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Leigh Simms
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The 3 preconditions required for effective self-defence techniques

The 3 Preconditions Required for Effective Self-Defence Techniques

Some Martial Arts record physical self-defence techniques in forms (kata, poomsae, taolu) which can then be extracted and drilled against a training partner. Other Martial Arts go straight to the partner drills.  Regardless of the process, this blogpost will be provide a useful framework for you to place you physical self-defence techniques within. The purpose of a physical self-defence technique is to ensure the defender can adequately protect themselves when confronted by an enemy/enemies. This usually means using physical force to harm the enemy, which in turn aids escape. There are going to be occasions where escape is not an immediate option and restraining techniques will be required, but for civilian self-protection this is not a common occurrence. Before I move forward to discuss the three preconditions, I want to discuss what it means for something to be effective? For the purposes of this article, I will use the following definition: -

Effective: successful in producing a desired or intended result.

Therefore, effective Self-Defence Techniques, for the purposes of this article, will mean: - a physical fighting technique that successfully harms the enemy enough to ensure the defender can escape. Let's move on to discuss the three preconditions...

1. Practical

The first and probably most obvious condition a technique needs to be effective. The technique performed needs to have a realistic prospect of working given the circumstances. The key word in the above sentence is "circumstances". Let's start to look at some examples to explain what a practical self-defence technique is. 

An armbar from the ground is a highly practical technique for BJJ or Judo. But when it comes to the circumstances of self-defence its value is significantly reduced. When confronted by non-consensual violence, purposely putting the enemy in a ground armbar is a bad tactic and should never be the aim. Firstly, breaking the enemy's arm does not necessarily mean the enemy will give up and go home. Secondly, being on the ground immediately makes you highly vulnerable to third party attackers. This may be the enemy's friends or unconnected persons joining in the fight for various reasons. The circumstances of the environment can assist in determining the practicality of a technique but there are other circumstances to be taken into consideration.

The defender and the enemy's characteristics will also define the practicality of a technique. If the enemy severely outweighs you then certain throwing techniques will be inadequate given the circumstance. Whilst, there is nothing wrong with a throwing technique in a self-defence situation, sometimes the technique will not be practical due to the characteristics of the persons involved. 

A grab to the testicles is not going to do much good against a female enemy. A hair grab against a bald person will also be redundant. These two examples exemplify how certain techniques, which can be practical against some enemies, will not work against certain enemies. That is not to say they cannot be adapted, they can, and that is one of the core aspects of having a practical technique. As the circumstances of the environment and the persons involved will always vary, a highly practical self-defence technique will be one that can easily be adapted to cover as many different variables as possible. 

I am not saying that any of the techniques above are not practical. From the armbar to the hairgrab, all can be practical but it depends on the circumstances of the situation. In order to ensure the techniques you are practicing are practical we need to establish the parameters the technique is being practiced within.  

In summary, establish the circumstances in which a technique is practical and drill the technique within those circumstances.

But being practical is not enough. In order to truly be effective we need to ensure the defender remains safe from harm and that does not exclusive to the harm which comes from the enemy.

2. Legal

There is always at least two enemies when it comes down to physical self-defence. Firstly, the enemy in front of your at the time of the attack. Secondly, after the event, you may need to deal with the legal consequences of your actions.

Protecting yourself from physical harm only to end up in prison for a number of years may be a worse decision in the long run. Occasionally you can take a beating and recover with little or no long term consequences, but the effects of being convicted can last a life time. Please note that I am not advocating being afraid of the law or that the law is against people defending themselves. I am just illustrating the point that being on the wrong side of the law is not somewhere we should aim to be. 

Stomping on the head of the enemy once they are on the ground is practical. It is going to work, and it will do so with high effectiveness. The enemy won't be getting up to continue to attack you any time soon. It may even be a technique that is historically recorded in your arts forms. But it is not an effective technique if the legal jurisdiction you are in would determine the technique as illegal.

For a more extreme example, shooting someone with a handgun is highly practical but is almost always illegal if the enemy is empty handed.

The concept of self-defence weapons is a grey area across the martial art world. In the UK they are illegal. Carrying and using so called "self-defence weapons" (such as the Kubotan) can get you into legal trouble.

I recommend that everyone researches the laws of your particular jurisdiction to ensure the techniques which you are practicing can be legally justified. For those from the UK who are interested in understanding the Law, you can obtain a copy of my book entitled: - UK Self-Defence Law from my website.

But being practical and legal is not enough. There is a one more precondition that needs to be addressed.

