you've moved into punching range, what are you going to do? Well punch of course. (This is the core of the 'fighting' problem')

I make a distinction between an impact (punch, strike and front snap kick) and a drive (push, driving strike, muay Thai kick or push kick). The thing about impacts is they go in, deliver force and get out again. Very useful tools.

However, they have one main weakness. And it's really simple to demonstrate. A good boxing punch snaps out and pulls back in real quick. The weakness of a punch is demonstrated when a guy is rushing you. You snap out with a punch, hit him and then retract. And his forward momentum keeps on. He follows your punch back in and still slams into you.

Drives, however, require you leave the structure out there. Imagine pushing a car or pushing your way through when opening a door. The structure isn't retracted, it's left out there so your momentum moves the object.* (see end of post)

Punching range is different than driving range. Like only six inches mind you, but being six inches back makes it punching range. Six inches in and that exact same outward motion becomes a drive. A drive that if aimed and/or angled right  totally jacks up his structure and sets him up for the take down.

Instead of pulling your arm back to 'punch' AGAIN, you just morph the move into the take down.

Second pulling punches.

Here's why and how these guys end up fighting -- especially with the stick and knife stuff (which is the last fuckin' place you want to waste time fighting) Because these guys are impact oriented -- and while you hit fast you don't want to hurt your partner -- they end up pulling their punches. Except by pulling their punches they both reinforce doing things in the 'wrong' range (punching) and not actually seeing the effects of what the move would do.

So basically they pull the punch, then pull the next one and since nothing is happening they punch again, then they do the take down.  There's three problems with this.

One is they don't jack his structure with a pulled punch so they don't see what effect it would have.

Two is even if they do connect with a pulled punch, the fact that it's a punch allows him to reset his structure.

Three punches by themselves are not that effective. The most reliable way for punches to overwhelm someone is lots and lots of them, so fast the guy never can get it back together again.

Once again we're in self-eating watermelon land.

On one hand, you can't do that to a training partner without the chance of injury (which incidentally also applies to controlling a perp). On the other, by going so damned fast you don't see the weakness inherent in just punching fast. (For example, those guys trained themselves to punch multiple times instead of just one drive that jacks the dudes structure and drop him)  

So if you do join this club, slow it down. Don't rely on fast pulled punches. And especially don't allow yourself to be trained to do it. You're a cop. You're there not to learn the system, but to take stuff they do and apply it safely and legally on the streets. (That will get their dicks all puffed up and they'll be more willing to work with you -- despite the fact you're flushing a lot of what they do down the toilet).

The third thing the are not doing is controlling the guy WHILE they are delivering force into him.

Wanna know a real embarrassing thing about learning to hit really, really hard? Chasing the guy across the room after you've knocked him there.


I meant to knock the guy down. Now I have to go running after him.  However, this is again an element of being in punching range. In boxing and impact systems they teach you to hit with one hand and keep your guard up with the other.

Personally though, I like using the other hand to grab onto the dude and either
a) drag him into the blow or
b) to act like a pebble under the wheel of a skateboard.

B takes a bit of explanation. I don't attack with just one hand. I attack with two. One of which is attacking his ability to attack me. For example if I grab one shoulder and anchor the dude there, when I 'shot putt' through his other shoulder, I spin him like a top. That rotation puts him into the perfect position for a take down and all his sharp and pointy parts are aimed away from me (and in your case, he can't grab your gun because he's facing another direction).

I wasn't seeing a lot of this in the clips -- until they took the dude down. There was the flurry of hits and then they'd grab the dude to drop him.

(Or -- and this especially in sparring -- they'd grab the guy to hold him in place to hit him harder. Then they'd let the fucker go. Say what? If they're grabbing and hitting that dude should be dropped. Not because of a knock out, but because of a take down.)

These three things can help you if you choose to go to this school.

I'm not joking that their mechanics are pretty good, they just don't know how to use them in the most effective manner. If you choose to go there, odds are you can learn a lot. But what you're going to be learning probably isn't on their curriculum. But it very much can be extracted from it.

Yes, they probably are the best thing around. But realistically when it comes to finding good training we're all stuck in Southern Oregon. What I saw on that clip was very much a 'that's a nice (fill in the blank). That was a good (fill in the blank). That's what you have to do.


*Drives also work when you aren't the one doing the pushing. In the case of a charging person, you stiff arm him. If you can snap out structure fast enough and in the right range you end up with what I call a 'Three Stooges Knock Out.' Where basically the guy knocks himself out by running onto your fist (think of the Stooges running into the end of a pipe sticking out of a wall. But this has to be done early and greater range. Up close, it's just to keep him off you. BTW the reason most defensive stiff arms 'fail' is they try to stand their ground instead of moving. He's rushing? So what, he doesn't get closer than arm's length before you do something else

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Very quick response and lots of good always.

Even though I've known all along that I will never find a school that would teach me all I have to know, part of me was still looking for one. Thanks for reminding me. It's like Bruce Lee once said "Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own."

I still have one question though. It may sound strange but what do I do about the whole belt advancement stuff?

I'm not a big fan of learning things I can't use but would have to learn and practice it in the class if I want to get into the advancement class. Taking private lessons is not an option right know otherwise I'd take them and learn only the stuff I want.

What about it? Unless your going to put ranking on your resume for your career advancement it's not important.  Go learn what you can. And who knows. Sometimes things you learn and think, are useless, pop up in the weirdest places.

I thought the bong sau was the stupidest thing possible.... until one day I found myself using it on the street.

Who knew?

Self Defense

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Marc MacYoung


Street self-defense, crime avoidance and personal safety


I grew up in the streets of Los Angeles in 'situational poverty.' I have dealt with criminals and violent people all my life -- both personally and professionally. I have written 15 books and 6 videos on surviving street violence. I was originally published under the name Marc Animal MacYoung. (Animal was my street name). I've taught police and military both internationally and within the US. I've lectured at universities, academies and done countless TV, radio, newspaper and magazine interviews. I'm a professional speaker on crime avoidance and personal safety. And I am an expert witness recognized by the US court system. My bio is at My abridged CV (Curriculum Vitae) is at

See CV

Too numerous to list here. My CV (for my expert witness work in court) is at

Read "In the Name of Self-Defense" the streets don't give a Ph.D in scuffle.

Awards and Honors
See CV

Past/Present Clients
See CV

©2017 All rights reserved.