Self Defence Within the Law
We have all heard or read over the years, cases where a martial artist has applied their skills as a means of self-defense, only later to discover their attacker has pressed charges of assault.  In many of these cases, the attacker (the real criminal), won the case and the martial artist in their act of defending themselves was charged. How can this be you might ask? It is important for any person trained in the martial arts to have a basic understanding of how the law works on the issue of self-defense.

To begin with, one should not lose hope. The law does state that any person is entitled to defend themselves, their property and another person. However, for situations requiring this, only a ‘reasonable force’ can be applied. What is seen as reasonable will depend entirely on the situation and its progress? In cases where excessive force has been applied, the defendant may find themselves being charged. It should be noted, in these cases, the onus is on this prosecution to prove the martial artist (defender) used excessive force.

Examples of reasonable force might be: If you believe someone is about to be murdered, then you can use any appropriate method to stop this from happening. However, this does not give you free license to murder the assailant. If you have used a metal bar to beat the assailant to the point that there is no further risk, you are breaking the law if you continue your attack. In essence, you can only do the minimum required to stop or avoid injury. Having said that, this does not mean that if an assailant is seriously injured you will always be charged. For example, if an assailant who picks on you ends up in a hospital with a broken skull it does not mean you will be charged with assault, this is because the courts do recognize that: … a person defending himself cannot weigh to a nicety the exact measure of his necessary defensive action. If… in a moment of unexpected anguish a person had only done what he had honestly and instinctively thought to be necessary, that would be potent evidence that only reasonable defensive action had been taken.

Self-defence and the law for women 

It is very rare that a man who attacks a woman, only to be beaten, could have her prosecuted for assault. Even in cases where she did know very clearly that her actions could cause serious injury. For example, where a woman puts her attacker in a hospital through gouging his eyes or twisting his testicles, although her knowledge that this action would cause injury, it would be deemed as necessary, providing she felt seriously threatened. However, where a woman engages in a fight (whether with another woman or man), the basic rules for self-defence and fighting would apply.

Self-defence and the law in the form of fighting 

Whilst the majority of people who take up martial arts do so with the intention to never use their skills – but for self- defence, there is a small percentage of people training whose aim is to learn to fight. In most fights involving a martial artist, it is more often these people who are involved. This often puts martial artists in a bad light with the law. Therefore when the legitimate martial artist does find themselves in a fight, there are a number of things they should be aware of to ensure they can prove self-defense.

The most common place for fighting is any venue where alcohol is served. One drunk person provokes another and tries to initiate a fight. In the case of fighting, the degree of force permissible depends on whether the defendant’s actions were reasonable in the circumstances. If it were to go to court, it is important the martial artist had demonstrated by their actions that they did not want to fight. For a fight to be considered self-defence, one person must have shown that they tried to temporize and disengage the situation, and perhaps make some physical withdraw, but it was subsequently made clear that this was not possible. Again, to be deemed self-defence, once an attacker is completely stopped, no further attacks are permissible.

To be deemed self-defence, it does not mean the attacker had to have thrown the first punch – but it obviously helps. If the martial artist has shown by their words and actions they have no intention to fight and are still provoked, providing the attacker is showing an aggressive nature and within your personal space, so much so you felt endangered, then to throw a decisive strike is reasonable.

Self-defense and the law with weapons

Any martial artist who carries a martial arts weapon will be charged, even if they have used it only for the means of self-defence. Weapons are illegal and therefore it will be judged purely on the basis of you carrying and using an illegal weapon. If however, you were to use a weapon found in your current environment (eg belt, bin, broom etc) then the same basic laws of reasonable force apply.

Self-defense and the law with kicks

It is considered that a martial artist is aware that their kicks are more powerful than their punches. Therefore, in cases of self-defence where kicks are used, it can work against the martial artist at times. For example, in a fight situation against one attacker, a kick to the groin, shin, thigh or stomach may be deemed entirely reasonable. However, a kick to the ribs or face may be deemed excessive due to your knowledge of its danger. You would be required to show you felt endangered had you not thrown that kick.

Involvement with the police

When you are involved in any public conflict to which the police are called, the following advice should be adhered to:

Stay calm
Do not get dragged into an argument
Think about what you say, and say very little
Treat the police with respect and cooperate with everything they say
Take into account that police too are human, and sometimes the situation as they see it may initially place you in a bad light, particularly if you have used an object to defend yourself. If they make an error in judgment, co-operate until you have the opportunity to explain yourself

The best self-defence

Although a martial artist learns to block, punch and kick, the ultimate self-defence techniques they acquire are confidence and awareness. Whether self-defence is required in the form of a fight at a crowded venue, or being singled out and targeted for robbery or sexual assault, confidence and awareness will be your best tools. This is because any person who wishes to cause harm to another, will look for ‘an easy victim’.  A martial artist who portrays a sense of confidence, ie head up and good eye contact will less likely be attacked. Furthermore, having an awareness of your environment means you are more able to sense danger and avoid the situation.