Self Defense And The Law

Self-defense begins when you are required to defend yourself against an unlawful attack and it is a time honored principle that one is entitle to defend himself from physical attack by another person. However, you are only protected by the law if you are obeying the law. Notice this definition of self-defense is related to physical, and not verbal attacks. Words spoken by another, even if they use disparaging remarks about your ancestry, may generate an emotional response from you, but are not sufficient grounds for using physical force in the name of self-defense.

However, if the person verbally assaults you and then acts in a way that you honestly believe he or she is going to attempt to injure you, you can use a reasonable amount of force in your defense. You may only use equal force to overcome the force against you.

Let me give you some examples to clarify these statements.

  • If I swing at you with a club and you knock me out with a punch, you have acted justifiably and legally to defend yourself. It is immaterial that I didn"t hit you. This simply means that I have committed assault but not battery.
  • Let us assume that I have verbally threatened you to cut you with a knife and that I reach into my pocket as I step toward you. What can you do Although you cannot really determine whether I have a knife or not, you are legally permitted to defend yourself on the assumption that I do have a knife. If my actions are such as to convince any reasonable person that I have a knife in my possession with which I intend to commit bodily injury, even if I"m bluffing, you have acted justifiably if you defend yourself.
  • Assume I have attacked you, beaten you up, and have stopped and walked away. What do you do now The only thing you can do is report the attack to the police. Under the law, if I am walking away you are no longer in danger of being physically injured, and you cannot now retaliate against me. You can"t chase me, throw things at me, or the like. Like it or not, it is the law.
  • The law does provide for what is justifiable homicide, but only if there was no other choice and your life is in imminent danger. Even if you felt there was no alternative, a prosecutor may argue that you, as a practitioner of martial arts, should have sufficient knowledge and control to be able to stop any attacker without the necessity of taking his life.

"Fight or flight" is a term used to indicate a mental state from a phsycological point-of-view, but it is appropriate to use here. In essence, when a person is in a stressful situation, he either deals with it directly or he puts it off or runs from it in some fashion. Related to defense, in some states, a defender must always retreat from an assailant if such retreat is possible and safe. The only exception is when the defender is being attacked within his own home.

Another point-of-view used by some states state that a defender, who is not a trespasser, need not retreat from an assailant to defend himself if the assailant is attempting to commit a felony against him. In any other situation he must retreat.

The majority opinion as of this writing is known as the Texas rule. It states: An individual, who is not a trespasser, need not retreat from an assilant if he truly fears death or serious bodily harm. It is asssumed that the assailant is the person who initiated the attack without any provocation on the part of the defender.

The topic of defending others also needs to be explored. There is generally a consensus among the states that you can come to the defnese of others, even total strangers. However, you chould be extremely cautious when entering into someone else"s problem. For example, when you see two people fighting, how are you going to know who is in the right Your first impression might be that a man is beating up another and you come to the defense of the man getting the worst of it. Then you find out after you are in jail, that the man winning the fight was a policeman arresting a dangerous criminal and you interfered with the office in the performance of his duty. This is probably not exactly what you had in mind.

You must also consider the physiological and phychological conditions that will exist in a threatening situation where these decisions must be made. Your heart seesm to jump into your throat. It beats rapidly, increasing your blood pressure and breathing rate. Adrenalin is pumped into the system to deal with the crisis that will also affect energy output and reaction times. Your nervous system can respond radically enough to cause muscle spasms and partial paralysis. You could experience time dilation and a "tunnel" vision.

These are not the physical conditions that you mentally deal with in the dojo. Yes, free fighting under controlled conditions will help prepare you for a real situation because it helps you learn to control these physiological conditions. However, the shock of the system is greatly magnified in a real crisis. The decisions that must be made under these conditions are an awesome responsibility and you must be sure you are prepared to make the correct ones.

If you think all of this is a bit complicated, you are right! In general, you would do well to heed the advice of the judo instructor who told his students: "Stay out of trouble at all costs. As a practical matter, when the police come, both you and your assailant are wrongdoers in the eyes of the law." So as a summary, you should observe the following:

  • Stay away from those places and areas where you could get into trouble
  • If you are attacked and cannot retreat, use only the force necessary to stop the attack and hold the assailant for the police
  • You must stop your assault as soon as the attacke has submitted or is in custody
  • Legally, you are on firm ground if you act in the situation just as any reasonable person would act under the same conditions
  • Call the police immediately. You must justify that your actions were necessary to protect yourself. You should also be alert to any witnesses who may support your side of the story.

Professor Rick Moneymaker has produced over 50 martial arts training videos that have been distributed internationally He has also appeared in five nationally published magazine and five international magazines and his international organization The Dragon Society is responsible for training over 9,000 martial artists worldwide.

For more information about Grandmaster Rick Moneymaker, The Dragon Society, or Torite-Jutsu visit