In the world of martial arts, one underlying question appears to stand out: is this sport or way of self defence? Some would argue that this it is both!
A sport is scored depending on how, where, and with what force an opponent is hit with some form of strike, weapon, or by use of technique to obtain a submission. A sport, for it to be entertaining to an audience, needs to allow both competitors to attack one another, and/or defend. This means that the sport can last for a period of time, and is not over in the first hit – such occurrences, if they do happen, being very rare.
In self defence, one would not want an attack to last for a number of rounds, or leave their attacker enough time to be able to retaliate. Instead, a fight should be over within a matter of seconds – a couple of hits and it's game over. This does not make for a good sporting pastime, but instead ensures the defender's safety and ability to run away without being chased.
The training between a sport and a method of self defence should be very different. A sport can be trained as hard against an opponent as you like — providing each is wearing the correct protective gear. Saying this however, is a little unfounded if you think of Thai boxing where very little protection is worn anyway. The key therefore to a sport is that it has rules. The key to self defence is that it doesn't. Self defence means that the eyes, throat, groin, and more sensitive areas not only become fair game, but your first port of call in delivering shots to an attacker. Consequently, you cannot train self defence full force against an opponent — only against pads. Certain precautions have to be taken to ensure that no one is severely hurt when practicing self defence, but equally the training must pay off when it's needed.
Since using self defence should result in causing enough physical damage to an opponent so that they can't continue an attack, it cannot be a sport. Therefore, a sport, which allows the opponent to continue an attack cannot be classed as self defence. I would therefore argue that if you can 'compete' in a martial art, then it's a sport, so don't bother relying on it in real-life situations! Similarly, if there's no way you could compete in your martial art, due to the nature of the target areas and the lack of restraint employed by such a system, then it's going to be pretty useful as a method of self defence!
If it's a sport you're after, have a look at judo, kickboxing, taekwondo, boxing, jui-jitsu, and other similar fighting sports. If you're after self defence, you need not look any further than krav maga! To find instructors for any of the above, visit www.tutorlink.org.uk.