|In Spider-Man, Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, “With great
power comes great responsibility.” The fact that the statement
originates from a comic-book character doesn’t make it any less
true. It’s especially applicable to the martial arts and the use of
deadly force. Deadly force is the most serious issue you can
confront. The martial arts are based on the premise that force may
be necessary to protect human life, which is why so many techniques
empower even an unarmed person to kill an attacker easily. Civilized
society, out of necessity, enacted rules to govern such conduct, and
it’s in your best interest to understand them before you use them.
Many rumors, misconceptions and falsehoods get tossed about by
martial artists while discussing deadly force and self-defense. On
this issue, engaging in guesswork is dangerous, for the improper use
of deadly force can result in the double tragedy of the imprisonment
of one party and the death of another. The purpose of this lesson is
to provide a basic framework for understanding the way that the law
views deadly force in the context of self-defense.
Self-Defense Laws: Rules and Regulations
Much of the confusion that surrounds the law of self-defense
stems from the fact that it differs from state to state and country
to country. Although the statutes have much in common, they can vary
significantly. For simplicity, this post will address the views held
by the majority of states. There’s no guarantee that your state
follows all, or any, of the rules that will be discussed—which is
why you should review your local laws before taking action. The
easiest way to read the statutes that apply to you is to visit the
website of your state legislature.
Self-Defense Laws: Definitions and Situations
“Deadly force” refers to force that’s intended, or known by the
person using it, to be capable of causing death or serious bodily
injury. “Nondeadly force” is the term for all other types of force.
While non deadly force is permitted in many self-defense
scenarios, deadly force is justified only in the most extreme
circumstances. Before resorting to any level of force, even
nondeadly force, certain circumstances must first exist. In general,
you must have the reasonable belief that force is immediately
necessary to prevent the other person from unlawfully causing you
physical harm. If someone hurls insults at you but shows no signs of
physical aggression, there is no legal justification for using
physical force against him.
You must have a reasonable belief that the other person’s conduct
is unlawful. If a police officer is performing a lawful arrest on
you, you typically have no right to self-defense. In general, you’re
not allowed to use force to resist an arrest by a peace officer,
even if the arrest is unlawful. However, some states—including
Texas, Tennessee and Arizona—permit the use of force in self-defense
if the officer uses more force than is necessary to make the arrest.
You must have a reasonable belief that the other person poses an
immediate physical threat. If he’s shouting threats at you but shows
no immediate intent to act on them, you’re not justified in using
force. On the other hand, most states hold that if he raises a
clenched fist as if to strike you or lunges violently toward you,
his actions represent an immediate physical threat.
You must reasonably believe that immediate action is necessary to
defend yourself against the threat. If a person threatens to take
violent actions at some point in the future but shows no signs of
immediate violence, there’s no justification for using force.
The amount of force used must be reasonable given your
understanding of the circumstances at the time it’s used. If the
aggressor shoves you while you’re in line at the ballpark, you’re
not justified in breaking his arm.
The right to use force in self-defense lasts only as long as the
threat lasts. If a person begins making threats of immediate
violence toward you but calms down and shows no further signs of
violence, you have no justification to use force.
Force may not be used in response to verbal provocations alone.
If a man in a bar asks you to step outside to resolve a dispute, you
can’t punch him in the face.
You’re generally not justified in using force against another
when you’re the one who did the provoking. You cannot dare someone
to hit you and then claim it as justification for self-defense.
If an attacker abandons the confrontation or clearly communicates
an intent to do so, your right to use force against him stops. If
someone sucker-punches you and then flees the scene, you can’t track
him down and pummel him. However, the right to use force stops only
when the conflict has ended. The attacker must have clearly
abandoned the confrontation. If he makes a “strategic retreat” to
gain a more advantageous position to continue his assault, he hasn’t
abandoned the confrontation, and you retain the right to use force
to protect yourself.
Self-Defense Laws: Deadly Force
Generally speaking, deadly force is justified in situations in
which you’re justified in using nondeadly force against another
person in self-defense and you reasonably believe that it’s
immediately necessary to prevent him from causing you death or
serious bodily injury.
