Quantity vs. Quality in Martial Arts Training

Martial Arts Training

When most people think of “martial arts training”, they envision rows of students dressed in white karate uniforms, yelling, punching and kicking into the air in front of a mirror.

Pacing between them is their “sensei” or teacher, stopping periodically in front of a student to turn their outstretched hand a millimeter or two in a different direction to make sure their form is absolutely perfect.

In fact, “form” is stressed so much in traditional martial arts training that I’ve been told by some of my instructors in the past that the goal was to practice a single move 1,000 times in order to perfect it!

It’s this “quantity vs. quality” approach that’s one of the key differences that make up the thin line between “martial arts” and “self defense”.

If you’re going for your black belt, you’re going to have to learn a gazillion different punches, kicks, blocks, counters…step-by-step.

Indeed, in the end, you’ll have amassed a giant toolbox of “moves” you can pull from in order to pass your training tests and yes…even draw from if you’re confronted by an attacker.

And that can be a problem!

The reality is that not many people have the time to invest in their training to the point that they can practice ALL of the techniques that are taught within a fighting system to stay proficient…unless you’re the teacher and practically live at the dojo or school.

Even at your peak of training, where your form is “perfect”, applying it to a street scenario wipes away most of your “form” benefit because your strikes were perfected in a relaxed environment where “losing” just meant a couple of sparring points.

On the street, there are no “points” to lose…just your life!

So if you were confronted by a larger, stronger attacker armed with a knife in a parking lot, would you rather have in your mind a gazillion different “options” for how to defend yourself? (“If he stabs overhand, I can step back – block up – counter with my right hand – follow through with punch #2 – flip him over my shoulder and then…etc”)


Would you rather pull out a .357 Magnum and put one bullet dead center?

Now this ISN’T an advertisement for the superiority of guns as a self defense tool (I can hear you NRA guys hooting and hollering from within my office), but the point is that when it comes to having a self-​​protection plan of action, you’re much better off having just a FEW very powerful strikes that you’ve perfected than to put together a vast arsenal of moves that you’re “somewhat proficient” in.

To really shut down an attacker, your form doesn’t have to be “pretty” and your fist being a millimeter or two off in one direction or the other isn’t going to matter.

Remember, you don’t WANT to have to pull out 5–30 different techniques in a real street fight! 2–3 “moves” are all it should take if you’re doing it right!

Through your training, discover what moves you find easiest and most powerful to deliver and train with THESE, in as realistic environment as possible, until you have 1–3 devastating moves you know you can launch without even thinking about them.

This will be different for each person. You may find that a palm-​​heel to the face works best for you while someone else, perhaps a shorter person, may see a low-​​line attack to the feet or groin is more practical. Whatever it is, practice just these first few moves you see yourself using and once mastered, only THEN is it time to move on to other supporting techniques.

Related Articles:

- Mixed Martial Arts vs. Street Fighting
Is Your Martial Arts Training BACKWARDS?
The 12 Inch One Punch Knockout!
Can You Block A Punch?



  1. CMSgt(RET) Ken Chandler says:

    Jeff, thanks for putting the info out that \“sport\” karate (or sport self-​​defense) isn\‘t the end-​​all for defending yourself or others in a street/​combat situation. It takes years to learn and a lot of concentrated effort with the mind set for street/​combat fighting to develop self-​​defense that works. It\‘s never like the movies or sports shows. You\‘re right that you have to use your mind and techniques that really work. Please keep getting the word out so people don\‘t get the wrong ideas.

  2. MAJ Ben Bergwerf says:

    I totally agree, but the purpose of the 1000+ repetions is not for form, but the process to be able to react instinctively, without having to think or make choice. Yes, a few good moves that work for you, not a bucket full of options that confuse the reaction time.

    Ben Bergwerf, Kudan — Combat Judo instructor, The citadel

  3. Jacked says:

    Having been in numerous street fights…this article is dead on.…it forgets to mention one thing…weight and strength are critical factors. The heavier you are and the stronger you are the more effective your blows are going to be. Picture the difference in taking a straight right from napoleon dynamite vs arnold schwarzenager…Bottom line, hit the gym.

    • billy says:

      hoe wdo you get into numerous street fights? are you out looking for trouble all the time or do you live in a bad neighbourhood?

  4. Thom says:

    That\‘s actually not necessarily true Jacked… though thats true for a few forms of Martial Arts, there are quite a few that revolve around knowing how to hit, where to hit, how to work with your opponent, and they are completely independent of things such as size and strength.

