What is Self-Defense?

March 8, 2024, Israel


What is self-defense? On the surface the answer is in the question; self-defense is learning to defend yourself, to protect yourself, but that is just scratching the surface.

When I first began my martial arts study, I thought that learning Karate was self-defense. Line up in a row, make sure you had an authentic looking Japanese instructor, and in time you would be unbeatable. 

As time went on, I believed that that was not sufficient. I began adding other martial arts to my curriculum, I studied Judo, Jujitsu and ground fighting. I felt I was rounding off my curriculum in a clever way, just as Bruce Lee had done earlier. 

I moved to Israel, but I returned to the USA for training. I sought out the greatest masters, trained with Benny the Jet, Shigeru Oyama, Prof David James and many others. I was always seeking more. I trained in Chen style Tai Chi Chuan in China town, in Wing Chun kung fu, in Choy Lee Fut. 

Then I saw a reoccurring advertisement from Charlie Nelson, and I realized that my training was still not complete. I saw a man pushed to the wall with a knife pressed against his neck. I knew that I was nowhere near ready for this situation. 

I trained for many years, many arts, but then I realized that I was still not really training in self-defense, I was training in only one aspect of self defense but ignoring the more important part. 

I live in Israel, and I travel the world. In Israel we are currently in a state of war, but the truth is we have been in a state of war for many years, for my entire lifetime and beyond. We are not only in a conventional war, we are also faced with terrorism on a regular basis. I have written about this experience in my book, Israel: A Nation of Warriors, which I consider essential to understanding the idea of self-defense. 

As such, we feel the danger in an acute way, one that perhaps people who live in more pleasant areas do not feel. This gives me an added perspective. 

My self-defense training began to include the mental part, the psycological part, how the mind must learn to cope withe the surprise and shock of sudden violence. I came to realize that all the self-defense training in the world, all the martial arts, are utterly useless, unless one masters the psychological parts. 

I will repeat that. Without the mental, psychological training, all martial arts are as tools locked in a toolbox, but the key was forgotten at home. You cannot open your toolbox; you cannot fix a damn thing. That is martial arts without the psychological preparation. 

But then I realized there was more, much more. We were only dealing with HALF the equation. It is like being in couples therapy, by yourself: You need to interact with the other person.  And then I started focusing on understanding the other person involved; who is he? how did he grow up? what are his values? 

We need to respect him. That does not mean "I respect him as a fine fellow", or whatever. No, respect means - Understand he is different from you! He has his own values, not yours. When you assume the attacker is the same as you, you disrespect him, and you would yourself in grave danger. Do you hear me?

When you focus only on yourself, only on your own training but you ignore your opponent, attacker, assailant, you are not ready! not at all! You are ready to fight yourself or a friend from your dojo. You must study him, the aggressor, you must understand his values. A member of a drug cartel who grew up poor does not share your values. You need to see where he is coming from, only then can you begin your physical training. This is Key!

What is self-defense?
Some say it is personal empowerment, yes, that is true. but that is one of the simplest, most basic levels. Whoever says that perhaps lives in Pleasant Valley Sunday where the only troubles are low self-esteem, or lack of confidence. But when you live in a crime ridden neighborhood, when you live near the cartel, when you live near Hamas terrorists, then self-defense takes on a whole different meaning. Personal empowerment? That is fine when you are dealing with children with low self-esteem or a guy who just got dumped, or fired, but when you are dealing with real violence, that does not scratch the surface of self-defense. 

What is self-defense?

It is a comprehensive system of mental and physical skills that enable you to correctly assess a threat and handle it in order to preserve your life and dignity. All the rest is commentary. 


Moshe Katz, 7th dan Black Belt, Israeli Krav Maga. Certified by Wingate Institute. Member Black Belt hall of fame, USA and Europe.

Understand the Israeli Fighting Mentality - Israel a Nation of Warriors by Moshe Katz


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