3. Ethical

The questions of what is a practical technique and what is a legal technique, both have objective answers. Within the confines or a set of circumstances and legal system, the question of whether something is both practical and legal can be determined and it will remain the same as long as the circumstances remain the same.

 

What will change is whether or not the the defender thinks what they are doing is ethical.  When it comes to self-defence, ethics is a subjective concept. What I think is right to do in a situation may be different to what my instructors think, my students think or my training partners think.  Take the following as an example: -

You (being an adult over the age of 18) are being attacked by a 13 year old girl with an edged weapon. You have tried to restrain her but she has cut you numerous times and has managed to create some space before relaunching her attack. You have no means of escape and you have a choice, do you now try to restrain her again or do you decide to use percussive impact?

There is little doubt that punching the girl has a higher chance of being practical than the restraining her and for arguments sake lets say that legally speaking it would be justified, but would you be willing to go ahead and punch the girl?

We can change the variables here and this time you have a edged weapon as well. Would you be willing to use it if the situation dictated that striking was unavailable.  What if she had a firearm instead of an edged weapon? What if you both had firearms?  Luckily for most of us, these hypothetical questions do not enter our existence and the further the extremity of the example, the rarer the chance of it occurring. 

But not all ethical questions are thought experiments. The use of pre-emptive strikes are a very real world example that comes up in common non-consensual violent situations. 

Personally, I think that pre-emptive strikes can be ethical depending upon the circumstances. Under certain circumstances, pre-emptive strikes are also both practical and legal. Therefore, I train pre-emptive strikes as a part of my self-defence training. However, I know people who do not think that pre-emptive strikes are ever ethical, therefore I know they will not use these techniques should an enemy become intent on causing them harm. Whilst there is nothing wrong with pre-emptive strikes from a practical or legal perspective, the techniques are not effective because the defender will not use them in a real situation. 

If you don't think it is right or just to bite someone or to gouge their eyes, or if you are a male and believe you should never hit a woman then it doesn't matter how practical or legal the techniques are! They are not effective because they will not help you to successfully achieve the outcome of staying safe from serious harm.

Before ending, a word of caution. We do not live in an ideal world and the world of non-consensual violence is unpredictable, chaotic and dangerous. Sometimes we may have to compromise our own morals to remain safe, sometimes we may need to go beyond the law to remain physically safe, sometimes we may need to risk our health in order to remain "moral". All these scenarios come with consequences (physical, psychological, legal, social etc..).

The only way to reduce the chances of being injured, ending up on the wrong side of the law or dealing with emotional trauma is to practice self-defence techniques within the framework of what is objectively practical in the given circumstance, legal within your jurisdiction and ethical for you personally. 

Until next time...

Leigh Simms

Les Bubka
Les Bubka's picture

Hi Leigh

Very good article, I think many instructors are not aware what is the Law in UK.

I was one of them till I started to read stuff on this forum :) 

I will share it though our fb page tomorrow :)

Kind regards 

Les

Tau
Tau's picture

Ethics is an interesting one. We've touched upon the scenario of if your attacker is a woman. This can expanded upon to if they're much younger / much older than you etc. There's an argument that this is part of my professional role, ie what if my attacker is my patient? What other physiological factors may be present? As a child I was taught that it was wrong to hit a person wearing glasses (!) but this kind of conditioning may spill over into adulthood and perceptions of ethics, especially with a logjam of information where a situation is happening.

Marc
Marc's picture

Hi Leigh,

good article. Those are the three most important points.

I would perhaps add:

4. Intuitive. What I mean by that is that ideally the technique would build on natural reflexes or reactions, like a flinch response. Also (after an appropriate amount of training) the technique should fit the way the individual person "does" their defense. If we teach an effective technique but the person training it realises in the end that "this is just not what I would do", then we should accept that and maybe offer a more fitting alternative.

5. Strategy. The technique should work within an overall strategy. Simple examples would be "enter, do damage, escape" or "get to the outside, hit the head, escape". Of course, strategies could be more sophisticated than that. The idea behind a general strategy would be that we can not train all techniques for all possible situations, but if we have a strategy then we might intutively come up with techniques that will follow that strategy and get us out alive.

Leigh Simms wrote:

I recommend that everyone researches the laws of your particular jurisdiction to ensure the techniques which you are practicing can be legally justified. For those from the UK who are interested in understanding the Law, you can obtain a copy of my book entitled: - UK Self-Defence Law from my website.