Most states hold that you’re justified in using it to protect a
third person if, under the circumstances as you reasonably believe
them to be, you would have been legally justified in using deadly
force if you were that third person and you reasonably believe that
intervention is immediately necessary to protect him or her. For
example, if you believe you’re witnessing a murder, most states hold
that you’re justified in using deadly force against the attacker.
The use of deadly force in the protection of property is
prohibited in most states. However, it can be justified in some
circumstances when the theft of property is involved. For example,
if an armed robber threatens you with immediate death or serious
bodily injury, the use of deadly force is justified. On the other
hand, in a close call with a pickpocket who places you in no
reasonable fear of serious bodily injury or death, deadly force
Some states, such as Nebraska and Texas, allow the use of deadly
force to protect property from the immediate commission of certain
crimes such as burglary or robbery. However, even in such
situations, it’s justified only if the use of nondeadly force would
expose you or others to a substantial risk of death or injury.
Self-Defense Laws: Duty to Retreat
Many states have ruled that a person may use deadly force only in
situations in which there’s no opportunity to retreat beforehand.
Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maine, North
Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and
Pennsylvania are among them. This duty typically doesn’t require
retreat within your residence when you’ve been threatened with death
or serious bodily injury.
In states that don’t have an explicit statutory duty to retreat,
important issues may still arise concerning the opportunity to
retreat. This question often involves the factors that are
considered in determining the reasonableness of the belief that
deadly force was immediately necessary. If you could have easily
fled the scene of the attack rather than resorting to deadly force,
it becomes highly questionable whether such force was immediately
Self-Defense Laws: Common Sense
The most potent tool in your arsenal is common sense. An
oft-quoted maxim in martial arts schools is, The best block of all
is to not be there. The same wisdom holds true in the legal arena.
The legal justifications discussed in this article come into play
only after an altercation has begun. By avoiding risky situations,
you minimize the likelihood that violent force will be necessary. If
nothing happens, no explanation—and no defense attorney—will be
Prevention: First Lines of
Be like a creature of the
forest. Keenly observant.
Senses amplified. Attuned to your
environs. Here's why: two seconds of
early detection could be enough time
to avoid a "hit" and live to tell
the story. Not bad!
To reduce the element of
surprise, ditch tunnel vision and
Soften your gaze and use your eyes
like a wide angle lens. This can
help eliminate blind spots--common
angles of attack--and allows you to
become an early motion detector.
Walk like you own the
turf. Put your weight down.
Let your upper body and torso ride
naturally atop the powerful carriage
of your hips and legs. (No tipping
forward or schlepping!) Stay
aligned, on balance.
Give peace a chance!
If faced with a fuming, but not yet
violent individual, use verbal
skills to de-escalate, defuse, lower
his aggressive arousal. (Use
language." I can see how upset you
are.... I hear you.") Give an
"honorable exit" but don't get soft.
Talk and empathy are NOT always
saving graces. Maintain distance
while calmly moving yourself off his
line of attack.
Act fast! The first few
seconds of an
assault or first sign of
imminent danger is your best time to
break away. The longer a
person has control over you, the
more difficult it becomes to
allow a criminal to move you to a
second location (not even
from the street to the backside of a
locations are always more dangerous.
At a second more isolated location,
criminals will have more control
over you. Go ballistic but do not
RULE! Don't allow
yourself to be tied up. If
you see rope, duct tape or cordage
coming at you, it's time to "go
off!" Fight like a bitch! Attack the
face, eyes. Morph your legs into
battering rams. Go Karate Crazy to
Set boundaries (using
verbal, spatial, distance
controlling skills) to ward off
space invaders, intrusion and
would-be predators. If a person
encroaches or makes you
uncomfortable promptly establish
borders to create space and
OWN your space. Use strong (but not
hostile) body posture—take a sturdy
stance with hands up and palms out
as if to say "Stop." Use firm
unambiguous (not nebbishy) language:
"Leave me alone. No thanks, I'm
Back off." This isn't
one-size-fits-all, so adjust volume/
intensity / attitude as needed. This
could be a "test" (Is she an
easy or hard target? Can I get THIS
close, touch or speak to her like
this...? ) so be sure your
words and body-language are
congruent. Add gravity:
shift your center down into
the basement of your being. Master
Don't fight over money,
jewelry, your Gucci bag.
This is self defense not
"stuff defense." In a simple street
robbery, throw the dog a bone—then
blast. Reserve your savagery for
when your life is at stake.
