As both a serious martial artist and a serious shooter, I often get pulled in two directions when it comes to self-defense discussions.
Shooters, in particular, like to draw deep dividing lines, claiming unarmed combat training is a waste of time. After all, you just need to shoot the enemy first. Right?
“9mm beats karate chop every time”…“Your martial arts training won’t help you in a gunfight.”
I’ve had these statements tossed in my face on more occasions than I can count. Quite frankly, those martial arts decriers are oh-so-very wrong.
I hold the rank of Sandan, or third-degree black belt, in Isshinryu Karate, and I was an Isshinryu Hall of Fame Female Instructor of the Year Finalist in 2019. I can say, martial arts has improved every aspect of my shooting game.
Glad you asked. Let me take you through how martial arts training impacts your shooting skills and why you should consider signing up for a class or two.
Table of Contents
Ways Martial Arts Improves Your Shooting Skills
It’s All in Your Mind
What’s the most valuable weapon you have on you at all times?
Whether you’re armed with a firearm or not, your mindset needs to be just as sharp as your physical skillset.
And a big part of martial arts training centers on developing that self-defense mindset, exposing students to mentally and physically stressful situations.
As a result, students learn to think on the fly, improvise, and stay in the fight, even when they want to give up.
Those are all very important skills in a violent situation.
Martial arts training also develops self-confidence.
There’s something incredibly empowering about knowing you have the skills to take on an opponent, especially one much larger and stronger than you.
I weigh about 125 pounds after a solid meal, and the first time I hip-tossed a 250 pound man, I had a surge in self-esteem the size of a tsunami.
A strong sense of confidence and self-worth proves a major asset for self-defense.
Predators look for weak, easy victims. So, if you don’t look like a victim, you reduce your chances of becoming a victim.
Let’s Get Physical
Too often, gun owners lean on firearms as a sort of magic talisman protecting them from all things harmful.
“I don’t have to worry about (insert threat here) because I have my handy Smith & Wesson/1911/Glock.”
That pervasive “just-shoot-em” mindset doesn’t always work.
There’s more to self-defense than just pulling a trigger.
Violence is dynamic.
Could you run away from danger? Could you climb a fence? Army crawl to safety? Carry an injured loved one away from the scene?
These are all very real circumstances that could, and often do, happen during the course of a violent encounter.
If you ever find yourself in a real, life-or-death altercation, your heart will beat faster, adrenaline will surge, and your glands will dump a ton of cortisol into your bloodstream.
You need to know how to handle your body when you’re out of breath, shaking, and trying to function under the influence of stress.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you don’t have to train physically because you own a firearm.
It doesn’t matter how many guns sit in your arsenal. Neglecting your health and fitness will come back to haunt you in a life-or-death situation.
Physical fitness offers another major benefit for those who find themselves in a dangerous situation.
According to a 2008 study conducted by Lilianne R Mujica-Parodi and Marc Taylor, individuals with a lower percentage of body fat are less affected by cortisol and have better cognitive function during stressful situations than chubbier test subjects.
In other words, being fit and healthy can help you keep your wits in a self-defense scenario.
Most martial arts schools incorporate physical conditioning into every aspect of training.
If you’re training in a dojo or MMA gym, even if it’s only two or three times a week, you are probably in better physical shape than the average American.
Balance is an important element of successful, accurate shooting. It’s also a primary element of martial arts.
Where your head goes, your body follows. This is just as true when you’re pinging steel as it is when you’re throwing punches.
In martial arts, students learn to keep their heads up. Even the slightest tilt of the head throws off balance, and the same rings true when holding a firearm.
Shooters should always bring the firearm to eye level rather than lowering the head to the firearm.
If there is a need to move one’s head to achieve a decent sight picture, a better move is to tilt the chin forward rather than leaning the head to the side.
Stance is also a key element to balance, providing the foundation for solid martial arts as well as solid shooting form.
A well-balanced stance provides an even distribution of weight, which not only makes it harder to knock you over but also allows for easier movement.
I use the same martial arts stance, with slight variations in angle, no matter what weapon I use.
Because I am the weapon.
It doesn’t matter what I’m holding…rifle, revolver, recurve, or nunchucks; they are all nothing more than defensive tools.
Consistency is incredibly important to successful shooting.
Minor variations in stance, head position, hand placement, trigger pull, etc., can have major consequences downrange.
Consistency is also a key element of martial arts.
Most practices will drill fundamentals…not until you do them right, but until you can’t do them wrong.
That’s an attitude shooters should adopt.