For German self-defense law I recommend: Fabien Cathagne, Notwehrrecht in der Praxis - Handbuch für Kampfkünstler, ISBN 978-1484168301

All the best

Marc

Leigh Simms
Leigh Simms's picture

Hi Marc,

I like numbers 4 and 5. I actually use number 4 when analysing how "practical" a technique is. So it is in there, just in a different place than where you put it :)

Marc
Marc's picture

Leigh Simms wrote:

I actually use number 4 when analysing how "practical" a technique is. So it is in there, just in a different place than where you put it :)

I see, that makes perfect sense.

Paul_L
Paul_L's picture

Good article. This is a topic that comes up in training from time to time. Our sensai will take us through what would be proportional and what is justifiable and what is not.

Even in training chaos can ensue and in a real situation you can only do what you can at the time. Having as much understanding of the cause and effect of an action as possible will certainly help with your justification of perhaps a result that was more injurious than you aimed for, assuming that there was no intention to go too far.

Leigh Simms
Leigh Simms's picture

I think that's a good point note. "you can only do what you can do at that time".

I have seen some people use that quote to say learning the law is irrelevant as "you can only do what you can do at that time".

That clearly is not the case because most of us act in a way in which we deem to be within the law. Even those who think it is irrelevant and that you don't have time to worry about it when a "real fight" kicks off.

Case in point, I have asked people who have used this line of thought, if they carry a firearm when out in public. So far everyone who has replied has said that they don't. When questioned why, they say it is because it is against the law. in their Country. Now, if they truly believed that the law was irrelevant, they would have no reason not to carry a firearm.  What I am assuming is going on here, is that those who think the Law is a non-factor in Self-Defence training are either a) ignorant to what the law actually is and/or b) in disagreement with what the law allows. 

Luckily, in the UK, we have self-defence laws which do not prohibit pro-active self-protection (ie pre-emptive strikes, no duty to retreat etc..) but are still able to punish those who chose to go above and beyond what is required to remain safe (ie commiting revenge attacks after the event, purposefully harming a defenseless attacker etc...)

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Leigh Simms wrote:
I have seen some people use that quote to say learning the law is irrelevant as "you can only do what you can do at that time".

Me too … and ignoring the law is not a good idea. It is fair enough to say you should not be thinking about the law during a violent event, but in doing so we are largely missing the point. The time to think about the law is when constructing a training program. The conditioned reflexes need to be both effective AND lawful. There is a false notion that the two are contradictory i.e. you can’t adequately defend yourself within the law. Can’t speak for the law all over the world, but here in the UK that’s certainly not the case. The smart things to do tactically are fully in line with the law of the land.

As Rory Miller has stated (when discussing US law), the much-used phrase, “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six” presents a false choice. You don’t have to choose between death and imprisonment. Legitimate self-defence is legal. However, by ignoring the law we are giving a space for misinformation, misunderstanding and confusion to enter (all too common). This results in an unnecessary fear of legal consequences, which results in hesitation, which results in ineffective action.

We should learn the law and train in accordance with it, and in that way we can legitimately “forget” about it in the moment and act confidently, effectively and lawfully.

All the best,

Iain

Anf
Anf's picture

One of the staples in karate and other striking styles is the simple punch to the face. Yet we know from tragic events that occasionally pop up in the news that sometimes, a single punch results in instant death. That creates a problem in self defence. If we know that a punch might kill, then 1. We must try not to be on the receiving end of one and 2. We can not stand up in court after the event and say we had no idea that our preemptive defence might result in a fatality. That creates an obvious problem. But surely another problem is what is typically (not exclusively) taught as self defence. In my limited experience, martial arts classes are often marketed as self defence among other things. Yet offer absolutely nothing in terms of avoiding a confrontation, diffusing one or anything else prior to the first physical exchange. Example. I once listened in disbelief to some of the answers volunteered when our instructor asked what to do if someone at arms length away, suddenly starts waving a knife. Most of the suggestions were along the lines of stepping in and taking the knife then breaking the wrist or arm. I'm stood there thinking, I'd leg it.

Leigh Simms
Leigh Simms's picture

Anf wrote:
One of the staples in karate and other striking styles is the simple punch to the face. Yet we know from tragic events that occasionally pop up in the news that sometimes, a single punch results in instant death. That creates a problem in self defence. If we know that a punch might kill, then 1. We must try not to be on the receiving end of one and 2. We can not stand up in court after the event and say we had no idea that our preemptive defence might result in a fatality. That creates an obvious problem. But surely another problem is what is typically (not exclusively) taught as self defence. In my limited experience, martial arts classes are often marketed as self defence among other things. Yet offer absolutely nothing in terms of avoiding a confrontation, diffusing one or anything else prior to the first physical exchange. Example. I once listened in disbelief to some of the answers volunteered when our instructor asked what to do if someone at arms length away, suddenly starts waving a knife. Most of the suggestions were along the lines of stepping in and taking the knife then breaking the wrist or arm. I'm stood there thinking, I'd leg it.

