In This Hub:
An Intro to Self-Defense*
Economy & Stress Violence
How NOT To Get Shot
Jail For Defending Yourself
Normal, Abnormal, Dangerous
Provoking An Attack*
Positive and Negative Rights*
Using Your MA
What's With the * ?
Expert Witness Service
NNSD Home Page
Donate to NNSD
If you have to use
your self-defense training
On this page:
Let's start with five critical points. Points that trump anything you think you know about self-defense and the 'law.'
#1 - This is NOT legal advice
(you get that from an attorney), but it
is about a major hole in most so-called
#2 - There is a difference
between the law and the legal system
#3 - Ours is not a justice
system, it's a legal system.
# 4 -
is a legally defined term.
Do you know why? Neither did the students he'd just taught it to.
Here's a visual reminder for most of what you've been taught was 'self-defense' by instructors of the martial arts, MMA, Reality Based Self-Defense and even firearms. Let me put it this way, this is what you'll be looking like when your attorney charges you $20,000 for a plea deal about the illegal violence you did to someone.
It is very important for you to flush down the toilet anything you've heard about 'what is self-defense' from martial arts teachers, combatives instructors and the internet.
Those aren't the standards your actions will be judged by. Also, it doesn't matter what you felt or believed you were doing. What matters is what you actually did. Everything you did.
In fact, let's expand that concept right now. What's hard for most 'trained' people to get their head around is "Self-defense is bigger than just the move." That's to say it's less about the move and more about the context it was used. Putting that in layman terms" It's not the technique. The same technique can be 'assault, aggravated assault, manslaughter or self-defense depending on the circumstances it was thrown in. For example, leaving your property, going to someone's house to confront them and then claiming self-defense -- that isn't going to fly. It's called 'in pursuit of a quarrel' and it's one of the more common ways people shoot them in the foot with 'self-defense' claims.
Have you ever heard an instructor talk about anything like that? No? That's why we wrote this hub.
#5 - If you claim self-defense you are confessing a crime. (Well technically you're confessing to the elements of a crime.)
Remember that 'self-defense is a legal term?' Something that Varg Freeborn pointed out that I really like is it's not self-defense until you're talking to the cops. To which I'll add, if what did wasn't then don't claim it.
Self defense is what is known as an "affirmative defense." When you say those words to a cop, you just said, "I did it." Not you have to explain why you shouldn't be punished for it. That last part is where most people – even if they did act in self-defense– fall down hard.
Hurting your fellow citizens is overwhelmingly a crime. The exceptions require both specialized circumstances AND the ability to explain, to legally accepted standards, why you were acting within the allowed exceptions. So with your confession, you now have to prove why it was one of these exceptions. That means -- among other things -- explain why the situation required force and why you reasonably believed you had no viable alternative.
In all your training how much time has been spent preparing you for this? Or has it all be focused on physical techniques and developing a warrior's mindset? How good at recognizing dangerous circumstances are you? How about explaining them? Then comes handling the interrogation. What about answering why you didn't just turn and walk away? Have you practiced calmly answering when the person asking the questions wants to put you in prison? How about how to spot and handle trick and condemning questions? (E.g., "So you didn't mean to kill him?") That's what it takes when you claim self-defense. If you cannot do these, then you are going to be held accountable to the crime you just confessed doing.
So how'd you do? If those points are news
to you, you might want to get a cup of
coffee and spend some time here.
When It Isn't Self-Defense
This is over and above someone in the system looking for an excuse to charge and convict you.(Once someone has made up their minds you're 'the bad guy,' they're looking to find fault with what you did.)
There are serious legal (as well as life-altering) issues about using force on another human being. Before you listen to someone who wants to teach you how to shoot, stab or commando ninja someone, realize that person can be putting you in just as much danger as a potential attacker. You had better know the differences between violence, self-defense, fighting and justified use of force.
Usually people don't get arrested
for defending themselves; they get arrested
for committing illegal violence while
themselves they are defending themselves.
