Master Mario Iliev (7th dan) has been practicing martial arts for over 40 years and holds master degrees (black belt) in several. National champion and multiple winner in “Combat Techniques/Self-Defence”; World vice-champion and medalist from world championship; International instructor and judge in national and international championships (including Balkan, European and World); He worked for more than 30 years as Chief Instructor in Police Self-Defense at the Police Academy; He has participated in many international seminars and qualification courses in various martial arts, led by world-renowned experts; The competitors of which he was a coach have won a large number of awards (titles, cups and medals) from different national and international competitions (including European and World Championships); Have a number of scientific publications (reports, articles, studies) in refereed editions; He has participated in many national and international scientific forums (conferences, symposia, congresses); Colonel of the Union of Bulgarian Commandos.

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As a martial arts expert and combat sports coach, I am often asked: What is the difference between martial art and combat sport? What are the best self-defense techniques? What is the best combat sport? How long will it take to get a black belt? In the following lines I will try to answer some of them without pretending to be exhaustive. Many colleagues, specialists in martial arts, can be critical of the writing, but let’s not forget that it is intended for a wide range of readers. A professional “academic” style of expression is deliberately avoided so that everyone’s reading is accessible and understandable. It’s not a textbook. (e.g., the Taekwon-Do Encyclopedia is 15 volumes, with more than 5,000 pages and over 30,000 photographs). Of course, with reading, no one will become an expert in martial arts or a perfect fighter, a champion in combat sport. Practice is needed… And a lot. I will share my humble experience with all those who think that this does not apply to them and tell themselves that nothing can happen to them.

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What is the difference between martial art and martial arts?

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My short answer is: Sparing is win or lose. Fighting is live or die!

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In combat sports there is a strict differentiation (distribution) by gender, age, weight (sparring categories), height (in special technique) and technical degree (in kata/Patterns). The competitors are secured with special equipment (helmets, teeth, gloves, foot protectors, forearm and lower leg covers, groin bands, breastplates, etc.). Competitions are held on a special surface (tatami), preventing slipping and preventing injury from falls (e.g. after throwing by the opponent). In many combat sports (wrestling, sambo, judo, ju-jitsu, MMA, etc.), skirmishes take place for the most part on floor. Others are held in a ring (boxing, kickboxing, kung fu, Muay Thai, etc.), but there the pavement is anti-slip and cushioning in case of possible falls. There are strict rules and judges who monitor its strict observance. Violation of the rules is sanctioned. Competitions take place indoors in optimal conditions such as: illumination, dustiness, temperature and humidity. A medical team provides medical intervention (if necessary). The athlete may cancel or the coach may stop the match at any time.

In a real combat situation (e.g. in an attack on the street, in a room, in a parking lot, in the park or elsewhere), there are none of the above favorable factors. There are no rules, no categories, no protective equipment, no one to stop the “match” (coach, referee, doctor). Outside it may be Siberian cold -20°C or African heat +40°C. It may rain or snow, the ground, grass or pavement (asphalt, concrete, tiles, etc.) may be uneven, wet, muddy or icy. In a room, the floor can be slippery and will certainly be hard (marble, terracotta, mosaic, etc.), which is painful and dangerous to health and life when falling. Attacks are more often carried out in the dark of the day. It is possible that your attacker outperforms you in height, weight and age. And if he’s armed, the situation becomes very dangerous. It can be more complicated if there are several attackers. These are the “predators” for which you are the “prey”. Whether the attack is for the purpose of robbery (money, jewelry, expensive clothes and accessories), sexual assault (fornication, rape), kidnapping or you just found yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time (e.g. in the evening you walk in the park with a blue scarf and meet CSKA (red team) fans, or in the neighborhood you come across a drug addict (s) in withdrawal). In such cases, the “pack syndrome” manifests itself, the alpha driver feels support from the group, but also needs to prove himself to it.

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There are certain groups of people (e.g. “skinari”, radicals, nationalists, far left/right, anarchists, etc., as well as “ultras” of football supporters) who are in excellent physical condition, have “fighting/sports” training (boxing, wrestling, judo, sambo, kickboxing, MMA, etc.). Often, members of such “informal” groups are armed with knives, metal boxes, pipes, chains, etc. very dangerous for life and health items. Mass events such as sports events, concerts, rallies, protests, etc. represent an opportunity to prove, assert reputation and build prestige with the group. Participating in a group reduces feelings of personal guilt. Individual responsibility is lost and delegated to the group. Individual members compare themselves to the crowd and put in the background the need to take personal responsibility. This explains why they commit unreasonable and ill-advised actions. Under the influence of alcohol and drugs, they become extremely aggressive.