Use your voice as a
weapon to repel, dissuade and to
attract attention. Many
women have successfully foiled
attacks by using their voice. (Me
too. What... you didn't hear me?)
Yell, like you're waking the dead!
Be willing to make a
commotion. Throw rocks
though a window. Pull a fire alarm.
(While you're there, grab the fire
extinguisher. They make fabulous
approached, watch the hands—not the
eyes. Eyeballs are never
going to physically attack you.
Hands and whatever they contain
might. When driving, remain
alert. If suspicious
persons approach your vehicle and
you cannot see their hands, hit
As a general rule, don't
stick your face where it doesn't
feel forced into conversations not
of your choosing—especially on the
street. It's fine to nod,
acknowledge people, and walk on.
Walk Away. If you see
trouble coming - be it familial or
from a stranger- and you can remove
yourself, do it. There's no
shame in that. Don't merely hope or
wait for a person to change their
behavior. Self defense means taking
control and acting on your own
behalf sooner than later.
A moving target is harder
to hit! If approached by a
gunman and you can easily escape,
Distance is your best defense! When
driving, try to maintain enough room
between your vehicle and the one in
front to make a quick getaway. In
just three seconds at 20 mph a car
travels 90 feet—effectively out of
range of most shooters.
Trapped with an
aggressive date or client with no
easy way out? Take control.
Lie. Manipulate. Redirect the mind
of the man. Hey, Tiger, let's go
out back. Have a smooch on the
porch. But be prepared to go
animal and deliver a good blow!
In confrontations, mind
your words. Don't resort to
dissing. Here's the deal:
If you humiliate or back a dude into
a corner, he's more likely to go on
the attack. Swallow some pride—even
if he's a jerk. This is about saving
your butt, not your face. Got it?
Stun-n-run: If grabbed
but not immobilized, get cracking
and bust free. For example:
crack the side of his head or ear
with your thwacking hand or loaded
purse; bust your wrist or arm free
with a whipping circular 'round the
world' move. Holler! Kick the
nearest knee or lower leg.
Caution: stun-and-runs are
best used when help is nearby such
as public parking lots. Not if
you're isolated or fighting off a
NEVER RELY ON JUST ONE MOVE!
Use barrier methods to
create distance from troublemakers.
Get your Butt onto the other side of
big items: cars, buildings, desks,
walls. Raise hell and draw
attention. Point and shout:
You....call the cops!
Honor gut feelings; stay
in touch with your fear!
Whether you hear fear's signal as a
quiet voice in your head or as
alarming sensations... obey! Real
fear is an agent of survival. Its
prime directive is to keep you
alive. Honoring fear and intuitive
hunches—whether with strangers or
intimates—could save your life.
When the Only Way Out is
& Bring It with a BANG!
Here are some key fight-back
concepts from stand-up
(Fighting concepts from the
ground will be added soon!)
REMEMBER: FIGHTING BACK IS A
LAST RESORT when nothing else
will do. Your goal is to safely
escape. That said, a pumped up
aggressor can withstand A LOT of
punishment, so get your mojo in
gear and be prepared to do what
it takes to breakaway.
First, burn this
nugget into hide and heart : You
weapon, the delivery system.
Everything else is a tool, a
force multiplier. Understand
this completely: It comes down
And this: willpower
and emotional commitment count!
You cannot be half-hearted or
squeamish. If you fight back/
counterattack, it is a microcosm
of WAR. Decide in advance: what
is worth fighting for? What is
non-negotiable? Have THAT
Keep it simple. Stick
to gross motor skills!
Under the adrenaline stress of
"combat" it's unlikely you'll be
able to perform complex or fine
motor skills. Primary strategy:
wield your strongest weapons—
elbows and knees, legs and feet,
hands (open hand, palm, fist,
hammer fist, knuckles), teeth,
hips and head (which you can
also strike with) against his
weakest most vulnerable targets,
such as: eyes, throat, nose;
ears and neck; groin (testicles)
and lower abdomen; knees and
shins. Use low kicks to deliver
high pain to knees and shin
Be direct, explosive,
and follow through.
Don't just give a
smack. Penetrate! Blast
through your target. HARD. FAST.
