Tartarus: The Final Exam of Self Defense

For a couple of years I have been thinking about how cool it would be to stage an outdoor adventure event open only to, and designed expressly for, martial artists.  I even drew up an outline of the rules and created a logo.  Clearly if I was going to do it I would have done it by now.  So I’ve decided to just put it out there and let other people take inspiration from my idea.  Maybe a consummate martial artist with a penchant for mudding events — someone with the time and the resources — could pull it off (this means you Mark).

To get a feel for what I’m envisioning, imagine a mash-up of Tough Mudder, MMA, and American Gladiators, with the spirit of Sasuke/Ninja Warrior.  This would be a virtually impossible challenge where martial artists get together not only to test their skills and fitness, but to give each other feedback so that somebody can beat the course.

Anyway, here is my outline.


TARTARUS: The Final Exam of Self Defense

“There are no winners — just survivors”

Tartarus is a self defense challenge course  open only to martial artists.  Credentials are required.  A photocopy of a membership card, belt certificate, coaching certificate, etc. must be presented at check-in.

Tartarus seeks to create an environment for testing self-defense readiness, in terms of both technique and fitness.  The course is made up of ten (10) stations which will test these areas in specific ways.  The event is styled, in both spirit and structure, to encourage cooperation between participants; to promote an environment wherein participants coach, teach, and learn from one another so that, with effort, knowledge, and a bit of luck, someone will be able to complete the short, but virtually impossible, course.

Because of the nature of the event, each entrant is expected to participate not just as defender but as a challengers on the course.  Rolling schedules, assigned by lottery, will determine starting times for defending and challenging.  Eight (8) challengers are required to man the course; therefore each entrant will be required to be on the course nine (9) times — once as a defender and eight (8) times as a challenger.

The objective: finish the course without quitting, timing out on a fitness test, being disqualified, or being “killed.”

The following are grounds for immediate disqualification:

  1. Failing to start at scheduled time
  2. Failing to complete the course within 20 minutes
  3. Failing any self defense test
  4. Going backwards on the course
  5. Straying from the course
  6. Use of forbidden strikes, holds, or other techniques
  7. Mis-use of restricted techniques
  8. Injuring another competitor, intentionally or otherwise, so that he or she is unable to continue
  9. Loss of self control, arguing, fighting, or disrupting the proceedings on or off the course

You must show up with:

  1. Proof of martial arts experience
  2. Mouth guard
  3. Shin guards
  4. 4 oz. MMA gloves, open fingered
  5. Tiger Claw Pro-Spar headgear w/ Clear Face Shield
  6. Groin protector or cup

Definition of the term “Killed”

Tartarus is not a death sport!  For the purposes of the event, an entrant, whether a defender or challenger, is considered “killed” if:

  1. He or she turtles, ceases to defend, assumes safety position, or otherwise huddles up in the face of blows
  2. He or she taps, quits, or otherwise throws in the towel
  3. He or she is struck with weapons accumulating to 3 or more points (see Weapons below)

Contact Rules

Injuring a fellow player so that he or she cannot continue will result in immediate disqualification.


Blows should be sufficiently hard to register visible movement on the part of the person struck (“trembling shock”), but not hard enough to cause deliberate injury or unconsciousness.  Again, injuring a fellow player so that he or she is forced to exit the event will result in immediate disqualification.

Defenders should strike with enough force to escape; challengers should strike with enough force to deter the defender from progressing through the station.

The following strikes are expressly forbidden:

  • head butts
  • all strikes to joints, groin, and throat
  • strikes whose intent is to break the skin (scratching, ripping, gouging, etc.)
  • all blows to the back of the head
  • stomping of a downed person

The following strikes are restricted:

  • elbows and knee strikes are allowed, but only to the torso, arms, and legs (no joint strikes).
  • sweeps, trips and throws are allowed as long as they do not result in anyone being dropped onto the head.


Adversaries should wrestle with full force until a lock or hold is obtained, at which point the advantage player should slowly increase the intensity of the
applied technique until the other party submits by slapping the mat or shouting “tap!” Anyone who taps or cries out “tap!” should be released immediately.

The following wrestling techniques are expressly forbidden:

  • choking or strangling with the fingers
  • gouging, scratching, or pinching
  • hair pulling
  • fish hooking (ripping at the orifices of the body)
  • tearing, raking, scratching and biting
  • any technique designed to break the skin
  • any technique that involves dropping onto the head.


Weapons will be blunted wood with 1/2″ foam outer layer.  Strikes to extremities will be counted as 1 point, those to the head or torso 2 points.  Any defender or challenger will be considered “killed” after taking 3 points.

Overview of Course

The circular course will be chalked out in a grassy field, hilly if possible.  Ten (10) zones of various shapes, each approximately 150 sq. ft.,  will be demarcated and separated by pathways approximately 3′ in width and from 15′ to 50′ in length.  Each zone will be populated with either challenger(s) or a fitness apparatus.

Defenders must progress through the various zones to face the fitness tests and self defense challenges.

Station # Station Name Notes


25 Burpees Time-out after 2 mins


1 on 1 Unarmed Progress through the zone without being “killed” by one unarmed challenger


50 Squats w/ Sandbag (approx. 25% body weight) Time-out after 1.5 mins


2 on 1 Unarmed Progress through the zone without being “killed” by two unarmed challengers


100 Wall Touches Time-out after 2 mins


The Pit —  4′ x 20′ corrugated pipe Progress through the pipe and past the challenger waiting at the midpoint without getting “killed”


25 Pullups Time-out after 1.5 mins


1 on 1 Unarmed vs. Weapon Progress through the zone without being killed by one armed challenger


50 Log Hops Time-out after 1.5 mins


3 on 1 Weapon of Opportunity Progress through the zone facing 3 challengers without being “killed.” Weapons available for defender to locate and use.

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