ModernSamuraiSociety.comHi, Al Bargen Here. When you’re faced with danger it seems obvious that you should be able to defend yourself. However, it’s important to know the laws of the land regarding self-defense so that you can stay out of hot water in a defensive situation.

There are a few things you need to remember when it comes to self-defense.  These rules of thumb will help you to stay out of trouble with the law and still be able to protect yourself.

At the front of this post, I must inform you that I am not a lawyer, and to not rely on my information here as legal advice. I make no such claims so please know how people who defend themselves are treated by the legal system that you would have to answer to. This is just good information to have, and if you instruct self-defense, it is your duty to know these things to inform your students. Be proactive in your self-defense.

First, you should never use more force than needed to defend yourself against a threat.  This rule requires interpretation.  Basically if you feel that someone is going to harm you physically, you have the right to use force to defend yourself.

Excessive force is force that is applied after it is no longer necessary to apply force. Usually the law can be interpreted in favor of the victim. Don’t think twice, use your self-defense skills to disarm or incapacitate the assailant. When in doubt, strike again and be ready to strike your attacker if they continue to rise.

If at all possible you should avoid deadly force.  However, if you feel that your life is in danger or that a crime is going to be committed such as rape, you may be justified to  use deadly force as required.  Most of the people I train with are familiar with the expression that goes something like this… “I would rather be judged by twelve than carried by six.”

Once you feel that the threat is over, you need to stop using force.  For example, you can’t seek revenge on an assailant hours or days later, but you don’t have to retreat if you’re in your own home or if you still feel threatened.

You should also remember that self-defense means that you are not the original aggressor.  When you initiate an altercation you’ll be responsible for any harm that you visit on someone else.  Self-defense only protects the person being attacked, not the attacker.

Of course, if you can’t get away from someone who has convinced you beyond a reasonable doubt that they are definitely going to attack you, (they haven’t struck you yet) you may be justified to initiate your self-defense. Stated another way, it is not always the person who strikes the first blow that is the aggressor. If you can’t get out of a building, or other confined space for instance, because someone is blocking your way, and their words, actions of other ways of communicating indicate an imminent threat, (that they intend harm to you) you may be able to strike first.

This can be a sticky situation, but a good rule of thumb is the idea that if a reasonable person, under the same circumstances would have acted the same way that you did, you are OK in the eyes of the law. (see my disclaimer again – I am not giving you  legal advice)

If you have to use force on someone, it’s important for you to be able to provide an account of what happened to law enforcement.  You’ll need to be able to describe the situation, location, time, and any signs that you felt you were being threatened.

This is one reason that we keep our hands open when faced with a possible threat as it appears from a distance to be defensive. Imagine the scene as it would appear if you held closed fists. You wouldn’t be able to tell immediately who the aggressor was. You may look like a willing combatant, and not an innocent trying to defend yourself.

This brings up another great point. Are there potential witnesses? Immediately afterwards, ask any bystanders questions like… “Did you just see that guy attack me?” If they say “yah I did, what was his problem?” you get their phone number. If they respond with something more like “no, all I saw was you knock him unconscious” then perhaps look for a different witness.

You’ll need to provide details about the movements of the attacker and your movements for self-defense.  You may also want to evaluate whether or not you think the assailant is using some type of mind altering substance.

In general, self-defense is your legal right.  But if you take force too far you could be the one in trouble with the law.  Understand your local laws and abide by them as much as possible.  However, when you’re in a life or death situation do whatever possible to protect yourself. You are in the right.

Standing United We Pack A Punch

Please comment with any self-defense tips you have for your fellow martial arts enthusiasts/Modern Samurai. Thanks.

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5 Responses to Is It Legal to Defend Yourself?

  • Very interesting article. Makes you stop and think!

  • Dear Sensei Al:

    A great post as always. I hope to add some things here that will stir the pot, cause chaos and in the end, hopefully cause some critical thinking about this wonderful world of self defence. Largely, this is my opinion as most posts are. Im not gong to qualify myself as not being or being a lawyer, I don’t rightfully care if some disembodied body seems to think I was disseminating incorrect or wrongful advice; if that were the case, then you should jail the millions of “relationship experts” or other self professed gurus in what ever chose field of expertise they espouse.

    If you take this as advice; not my concern, this is Charter freedom of speech; something we are rapidly losing (topic for another time). If you follow it, its on you; if it fucks up on you, it’s still on you.

    Having been in hundreds of street fights as a dumb ass and as I got older, many more in security and law enforcement altercations(as an educated,trying to help others dumb ass) , I realize that it would be better to be carried as a warrior, by 6, then to endure the incessant blatherings of the judgement of 12.

    I agree it is a mantra we hear in martial arts circles; more often, uttered by those that HAVEN’T been subjected to the courtroom and having ‘shocked the conscience” of the middle class, working poor, ultra conservative jurors, that think spanking a child requires 25 to life.

    Defending oneself is a subjective standpoint although it should be based in reality. It is not. Moronic statements like “why didn’t the cops shoot the bad guy in the hand?(shatter the arm and go thru the floor or wall and kill others) or fire a warning shot(where? how far would it go? like that bullet that traveled thru a family home and embedded itself in the fridge as they had dinner), are the order of the day, with armchair generals, both on the jury and not, have alllllll sorts of rational explanations why some well intentioned, droned by indoctrination police officer, security guard or aware citizen didn’t execute the Seagalanistic expertise and just ‘disarm’ the attacker’ whilst saving the neighborhood.

    The public is our own worst enemy. There is NO such thing as common sense people, just what you think you know based on a tv show or the latest version of Call of Duty. And that, is nothing. Zero.

    If you’re not in the arena, you are a spectator. Cheer and shut up.

    Forgive me, but I want to go home to my family friends and life at the end of the day; if I have to decimate some scumbag that wants to take that away from me, well, I will not worry about what the jury will say. I HAVE been there several times and still live with the ghosts of it, I don’t want to hurt people, even dirtbags, but they certainly want to hurt you.

    And to those that have been there, glad you’re alive and did what you had to do.

  • The witness tip is good advice. Many times witnesses leave the scene before law enforcement arrive, and you’re left with no clue as to who the witnesses were at the time of the accident.

  • For those that don’t know (in Canada) you are able to elect your trial, the options are Provincial Court Judge, Supreme Court Judge or Supreme Court Judge and Jury. If you find yourself in the court system after a self-defense situation it is important to get a GOOD lawyer….and make sure that lawyer is well versed in self-defense case law. Remember all lawyers aren’t criminal defense lawyers, so don’t let your aunt talk you in to hiring your cousin Tim who handles family law. In addition certain criminal lawyers have specialty’s, some can get you bail but can’t win a trial, others can get you off a drunk driving charge but lose a simple theft under case. Ask around or better yet sit in criminal court and see how the lawyers handle themselves. Keep in mind that judges (in Canada) are hired based on their skills and abilities to make rulings based on the law, they were all at one time skilled lawyers and understand the law. They also don’t make there rulings lightly. All criminal trials are put to the “beyond a reasonable doubt” test.


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Al Bargen regularly writes on the topics of fat loss, fitness and the martial arts. His articles, reports, videos, and now books help you achieve not only your fat loss and fitness goals, but also in areas of self defense, and personal protection. With over 25 years of experience in these areas, Al is a genuine expert.


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