The Problem of Self Defense

All schools of martial arts (including boxing) make promises, in fact, that is part of what makes them marketable. Self-defense and fitness are probably the two most parroted terms. The fitness claim is not really disputable; if you engage in physical exercise in moderation one’s level of fitness tends to improve. Self-defense, on the other hand, needs to come under intense scrutiny, and the reason for this is because it is a very serious concept. In the eyes of the law an argument for self-defense has the power to validate an appeal for a retrial where the initial trial resulted in a verdict of murder, as in State v. Leidholm (1983). If there is an argument for self-defense, therefore, there could be a degree of legal leniency.

Cases of self-defense, however, frequently involve a death, and the justification for self-defense offered by the North Dakota Century Code (used in the aforementioned case) states, “A person is justified in using force upon another person to defend himself against danger of imminent unlawful bodily injury,” in other words, defending oneself against an act of violence using what also amounts to violence. A worthwhile study would investigate style participation based upon the use of the word violence instead of the term self-defense and could involve the following questions: Would you practice a fighting style that teaches you violence to defend yourself? Would you rather defend yourself with the use of violence or self-defense? The difference between violence and self-defense is minimal to illusory, but in all probability nobody would choose the former as a reason to practice a fighting style.

It can be argued that self-defense simply implies using your mind to escape a harmful situation without inflicting harm upon an aggressor. There may be some truth to this, but every style teaches how to engage physically with an aggressor and self-defense in legal terms is generating a sufficient defense for using violence. Using the term “self-defense”, therefore, carries a great deal of responsibility, and it is questionable whether all styles and schools are qualified to use the term. Further problems arise when a person has trained to a sufficient standard that they are no longer considered to act out of self-defense, but are instead considered to be at more an advantage than a person considered unlikely to defend themselves against an aggressor; in other words, the more self-defense is practiced, the less lenient the law could be in the victim’s defense.

There is no question that the full contact fighting styles, such as boxing and MMA, train fighters to use violence and to receive violence, but these styles, especially boxing, do not tend to use self-defense as a reason to partake in the style and will openly admit that you will be hit hard and you must learn to reciprocate; the aggression employed is a lot more obvious than other styles.

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