Hi Anf,

Just to pick up the two core points you've made. Firstly, my biggest bugbear is clubs which claim to teach Self-Defence yet don't even touch the subject of the law and the soft-skills of threat awareness, assessment, and avoidance. 

Secondly, you wrote :- " We can not stand up in court after the event and say we had no idea that our preemptive defence might result in a fatality." Whilst, what you say is technically true, it is also true that a pre-emptive push could result the enemy falling over, then cracking their skull on the pavement and thus dying from their injury. It does not follow that, because our actions could result in a fatality, that our actions are prima facie excessive. The case name in the UK is escaping me at the moment (I think it was Rashford) where it was noted that even if lethal force is used, it does not automatically revoke the defence of Self-Defence.

Mark B
Mark B's picture

Tau makes a great point, one I mention frequently and that is the effect of years of social conditioning.

He's absolutely correct in this. 

Hitting first, spitting, pulling hair. All things people are taught not to do from a young age.

For individuals who do not have any actual experience,  particularly those who teach, these things can seriously inhibit necessary actions.

Knowledge of the law is essential.

However, I do not need to be able to quote precedent,  or know the minute details. 

In the same way you can create a delay by having too many techniques to choose from so can we also create a costly delay by being too immersed in the whys, wheres and what fors of the legal position.

I  have also stated many times over the years that people, especially those who teach, who lack actual experience sometimes struggle to perceive the absolute deficit of interest an attacker will have in the social niceties, ie they don't give a damn about the very issues you will most likely be wrestling with.

What effect does this have in practical terms?

Whilst you are thinking they are doing!!

For my teaching in regards to stripped down self defence I keep the theory as I keep the practical, which is simple.

If necessary hit first. Do not allow yourself to be shackled by social conditioning. In the split second following impact decisions are made. Can you escape, if so, get out of there, are further strikes necessary , if so apply. DO NOT start to enjoy it, whereby you take yourself away from acceptable action in self defenceinto the violent aggressor. 

For those who have been involved in actual altercations you'll know that you can tell - enough is enough!

Consider a scenario - you are in abusy shopping centre. Lots of people but at that moment no security presence.  An aggressive individual begins an altercation with you. Verbally at first. Very loud.

Lots of people are looking, watching.

Escaping is not an option in this scenario. Maybe you have kids with you etc.

It has now become obvious the aggressor WILL at any moment initiate a physical assault.

Lots of people are watching....

In that scenario will YOUR social conditioning prevent you from responding. Will the fact that perhaps your kids are there shackle your response.

Will you actually forget your response mechanism due to an overload of fear, embarrassment,  legal confusion....

Lots of people are watching.....

Ask yourself HONESTLY this question.

I do, all the time. That's why I always have the answer prepared and ready....

Regards.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Mark B wrote:
Hitting first, spitting, pulling hair. All things people are taught not to do from a young age.

In my case, I was taught to do those things by the men in my family; especially if the person was larger than me. However, I was also taught to behave myself and not fight unless necessary. I’ve never had that conditioning to undo.

The point about social conditioning holds true though, and I can see it in others, but that can be undone by training. The instructor can give the required “permission” … and that’s a very important part of our role. We can help people learn they are powerful, able and ferocious; and that is not contrary to being a good person. We don’t have to choose between being wolves or sheep, we can be sheepdogs:

https://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/article/sheep-sheepdogs-wolves

Mark B wrote:
Knowledge of the law is essential.

However, I do not need to be able to quote precedent, or know the minute details.

In the same way you can create a delay by having too many techniques to choose from so can we also create a costly delay by being too immersed in the whys, wheres and what fors of the legal position.

I agree that we should not be considering the law when we need to act, but a complete working knowledge of the law is key when it comes to constructing training programs. It’s also needed to stop hesitation.

The aim is to produce training programs that encourage effective actions that are in accordance with the law. The student therefore does not need to think about the law at the time, because they have been conditioned to act in accordance with the law. This will actually prevent delay because they are not hesitating over misplaced legal concerns or misunderstandings about how the law works.

In short, we thoroughly learn the law, we train in accordance with the law, so that when the time comes we don’t have to give it a second thought. Those who have not done so may well hesitate out of doubt and a misplaced fear of legal ramifications.

If a student asks, “what if I hit them too hard and get prosecuted because the force was not reasonable?”, the most effective answer is to take them through the law that defines “reasonable force” so they know they are asking the wrong kind of question (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/4/section/76). They then stop worrying about such things.