  5. Brandon says:

    Nice and very right point only thing is that there is some martial arts that are basic like Krav Maga. Its pretty basic I have learned to get out of almost all situations in a matter of a week now I can\‘t perform them perfectly but I can do them. Krav Maga focuses on the threat then disabling the cause of the threat with blows to the face, neck and groin. The only areas that immediatly matter.

  6. Brandon says:

    Sorry forgot to include this. My sister learned a bunch of Krav from her boyfriend she is 5\‘3\” and weighs 120lbs. I\‘m about 6\’ and weigh 220lbs she could disable me before I learned some Krav and how to counter.

  7. Jeff,
    I\‘m alive and kicking at almost 60 years old. I still run 3 days a week bike 2 days and my new passion is Crossfit. Your doing our military men and women a great service with your articles. Keep up the good work and AIRBORNE ALL THE WAY.

  8. Mike says:

    Totally agree. Close Quaters Combat student myself with experience in Krav Maga and other martial arts like Muay Thai but Close Combat is the real deal!!!

  9. DZPMantis says:

    You are quite correct in your line of thinking with most American Martial Arts, especially sport based ones that use point sparring. At my school we teach all beginners \“blitz\‘s\” which quick self defense applications that are practiced every day, every class for 2 months. This is in addition to the more traditional methods of teaching. When a student begins to fight, All of our fighting is done full force and full speed with no pads, as that is how the real world works.
    Maj. Bergwerf has it correct that repetition is key to putting the moves into muscle memory so that you do not need to think, just react. But this needs to be coupled with application against a resisting opponent, and lots of no rules free sparring.
    I enjoy sharing these articles with students to help them understand what is really required to defend oneself in the real world. Thanks!!

  10. Don Bendell says:

    Dear Jeff;
    I am a former Special Forces officer with two sons who are SF NCO\‘s, I served in 4 SF Groups, including a tour on an ODA in RVN in 1968–69 and in the TS Phoenix Program. In the early and mid-​​seventies, as a civilian, I taught members of the 82nd Abn, SF, and the 18th ABN Corps a combination of Tae Kwon Do, Jujitsu, and Kickboxing at the Ft Bragg Boxing Club twice per week. I now own and operate two martial arts schools in southern Colorado and have been a student of the MA for 42 and a half years. I think I know this subject pretty well.
    I cannot believe you ridiculed any student acquiring knowledge or gaining experience. Do you think you can teach Sniper School in a few day\‘s time, hand a guy a new MOS designation and a couple boxes of ammo and send him out on a mission with a spotter and expect that mission to get accomplished? If you are jumping at night w/​equipment and weapons, in high winds, do you want your jumpmaster on that aircraft to be some guy wearing his \“blood wings\” or a Master Blaster? You are correct about sport karate not even being in the same arena as real self defense, but I also see plenty of strutting peacocks in MMA, as well. It is never the style, but always the practicioner. Like the old saying goes, \“It is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.\” I resent having what I teach as ineffective or non-​​useful. I have been shot, stabbed, blown up, gassed, etc. I have lived in the real world, and I will study the martial arts the rest of my life, because it brings much more to me than the ability to kick somebody\‘s ass who attacks me. And yes, if they break in my house, they will be greeted with a Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 magnum or my SA .45 XD, whichever is closer to me, not my martial arts. I believe in self defense above all else, but true martial arts study offers much, much more than that to the student. I choose to be a martial artist and not a partial artist. That is apparently too inconvenient for some. You want to hawk your wares that is fine. This is America, but do not put down my wares to do so. You have not earned that right, Son.
    De Oppresso Liber,
    Don Bendell, martial arts student

  11. Bill Hecke says:

    I fully agree with Don(#10)response. I am in my 60s and still a practitioner of martial arts. I hold a 3rd degree black belt and am a certified instructor in Tang Soo Do. Training is extensive but reponse time from attacked to counter to on the ground(all of our counters put you on the ground)with decision time now relegated to the remaining threat. Total time is 1–2 seconds. Believe it. Man is upright and forward moving and size, weight and strength can be minimized with good martial arts training. I am a Vietnam Vet, 1st Bde, 1st Inf Div, Phouc Vinh, 1966 and I retired at Fort Hood in 1983. Talk what you know.

  12. Alan says:

    I\‘m a boxer. And once I was confronted by a big headed Shaolin Black belt. After his initial flurry was proven ineffective, he paused, unsure of what to do next. In that split second, I had the back of his shirt pulled over his head and was blasting him in the face repeatedly until his friend pulled me off him. His face messed up, and me barely a scratch.

