As Yoda Said “You Must Have Control” – Consequences of excessive force

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We have the right to defend ourselves. We should not have to endure physical abuse. But, how we defend ourselves matters. The news is filled with stories of attacks and defense. Homeowners shooting intruders and police using excessive force. The amount of force that should be used in defense is very subjective. All the police or courts can do is Monday morning quarterback what should have happened in any particular situation and they may not have a complete understanding of the situation. This is not a discussion on whether or not there is police brutality or if a homeowner has the right to shoot an intruder. This article is a discussion of the consequences of using force.

A Theodore Roosevelt quote explains my defense strategy concisely. “Don’t hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit softly.” He goes as far to say, “The unforgivable crime is soft hitting.” To me that means that the best defense is to avoid trouble if possible without compromising your principals. So, if you are in a bar and trouble is brewing, you leave. However, if your girlfriend is in the bathroom and you sense trouble, you just don’t just leave her at the bar to face the trouble by herself. If you have responsibility for other people and there is trouble, you may not be able to honorably avoid it. You need to face it and defend yourself, your loved ones and/or those you have responsibility for.

If there is no way for you to honorably avoid a physical altercation, then you need to defend yourself. Defending yourself includes giving someone your wallet and watch. Material items can be replaced. Even though when you are standing in line at the Dept. of Motor Vehicles to get a replacement driver’s license wishing you had fought back, giving your wallet to a weapon wielding attacker can be a prudent strategy. Life and death situations are different. This is where “never hit softly” applies. Whether it is bullying or a brutal attack, one person is trying to project dominance over another person and if as the victim you defend yourself by hitting softly, you are more likely to get a more violent response from the attacker. That is why in a situation of certain physical harm, you need to hit hard.

A friend of mine was the manager of a bar and he had to face life threatening danger. He had to defend himself from several knife attacks and one gun threat. These were not robbery attempts. These were attempts to seriously injure him. In response he did not hit softly. I’ll use one of the knife attacks as an example. My friend has experience in several martial arts styles, one of which is Aikido. My friend was able to disarm and detain his attacker, breaking the attacker’s wrist in the process. Even though there was camera footage detailing the incident and my friend was the victim of attack, he still had to justify his actions to the police. In the end he was not charged with anything but he had to defend himself twice, once against his attacker and once justifying his actions.

You need to keep this in mind when you are defending yourself. Will you be able to defend yourself the second time? In other words will you be able to justify your actions to the police?

To address different attacker types, I teach different moves for different situations:
– Moves for containing a threat
– Moves for disabling a threat.

I let the students know which is which and tell them whether the move is to use on your drunk uncle at your brother’s wedding or a move to use when you are in danger of serious injury.

Pain is an attention getter. That’s it. It does not remove the attacker’s ability to strike back. A basic thumb lock that is taught in seminars for the flash value is great for containing your drunk uncle Joe. The pain is a shock to the system and for a person who doesn’t really want to hurt anyone, it will take the wind out of his sails. On the other hand, if an attacker is actually looking to hurt you, using a move like that will only make the attacker mad which may make them want to hurt you more. Also, since thumb locks do little or no damage, the attacker retains the ability to harm you after you employ the move.

We see a lot of groin strikes in defense classes. These will work most of the time but an attacker who is on drugs or is psychotic may not be phased by a strike to the groin. You need to consider that when you are faced with attackers that mean you harm and determine the level of force needed to keep yourself safe. So when is it ok to break a knee rather than kick a groin? There is no easy answer. Every situation is different and different law enforcement agencies look on these situations differently. The lesson is to keep control over yourself and employ the amount of force needed to keep you and those you are responsible for safe. Going back to my friend who defended himself against the knife attack, if he stabbed his attacker (even with his attacker’s knife) there is a good chance he would have been charged with a crime. He broke the attacker’s wrist but he kept control of himself and even though the force was extreme, it was not excessive. He used enough force to protect himself and his customers but controlled himself and did not employ further force.

There are no easy choices when defending yourself. Every situation is different and laws differ in different jurisdictions so I can’t even offer guidelines. When you are presented with a situation that can turn confrontational:
– Avoid trouble when you can.
– Stay in control of yourself at all times.
– Defend yourself and those you are responsible for when needed.
– Be ready to defend your actions afterward.

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