REPEATEDLY. Wield your weapons
with the savage intent of a
prehistoric human:SMASH the face
with your elbow. Crack the ears.
Use your hips to drive
gut-busting knee strikes. Kick
back like a MULE. Grind with
your knuckles. Grab fist fulls
of hair and slam down! Hammer
the nose, the testicles. Bite.
Stomp. Whip your fingers at the
eyes. When running for the exit,
burst into action; burst
through your attacker. Take
charge! You get the idea.
Don't waste time
punching He-Man's chest.
(Why do you think Tarzan pounds
his chest and not his gonads or
Do it with your hips!
Power your moves from your hips,
center of mass, and snappy
rotations of the waist. In other
words from your body's CORE, not
your body part.
Get your war cry on.
Shout it out! Yelling
adds as much 33 percent more
power to blows and throws. It
rallies the fighting spirit,
unfreezes the breath, and
sharpens the focus. It also
provides a way to channel the
raw power of emotions.
It's raining blows,
so get inside—his strike
zone I mean. This
may be counterintuitive but in
close-range or oncoming attacks
instead of backing up, which
puts you in his strike zone,
BURST IN! Getting in tight
takes you out of range of
oncoming punches or kicks. Once
inside (en route, really) go
DIRECTLY to your target—face,
eyes, throat, groin, lower
abdomen, thin-skinned lower
shin—and blast away to
opportunity and the element of
against women are up close and
personal-so take full advantage.
In a standing pin, initially you
might not even resist. But once
his hands latch onto your body,
ATTACK without warning. Example:
while he's preoccupied at your
chest, fire off sudden,
blows to his ears. Unless this
is disabling, immediately follow
with smashing knee strikes, or
by HAMMERING the face, throat or
eyes, or by pulverizing the
family jewels. Keep the
initiative. Your goal is to
drive him back in order to open
distance and safely flee (Or
possibly deploy a weapon.) NEVER
expect Mr. Offender to plop at
your feet from one good blow.
But if he does, you
Spring it to bring
it! If engulfed in
tight quarters, don't struggle
against a man's superior body
strength. Instead, compress
down, spring-loading like a
jack-in-the box. (This shrinking
violet behavior should appear
submissive, potentially lowering
his aggressive arousal.) Gather
yourself. Then release with
sudden force into your target,
driving from the thighs while
expelling your most shocking
warrior shout. Follow up as
Stand by your man and
let rip. Take a lesson
from our primate kin: A small
monkey can latch onto a man's
head and shred his face in
seconds. Not pretty, but in a
DEADLY encounter, you may have
to do same. If so, get in tight,
like a boxer's clinch. Grab the
head with one hand, hang onto
it, and attack his face
with the other. Gouge the eyes.
Bite into lips, cheek, nose,
ears, throat. Repugnant, yes,
but it may be your only way out.
Set your dial to "savage" and
let rip. Monkey see, monkey
If trapped with an
attacker, never just wait or
giant opening to make your move.
Be prepared to seize
slivers of opportunity and to
create openings. Wield all your
tools of trickery and cunning.
It's all about seconds: the
second he fumbles with your
clothing, lays down a weapon,
gets himself "ready," it may be
Go Time. Seize the vaguard of
pot cover worn on the hand will
add zing to any palm strike.
Junk on the street?
Handy desk items? Piping hot
A book can be thrust into the
face or throat; the bottom
of a chair can be wielded,
lion-tamer fashion to drive an
Use the environment:
Are there countertops,
stairwells, hard surfaces to
shove a person into? Be
aggressive. Manhandle! Drop your
center of gravity, widen your
base, slink down into your hips
and throw him away.
Attack the hands.
Busting the hand(s)—with
a stick-like weapon or by
slamming something on it—can
disable your attacker's primary
Overcome the fear of
injury. Always assess
your situation, of course, but
do not allow yourself to be held
hostage by this fear. Remember:
adrenaline is a wonder drug. It
addition to supercharging the
body it helps staves off pain.
Never give up hope or
let futility set in. Futility is
an enemy of survival; it's
enables paralysis. Even
in a worst case scenario, an
assailant or criminal may let
his guard down
(especially when he thinks he's
already won), presenting lucky
breaks and opportunities to make
your move and get away. Focus.
Collect yourself. Stay on the
Be creative. Be a
creature. Own your world.