    For SOME, not all, martial arts is for vanity and prestige alone. They walk around with their nose in the air thinking, \“Oh, I\‘m a black belt, my ass can\‘t be kicked\”

    It doesn\‘t matter what training you have, if you can\‘t call upon it when the time comes.

  13. Lhes says:

    You are right that you have to use your mind and techniques that really work. And it is better if you are ready and having self defense weapon with you.

  14. Joshua Balok says:

    I am looking for a Martial Art school in Austin TX from which supports the GI BIll? Anyone that could give me some insight would be greatly appreciated.

    If you could email me the school info or any helpful links would be great

  15. Apparently some of you didn\‘t read my article…

    I\‘m not \“anti-​​martial arts\”. Far from it. I started my martial arts at 13 learning Pangai-​​Noon kung fu and went on to practice Shotokan, Tang-​​Soo Do, and a host of other \“traditional\” systems. I actually LOVE martial arts training…but I\‘ve been in my share of sparring matches and my share of \“real fights\” as well. There\‘s NO comparison at all!

    When was the last time you saw martial arts students bring a chair to the sparring mat? Next time your students are sparring, have someone unexpectedly throw a large glass of beer in their face from a spectator while they\‘re fighting. Or my favorite…have another student on the outside of the sparring circle come up from behind and throw a full force haymaker into the back of one of their heads! Of course you\‘ll probably start losing students who don\‘t want to pay to be \“abused\”.

    The point here is that martial arts are great and I\‘d never tell anyone NOT to practice it…even for \“self defense\”. Fact is, you need to work with other people and physically train techniques in order to understand and use them proficiently.

    But these blog posts are about \“close quarters combat\”…NOT how to do a Double Dragon Somersault Back Flip Monkey Kick\”. In all my years of traditional martial arts, not ONE of my teachers ever showed me how to wrap my fingers nearly completely around some guy\‘s windpipe and get him thinking about saving his own life instead of taking mine.

    I\‘ll leave with this…and frankly, I DO think you get it [Don]…train in your martial arts for the love of it and take it all the way. But if you\‘re not telling your students the TRUTH about what applies to the \“street\” and what doesn\‘t, then you\‘re doing them a serious injustice that YOU know could cost them their life. Again…with your experience (and your handgun statement), I know you understand this. Just please read my article a couple times through before accusing me of talking trash about martial arts.

    Oh, and by the way…the only \“wares\” I hock are the ability to completely obliterate some guy who\‘s trying to hurt me, my wife, or my kids. Not everyone wants to learn martial arts and neither do they HAVE to in order to learn to protect those they love. You\‘ll find no apologies here my friend.

  16. Off topic to 1SG DAVID ELDER…

    Sorry guys…I noticed one of the comments on this blog and just HAD to respond…

    One of the posters is Retired 1SG David A. Elder, my former 1SG from Panama and before that, with me in the 10th Mountain Division.

    If you were ever looking for a \“poster child\” for what a soldier is, it\‘s THIS guy! Dave…you were an inspiration to me and when us 10th Mtn guys get together, we always tip a cold one as a toast to you. Hoo-​​ah!

    Contact me by email (training@​closequarterscombat.​com) and let\‘s catch up!

  17. John Theisen says:

    Hi Jeff, I am in the military as a 31B, please no one get upset, I don\‘t like arresting people and giving out tickets. I really enjoy infantry and combat stuff more than MP garrison duties. I do like the combat MP duties though.
    At any rate I am trying to beef up and also I am trying to improve my military/​combat training. I was wondering what advice you could offer me, Jeff.
    I am right now running, doing pushups, situps and lifting dumbbells, in addition I have been taking whey protein but I am afraid I am not bulking up. I weigh about 165 and I am 6\‘2\”, so I am little on the skinny side.
    For combat training I was actually looking at a PMC or PMCs for training, such as blackwater, any advice in this area.
    Well thanks. BTW to all of you including you first sgt. and Jeff you guys motivate me and make me want to become the best soldier that I can be for my country. HHHOOOOAAAHHH!

  18. Hi John! First, I commend you for your dedication to perfecting your military \“craft\”. Goals are what will help you stay on track with your training and yours are certainly attainable if you stick with it!

