In the old days, martial artists tested their skills in private fights or just off the street. Not so in Hong Kong nowadays, chances are that if you physically threaten a professional martial artist off the street, he will call the police! Yesterday I read a court case in the local news. Two middle-aged fellows went into a fight and one punched the other who fell down, hit the back of his head on the pavement and died the next day in hospital. The accused was charged, and found guilty by the jury on MURDER! The news reported that the verdict was overturned at the Court of Appeal to manslaughter. No wonder martial artists don't want to fight in the street nowadays.
Nowadays martial artists fight in the ring with all necessary safety precautions. Actually martial spirit has been enhanced rather than reduced. Muay Thai, for one, as a fighting art is booming in Hong Kong. There were a couple of guys from the city (male as well as female) winning a number of international Muay Thai title fights. And on featured articles in the newspapers, more and more martial artists (sifus) wrote about how to adapt their traditional practice to ring fights, like San Da (the Chinese style point-system MMA). It's safe, it's fun, it's healthy for young people, as we were told. Probably this is the only way for these sifus to attract would-be students who are interested to do fighting.
A few days ago, I browsed some dated (a couple of years ago) martial art discussion forums in Hong Kong and people were still debating about the effectiveness of traditional martial arts. Some impatient debaters carried their debates into "friendly fights" because, as discussed, nobody can boast himself to be a seasoned street-fighter nowadays. And in "friendly fights" there are always impartial rules, necessarily adapted from ring-fighting rules (with lots of no nos). As expected those who were familiar in ring fights almost always prevail. End of discussion. But no conclusion can be drawn as to who is a better street fighter or who will do better in actual self-defense situations. Ring fight is after all ring fight only.
But it still leaves the question as to what is the usefulness of martial art training in the not too rare situation where one is being physically threatened, or in situations where another victim is being physically threatened and your conscience as a martial artist pushes you to intervene. And law enforcement officers are not around.
A foundation training in the martial art (and a certain level of bravery) will help. I'm talking about the techniques of blocking, together with a sound, fit-for-combat, body structure that can execute a strong enough block together with the power to withstand/partially neutralize it if somehow your block failed to do its intended task. In this regards, I like Bas Ruttan's video on blocking. It is simple and it aims at playing safe. Please check my previous post for the video and my comments there (Bas Rutten's 101 on self defense)