Every so often I go into a rant about the importance of martial arts training including self defence law so I thought I would elaborate on it here.
We may study martial arts that developed in feudal Japan but we live in the modern world and will be held accountable for our actions. If we use force to defend ourselves, it must be justifiable if we are to avoid prosecution. Surviving an assault is a good result. Facing prosecution for what you did to survive that assault much less so.
This creates a problem because of the awkward fact that it may take considerable force to stop a committed assault from a serious aggressor. Such situations are dangerous, chaotic, sudden, scary and you might have to hurt an attacker in order to stop them and what seems reasonable or acceptable to you in that moment may not seem so to others looking at it later.
This is why it is important to think about this and incorporate it into your training. Here are some guidelines that will help you think about what is acceptable use of force and what is not:
- Can you demonstrate that you feel threatened? This is important. It is not good enough to say your actions are justified because you felt threatened. You must be able to demonstrate that you felt threatened or that you had good reason to feel threatened.
- Is the aggressor capable of hurting you? This helps inform the reality of the threat. A small women threatening an average man is different to a large man threatening a small woman because one’s ability to hurt the other very different. Weapons can affect this equation.
- Did you have any other options other than using force? Did you have an opportunity to walk away and, if so, did you try to do so? Did you have a chance to talk your way out of trouble and, if so, did you try to? Can you show that you had no choice but to use force?
- Did you use only the amount of force necessary and no more? You may use force genuinely to defend yourself but that means as much force as you need to remove the threat and get to safety. Knocking someone to the ground is one thing but kicking them once they are on the ground is another. What is a reasonable amount of force is extremely circumstantial. Your training needs to explore different circumstances.
I can hear the questions being raised already. But what if happens so fast you don’t have time to run away, let alone walk away? What if there is more than one attacker? What if they verbally threaten me or my loved ones? What if that small person is armed? And I can hear the objections too. People just don’t understand what a real fight is like. It is better to be tried by 12 than carried by 6 and so on.
These questions and concerns are all valid and that is precisely why you need to explore them in your training so you can come to grips with their complexity. If you care about your safety, you need to think about all the ramifications of your actions – and the time to do that is in the dojo.