    As for your training, you may have two competing objectives…

    Trying to \“bulk up\” and trying to be more \“combat fit\” aren\‘t necessarily the same thing. Size does come with strength and strength does come with size, but to excel at one means releasing some of your expectations on the other.

    My advice, and this fits with what I read in between the lines of your question, is to go for adding more muscle mass as this WILL bring you increase in strength as well.

    Thefore, you want to train with high volume sets of between 8–15 repetitions and focus on compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench press, pullups, chinups, military presses, etc.

    Because you\‘re a true \“hardgainer\”, you\‘ll want to actually LIMIT your training with weights to only 3 days a week max. You\‘re already doing PT, so doing any more intensive workouts is only going to lead to overtraining and hold you back from your gains.

    For your protein, use a whey protein isolate version and take in 3 protein shakes a day in addition to your meals. Take one first thing up on waking up (but not too close to your PT) — another in between lunch and dinner — and your last one before going to bed.

    In a few months, I\‘m releasing a new program geared specifically to the \“hardgainer\” ectomorph body type and the test cases I\‘m working with right now are getting GREAT results. One of the things that\‘s working so well for them is to begin each of your workouts with 3 sets of either Squats or Deadlifts. Hardgainers have poor neuro-​​muscular communication and by starting with these \“grand poo-​​bah\” exercises first, it stimulates all of your body\‘s muscle fibers and they better respond to targeted upper body work like your presses and chins.

    Keep up the great work John!

  19. jedidiah vang says:

    i agree with u jeff..having been trained in many different types of martial arts and combat forms..too many people are still stuck in forms practicing them for like 30 years..i always ask people this\” if a person jumps on you from the back and headlocks you..are you gonna get into your house stance?\” the answer is no you wouldnt..you would probably do something else..if it was me..i\‘d probably bite him..or bend his fingers all the way back..i think that too many people worry about the beauty of the art and not the combat itself..inorder to be a sucessful fighter you can\‘t expect that every punch you make will be a \“beautiful punch\” that will dazzle your opponent..most fights are crazy and wild.if\‘ve fought gangbangers..martial artists in tournaments…and many different opponents and the thing is…you can\‘t expect everything to be pretty and nice..if most people think that just because you learn how to do forms in martial arts or that if they can do a tornado spinning round house kick that they are tough..then they are are wrong..martial arts is more about art forms then combat..

  20. aaron says:

    I liked this article. I recently started attending an Aikido class with a friend of mine. The class is held at a private Dojo. The classes are small maybe 5 or 6 students, instructors are great with varying backgrounds in Shotokan, Aiki-​​ki, Kendo and various others.

    I can\‘t count the times that Shidoshi or Sensei has commented on the different \‘kata\’ of various art forms, how not to get locked into it just to perform one move. I really like the Aikido cause it\‘s not a focus on kata but on technique and from 1 technique can transition into 12 techniques. I also value the principal that it teaches regarding confrontation in general, the fluid movement, using your attackers energy against them.

  21. CAPTNEMO says:

    I completely agree with this. I\‘ve been practicing MA since the 70s,Kenpo,Tae Kwon Do,Tai Chi Chuan for health and concentration. Lately Wing Tsun.But the best move is the one you do without thinking about that works.End of story. The Chinese have a saying \“that cook has many knives,but none very sharp.\” One sharp knife(i.e. Effective application)is all one needs.

  22. FMA Guy says:

    great post!

    i don\‘t think you deliberately dissed \‘traditional\’ martial arts forms. however, you imply that the emphasis on correct form for the sake of accuracy,tradition, etc…is pointless when it comes to the question of effective self-​​defense.

    my story is that i came into martial arts purely for self-​​defense. i have not veered from that thinking in the many, many years i have been involved in the Filipino martial arts and other martial arts forms i started with as a child. always, it is the desire to protect myself as effectively and as automatically as i can.

    this has extended into my teaching practice and has affected all of the concepts that i pass on to students. i, for one, care that what they are learning will save their lives.

    this means, that what i inevitably teach them is a deeply minimized, almost abbreviated style of FMA that has been informed by, well, people such as yourself, who talk about self-​​defense in no uncertain terms.

    i\‘m a big fan of Bruce Lee and his philosophy of the martial arts as a means of self-​​expression. in his case, this meant altering martial arts technique into a compact state so that it is effective in violent street encounters.

    i must disagree with one thing. the point here is now quality v. quantity (as in your blog title). it really is about quality and BETTER quality. i think traditional martial arts practices have their place in our world as much as pure self-​​defense technique. however, i live my life as a self-​​defense expert and get a lot out of that. i do not get a lot out of practicing martial arts forms.

