Attack and Defence in the Martial Arts

The terms “attack”, “defence” and “self-defence” can sometimes cause confusion to novices when discussing the martial arts.

As regular readers of our blog will know, we are keen to explore some of the philosophical and spiritual guidance of martial arts training. So, we will try to clarify certain aspects of that here.

Competitive martial arts

The first distinction to make is that between the competitive martial arts and self-defence.

In a competitive bout, participants are trying to score points and win.  They may adopt very different strategies including those associated with attacking and defensive moves and those that are a mixture of both – such as a counter-attack.

This is no different to many other competitive sports, where both strategies may be used.  That applies, for example, even to chess.


This situation is different to the above.

It usually suggests a position where the violence is real and not competitive.  Someone is in danger of physical harm and they may have to deploy their martial arts training to defend themselves or those with them.

In such circumstances, our training and the techniques used will emphasise defence.  That is using your skills to protect yourself using the minimum force possible to achieve that objective.  It is typically not about using attacking techniques on the person who is initiating the violence.

However, there are exceptions.  In certain situations, it may be necessary to consider and use some more attacking-oriented techniques to ensure that the perpetrator is unable to continue their violence.

Please understand, this is nothing whatsoever to do with the idea of a pre-emptive strike or “getting them before they get you”.  It is simply a recognition of the fact that some aggressors may not be sufficiently deterred by exclusively passive defensive skills.


Defining these terms isn’t simply a matter of semantics.  Understanding these different senses is critically important to the development of your inner strength, self-confidence and self-control.  In some respects, this cuts to the very heart of what the martial arts really are.

If you like to know more, why not come along to our Dojo to experience for yourself our culture and philosophies? We’re waiting to say “Hi”!

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