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The Data The Self Defense Industry Is Afraid Of

The Data The Self Defense Industry Is Afraid Of

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A friend recently sent me a link to a website for “Self Defense and Combat Fighting Skills from the World’s Most Dangerous Men” The landing page it took me to the visual equivalent of being screamed at by a DJ.


The landing page contained a quiz to “test your combat readiness” which was clearly designed for you to fail. At which point, you were urged to make a $97 purchase of their “Real World Combat” DVD. The final pitch for the DVD boldly exclaimed:

You’re about to discover what 99% of most men DON’T know about street fighting, and how that lack of knowledge puts you and your loved ones in DANGER EVERY SINGLE DAY!

In many ways, this quote sums up the modern self defense industry in a nutshell. An industry that primarily relies upon fear to motivate you to purchase. It needs to paint a picture of a world that is fundamentally in chaos, where serious threats loom around every corner, threats you’re not equipped to handle.

And not just threats, but life threatening ones. Threats so great, you need to prepare not just to defend yourself, but to take someone’s life. The “secret” skills taught by “special forces”.

But the self defense industry has a serious problem, their narrative no longer squares with the actual data of everyday safety. So they have to work harder than ever. Not just to make you feel threatened, but to play to most men’s power fantasies about being a badass.

The ACTUAL Golden Age of Crime

There is a direct correlation between the explosion of martial arts in America and the crime rates in the country. During the 1970’s and 80’s, crime in America reached recorded heights. Violent crime nearly quadrupled between 1960 and 1991.

In New York alone, there were over 100,000 robberies in 1980, more than any other major city in the world.

The television and film industry was fully aware of this, and churned out a steady stream of films that highlighted street violence. They ensured that the perception of crime was just as high as crime itself.

In our society, the need for self defense was more tangible than ever during this golden age. There was real danger. And most martial arts schools fully embraced the action hero fantasy fed to us in popular films like Roadhouse and. . .whatever all those other ones were. The idea that there were super human skills that would allow you to beat anyone of any size, known only to a few (ok, that was sort of true).

Some Actual Data That The Self Defense Industry Doesn’t Like

While many self defense schools have always engaged in hyperbole to exaggerate what you could become capable of, more and more of them now have to use hyperbole to exaggerate what you’re up against. While the world will never be safe, it’s gotten a whole lot safer. Here’s some statistics that spell trouble if you’re in the fear industry.

Violent Crime Has Been Plummeting Since the 1990’s

The two most authoritative resources we have on crime statistics are the FBI and the Bureau Of Justice Statistics (BJS), which publish crime data every year. They show that crime has been steadily decreasing for a quarter century. According to the FBI violent crime fell 49% between 1993 and 2017. FBI data only takes reported crimes into account. BJS takes both reported and unreported crimes into account (they survey respondents and ask if they were the victim of a crime, even if they did not report that crime.), the rate fell 74% during that span.


Unreported Crime is Not A Magic Wand That Makes All Statistics Fake.

Some people will quickly point out that a number of crimes go unreported, which is true. In fact, the BJS estimates roughly half of all crimes go unreported. But it’s not a rebuttal to the data, it’s actually supports it. Like I said, BJS actually takes into account unreported crimes, and when compared to FBI data, it shows a larger decrease in crime in the past decades.

What’s more, BJS data shows that more people are reporting crimes today than in the past, which means crime was likely to be higher in the past and has decreased even more than the data shows. Finally, violent crimes are the most likely to be reported compared to property crimes like theft (sexual assault remains an exception, sadly).

All of this means that the drop in crime may be even larger than we know.

Most Street Fights Are Not Life and Death

Our own data on street fights shows that only 21.5% of street fights ended in a knockout of a participant being incapacitated. The majority of them ended indecisively, because participants fatigued or the fight was broken up. Considering that FBI data shows murder accounts for just 1.4% of violent crime in the US, it’s safe to say that in the unlikely event that you are the victim of a violent crime, you won’t be justified in using deadly force anyways.

