T Nation

Does Hobbyist Martial Arts Training Lead to Overconfidence?




Brilliant thread idea. I am wondering the same thing with myself. I have been training combat with associated fitness for more than a couple of years since a professional eye saw me at a fight gym.

I like to think I can deal with people, and it is true that that person isn’t immediately at the beginning aware of my combat capabilities, but I don’t know theirs either by the same token.

My current situation in which I am not in an actual fight gym is going to last another several months, and it eats at me where I am at. Also I am rehabbing a tendon strain, so there too.


Great topic.

I’ve seen a fair number of fights working as a bouncer, but my sample size is still pretty small. Still, here are my observations of those encounters…

First big fight I was involved in, the guy instigating it was certainly tough. He endured some real punishment, that’s for sure. The problem was he had zero, repeat zero martial arts skills. No ability to defend himself, no ability to inflict harm on the five bikers who were beating him down. None of those guys appeared to be using any technique either. Just an old-fashioned 5-on-1 beatdown. To that guy’s credit, he had a set of balls on him. He tried to fight me (I wouldn’t let him, just overpowered him), then he tried to fight a guy who spent six years in prison, then he tried to fight that guy and all of his buddies, then me again, and finally he charged after the cops when they showed up. The cops definitely had some training, and hit him with a spectacular takedown before pig-piling and cuffing the guy.

Second big fight I was involved in also appeared to involve zero individuals with any training. I had another bouncer with me that night and we had them out the door in a few minutes. Everyone involved seemed to be peacocking and hoping they didn’t get fucked up. My partner busted a guy’s face open when he tried to swing on him. Blood everywhere. A real memorable bar fight.

Most of the other “fights” I broke up were just two dudes (and occasionally females) chest-puffing, trying to get attention and seem like they are bad-asses. Those types usually left the property with great sound and fury, but no actual damage done to anyone.

The small handful of people who swung on me were woefully untrained. Maybe they did some karate or something, but they were not able to bring any of those skills to bear on me effectively. I never felt like I was ever in real danger during these encounters, again pointing to a total lack of training on the aggressors’ part.

One interesting case that sticks out at me was watching as a dude got right up in a local guy’s face who was signed with Bellator MMA as a pro fighter. I just watched as the pro fighter stared the dude down but never swung, never even appeared to get upset. I finally walked over and advised the other guy to stop bothering the customers or he’ll have to leave. I’ve trained with that guy before and I have no doubt he could have destroyed that guy. Just mopped the floor with him. But he showed remarkable restraint, and I thanked him for that afterwards.

Speaking for myself, I haven’t started any fights since getting into martial arts, but I’m also a grown man who doesn’t go around starting fights.

My hunch is that there probably are some dudes who take a few classes and think they’re Bruce Lee, but the overwhelming majority of people who’ve trained seriously get their eyes opened up to to just how tough and skilled people can get. This leads to accepting the fact that you are not, in fact, the baddest motherfucker in the room. I think it is MUCH more common for completely untrained people to dive into a fight because they haven’t had that bubble burst yet, and think things will somehow play out like a Steven Segal movie.


Great response above. Martial arts training is funny. Both my brother and I started training martial arts very early (kickboxing; I still train - though BJJ now - my brother has long since stopped kickboxing).

My Dad pointed out that, growing up, my brother was an overconfident kid and training helped provide a reality check. On the other hand, I was a nervous underconfident kid and training gave me a needed sense of empowerment.


Training has made many people who had bad tempers and got into fights become less reactive and less prone to getting into fights.


Getting a taste of what it’s like to be the nail. You go from picking who you will get violent with vs being thrown in with whoever is in class that day. Learning about the potential real consequences of violence.
For me one thing that stuck was the idea that responsibility came with learning a fighting skill. Also, proving myself to myself mattered more than proving something to someone else. Walking away is a greater sign of strength than giving someone else the power to get you to react.


Excellent post. From my experience, the more trained the individual, the less likely of them acting like idiots. I have seen this in the martial arts, SF, and LE. It is always the “white belts” that end up either washing out or getting their ass kicked.

As a side note: From the LE side, I have always found the construction workers, Iron workers, welders, engine repair guys, etc. to be the ones who would take a lot to control in a street arrest. From an LE perspective, I never had to deal with experienced martial artists, because, they never caused any trouble i was called to, however, give some key board badass 6 weeks of training and he suddenly would become the asshole of the planet.

From the military perspective, most of the fantasy warriors are washed out early enough that is usually not a problem.

A false sense of confidence usually has it roots in an poor instructor. It is the instructor’s job to convey a sense of reality to their students and if necessary, demonstrate that in a professional way to the class dickhead. Also, since I have been in martial arts all my life, I have visited many training venues and have on many occasion heard an instructor state something like this: 'this technique is deadly, violent, will stop an attacker in his tracks, etc.". That is pure bullshit. Fight someone on PCP or meth, then tell me how “deadly” your move is. Fight even a street gang banger used to violence, or worse, a con who spent the last 10 years in prison, then use your “deadly techniques”. That false sense of security leads to your example.

This is where ( IMHO) that RMA, KM, MT, Boxing, Judo, Jit, really shine, because, it is hard to fool yourself into believing you are a bad ass when someone is punching you in the face or tying your arm into a pretzel.


In my very limited experience, getting punched in the face gives you a reality check about how it feels getting punched in the face and usually makes you less prone to risk of getting punched in the face in real life; it also gives you some eye about the fact that you often can’t know if the apparently innocuous guy you come across is really innocuous or might beat you to a pulp.
At the same time, getting punched in the face lets you know that you’re not made of glass and punching other people in the face gives you some sense of responsability about the fact that you can REALLY hurt someone punching them in the face outside of a controlled enviroment (like the gym), with all the consequences (legal, moral) it bears.
I’ve found martial arts and combat sports to be fairly educative when practiced and taught the right way, the kind of stuff that puts a grain of salt in your brain so to say.

My main skepticism is towards women self defense classes. Can’t really take seriously the bullshit stuff of 120 pounds girsl flipping 220 pounds guys (with no real intent to harm them) over their shoulders in their demos and expecting it to work in real life. I’ve noticed women seem to buy very easily into this bullshit and talk like they believe it just because a bigger guy in a defense class agreed to get flipped over their shoulder.


As has been said above I think it does depend on the instructor etc and how much experience they have in some sort of ‘real’ sparring. I have experienced this myself at work I am an ok grappler with many years experience in judo, BJJ as well as a few years Muay Thai and worked in a Bank (I know), one day one of the cashiers was telling me how she was getting ready for a grading that evening. She is approx. 60 years old had been training TKD for 2-3 years and was just about to get her second degree black, not wanting to be a douche I said ‘that’s really cool, I’m sure it gives you good exercise, keeps you flexible etc. I’m into martial arts myself although I prefer grappling’ to which she replied in all seriousness ’ I could take you’. Could you imagine if someone tried to mug this lady what might happen.