  23. Great feedback FMA Guy! Thanks for your contribution!

  24. carter says:

    I agree 100%. That\‘s why I train in Krav Maga.

  25. Cristopher says:

    Sorry but I´m not agree with all the comments that simplifies any fight. All we share (secret or not) it´s FEAR, to be injure, to be hurt, or something. To be serious, you must separate one fight in the street from any REAL Martial Art (oh! by the way… Krav Maga ISN´T A MARTIAL ART… sorry). I was in many training courses, centers, institutes, etc arround the world and beliveme please… it´s a shame to see big people showing a large variety of new fashion styles and claim that those are MA. We all know that any REAL MA need years training body, mind and spirit; if you take that way, your goal never be a street conflict ´cause your search a path.
    Of course we are allways exposed to a conflict any time, but a couple of kicks or grabs or puch in a \“learn XX in five lessons!!\”.… come on! this things just calm your superficial FEAR.

    Again… sorry, it´s just my humble opinion, if all that \“big power macho\” works… good for you! ;-)

  26. Leo Casey says:

    To all: Learn Krav Maga and learn to fight to win the fight. Against multiple attackers up close or at further ranges and even in the dark. We do this every night and even in the carparking area much to the dislike of the local police. How do I know it works? I spent most of my youth learning Judo and karate before joining the British Army. Saw action in the Gulf and other places. However sport fighting is over once the point is won but in Krav Maga you dont stop until you are away safe out of the area. I even have fought convicts in Prison, as this is my job now to look after them as an Prison Officer. That were once trained in conscript service in the former military of Eastern European countries and trying to bash me up at the time. Krav Maga is globle now and is quick to learn and works in the real world. Regards Leo.

    • Cristopher says:

      Well again I´m not agree. Krav Maga is fashion, that´s all. I respect all of you who have used a similar system, but there are facts that are not debatable. In the military, police, etc. They prepare you for certain situations. As I said, I have traveled the world and the techniques they teach are too basic: much depends on your physique and strength. A practitioner of a true martial art with many years of experience, thorough preparation becomes difficult to compare, and the only repeated argument is that he trains in \“controlled environments.\” I\‘ve seen people die in \“controlled conditions\” without knives or guns or vests … or combat teams!
      Every single movement I\‘ve seen of \“things\” like Krav Maga, are just a set of basic techniques of different arts crudely stolen. I\‘ve tried fighting it in my travels, and this new fashion has nothing to do beside for years and years of experience in real martial arts.
      I apologize, I just want to make a contribution to that most people who know nothing of fighting, do not waste your time or risk your life thinking that is \“train\” a guy of mortal combat … Nothing compares to take on a full discipline for life. ;-)

  27. Cristopher says:

    Hey, I\‘ll be in London later this year. I would try anyone wanting to \“exchange experience\” real combat. I am willing to accept up to three opponents armed with what they want; of course the experts in Krav M, please answer my proposal! I\‘m just a simple martial arts practitioner for 25 years. I offer very little hitting (only as needed) and opponents can use all the protections they wish (vests, helmets, etc). I will use my body free of all these bonds. Please do not misunderstand me, is not a question of winning or losing. I would end up with these false ideas that have been in the Gulf or in any war, then you are invincible … There are many people on the planet who do not know with great skill. We, the \“first world\” we believe the owners, but sometimes we can take big surprises … B-​​)

  28. This is why every martial arts master will tell you it\‘s better to practice a single strike 10,000 times than 100 strikes 100 times. Martial arts agrees with you on this, by the time you DO have \“a gazillion different punches, kicks, blocks, and counters\” you\‘ll know how to use them. It sounds like the author of this article has had some bad experience with a master who tried to teach too much too soon.

  29. Jeff C says:

    I stumbled upon this article while searching for interesting self defense blogs. I couldn\‘t agree more and the way you have presented it is matter of fact. The only thing that was going through my mind as reading it was to point out also in the 1000 repetitions during practice (muscle memory) hopefully you are using the proper form or you have trained yourself how to perform this move wrong. :)

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Jeff Anderson

Jeff Anderson is a 10 year veteran of the U.S. Army, a Master Fitness Trainer, and Master Instructor of Close Quarters Combat self defense. A full time fitness and self defense author, Jeff has trained thousands of men and women in the practical application of advanced military fitness methods as well as close combat tactics for "real life" self defense.

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