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More About Martial Arts and the Law
April 23, 2013

I have written many articles discussing the legal aspects of using martial arts skills for self defense. Basically, the laws and statutes regarding the claim of self-defense in a violent altercation apply to everyone equally, whether you have training or not.

In a nutshell…

A man or woman may repel force by force in defense of his/her person, property or habitation, against unlawful force, that is, anyone who intends, attempts, or endeavors, by violence or surprise, to commit a forcible felony, such as murder, rape, assault, robbery and the like.

There is, however, another aspect of self defense that needs clarification. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand that what they generally call a "street fight" has nothing at all to do with self defense.

Today, I'll discuss what is NOT self defense…

Mutual Combat

Let's go back to the definition of Unlawful Force. It has already been described as a forcible felony such as murder, rape, assault, robbery, and the like. Notice that the word 'argument' is not included! An argument that escalates into a fight is not self-defense. Modern laws may state it differently, but they're all based on laws that have been around for ages.

"When there is mutual combat upon a sudden quarrel, both parties are the aggressors, and if in the fight one is killed it will be manslaughter at least." – 16th Century English Self Defense Law -

The fact is that ninety percent of all "street fights" are started over something stupid or, at least, insignificant. It usually begins with an exchange of words or actions that are no real threat to anyone. In such cases, the courts will always conclude that both parties chose to engage in such behavior, and neither can claim self-defense. No one cares who started it.

Sticks and Stones

The key thing you must understand about any confrontation is that there is a difference between a challenge and a threat. You must be able to recognize the difference, and you must take the appropriate action in either case.

When I was a kid, we had a saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." To be sure, it's a very simplistic maxim for a complex issue, but it's a good place to start.

Picture the following exchange. We've all heard or even been involved in a similar circumstance.

Person A: "I don't like what you said about my sister!" Person B: "Oh yeah? What are you going to do about it?"

It doesn't matter if you are Person A, or Person B, in the above example. What you have here is a challenge, and an acceptance of that challenge. If a fight ensues from such an exchange, it is mutual combat and neither party may claim self defense, no matter who throws the first punch.

There is always a chain of events leading up to any confrontation. In most cases, it's possible to break that chain. There is a point where you can stop, assess, and decide to take a different path. You can simply refuse to be a participant, and walk away.

No doubt, there will be situations that happen quickly, before you have the chance to attempt any methods of avoidance. Or, you may make every attempt to avoid trouble, but you get attacked anyway. These are real threats of unlawful force to your wellbeing. In both of these situations, you have no choice but to use your self-defense skills, and you would be totally justified in doing so.

However, if you have the chance to avoid a physical confrontation, but don't take it, you have simply accepted the challenge and you are guilty of participating in mutual combat, and have absolutely no right to say you acted in self defense.


The more you know about self-defense, the more responsibility you have to be prudent in its application. If you injure someone while engaged in mutual combat, and it becomes known that you are a trained martial artist, you can bet that a jury may get the impression that you must have been looking for trouble. When it comes to self-defense law, juries may weigh your experience against your actions, and they will penalize you severely if they think you should have known better.

Use common sense! Use force only as a last resort. In order to make a claim of self-defense, you must prove that you did everything possible to avoid a confrontation.

Just walk away!

Mark A. Jordan

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