(disclaimer time - As with any issue that touches on the law, I encourage everyone to learn about the laws where they live. Some laws will vary from place to place. My interpretations are based on my experiences dealing with North American law and my exposure to the laws of several international countries.)
Most martial artists are pretty decent people. In a somewhat paradoxical fashion, many martial artists are very concerned that they are going to hurt someone in an altercation. Others believe that they can't use their skills to defend themselves because they would be criticized in a court of law. Others even believe that black belts need to register their hands as deadly weapons. They don't. That one gives me a chuckle.
Most laws in most countries are very similar in the area of use of force for self defense.
How much is too much?
How much force can you use to defend yourself? How much is too much? What if your attacker gets hurt? These are all good questions and show a responsible mind. During an attack however, such thoughts breed hesitation. And hesitation spells disaster. So what to do?
Well, here's three simple rules that will hopefully free your mind to train safely, responsibly and effectively.
#1. Your right to defend yourself is not affected by your ability to do so.
- Everyone has a right to defend themselves from harm (or to defend someone else). It doesn't matter who you are or what you know.
#2. You can use as much force as is necessary to stop the threat.
- This is a little more difficult to absorb. First, there must be a threat. You must believe you are in danger and that the other person has the ability to carry out whatever that threat is. You are justified in using as much force as is needed to stop the threat, but that's it. As soon as the threat has abated, you must stop. If you don't, your use of force shifts from defense to assault in the eyes of the law.
Point #1 and #2, while accurate, will still cause many of you to have questions. There are lots of 'What if...' questions that can come up.
So here is probably the most important point of all:
#3. If your only goal or motivation in a violent encounter is to get away, chances are the rest will take care of itself.
In Part IV, I talked about how the goal of true self defense, or the definition of success was a) surviving, b) getting away, and c) minimizing or avoiding injury. With this in mind, let's review the first two points.
Point #1 said your right to defend yourself is not affected by your ability to do so. So the better you are, the easier it will be to create an opportunity for you to get away. You may end up creating an opportunity to escape using much less force than an untrained person.
Point #2 said you can use as much force as is necessary to stop the threat. You have stopped the threat when you have created an opportunity to get away. Assuming all your other avoidance strategies didn't work, do whatever you have to do to create an exit point. If this is the only goal of the force you use, chances are you'll be o.k.
There are also the optics of the situation. If onlookers observed the altercation and they saw you try to talk your way out of a situation, and then when you were attacked, they watched you respond but immediately take the first opportunity to escape and get to safety and call for help, they are now positive witnesses. On the other hand, if you stuck around and gave your attacker a couple of shots to punish them for picking the wrong guy (or gal), how would that look? Even if the same level of injury was sustained by your attacker in both scenarios, one would be a lot easier to explain to a court.
The law typically has two parts, the criminal act and the criminal intent. Typically both must be proven to convict someone of a crime. Acts are easier to determine. You punched your attacker. That was the act. The intent is a bit trickier. And that's where we need to observe rule #3. If your intent was to hurt your attacker, you might be questioned about the amount of force you used, you might even be charged with assault. If your intent was to provide an opportunity to get away and get help, chances are you won't. It's really that simple.
If your only true goal in a violent encounter is to survive and get away, chances are the law will be on your side. Beyond the law, you'll also be comfortable in the knowledge that whatever force you used was legally, morally and ethically sound. When your mind is unclouded by all the 'What if questions', you will respond more quickly and more effectively to any attack. The rest will just sort of fall into place.
I hope this helps to pull together all the parts of the Mind the Gap series into a somewhat cohesive package.
Train effectively, train responsibly, train safely.