Into the lion’s den…

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Had to pick up some stuff from someone. This someone was at the core of the troubles that got me to start this blog. (For some really angsty stuff, read the first couple of posts.) I survived intact. Lots to say, no time to say it. Probably a good thing.

4 Differences Between Martial Arts and Self-Defense

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

Lots of people associate martial arts with self-defense, and for good reason. Many schools advertise as teaching “self-defense” whether they actually teach self-defense or martial arts. There is a societal link between the two that has become so strong, that the two are often used interchangeably. Unfortunately this can cause, and has caused, problems. There are many differences, of which I’ll discuss four.

1. Realism in Techniques. No matter how “realistic” a particular school teaches its techniques, there are boundaries which are not crossed. I have yet to see a martial arts school that actually allows, much less encourages, techniques to be practiced as they would actually be used. If they did, they would have to allow at least six weeks between classes so that broken bones had time to heal, at the very least. What about eye gouges or strikes to the throat? Needless to say, in order for a student to learn, the techniques have to be pulled and carefully controlled. There is nothing wrong with this. What is often missing, though, is the realization that the techniques are *purposefully* made less effective in order for students to practice them. Too often what happens when a technique is needed is the student performs as they did in class…and stops short of actually harming their attacker.

2. Pain. Many techniques are based on pain, or–even worse–the assumption of pain. A broken nose will not stop an attacker. When an attack happens, a cocktail of endorphins and adrenaline hits the system. Many techniques that are based on causing pain won’t even be felt. This is not something that comes out in class because, even if a student has some adrenaline in the system, the amount is not even close to how much will be in the system during an attack. As such, pain-based techniques performed consistently and effectively in class rarely, if ever, work when you actually need them.

3. Purpose. Many schools try to sell martial arts as self-defense. This is far from the truth. If you break down the phrase “martial arts”, you come up with “the arts of war.” So how is this different from self-defense? As the name implies, the purpose of martial arts is eliminating the enemy. As much as a student may learn and change internally, mentally or emotionally, the expression of a martial art is always expressed on an outside target. Self-defense, on the other hand, is about keeping yourself safe. Rather than eliminating an enemy, the purpose of self-defense is to make sure that you continue living. The common protest to this viewpoint is that eliminating an enemy and keeping yourself safe are two sides of the same coin. In some cases, this may be true. However, if you’re at the point where the only way to keep yourself safe is by eliminating the enemy, you’ve already missed several opportunities to avoid such a risky situation. This is why I say that self-defense is an attitude.

4. Location. Most likely you will not need to ever use your physical self-defense techniques, but if you do, the chances of it happening in a martial arts school are exceedingly small. As such you probably will not have the amount of space you’re used to moving in, nor will the space you do have be conducive to the techniques you learned. Barring mental instability, most attackers are going to make sure they hold as many advantages as possible, and that you hold as many disadvantages as possible. One of the unmentioned assumptions in most martial arts schools is that the training area is a realistic representation of the places you’re likely to need to use what you learn. I say this assumption is “unmentioned” because most people don’t even realize they’re making it. When said outright, the fallacy is obvious. I can count the number of times it’s actually been said to me on one hand.

It may sound like I’m bashing martial arts. I’m not. What I’m trying to do is draw a line between martial arts and self-defense. Martial arts can be useful in many types of situations, including self-defense. Saying martial arts and self-defense are the same thing shortchanges the potentials of martial arts and limits the concept of self-defense.

4 Basic Boundaries for Legal Self-Defense

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

As I mentioned in a previous article, whenever there’s a fight, the police nearly always hear “self-defense” from both parties. There are, however, 4 boundaries that enclose what may legally be considered self-defense. You break any of these boundaries, and you’re likely to end up in jail for assault at the very least.

1. Physical Danger

The danger to you must be physical. This means someone slandering you or spreading libel is not a legal justification for responding physically. This also includes such provocations as: making fun of your mother/sister, spitting, or sleeping with your spouse. There are other remedies for these. Ask a lawyer.

2. Imminent Danger

Imminent danger means that the punch is on its way. This also applies to near certain probability, such as you just saw someone wipe out 5 people in sequence. Then he approaches you the same way he approached them. It would be considered a reasonable assumption that he’s coming after you next.

What is not included in “imminent danger” is the suspicion that someone is about to attack you without visual and recognizable proof (as in the example above). Somebody turning to the side and reaching inside a coat is NOT imminent danger unless you know for a FACT that he has a weapon there AND he intends to use it on you. For all you know, he may be cradling a broken rib.

3. The End is The End

If the attacker retreats from the field of battle, you may not continue the fight. Once the person is no longer an observable threat, any further attack becomes assault. Whether he turns his back to you to run, or raises his hands, he is no longer legally considered a threat. Does this mean he is ACTUALLY no longer a threat? No. Watch for a renewed attack. Be ready in case he comes back. If an observable threat manifests, you’re in a self-defense situation once more.

4. Don’t Provoke

Even if your attacker actually swings first, if you played an observable part in escalating the situation, the law will take a dim view of your assertion of self-defense. Does this mean that you should cave in to an aggressive person? No. But remember that direct confrontation is usually considered escalation to most people. If witnesses can testify that you stayed calm and tried to redirect, you have a much better chance of successfully using the “self-defense” defense.

Please note that many people will say they understand these boundaries, but when emotions are high, it is easy to become provocative. It is also very easy to misinterpret a surrendering movement for reaching for a concealed weapon. Remember: This is SELF-DEFENSE, not self-preemptive-strike.