Martial Arts and The Law
martial art's world there are many arguments that take place. Many argue
about the purpose of one's training. Even though thousands of martial
artists are interested in character-building, physical fitness and the
mental discipline that comes with the training, most individuals join
martial arts studios to feel more confident about their ability to
protect and defend themselves.
This issue, the ability to
defend yourself, brings up some very interesting questions:
Do you have the right to protect yourself
in any way you feel is necessary?
Are you protected against assault
charges, criminal or civil lawsuits brought against you by someone you
injured while defending yourself? If you are threatened with
bodily harm, are you justified in taking any action necessary to protect
yourself, your significant other or your personal
Everybody who trains in the martial arts should be
aware of court rulings and certain laws that might affect their
actions. There are not many simple, clear-cut rights as you may
think. Depending on the state or country that you reside, using your
martial arts skills may lead to an arrest, or a costly and complicated
lawsuit. There are legal consequences in defending yourself.
Remember this; in a court of law, it is assumed that you are aware of
the legal limits of your actions. There's a common legal saying,
"Ignorance of the Law is No Defense."
As a martial artist,
if you ever have to defend yourself using physical force, and in doing
so it lands you in police custody, you should immediately seek the aid
of an attorney. When a martial artist, especially a Black Belt is
accused of excessive force in self-defense, the standard is usually
higher than that of a novice practitioner, a non- martial artist, and a
reasonable or prudent person. Many courts believe that it is only fair
that one with unique skills is held to a unique standard.
martial artists go through years of extensive training, some make it
into the black belt ranks, but few spend the time learning the assault
laws that could ultimately affect them, or for that matter, the type of
force that they are allowed by law to use on an attacker.
out North America, most states allow its law-abiding citizens only one
type of force to be used in self-defense. That type of force is one,
which is necessary to fend of an attack and prevent injury. Universally,
there are three types of force used: reasonable, excessive and
Reasonable force is
that force which a reasonable person thinks is necessary under the
circumstances, to stop the threat and prevent further injury.
Example: An assailant confronts you and advances forward. He
then directs a punch towards your head. You react by dodging his blow,
causing him to miss the intended target. You then follow up with a kick
to his abdomen. He immediately falls to the ground and ceases his
threatening actions. At this point no further physical action is
required of you, other than making an effort to notify the proper
authorities and reporting the incident.
Excessive force is using any force above and beyond the force
required to stop the threat. Example: An assailant attacks you,
and you are able to block, and counter with a reasonable amount of
force. The attacker falls to the ground and is temporarily immobilized.
At this point, you kick or punch him several more
Deadly force is any
force used with the purpose of causing, or knowing it can cause a
substantial risk of causing death or serious bodily harm. Example:
Taking both the Reasonable and Excessive use of force into
consideration, basically any technique used after reasonable force
without justification, may be deemed deadly depending on the severity of
the injury you caused.
starters, self-defense is not a right, but a privilege - a privilege
that can be lost in a variety of ways. The privilege of self-defense and
the use of force towards another person are justifiable only when a
person reasonably believes that such force is immediately necessary for
the purpose of protecting himself/herself against the use of unlawful
force by such other person on the present location. It is not a
defense to use self-defense when committed in a fight or scuffle entered
into by mutual consent. A person in court claiming the privilege
of self-defense must also establish that his or her belief in the
necessity to use physical force was sound thinking, with common sense
and not excessive.
One who provokes or initiates an assault
cannot escape criminal liability by invoking self-defense as a defense
to a prosecution arising from injury done to another. The right to
self-defense is only available to the one who is free from fault.
A good point to remember is, while you are defending yourself and the
assailant's threat stops, your use of force must also stop. If you
continue to use force after the assailant's immediate threat has
stopped, then you may be criminally and or civilly held liable for any
injury the assailant sustained after the threat was no longer
As martial arts instructors, regardless of
style, this basic standard of martial arts and the law applies to all.
Therefore, we must reevaluate our own self-defense techniques that are
taught in our training halls. Is it necessary to teach our students to
go above and beyond the force that it is required by law?
From personal experience, I have witness at demonstrations, seminars,
and at tournaments, individuals performing their self-defense
techniques. And in almost all occasions, the defender took extra
measures to continue to kick or punch, and even conduct bone breaks to
the attacker even after the attacker was completely immobilized.
Is this what we want to teach our students, or portray to the public
that martial artists are ruthless? A vast majority of the public already
perceives martial artists, especially black belts as walking deadly
weapons. It is imperative to change that view. It is
up to us as instructors to change that perception. The public must be
taught that we can restrain ourselves and only take the necessary
actions to stop our assailants. Ultimately, a jury of your peers will
judge you in a court of law. Wouldn't you want them on your
Lets rethink for a moment and ask ourselves, how can
we continue tradition and still comply with the 21st Century laws.
Today's martial art instructors must take a responsible approach to
teaching self-defense techniques, to include choosing the right words to
describe the technique's purpose. Don't forget that you as the
instructor may also be held accountable for your student's actions,
especially if what you're teaching is not within the limits of the law.
Lets face it, we live in a litigate society and the laws commonly govern
everything we do.
About the author: Ivan Mendez, is
a police detective in the state of New Jersey with 11 years of law
enforcement experience. He also holds a 4th degree Black belt in
American Karate with 21 years of martial arts
Trenton P.A.L. / Red Dragon
401 Farragut Ave.
Trenton, NJ 08609
(609) 396-6071 fax