Even on those times it
starts as self-defense, all it takes is
one extra hit, one impulsive move or one
excessive trigger pull for you to cross the
line from a defender to an attacker. You
need to know two things:
This is a bigger problem than most people realize. Issues like pride, fear, anger and bad information are far more dangerous to you than the person you are fighting with. They will motivate you to cross the line while, at the same time, convincing you that you are 'defending' yourself.
I have a saying: I am constantly approached by people who are willing to go to any extreme for personal safety ... except practicing emotional self-control. This not only includes not letting your fear drive you to pulling the trigger, stabbing someone or unleashing your deadly kung fu on someone because of 'fear,' but one's participation, creation and escalation of a conflict.
That's a big one. It includes not only what you said and did to get the other person to back off, but your refusal to just walk away. This is critical because usually, violence comes with instructions how to avoid it.
Except, often pride, anger, fear and imagination prompt us to do exactly the opposite. When this occurs the violence is considered participatory (fighting). Even though our internal reality is that we are trying to prevent violence.
Reality doesn't conform to what you think a
'real fight' is, you must conform to the
actualities of what
violence is, how and
why it occurs. And that means what happens
before, during and after. All of which
extend far, far beyond the microscopic focus of
martial arts, reality based fighting systems or
women's self-defense programs. If you
participated in the creation, escalation and
gave cause for violence, then you will
be judged to be a participant, not a victim of
Do your homework
This is a very accurate and wise summation of a generalized problem about communication. The reason is typically each of us have our own -- often unconscious -- definitions and implications of words. Although there is often general agreement, we all have our own 'spin,' personal shadings, connotations and definition about what a word means. And we often act according to that private version.
So what you have is a lot of people using the same word, but each meaning something slightly different. When a problem develops, everyone is wondering "what is wrong with the other person". Not realizing that source of the problem is that they have different definitions of the same word and were each acting according to their own definitions. Overcoming these kind of problems is a major focus of communication and management specialists.
Having said this about fuzzy definitions in general, there are NO gray areas in the meaning of legal terms.
They are very specific and exact in what they mean. And what they mean legally ISN'T what they mean to you. For hundreds of years these words have been hammered out and defined as people have tried to weasel around them.
As such, it doesn't matter what you think the word means, you will be judged by these established legal definitions. It is up to you to know the definitions of these words and tailor your actions accordingly. That's because just one or two ill chosen words will totally blow your claim of self-defense out of the water.
We recommend taking a tour of the legal definitions presented at the 'Lectric Law Library, read Introduction to Use of Force and consult with an attorney before you even think of using what you know in an actual encounter. While you're at it, check your state AND local statutes and consult with your attorney before engaging in what you think is 'self-defense.'
Quite simply most people's definition of 'self-defense' is looked upon by the law as fighting (consensual combat -- look that up too). As such you will be arrested and charged IF you were fighting instead of defending yourself. Also, take a look at the 'Lectric Law Library's outline of the common legal interpretation of self-defense, then compare local interpretation and caveats.
Pay close attention to the "mutual combat" and "quarrel" clauses in your state's law. As these subtly phrased, but very important clauses, can and will destroy any chance you have of claiming it was "self-defense" if the incident report is written up along these lines. No matter how justified or 'set upon' you felt you were, that report is a legal document and will be the source of all legal action.
If you are thinking of owning, much less carrying any kind of weapon (especially a gun or knife) we recommend you look into the services and training provided by the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network. Followed by Masaad Ayoob's, MAG$)/Judicious Use of Lethal Force seminar. If nothing else then get to a US Law Shield class in your area. Do this BEFORE you ever pick up that weapon in self-defense.
You will not learn this information in a martial art school. Remember, weapons are like power tools, mistakes happen much faster and are far nastier.
Going to Jail for 'Defending Yourself'
Unfortunately most of the answers coming from the self-defense/martial arts trainers aren't just out in left field, they're over the fence and out in the weeds.
There are several overlapping issues that
contribute to this whole morass. We take a look
at the idea of going to
Jail For Defending Yourself
Normal, Abnormal, Dangerous
Postive and Negative 'Rights'
Viewed As Participation