Interesting read, as always with Sam Harris. I tend to think that the benefits of martial arts in terms of encountering the threat of violence are more indirect than direct. What I mean is that it's relatively unlikely that any of us will find ourselves in a situation where one's jiu-jitsu or aikido skills will fend off an attacker -- particularly one armed with a gun or knife.
However, martial arts disciplines do teach teach concentration and emotional control -- one might even say equanimity -- and these can help us make wise decisions in times of risk. In some cases, as Harris points out, the wisest decision is to get the hell out of the situation as fast as possible!
I'm currently learning TKD (almost at blue belt now!) and my experience is more of it being a physical/mental discipline rather than anything else. I've found it can work very well in combination with some kinds of meditation. Last night, for instance, I was learning a new poomse (form), and this required a fair amount of concentration and patience. Later, at home, I sat to do some simple anapanasati (counting breaths) and found that similar mental processes were at work.
He responded to the Al Jazeera article here : http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text ... troversy2/
and doesn't come across as a fascist at all. His observation on the different teachings on violence by religions is validly argued if you don't hold a blind spot on Islamic tenets that urge violence against unbelievers.
Thanks for posting the link to his rebuttal. When I read the al-Jazeera piece it looked like a smear -- but checking all the claims requires more time than I have. It's good that Harris has gone ahead and done that for the benefit of his readers.