Are you training self defence or voluntarily suffering?

I was listening to a podcast where the speaker said games and sports are voluntary suffering. She said that we put ourselves through a form of suffering for each sport. The example she gave was golf. If the aim is to get the ball in the hole then our most efficient way of doing so is to pick up the ball and drop it in the hole. Instead we make it harder by standing hundreds of yards away and use a weird shaped stick to try and guide it in the hole.

That description hit a chord with me as it perfectly describes what some martial arts teach, sometimes inadvertently when they are trying to teach you a form of self defence. This can apply to karate, tkd, mma, Kickboxing and many more. And this voluntarily suffering can lead to dangerous situations should you ever be confronted in a real life situation. By placing certain rules and tactics that work for the sport side of the art, you put people at risk as we will likely do what we are trained to do when under pressure of a real self defence situation. At this point anything goes. There is no referee, weapons can be brought into a fight and you can suddenly find yourself going from winning the fight to being beaten badly as others join in.

A few examples of what i mean. I have had the pleasure of trying a tae kwon do class where the instructor taught during sparring to turn my back on an opponent as according to the rules you couldn’t get hit in the back. A sneaky tactic in a tournament, but a death wish in real life situations. I had a discussion with another martial artist who went to a tkd tournament and the rule was you couldn’t attack a person on the ground. So one competitor kept jump kicking and falling to the ground. He would get a point and be safe from counter attack.

The author Tim Ferriss, whose podcast I heard the term on, tells a story in his book the four hour work week (which i highly recommended along with his book the four hour body) about how he used the rules to become a world champion in Chinese kickboxing in China. The rule was that you win by tko if you knock your opponent off of the mats three times. Tim Ferris is known for hacking the body and managed to lose significant amounts of weight by dehydration before the weigh in and super hydrated and put all the weight back on for his fight. All of a sudden he was significantly bigger and stronger, and much heavier than his opponents and won simply by knocking others out of the ring 3 times.

Mma and Brazilian ju jitsu can also fall foul of this form of voluntary suffering. Taking an opponent to the ground, going for locks is fine in a cage or ring. Doing it in reality can be fatal if your opponent had friends nearby to kick you on the ground.  I have a student who trains in gracie ju jitsu and I’ve been lucky enough to train with Royce Gracie myself, so I’m not purposely trying to knock the art. It’s a great martial art but if you are training for competition there are rules you must adhere to that limit your effectiveness in self defence.

While rolling on the matt with this student after class he couldn’t pin me down and I managed to get him off despite him being heavier, stronger and better at grappling than I am. How? I’m by no means an expert at grappling, but I’m flexible in awkward places, and naturally wiggly which helps, but one large advantage I had was that in my self defence training, my instructor ALWAYS emphasised that there are no rules when defending yourself. You bite, gouge, rip, pull, strike to the groin and eyes and no area is off limits. My art Choi Kwang Do teaches headbutts, knees, elbows, eye strikes and to hit whatever you can when you see an opening. So I’ve trained all my life for self defence and NOT to voluntarily suffer in my training by constraining what i can and cannot do when i defend myself. And that was my advantage when I was grappling. As my opponent went for a lock my fist would be tapping his groin making him realise a vulnerability.  As he went for another thing I would bite just enough for him to realise he would be in quite a bit of pain if I choose to go harder, his eyes and even lips were fair game for me, but not a thing he was even considering as vulnerable as up until that point the rules in his classes didn’t deem them as fair places to attack.

So if you train in any kind of self defence take a good look at the rules and restrictions it may be imposing on you and consider that how you train is very likely how you will react under pressure. And it might also limit you from using tactics like biting, headbutting or poking your fingers in the eyes which could be the difference, literally in some cases between life and death and you successfully defending yourself or your loved ones. Is it worth carrying on with those limitations or do you need to change how you train?

I hope you enjoy this article.  If you are interested in Choi Kwang Do self defence classes for your child, family member or yourself and are in the Bristol or Trowbridge area then please go to my web site at for more information on our Choi Kwang Do classes that are great for teaching you self defence, self confidence and also keeping you fit and healthy no matter your age.  We offer 2 FREE lessons to all who sign up via the web site.

If you don’t live in my area and are interested in Choi Kwang Do then please visit where you can find the nearest location to you.  Most of the classes offer some sort of free lessons so please take a look.

If you are already an instructor in another Martial Art and you would be interested in converting to Choi Kwang Do please go to or contact them by email at and let them know you found them through Master Millers blog.


Dale Miller

Master Instructor of Choi Kwang Do.




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