My kids took part in a Kung Fu tournament this past weekend, and the hosting instructor gave a speech beforehand. He stressed that he was judging based upon a simple criteria: "would that work in the streets?" He said that he was less concerned with form, and more concerned with gritty effectiveness against knives on wet asphalt.
I don't mean to rag on this guy too much - he teaches martial arts for a living, so he's probably pretty focus on personal combat. But if either of my kids were ever accosted in the rain by someone weilding a knife, I would strongly urge them to not resist, and just give up their valuables.
Who honestly thinks combat is still relevant?
There was an episode of Angel in which the characters were debating who would win in a fight: cavemen or spacemen? They framed this as part of a classic thought experiment: does our advancement really civilize us, or are we just waiting for an opportunity to become savage? The rational characters in the show really wanted to root for spacemen, but eventually everyone agreed that the cavemen would win - savagery and primal bloodlust beats brains.
But this strawman argument is ridiculous. Why would they be fighting? Who would win in a quiz show: cavemen or spacemen? Pointing out that cavemen were better at one thing doesn't mean cavemen are fundamentally superior - unless you believe that, somehow, combat is a fundamental part of being human. And in my experience it is totally not.
I'm 34. I've been in maybe 4 situations ever where some sort of physical violece happened, or could have happened:
The first was when I was 8 - a classmate named Jamie attacked me because I gave "his woman" a push on the swings. I knocked out one of his teeth (although we were 8, so it might have been loose) and we both got in big trouble.
The second was when I was on exchange to Germany. A giant skinhead covered with tatoos grabbed me in a dance club (ok, it was a "disco" - but that totally doesn't mean the same thing in Germany) and forcefully moved me to the exit. I didn't really resist until just before the exit - when I grabbed onto the wall. He hit me in the back of the head, then started kicking me in the kidneys until a bouncer pulled him off. For whatever reason - adrenaline / awesomeness - I was totally unhurt by his attack.
The third happened on the way home from prom - I was wearing my nice suit and riding my bike home alone. A pickup with 3-4 guys in the back pulled up alongside of me, forced me off the road, and surrounded me, daring me to stand up. (I didn't.)
The fourth was at the end of my senior year in high school - I was riding to a diner with two female friends (Laura Quigley and Amanda Filloy), and a car full of boys started chasing us. When we parked, they surrounded the car, promising the girls a good time and calling me a faggot. We all waited until they left before getting out... and then got right back in, because they spun around and returned the instant we did so. One of them spit at me, but we just waited longer in the car, and eventually they left.
Yes, some of those were pretty distressing. But would any of them have been better if I had tried to attack? Violence is just not a reasonable response in a civilized society - all of the people in these stories were acting irrationally. Responding to irrational aggression with violence doesn't solve anything - it just escalates the problem.
So why is violence so prevalent in fiction, movies, television, video games? I think a big reason it precisely the fact that violence is so rare - so it can be glamorized as something exotic. Soldiers or heroic gunslingers are able to defeat any foe - which means that they cannot be stopped. That's a classic power fantasy scenario. But in reality, a gunslinger is tremendously vulnerable to any fool with a gun - which is why reasonable people do NOT walk around with a six-shooter on their hip. Soldiers - even really good soldiers - die unceremoniously from artillery fire. And vigilante swordsmen / archers just get picked up by law enforcement and sentenced for endangerment.
I still promote martial arts training as a great way to get in shape, join a community, and feel some confidence in yourself. But fighting in the street? I'll totally pass.