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In the event of an attack, there is probably no one to come to help you. Then the saying “The law is far away, the fist is near!” is real. Most often, witnesses (if any) take pictures with phones, and if they are then questioned by the police (who come well after everything is over), they fall into “comfortable” amnesia – I did not hear, I did not see, I do not know, I do not remember.

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What is the difference between self-defense and self-protection?

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My short answer is: self-defense = self-protection

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There is practically no difference. In Bulgarian, the two words are synonymous (see Bulgarian thesaurus), i.e. they can be used equally. According to Bulgarian dictionary, self-defense means protecting oneself or one’s property by one’s own strength and means. Around the world (in English-speaking countries), the term used is self-defence. It also occurs as a self defense (dash or without, with S or C), but it’s about the same thing. In taekwon-do, self-defense techniques are called hosin sul.

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Every day we are witnessing a growing crime and an escalating wave of violence in our society. This is best evidenced by criminal chronicles in the media. We are in potential danger of aggression (not only verbal, but also physical) against ourselves or our children and loved ones. Anyone can become a victim of beating, robbery, rape, kidnapping or any other form of violence. Therefore, it is good to study the techniques for self-defense. In order to be able to effectively protect ourselves, we must first know the basic ways of possibly violent influence on us. These can be both different blows with hands and feet, as well as many types of grips (hands, clothes, etc.), body ranges (front, back and sides), different types of choking: with one, with two hands or with an object (garment, rope, belt, cable, pipe, etc.). In addition, there is always the risk of being attacked with various objects to be used as a weapon (bottle, barbell, screwdriver, hammer, axe, etc.). Very relevant lately are folding knives (often automatic) with a clip for convenient attachment to the pocket, as well as telescopic batons, which are compact (can be worn discreetly in a pocket or attached to a belt), in the folded position are about 20 cm, and in the unfolded 60-70 cm, made of very light, but strong metal alloys (titanium). They are easily accessible (they can be bought from any gun store, they are even in the markets), but they are extremely dangerous weapons that can cause serious injuries, even death.

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What are the best self-defense techniques?

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My short answer is: There are no best or worst techniques!

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If a technique you use in an extreme situation has helped you overcome it, then it is good. If you’re hurt, beaten, robbed, or raped, it’s clearly not good. If we knew what the best technique was, we would train only it and we would not waste many years studying dozens, maybe hundreds of techniques, repeated thousands of times. In self-defense, when life and health are at risk, it is important to make effective, not effect(spectacular) techniques. Your attacker doesn’t care how many medals you have or what belt you wear, nor is he impressed by how high you jump or how many boards, bricks or tiles you can break. Effective are the techniques that “work”, i.e. with a minimum of time and effort a maximum result is achieved (neutralization of the attacker). These may be blows to the most vulnerable areas (eyes, throat, solar plexus, groin, etc.), squeezing/tightening of carotid arteries and trachea (with hands, object or garment), as well as knocking down/throwing the opponent. Effect are the techniques that impress the audience in the hall or in front of the screen. These can be attractive jumps in height, in length or with rotation of the body, as well as breaking with different parts of the body (arms, legs, head) a huge amount of solid objects. They are made during demonstrations in order to show the “superiority” of one martial art over another, thus attracting new followers in the gym’s of the clubs. They can also be fulfilled as part of the mandatory requirements of the exam program when sitting the exam for technical degrees (belts), but always in optimal “laboratory” conditions (gym, stadium, park, salon).

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In cinema, the battle scenes are directed by experienced script choreographers. They are performed by professional stuntmen and pre-replayed countless times. A large number of take-ups are filmed with several cameras and from different angles. “Special effects” are also used. Life is not movie, so don’t make a “movie”. And remember! The simpler a technique is, the more likely it is to succeed. The more complex it is, the probably won’t work is greater. For example, an elbow, knee or head stroke is easy to perform, but it is of overwhelming power, that is, effective, not spectacular. Leave the complex “WOW” techniques for the demonstrations.

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