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MMA for self-defense?

MMA fighters strive for a high level of fitness and conditioning; qualities defensive tactics students need as well.
MMA fighters strive for a high level of fitness and conditioning; qualities defensive tactics students need as well.
Mark Kolbe Getty Images

Anthony Miranda, a convicted felon and would-be robber recently proved just how bad his judgment could be when he attempted to rob an unidentified MMA fighter on the streets of Chicago. While he didn't get any loot, the robber did come away with two black eyes and a gunshot wound to the ankle.

While this story is certainly humorous on one level, there are several important lessons related to self-defense to be learned from this incident as well. While in the past, I have warned MMA aficiandos about becoming too entrenched in the sporting mindset, I would like to pick on my own camp for a minute.

While my own expertise falls on the side of no rules defensive tactics (particularly armed tactics), as the above story demonstrates, just because an MMA fighter does not typically train for threats outside of the octagon, their high level of training can give them an edge even against the armed attacker. While MMA fighters are limited in their techniques by rules, do not fight multiple opponents simultaneously or face guns or knives in the octagon, they do several things very well and reality based systems should take notice.

MMA fighters, by the very nature of their sport, must maintain a high level of physical fitness. This means training hard at least several times a week, throwing hundreds of punches and kicks in practice and hours of sparring. All of this work results in a fighter whose muscles are conditioned to perform for an extended period of time, whose hands are conditioned to strike hard objects without injury and whose mind is conditioned to face an aggressive attacker.

Instructors who teach armed or unarmed defensive tactics for a no rules environment must remember that just because they know an arsenal of deadly techniques, they must practice regularly and maintain a decent level of physical fitness if they are to apply those techniques when lives are on the line. Likewise, a defensive tactics instructor needs to train their tactics against an uncooperative partner (ie: force-on-force training) the same way an MMA fighter prepares for a match by sparring.

While conventional sparring can teach the no rules defender bad habits like assuming an aggressive stance, force-on-force training can be tailored to fit a particular scenario and encompasses social interactions in a way conventional sparring cannot. In this way, FOF drills condition the student to the realities of violent aggression on the proverbial street in the same way sparring prepares the MMA fighter for the violence of the octagon.

For the tactics instructor this means putting students into social situations that require a decision to use force as well as the application of that force. For the firearms instructor, it means replacing live weapons with Airsoft or other firearm simulators and making the student face moving targets that shoot back in a safe environment. Always remember to take all necessary precautions when sparring or practicing force-on-force drills.

In training for self-defense, it is not enough to learn tactics. We must develop a proper mindset. We must maintain our physical health. We must apply tactics in a realistic environment that stresses feedback and most importantly, we must practice, practice and practice some more.

Beware of the self-defense instructor that does not encourage students to stay physically fit, does not address social or legal considerations, does not engage in scenario based training against uncooperative attackers and does not stress the vital importance of regular practice. And for those who are considering MMA for purposes of self-defense, while it would not be my first choice, you could do a lot worse.

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