Use of Force in Martial Arts: Victim or Suspect
We all study the martial arts for various personal reasons. Some study to gain confidence. Some study for the competitiveness or for the practical application. But for whatever reason you study the martial arts, there is one important aspect that some schools and instructors neglect to teach their students. Whether you study the traditional or the practical techniques of any martial art system you have to keep in mind that whatever techniques you learn in that art can be used for the purposes of self defense regardless if it is studied either as a true traditional art or practical art form.
Martial arts have many things in common, and one of these common aspects is the philosophical side, better known as being in “harmony” with nature. This is not about the elements of mother nature, but the elements of human nature. In other words, using verbal skills rather than physical skills in a possible physical confrontation. In many countries martial arts are a part of the culture and it is expected that you study an art form. But here in the United States, it is more or less a borrowed culture from its origins. In order for a martial art to be in true harmony with nature, it must be able to adapt to both the culture and environment that it is being taught in, otherwise there is discord. Regardless of the origins of the martial art style you study, they all have some connection to each other historically either through cross training or the connection between the founders themselves. There is no perfect martial art system. If there was, we would all be studying the same system. For the most part all martial art systems are “eclectic”. For example, if there were only two human beings on the face of the earth and one kicked the other human being then he has created a pure art, the art of kicking. However if the person that was kicked was to then add a punch with the kick, he then has created an “eclectic” art, the art of punching and kicking. He borrowed the art of kicking and added it to his art of punching thus creating an “eclectic martial art form”.
How you study and train in the martial arts school is how you will react to a street confrontation should the need arise. It is commonly referred to as “muscle memory” and not “thought memory”. “Muscle memory” a lot like walking, you don’t think about it you just do it based on the training you received as an infant. In the martial arts it is no different. If you study a more aggressive and combative martial art system it is usually for the purposes of competition. In competition style fighting there are rules governing what the participants can and cannot use in competition. But in a street self-defense situation while there are not rules, there are laws that govern the amount of force that one can use in any given confrontation as it would appear to a reasonable person. In other words through your instruction you are given tools to use in a situation and in a split second you must make a decision to use the proper tool(s), ie; techniques to stop the attack. That is the goal in self-defense, to stop the attack. Once it goes beyond that, it is no longer deemed “self-defense” and you are no longer the victim. You become the suspect!
What some instructors fail to teach their students in class are the laws of self-defense and how they could be held to a higher level of responsibility as a student of martial arts should they use any of the techniques that they have learned in class to defend themselves, especially if it results in either a criminal or civil court proceeding.
Over the last few years I have seen in martial arts classes, videos and written publications what I call “over kill”. For example, how many times have you seen examples of someone defending against a single straight punch using multiple strikes and kicks to various parts of the attacker’s body and then in some cases, following up with a kick to the attacker’s head when he has been knocked to the ground. This sends the wrong message to the students. If they see it in class then they will more than likely do the same thing in a real life confrontation as a result of “muscle memory” which they acquire through repetition and practice in class. The goal in any self-defense confrontation is to stop the attack, nothing more and nothing less. Once the aggression has been stopped and there is no further physical threat to indicate that it will continue, that is where it ends. However, if the victim used unreasonable and unnecessary force to overcome their attacker in stopping the aggression, then they could be looked upon in the eyes of the law as no longer being the victim, as they were no longer acting within the scope of self-defense.
In a court of law a good defense attorney may defend their client by attempting to discredit the alleged victim’s actions saying that they should have used less force and more control in defending themselves as a martial artist. Then there is also the possibility that the victim’s instructor could be called into court to either defend the victim’s actions or in some cases even testify against their student’s actions based on what they had been taught in class. This is why it is important for martial arts instructors to be familiar with, and teach their students, the importance of using good judgment when it comes to defending themselves in a physical confrontation and it all starts with teaching them the laws of self-defense.
In the state of California for instance, parents are legally responsible for their children until they turn 18 years of age. After they turn 18 years of age the parent is no long legally responsible for them, which includes their actions. However martial arts instructors could be held legally responsible for their student’s actions regardless of their age or how long they have trained with them as a student. Why? Because as an instructor it is their responsibility to make sure that their student(s) receive and understand the proper knowledge and training in the use of techniques that could be latter used in a self-defense situation resulting in criminal and or civil court actions. This does not mean that martial arts instructor has to have a degree in law, it just means that they need to research under good authority, understand and teach the laws of self defense to their students, otherwise they are failing to properly educate and train their students as their instructor.
Many times I have heard instructors tell their students that certain techniques will break an elbow, wrist or knee. Yes we can agree that there will be some sort of trauma using certain techniques, but unless the instructor has first hand knowledge that this could be the result of using the technique shown, they should not give the student a false sense of security by telling them something they do not know for a fact or first hand.
When any form of media contains or represents someone disarming an attacker of a knife and then shows the victim either stabbing or cutting the attacker’s throat while the attacker is on the ground, it demonstrates going way beyond the justification of using reasonable and necessary force after the attack has been stopped. How does the victim defend their actions in a court of law when by some chance in this modern day and age, they are recorded on video taken by a bystander showing them disarming their attacker, taking them down and then stabbing or cutting the attacker with that same weapon after the attacker is defenseless, unarmed and on the ground? Their defense may be that they learned the technique in class from their instructor or, perhaps saw the technique demonstrated in a book that was authored by their instructor. Now the instructor is called into court to testify as an expert in his/her field to defend their teaching ability and lack of knowledge pertaining to the rights and the laws of self-defense that they failed to provide to their student in class.
Having authored books on the topics of martial arts and self-defense, I have found it vitally important to include a disclaimer at the beginning of the publication making it quite clear to the reader that, “. . . the techniques depicted within this publication either in writing or photographic form, are presented either for information and/or historical purposes only and that no one connected with the publication makes any guarantees that any of the techniques shown in this publication will be safe and/or effective in any self-defense situation and will not assume any responsibility and/or liability for any injuries and/or losses that may occur as a result of the reader acting upon and/or using any information provide within this publication.”
Many traditional and old style martial arts forms show techniques that are used to “finish off” a would be attacker. The readers must understand that many of these so called “finishing techniques” that were used back in the times of conflict between different cultures and in some cases were morally and socially accepted during that era, are not accepted in this era. Times change and it is important that the author make it quite clear to the reader that certain “finishing techniques” that could be deemed in a court of law as the use of excessive force in any given situation, must be left up to the discretion of the reader to use while acting within the laws of self-defense in the state, county and or country they reside.
As an instructor, I have been subpoenaed to court to testify as an expert witness on a jury trial involving a technique that was used to subdue an aggressive individual by two of my students. Fortunately for the sake my students protection and my creditability as their instructor , all of the techniques that I had instructed them on had been documented and were in writing which ultimately added to and aided in their defense proving to the jury that they used the amount of reasonable and necessary force that was needed which ultimately won the court case.
So what does all of this mean? It means that as marital arts instructors we need to maintain and protect our accountability and creditability by making sure that our students realize and understand that they are being taught martial arts skills that are very valuable to their safety and well-being and that those skills must be used wisely and with the confidence knowing that they reacted and used those skills within the laws of self-defense that protect them as victims.