We have a society and media that inaccurately portrays the law as being “on the side of the criminal”. We also have widespread misunderstandings about what the law actually demands (i.e. “reasonable force” is not what most people think it is). We see this almost every time martial artists discuss the law (check out my Facebook page for loads of examples of people strongly asserting untruths as fact).

We need to correct these misunderstandings in our students so they don’t fear the law. That does require a fairly detailed understanding I find. Being able to quote “chapter and verse” and letting them see it in black and white for themselves reassures them that the actions we recommend and train for are both effective and lawful. So, no need to hesitate or doubt.

I would say that we do need to know the law in good detail. There’s not that much of it really and there are plenty of good resources. This single webpage would give enough info: http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/s_to_u/self_defence/ Leigh’s short book is also great at putting it all in to context and making it all the more accessible: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Self-Defence-Law-Practical-Understanding-Defending-ebook/dp/B00V44TZ2U

The law does not demand action that is a perfect fit to the situation as it retroactively can be seen to be after the event. Education about this can remove all doubt about the “whys, wheres and what fors”. Just act knowing that the law is with you, as opposed to having any doubt about the legal position.

Mark B wrote:
I have also stated many times over the years that people, especially those who teach, who lack actual experience sometimes struggle to perceive the absolute deficit of interest an attacker will have in the social niceties, i.e. they don't give a damn about the very issues you will most likely be wrestling with.

By definition a criminal does not care about stepping outside the law. Good people are unlikely to be able to join them in that lack of concern. They don’t want to be criminals themselves so saying, “ignore the law just like criminals do” is unlikely to get us far. It’s also not needed.

As I see it, the answer to the problem is to make sure that the good people we teach know that by taking necessary physical action they are fully within the law. They have nothing to worry about. There is therefore no hesitation on their part.

Doubt is the issue and misinformation is widespread. We need to remove that through education and practise. Leaving the question unexplored or asking students to ignore the law is less effective in reducing hesitation than thoroughly unpacking the issue so the student can truly forget about it in the moment in the knowledge their actions are totally legal.

Mark B wrote:
Will you actually forget your response mechanism due to an overload of fear, embarrassment,  legal confusion....

Training should address all of those elements. When it comes to “legal confusion” I think we remove that by having toughly addressed it in training and applying it do different scenarios and drills. Legality becomes an innate part of the conditioned action. The time for action is not the time for legal questions. Training should have covered such questions.

So, while I agree with the assertion that questions of legality can cause doubt – which in turn can cause hesitation –  I would disagree that an instructor does not need to be able to quote legal precedent. I think they do need to know the law in a good level of detail  in order to prevent the aforementioned hesitation. An instructor does not have to memorise the law word for word (although it is a big help on the key issues), but they should be able to convey the sentiment accurately and know where the relevant law is to be found on the statute books.

I’m not saying that instructors need to be at “solicitor level” (#), but if we can take the time to learn the history of our art, we should be able to memorise all the salient parts of the law because there isn’t that much of it. It’s not hard. We can also defer to the likes of Leigh who, having both legal and martial expertise, is able to synthase it down into a handy resource. There’s no real excuse not to know it; especially when it is so important.

All the best,

Iain

(#) - As regards “police officer level”, my personal experience is that many police officers don’t know the law that well when it comes to self-defence. Some obviously do, but sadly it seems such understanding is not as one may expect access the piece. I have had plenty express the same kind of misunderstandings prevalent in the population at large. Some even using their position as police officers as an “appeal to authority” when it came to knowledge of the law … followed by an awkward retraction in front of the group when it became clear they were mistaken. Those teaching and practise self-defence need to know this stuff so we can challenge those putting forth misunderstandings.  

Gareth
Gareth's picture

I've forgotten the term he uses but Rory Miller talks a lot about that moral/ethical limit that we all have and basically he says that we need to think about it in advance to understand how far we would go. I know it will always depend on the individual scenario but it is something we should tell students to consider in advance as your percieved limit ('Oh no I could never do THAT to someone') may change depending on circumstance e.g. the child with a knife above trying to hurt you may well be judged diffently to the child with a knife trying to hurt YOUR child? 

BTW I have Leigh's book and thoroughly recommend it (and do so to students) as I find many/most students (and instuctors) don't consider the lawfullness of their training. As had been said many times, it's no good teaching out students how to go to prison...

Mark B
Mark B's picture
Hi Iain. Thanks for your reply. Although you have quoted a few of the points I made, and offered an alternative opinion, and whilst I respect your opinion, and your right to it, I stand by my post and am happy to continue with the approach I adopt with regards to this particular subject. Once again thanks for your considered response. All the best, Mark