While we generally tend to focus on the less physical aspects of personal security and self-protection or the “soft skills” it’s important at times to comment on some aspects of the hard skills, especially when it comes to the need for realistic and functional training. For those people who choose to pursue some type of physical self defense or martial arts training with a goal of improving their personal safety and security its critical to recognize the difference between self-preservation and self-perfection. While many instructors have noted the distinction between these two areas in many different terms I will choose to use the terminology of self-preservation vs. self-perfection used by Jeet Kune Do instructor Paul Vunak . Regardless of what you may think of what Vunak teaches he encapsulates this concept very well.
Too many people who seek training for self defense end up pursuing self-perfection oriented training when they would be better served to acquire self-preservation skills instead – or at least acquire them first. What is the difference between the two? Self-preservation training gives you the skills to improve your chances of surviving a violent encounter. These are the basic, readily employable physical skills that allow you to do damage to an assailant while hopefully limiting the damage you sustain yourself. They do not need to be pretty and they shouldn’t be complex. They can be employed across a spectrum of situations with little or no modification. Self-perfection is the pursuit of mastery of physical skills and physical attributes that may or may not make you more effective at defending yourself.
Self-preservation skills should be gross motor and can be applied under stress and pressure. While physical strength and athleticism will always come into play, these skills should not rely totally on them. They should be simple to learn and retain and be trained under pressure in an adrenal-induced environment. They should not require a massive training commitment or years of training before they can be used effectively.
In contrast self-perfection is achieved through attention to detail, extensive repetition and fine tuning. Can self-perfection training contribute to self defense capability? Yes – probably in many cases it can and as long as it is still grounded in reality there is nothing wrong with it. Will you be more effective if you do training that enhances your fluidity, hand speed, reaction time and body mechanics? Very likely you will if you are concentrating on enhancing your practical self-preservation skills in the process. If the self-perfection training is focused on unrealistic methods it’s worse than useless.
Given the limited time and interest most people have to devote to this type of training it’s important to focus on practical, combative self-preservation training first and self-perfection should take a back seat. For those with the time and interest there is always the option to focus on self-perfection of the core skills and physical attribute development later.