If You Are In A Position to Learn Self Defense, You Probably Won’t Be A Victim of Violent Crime

The Self Defense Industry paints a picture of an encroaching threat coming to a neighborhood near you. Truthfully, demographics are a huge factor in your likelihood to be a victim of a violent crime. BJS has an extensive victimology method to establish who is most likely to be victim of various crimes. Victims of violent crime tend to be single men, non-white, under 25, making less than $30,000 a year, and uneducated. Meaning that if you simply grow up, finish school, and have a stable job, you’ve cleared the major hurtles of victim-hood.

There is No Super Secret Martial Art that “Special Forces” Use

While many programs will advertise that you’ll be learning what the (insert special forces here) learn, the truth is that the vast majority of their training involves firearms, not hand to hand fighting. But what are the elite units being trained in for their hands on combat? The answer might disappoint you: largely the same training as their civilian counterparts.

If you have trouble getting a clear answer on what martial arts are actually endorsed by various special forces in the military, that’s because there is no formal curriculum that is consistently practiced. Popular retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink has said in interviews that when he was a SEAL, no one was required to learn martial arts, their training was largely informal and left up to the discretion of the soldiers themselves, or occasionally a unit commander. Police Forces are similar, hundreds of police departments across the world are constantly adopting and re-adopting defensive tactics. Sometimes there are mandated training days once or twice a year. But most often, the financial realities don’t allow for much more than cursory unarmed self defense training of law enforcement.

What is practiced are various combatives programs by the different branches of the military, the most developed is the Army Combatives and MCMAPs program. These programs don’t feature much that isn’t completely accessible to civilians, outside of weapons training. Army Combatives especially was largely created by the Gracie family using their fundamental white belt curriculum. But these are taught to everyone in basic training, and often not revisited. Boxing, Judo, and Wrestling are still core sports curriculum in military academies around the country. In short, the military is largely reying on the civilian world for their martial arts training.

In fact, data shows that when soldiers do engage in hand to hand combat, they largely use good old fashioned grappling. A 2014 study by a student at West Point interviewed over 1,000 soldiers that had experienced combat in Iraq and found that 20% of them engaged in hand to hand combat. When asked what the nature of that fighting was, 72% of soldiers said it was grappling, while another 21% said it was fighting with a weapon such as their rifle.

No One Makes Money In A Safe World

The sad irony is that we seem unwilling to recognize the great strides we’ve made since the 1970’s. Despite the evidence, the public’s belief that crime is on the rise, and has been steadily rising for twenty years. Why?


There’s a lot of theories, but the one I tend to favor is that our access to information continues to rise, and that we are more aware of crime than ever before. But it’s more than that. Let’s be honest, the self defense junkie peddling their three dollar e-books isn’t going to tell you to use common sense, avoid bad areas, and you’re odds of needing to protect your very life drop dramatically. Nor will they tell you that self defense skills is a product of long term training, not just reading a book or a attending a one day seminar.

Just like your favorite television news channels know that viewership will spike during a crisis and flatten during quiet times. So the answer is to make everything a crisis. The missing airliner, the border, the homeless. Invest in gold, buy seeds, vote for this person. Everything is more powerful when it’s an existential threat.

Can Martial Arts Survive Without Fear?

The answer is clearly yes. More people are probably practicing martial arts today than ever before. And the rise of martial arts with a sport component, such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, are proof of the adaptability of the arts. In 2019, your local martial arts school is more likely to tout the healthy lifestyle and community of their gym, than your need to defend loved ones.

I’d like to believe that pages like the ones at the beginning of this article are the last breaths of a dying industry which trafficked mainly in fantasy to begin with.

High Percentage is a site dedicated to data and science, and making it useful to readers. And truthfully, our articles on self defense sometimes seem like the least useful, because far more people report to us that they are using our data in their everyday training, and tournaments, than in actual street fights. And we’re ok with that.

So the next time someone tries to scare you into training, don’t buy it. The world’s not safe, but it’s not a war zone either.

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