Even better, many martial arts fundamentals, like stance and head position, bleed over into shooting.
So, drill them until you can’t get it wrong.
There are no shortcuts to proficiency, whether in martial arts or shooting.
Serious skill requires practice, and consistent practice requires discipline.
The Father of Karate, Gichin Funakoshi, once said, “Karate is like boiling water: Without heat, it returns to its tepid state.”
Replace the word “karate” with “shooting” in the Funakoshi quote above, and the statement rings just as true.
Both martial arts and shooting are perishable skills that require disciplined practice to remain sharp.
Martial artists who approach range day with the same disciplined commitment they bring to martial arts training will see serious progress in both endeavors.
Why Gun Owners Need Hand-to-Hand Skills
Beyond the basics of balance, mindset, and general fitness, there are several reasons every gun owner benefits from martial arts skills.
Creating Space and Drawing Your Weapon in Close Quarters
Firearms are distance weapons.
In self-defense, sudden attacks at close range are far more common than slow, charging attacks you see coming from a mile away.
When surprised by an up-close assailant, the ability to get to your gun could mean the difference between going home and going to the morgue.
Drawing and firing your weapon in these situations requires at least modest hand-to-hand skills.
Unfortunately, those aren’t skills taught in your typical concealed carry class.
However, even the most basic martial arts techniques could help you create enough space between you and the attacker to draw your pistol out of your holster and into the fight.
One of the worst things that can happen in an altercation?
The “bad guy” getting his hands on your weapon and using it against you. That’s the stuff of nightmares.
Retention skills and disarming skills go hand-in-hand.
Understanding the basic elements of disarming helps you avoid the same thing happening to you.
Proper martial arts training will, at the very least, help you understand the concept of disarming.
The best martial arts training will help you learn both.
You Won’t Always Have a Gun
Within your community, there are places you can’t legally carry a weapon.
That said, it doesn’t mean you’re free from danger in those locations.
It’s no secret that mass shooters are partial to “gun-free” zones like schools, shopping malls, concerts, etc.
So, if you find yourself in a perilous situation without your firearm, you’ll be thankful for even rudimentary hand-to-hand skills.
However, we need to remember that this isn’t an either/or situation.
Just because you have empty hand combat skills doesn’t mean you should leave your firearm at home.
Even if you have master-level martial arts prowess, that one time you need a gun, NOTHING ELSE WILL DO!
It’s okay to master both skills.
The more tools in your toolbox, the more likely you are to have the right tool for the job in front of you.
Take Advice from the World’s Elite Fighting Forces
Still think martial arts is a waste of time?
Then why does every elite fighting force on the face of the planet train hand-to-hand combat skills?
Spetsnaz, Green Berets, Navy SEALs, IDF, MARCOS, British SAS…
All of these international badasses use guns — really nice guns, too. Yet, they don’t shirk their hand-to-hand training because of it.
Guns malfunction, and crazy terrorists can jump from the shadows, slashing a blade like a madman.
Smart people train for all contingencies.
Techniques these operators practice are, at the least, highly influenced by traditional martial arts — even if they don’t have a direct lineage to Gichin Funakoshi (the father of Karate) or Bodhidharma (the creator of Shaolin kung-fu).
Which Style Is the Best?
A plethora of martial arts styles exists out there — everything from traditional Okinawan karate to modern mixed martial arts.
Ask any serious martial artist what the best style is, and he’s going to tell you it’s his own.
The thing is…he’s right.
The “best” style is the one you train with discipline and commitment.
Are some styles better for shooters than others?
However, I am a firm believer that deep study in any martial art is better than absolutely zero training.
In fact, serious study over time in a single discipline will serve you better than dabbling in several.
Remember when I mentioned practicing the fundamentals until you can’t do them wrong…
It takes years of regular training to accomplish that.
However, even a little training will improve your confidence, attitude, and, ultimately, your shooting skills.
If the idea of studying combat arts for years feels daunting, try committing to at least six months.
You’ll be surprised at what you learn in a short period of time with the right mindset.
Plus, you might just fall in love with it.
Look for a school with a practical approach and an emphasis on self-defense.
Martial arts influences every aspect of my life, from the way I move through a crowd to the way I open the refrigerator door.
Oh, and did I mention, shooting, by definition, is a martial art.
If you really want to improve your skillset, study the art of shooting just as much as the martial aspects.
Do you have a favorite martial art style you think is better than all the rest? Tell us all about it in the comments below. If you’re looking for other ways to expand your self-defense plan (without a gun), check out the 7 Best Knives for Self-Defense.