False Choices – Leigh Simms

Why you need to know the law to teach Self-Defence.

What is Self-Defence? Interesting question and I guess there are many answers. If you pick up a self-defence book from the 1980s you are likely to find a number of martial art techniques performed in street clothes.  

It is now 2015 and I like to think that we are finally past the above concept. Self-Defence is much more about the non-physical aspects of a confronation and one of the categories included in the non-physical aspect is the law.  

Although sometimes coined as the “second enemy”, as it comes after the confrontation, I like to view the law as an entirely neutral entity. For those who know how to use the law, it becomes a useful tool in ones repertoire.  Sadly, for those who don’t know how to use it, the law can become a weapon against you.

If you are teaching self-defence but not covering the law, then I would strongly question how you base the effectiveness of your fighting techniques. Surely, if you are teaching fighting techniques that go against the legal principles in your jurisdiction, you cannot be teaching effective self-defence!

For example, if you teach a technique that uses excessive force as a legitimate self-defence technique, then you are potentially setting your student up to be arrested and charged with a criminal offence.

Sadly, there are martial art classes that teach these kind of techniques as legitimate self-defence techniques. Let me provide an example using UK Law.

Under UK Law we have law with regard to the amount of force that can be used. In our fictisious martial art class here in England, the teacher is showing a technique where an aggressors push is deflected and the defender elbows the aggressor in the jaw, followed by a snap kick to the knee, another elbow to the jaw, and neck crank to take the aggressor down to the ground, once on the ground the defender proceeds to stomp on the aggressors head until he is unconscious. At that point the defender then proceeds to stomp on the chest of the aggressor until his ribs are broken. The defender then mounts the aggressor and snaps his neck.

Now, I know I am being over-the-top but I want to make the point that the technique in the above paragraph clearly amounts to excessive force! Therefore the defender is not acting in self-defence for most of the technique.

How can that be taught as a legitimate self-defence technique if the legal defence of self-defence would not be available to the defender?

It is my view that it cannot. Whilst my example was rather obvious, there are many martial art clubs that train there students in techniques that do not comply with the legal system of that jurisdiction.

When I question this, I often hear it said that it is better to be tried by twelve than carried by six. I should note that is usually those who are a capable martial artists but have no knowledge of the legal system that make this claim. The proponents of this view are offering a false choice as well as incorrect choices.  

Firstly they are equating your two choices in a self-protection conflict as being: on trial for serious assault or failing to defend yourself therefore you’re dead!

When I have brought this up to the proponents, some of them tell me the phrase is more metaphorical and it represents how it is best to win the fight and worry about the law rather than worry about the law and thus loose the fight and suffer severe injury. Here is where I feel the false choice is given. Proponents of this view do not give the third, and in my view best, option: – it is entirely plausible and possible to defend yourself both physically and legally without worry of being carried by six or tried by twelve.

Also, whilst the physical consequences of a violent confrontation are not to be downplayed, the consequences of loosing the legal battle can sometimes be a whole lot worse.

Think about it for a moment, imagine you defending yourself but your lack of knowledge of the legal concept means you did not act in self-defence or were unable to articulate that you acted in self-defence and this ends up with you being convicted of an assault against a person.

This could result in prison time, loss of your job (including the difficulty of finding a new job once released), not to mention the financial, family and relationship issues that are likely to occur.

In todays information age, I see no excuse for martial art instructors who claim to teach “self-defence” not to actually teach the legal aspect. There is so much information at our fingertips and just as we wish to provide the right physical training to our students; we also need to be provide the right legal knowledge to our students so that they have the ability to avoid the consequences of the law.

Once a clear understanding of the law is combined with effective fighting techniques, we can produce students who have the ability to defend themselves physically and legally.


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