Ryukyu Martial Arts Research 琉球武道研究

Difference between self-defense and skilled close combat / By Itzik Cohen

Nowadays, martial arts are often perceived primarily as a form of self-defense. This perspective can overshadow the highly skilled, pragmatic aspects inherent in martial arts development. Such a narrow view may lead to performance mediocrity and a lack of deep understanding of the techniques, along with an underappreciation of the diverse ways these techniques can be applied.
There is a fundamental difference between civilian self-defense, civilian close combat for security purposes, and military close combat.

Civilian Self-Defense
  • Role of the Practitioner: The person using self-defense techniques is the victim. They are always the defensive role, never the initiator.
  • Skill Level: Since fighting is not their profession, their combat skills are basic.
  • Nature of Threat: The nature of threats differs between men and women as well as the environmental range.
  • Teamwork: There is no reliance on teamwork; the focus is on individual defense.
  • Planning: There is no tactical or strategic planning in advance.
  • Techniques: The techniques are a derivative of all the above sections, tailored to the immediate need for defense and escape.
self defense
Close Combat for Civilian Security Purposes
  • Role of the Practitioner: Practitioners may be security professionals who could both initiate and defend based on the situation.
  • Skill Level: Their fighting skills are more advanced than those of civilians, as they undergo regular training.
  • Nature of Threat: They face a broader range of threats, which may include armed assailants usually with cold weapons or bared handed, and sometimes multiple aggressors.
  • Teamwork: There is some reliance on teamwork, especially in scenarios involving coordinated security efforts.
  • Planning: Some level of tactical planning is involved, as security professionals may need to anticipate potential threats and scenarios.
  • Techniques: Techniques are more complex and varied, catering to a range of situations, including crowd control and sometimes handling mainly cold armed threats.
close combat
Military Close Combat
  • Role of the Practitioner: Practitioners are military personnel who can be both attackers and defenders, depending on mission objectives.
  • Skill Level: Their fighting skills are highly advanced due to rigorous and continuous training.
  • Nature of Threat: They encounter high-risk threats, including heavily armed combatants and hostile environments. Sometimes in complex environment such as urban combat, counter-terrorism etc. in diverse civilian or military population.
  • Teamwork: Teamwork is crucial, with coordinated efforts being essential for mission success.
  • Planning: Tactical and strategic planning is an integral part of their operations, with detailed pre-mission briefings and strategies.
  • Techniques: Techniques are highly advanced and often lethal, designed for efficiency and effectiveness in high-stress combat situations.
close combat
Please note that in the picture the technique is performed in "Gi", however it is adapted to be performed in uniform and military equipment against an attacker with a knife. Such a case could arise, for example, in warfare in an urban area when there is a weapon jammed or for any other reason.

In summary, while all three forms of close encounters share a common foundation, they differ significantly in terms of the practitioner's role, skill level, nature of threats, reliance on teamwork, planning, and complexity of techniques. These differences reflect the varying objectives and contexts in which each form is applied. In civil security warfare, the mission is to secure a certain place, object, or person. Already at this point there is a fundamental difference between the three cases. In a police framework there is contact with a criminal and dangerous population at different levels. In a military environment, an offensive initiative is certainly possible by the soldier. The soldier is also equipped with clothing, equipment and weapons that restrict certain movement as well as in which population he operates (mixed civilian/soldier/terrorist), the level of risk and various other constraints. Self-defense and military close combat are two distinct approaches to physical confrontation, each with different goals, techniques, and contexts. Here are the key differences between them:

  • Primary Goal: To protect oneself from harm and escape danger.
  • Focus: Personal safety and de-escalation of the situation.
  • Legal Considerations: Techniques are often designed to be non-lethal and legally defensible.
Military Close Combat:
  • Primary Goal: To neutralize the enemy efficiently and ensure mission success.
  • Focus: Aggression, dominance, and often lethal force.
  • Legal Considerations: Techniques are designed for combat scenarios and may involve lethal force within the rules of engagement.
  • Techniques: Emphasis on simple, effective moves that can be quickly learned and applied by anyone, such as strikes to vulnerable areas (eyes, groin), joint locks, and escape maneuvers.
  • Training: Often includes situational awareness, verbal de-escalation, and use of improvised weapons.
  • Accessibility: Designed to be accessible to individuals of all physical abilities.
Military Close Combat:
  • Techniques: Advanced and often brutal techniques aimed at incapacitating or killing an opponent, including hand-to-hand combat, knife fighting, and use of firearms.
  • Training: Intense and comprehensive training that includes physical conditioning, tactical awareness, and integration with other military skills.
  • Context: Techniques are part of a broader combat strategy and often require physical strength and endurance.
Context Self-Defense:
  • Environment: Typically occurs in civilian settings, such as public places or the home.
  • Threats: Assailants may be unarmed or armed with improvised weapons.
  • Legal and Ethical Constraints: Must operate within the bounds of self-defense laws and often aim to minimize harm.
Military Close Combat:
  • Environment: Occurs in combat zones and other hostile environments.
  • Threats: Enemy combatants who may be armed and trained in combat.
  • Legal and Ethical Constraints: Governed by military rules of engagement and the laws of armed conflict.
Psychological Approach Self-Defense:
  • Mindset: Focus on personal safety, avoidance of conflict, and escaping danger.
  • Stress Management: Techniques to manage fear and stress during unexpected confrontations.
Military Close Combat:
  • Mindset: Aggressive, mission-focused, and prepared for lethal outcomes.
  • Stress Management: Training to perform under high-stress combat situations, often involving life-or-death scenarios.
Conclusion While both self-defense and military close combat involve physical confrontation skills, their underlying principles, objectives, and techniques differ significantly. Self-defense prioritizes personal safety and legal defensibility, whereas military close combat emphasizes mission success and the effective neutralization of threats.

Further reading sources:
About the development of Okinawan Karate techniques from historical and practical aspects:
Pathways of Karate Development: From Ryūkyū -di 琉球手 & Tou-di 唐手 Via Okinawan-te 沖縄手 to Karate 空手.
Karate’s genetic code - Ryūkyū-di 琉球手 - The pragmatic facet, Perceptions of techniques over time.
The book Karate Uchina-Di 沖縄手 - An Exploration of its Origins and Evolution.

About the authot on Amazon:
About the author: works, operational background and research

Itzik Cohen

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