ARTICLE | JUSTIFYING SELF DEFENCE | by Orjan Pettersen
If you’ve been involved in a violent situation or threat and want to claim self defence, your Krav Maga or fighting techniques are no longer the skills you need to rely on to defend yourself.
You have another adversary, a secondary ‘potential threat’ which is always there, always looking to attack you if you let your guard down.
It’s called the law.
This second defence may not be easy unless you’ve done some thinking and training on it. Do you cover it in your self defence classes?
There’s a basic principal formula behind most self defence laws. It’s this: ‘You may use the minimum level of force that you reasonably believe is necessary to safely resolve the situation’.
Nearly every word here is a legal concept you need to understand and be in control of. Let us have a look at these.
‘You may use’. You’re not required to use any force. You can walk away from dangerous situations, unlike law enforcement officers who are required not to. Do you keep this fresh in your mind? Just run away. If you choose not to, you may be required to explain why.
‘The minimum level of force’. You must match your level of force to not exceed the threat facing you. An unarmed and angry person shouting at you because you spilled their drink can’t be shot at will by your gun or indeed just being punched. The same person person moving towards you with a knife can. The same person stating they’ll ‘kill you’ then reaching for something inside their pockets puts you in a circumstance where hitting him or her with strong and repeated force can possibly be explained. You get the picture. These are complex situations with rapid, fluid and unexpected twists and turns. The ‘minimum level of force is not an easy solution to find’. Do you train to do so?
‘Reasonably believe’. There’s no clear definition in law here. The judge, magistrate or jury will decide. The point for you is; are you able to explain how and why your violent force was ‘reasonable’ in the situation, as it presented itself and evolved? You have to be able to articulate why, based on the information available to you at the time. If someone threatens you and reaches for their pockets it may be ‘reasonable’ to ‘believe’ that they were seeking a weapon, even if it later was shown it was to pull out a cigarette. It’s what you believe in that moment that matters, not what the evidence shown later proved. You must be able to describe your thinking and actions here. Anger and alcohol are not your best buddies in self defence for several reasons. This is one of them.
‘Is necessary’. You must be able to articulate why force was the only option. Could you have left the situation? Could you have kept a bigger distance? Did you permit the person to get close to you when you didn’t need to? The more you break these principles the murkier your claim for self defence becomes. Do you train this in your self defence school?
‘To safely resolve’. Remember, self defence is not a contest. It’s not a fight. It’s not you teaching someone a ‘lesson’ for their wrong-doing. It’s applying the minimum level of force needed to stay safe. This should be your legal go-to thinking at all times: Do whatever is needed to get to safety - not to ‘win’ a disagreement or ‘punish’ an aggressor. That’s the responsibility of the law and its agencies. If you take it over, you become the criminal. Do you train when to stop striking - according to law - in your training?
‘The situation’. The threat may be obvious to you or third parties that are with you. Someone is threatening or attacking you personally - and you can’t move away from it. Self defence in one form or another is absolutely required. Other situations are less clear. Someone is breaking into your car and you’re watching from inside your property. Do you go out? Someone is trying to steal a neighbour’s or stranger’s car. Do you intervene? Someone is causing trouble in public and you see it or you’re asked to help resolve it. What do you do? If you place yourself voluntarily in ‘the situation’ you’ll have to do that carefully if you want to claim self defence. Can you do it calmly? And safely? Are there witnesses who can back your intervention up by testimony later? Is it worth the risk? Defending people may be easier to you. Defending (not your) property may be a different matter. Is your self defence training considering these matters? When do you take action and when do you let it go and just call the police? Have you thought about it?
Self defence is a complex matter, not only in skill, but in law. It requires some thinking and training on your part. After all, it’s integral to what you’re training for; to stay safe and be free to enjoy life.