Deadly Force

Physical intervention in the act of self-defence is a very grey legal area. In many respects, the legal proceedings following a self-defence event in which someone is seriously injured or killed are very subjective processes. The court has to come to a decision on whether the level of force used in the act of self-defence was justifiable or not based on available information. For some background reading, I refer you to the Wikipedia article on Self-Defence in Australia:

You will note that the word “reasonable” appears frequently in the article. For example (my italics):

“A person who is subjected to a violent and felonious attack and who, in endeavoring, by way of self-defence, to prevent the consummation of that attack by force exercises more force than a reasonable man [sic] would consider necessary in the circumstances, but no more than what he [or she] honestly believed to be necessary in the circumstances, is guilty of manslaughter and not of murder.”

And therein lies the problem. Within the comfortable, air-conditioned, serene surroundings of a court-room, a judge and jury have the luxury of deliberating for hours over whether an act of self-defence was reasonable or not. It is so far removed from the circumstances that most likely transpired at the time of the event, that I often ask myself whether a just or fair verdict can ever come out of the deliberation.

Many self-defence situations that culminate in physical violence are events that are exceedingly dangerous for all parties concerned, they are exceedingly stressful mentally and physically and they often occur over extremely short periods of time when the luxury of informed deliberation cannot be enjoyed by the person exercising their right to defend themselves. It is my personal belief that under the circumstances of a self-defence situation, to expect anyone to behave “reasonably” is, for want of a better word, unfair. Perhaps in the future, as virtual reality technology evolves, we may be able to submit the courtroom to a reconstructed event and have them all live it out through first-person interaction along with all the attendant pain, blood, adrenaline and confusion. Adult nappies would of course have to be provided for the more sensitive participants. Perhaps then we may expect more fair and equitable verdicts to come out of the court-room.

If this wasn’t already bad enough, defendants with backgrounds in some form of combat training who successfully defend themselves physically but who seriously injure or kill their attackers are more likely to face a more stringent legal hearing than someone without a background in fighting. While I accept that this is just the way things are, I believe that this is taking a set of legal proceedings that are fraught with the risk of a miscarriage of justice and making it even more unlikely that justice will be served.

I’ll have to explain why: The people who make up the functionaries of the court are normal people like you and I. They have TVs. They watch movies. They’ve all seen Chuck Norris flicks and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Unless they have martial arts and/or combat training experience themselves to ground themselves in reality, they will believe to a certain extent that trained martial artists are easily capable of defending themselves in any circumstances without causing any major injury to their opponent/s. Because Magic Skill.

This is of course not an accurate belief.

Whether or not any combat specialist can conclude a self-defence situation peaceably is of course heavily dependent on the situation and on the combat specialist involved. In a confrontation against multiple attackers or against an armed attacker, the odds of a peaceful and harmless resolution dwindle to almost nothing. The reason for this is really down to time constraints because the longer that you expose yourself to a dangerous situation, the more likely it will be that you fall subject to the danger.

As numbers of attackers increase and weapons are added to a situation, the danger level escalates dramatically. This decreases the amount of time that someone has to respond and end the situation before they fall subject to it. This means essentially that the administered speed and force have to escalate to ensure that the respondent can neutralise the threats before the threats neutralise them.

Most veterans of most forms of martial arts and/or combat training will usually admit that, given a choice, they would try to avoid a combat situation rather than becoming engaged. A combat situation is unpredictable and dangerous. Anything can happen. Regardless of your level of skill, it is incredibly risky to intervene.

Take a violent crime, for instance. As I’ve mentioned in other articles, criminals are opportunistic predators and even they acknowledge the personal risk that they take when they engage in a violent encounter. As such, they will usually only enter a violent situation when prepared. Their preparation will usually involve ensuring that they have certain advantages such as:

  1. Numbers. They will often have superior numbers to their proposed target. They will often engage accomplices to help them with the act.
  2. Weapons. They will often come prepared with weapons to ensure that they can deal with their target effectively and with a minimum of risk to themselves. They’re usually not interested in proving that they are superior to their opponent in a fair fight. They will usually have a very well-defined objective, such as theft.
  3. Tactics. Criminals will often use some form of ambush tactics against their victim to either catch them unawares or at a time of weakness.

Can you see that if you are the victim of a violent crime, the odds will generally already be stacked firmly against you, whether you’re an experienced fighter or not?

After this sobering introduction, we come hesitantly to the title of this article. Deadly Force. Lethal Force. When is it justified? I’m not going to tell you that. As for myself, I don’t want to kill or hurt anyone. This is one of the reasons that I have never devoted myself to sporting martial arts or competition fighting. I don’t like hurting people physically even in competition.

The exception to this occurs for me when a dangerous situation starts to evolve. My inhibitions disappear, instinctual combat skill kicks in and I become capable of acts of violence in the defence of my safety and the safety of the people around me.

It’s not pretty. But I am at peace with that side of me because I do not choose to hurt anyone or anything. That decision lies with the other party or parties. They make this decision at their peril. I don’t choose to exercise less-than-lethal or lethal force for that matter. I instead choose to exercise as much force as I need to end the situation as safely and quickly as possible. I will react based on how the situation is evolving until I am neutralized, the situation is resolved or I have been able to strategically relocate myself and the others around me to a situation that is no longer dangerous to us.

As for choosing whether or not to use lethal force, I personally feel that if you are in a situation where you have the luxury of the option of choosing to use lethal force or not, you should seriously be asking yourself whether this is indeed justifiable.

Written by Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia

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