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Defining Self-Defence

Self-Defence is bound by 4 walls. 2 represent the threat (immediate & physical) & 2 the response (de-escalatory & judicious)
Self-Defence is bound by 4 walls. 2 represent the threat (immediate & physical) & 2 the response (de-escalatory & judicious)

 "It's not that so many people are ignorant, but that they 'know' so much that isn't true..." -- Anon

This post is an attempt to explain in simple terms what self-defence is & is not. It's an attempt to explain why exactly the same technique can be viewed variously as:

  1. self-defence
  2. fighting
  3. assault

Legally Defined Yet Confusing & Contentious

During my decade as a cooler / bouncer (I prefer cooler, because that's what they should be doing) every fight I broke up had both parties claiming they where defending themselves... really?

A defense to certain criminal charges involving force (e.g. murder).

Use of force is justified when a person reasonably believes that it is necessary for the defense of oneself or another against the immediate use of unlawful force. However, a person must use no more force than appears reasonably necessary in the circumstances.

Force likely to cause death or great bodily harm is justified in self-defense only if a person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.

The Right To Protect One's Person And Property From Injury.

The 'Lectric Law Library

Even though self-defence is narrowly defined legally & therefore means something very specific, it still appears to most to be nebulous. Why is that? What most people think of as self-defence, is not. The term is twisted (often intentionally) by those trying to sell a product, be it the latest & greatest weapon or training system. Unfortunately for those who have 'bought-in' it often means going to jail for defending themselves.  Remember the situation will be assessed reasonably.

Another area where confusion sets in is the "criminals have more rights than the victims" argument which is so common. The reality is when the state (as represented by the police, prosecutors & judges) looks at your case it is 2 citizens with equal rights in dispute, not pure innocent you & that other scum bag...

If It's Not Really Self-Defence it's a Crime...

It is vitally important before you claim self-defence that you are absolutely sure it is. Claiming self-defence is putting forward a legal defence for what in any other circumstances would be a crime. Put another way, you are admitting guilt to what is under any other circumstance a crime & you have to prove it is self-defence. In essence you have shifted the burden of proof, you are no longer innocent until proven guilty, you have to prove that your actions where justified or you have committed a crime. With that in mind, it is highly likely you will be arrested when you claim self-defence.

Boundaries of Self-Defence

I find it useful to think of self-defence as a square drawn in the sand. As per the diagram above 2 lines represent the threat & the other 2 your response. If at any point any of those lines are crossed you are either assaulting or fighting someone.

Threat - Physical & Immediate

Physical: Does the attack have the potential to cause you / or someone else physical harm? Will it be possible to take a photo or measure the harm? Human nature is such that we more often than not fight off intangibles (threats, pride, honour, control, disrespect etc.). These intangible are often more real to us than physical things. Many times we are blinded by our emotional pain, including to the significance of our own words and actions. In the heat of the moment we react to perceived injury as though they were physical torture. When last did you argue / fight with someone over something physical? Self-defence is about protecting flesh not emotions. If it's about intangibles it's a fight.

Immediate: Is the attack happening right now? Would other people / security cameras (present or not) be able to see it? It's the difference between he might & he is. If you are reacting to some future possibility (whether the threat was voiced or not),  you are reacting to what is in your head rather than an immediate threat...  If the attack isn't happening right now it's assault.

Response - De-Escalatory & Judicious

De-Escalatory: Were you involved in the build up to the physical violence or did you do everything reasonable to avoid / diffuse / de-escalate the situation? The things that were said & done before it turned physical will determine whether it's viewed as self-defence or a fight. If it's about intangibles or you were involved in the creation / escalation of the situation, it's a fight.

Judicious: Did you stop immediately the danger was over? Did you do what it took to end it & no more? There is no room for retribution. This is the easiest line to cross. It is instinctive to orientate (face & focus on) to danger. With adrenaline flooding your system in the heat of the moment it is a common mistake to perceive another as a threat no matter how they are orientated. Kicking him in the ribs while he is getting up is an example. Could you be sure he was getting up to attack you, not run away? Even if it was a fight (i.e. not self-defence) before, it has just turned to assault.

Oh & that super cool, lethal technique you learnt in that self-defence course you did? If you use it there is a very good chance you will be charged with man-slaughter at the very least...

self-defence training at mec's martial arts

mec's self-defence programme uses a layered approach to self-defence:

  1. Common Sense
  2. Diplomacy
  3. Strategy
  4. Tactical

It is unreasonable to believe that all situations can be resolved reasonably....

11 thoughts on “Defining Self-Defence

  1. Nicola Robins

    Thanks mec. Good to know these things; hopefully will never have to apply them. I do think our society has a less-than-adequate understanding of what "reasonable necessity" means.

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