*Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote under another name a while back.*

Self-defense is one of those topics where everyone thinks they know what it is, but can’t seem to agree with each other. I’ve heard some pretty wild assumptions about self-defense, both directly and indirectly. Let me address some of the myths and assumptions I’ve come across.

1. Self-defense is about beating up an attacker. Um. No. At least that is not the purpose. The purpose of self-defense is keeping yourself safe. Sometimes an attacker gets beat up, sometimes he doesn’t. As long as the person remains hostile, you can continue pounding back. Once he stops (i.e. he is no longer attacking you), you have to stop, too; otherwise it becomes assault, not self-defense.

2. There are no shades of grey in self-defense. I’ve heard people say that self-defense is either necessary, or it’s not. I disagree. People tend to think of self-defense as a verb; an action that stands on its own. Self-defense is an attitude, not a verb. As with any attitude, there are degrees in how forcefully you pursue it. For example, it is certainly possible to focus on awareness training to the exclusion of physical training.

3. If I am attacked, the law will be on my side. Actually, from the law’s viewpoint, you and your assailant are citizens with equal protections under the law. It is not unusual for someone to be prosecuted for knocking out an assailant. In fact, if you find yourself in a situation where you physically need to defend yourself, expect to be taken to both criminal and civil court–especially if you defeat your attacker. When police arrive on the scene, more than 90% of the time, the person still standing was the aggressor. Even if your assailant swung first, if you’re the only one standing when the police show up, you’ll be suspect #1.

4. Once the fight is over, I’m done with the situation. I’m afraid not. Surviving the situation is only the first part. Then you have to survive the criminal and civil courts. Whether you succeed or fail in the courts, you also have to come to terms with what you did in order to survive. Being assaulted is a traumatic experience that essentially rewires your brain. Most people relive the experience for months or years after the event.