What is Self-Defense?

What is Self-Defense: the defense of one’s person or interests, especially through the use of physical force, which is permitted in certain cases as an answer to a charge of violent crime.

Self-Defense is a topic that should be covered in every MMA, Krav Maga, Jujitsu or Martial Arts class. It isn’t because most places focus on sport, “fighting” or looking like they are fighting. Self-Defense begins well before an actual face to face fight begins. Even if the topic is at the center of training, most so called Self-Defense courses tend to only focus on using physical techniques against someone, with some coverage of the situation BEFORE a physical assault, and most likely no coverage of the issues that occur AFTER an assault.

The following idea comes from the book Facing Violence by Rory Miller. It is on our black belt required reading list and is recommended for everyone in our school, Kenutckiana Shotokan Karate Do, to read for an excellent beginning of the study on the topic of Self-Defense.

Per Rory Miller’s suggestion, to use force in self-defense, one must have all four of the following elements: Intent, Means, Opportunity and Preclusion.

  • Intent – clearly stated or shows some physical indication to physically harm you.
  • Means – some sign(s) of a way to carry out the intent: Such as the size of the person, numbers of people, weapon, etc.
  • Opportunity – an ability to reach or actually touch you.
  • Preclusion – could you prevent someone from doing something?

Examples of can help show the four elements together to possibly be justified in the use of force:

  • Someone yells “I’m going to beat you up!” in a loud threatening voice shows intent. But, if they are on the phone while doing this, they don’t have the means or opportunity to actually follow through. You can prevent the “success” of the person by not seeing them. If you punch them in the face the next time you see them, YOU will be the one charged with assault.
  • Someone yells ” I’m going to beat you up! ” from across the room in a loud threatening voice. There’s intent. It’s a big guy/gal, so there is probable means. However there is no opportunity due to distance. If you leave, you have just prevented the situation from getting worse. If you walk up to them and you punch them, YOU will be the one charged with assault.
  • Someone yells ” I’m going to beat you up! ” in your face. The intent is present. It’s a big guy/gal or perhaps they are holding something in there hand, means is possible. At this distance opportunity is now present for them to carry out their threat. If you don’t attempt to leave, you are now involved in a “mutual fight”. If you can’t leave, then, perhaps you can use force to prevent getting hurt.

Use of Force

This is where things get really tricky quickly. (As if the above wasn’t enough). If you are actually attacked, you do have the right to fight back. You don’t have the right to use excessive force to keep from getting hurt. What is excessive? More than enough to stop the attack. If a child yelled ” I’m going to beat you up! ” you can’t knock them out. If the person is the same size as you? Remember the preclusion part. If you tried to get away from the situation, but couldn’t, perhaps a good shove could keep them from attacking you. You can’t just break their arm. If they have a weapon (big stick, bottle, etc)(and you can’t get away or talk your way out of it), maybe?? May be breaking their arm is justified??

If they go down, whether they trip, get pushed or struck by you, you can’t attack them at this point. The four elements, remember? You now have the opportunity to get away. Their intent may still be there, but their means and opportunity are now gone. If you do attack them, you can be the one charged with assault. Crazy, isn’t it. If they get up, you are still there and begin fighting, now it may be considered a mutual fight or duel.

I highly recommend reading Facing Violence as it helps to answer the question “What is Self-Defense?” and goes into the aftermath of an encounter. What happens if you win the exchange? Survivor’s guilt? A lawsuit from the person who started it? How about their family member suing you for lost wages because you hurt the person who provided for them? Really?! Yes, really.

The topic of self-defense is very complex and cannot be “mastered” in a four hour course. Most don’t practice after the course is over, so may not be able to perform the techniques learned when needed. How about those MMA, Krav Maga, Jujitsu or other Martial Arts classes? Those systems that claim to be effective for self-defense usually only cover the physical assault piece of the issue. However, they could have you become the assaulter as there is very little learned about your own actions. You are taught to just respond. Just punch and kick until you can’t or they aren’t moving. That is a recipe for disaster. You must begin to study this topic and take the information to heart. If you can keep yourself out of needing the techniques, then great. You will have learned something that helps you stay in shape at least.

Find a place that helps you learn about yourself, becoming aware of others, get a bit of physical fitness and of course learn enough techniques to defend yourself. These skills can help make you a well rounded person. Self-defense is more than just kicking and punching. There is MUCH to be learned.

More to follow …

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