3 - Your Martial Arts Skills, Responsibility, and The Law

3.1 - Overview

The Balance

As you develop your abilities in Tae Kwon Do, so must you at the same time develop a complete and instinctive understanding of the responsibilities these skills confer upon you. The following information is intended to briefly go over the relevant issues in order to get you thinking about them now, while you are still in the early learning stages.

There are legal limits on what actions you can take - even if you are attacked without warning or justification. Laws exist almost universally throughout the United States of America which limit the amount of force, if any, you can use.

While considering what we have to tell you here, remember that these issues are not "mystical", part of some "ancient oriental philosophy" or otherwise some rote part of Tae Kwon Do training - they are the result of the law, and as such some of the points may not seem entirely reasonable to you. No matter what you think of them, you are constrained to obey them as a member of society.

When attacked, you are only allowed by law to use sufficient force to stop the attack. An example of what this means is as follows: If you are threatened by someone waving their fists in your face, and they take a swing at you - you can swing back. You cannot break their neck or put out their eye; that is considerably more force than was used against you, and legally you can be sued, fined and even imprisoned if you escalate the conflict beyond that level of violence which your attacker threatened you with, or subjected you to.

When someone threatens you with a deadly weapon, such as a knife or a gun, you may be in danger of losing your life. In a case where such a threat occurs and you believe that the weapon is likely to be used, you can legally use enough force to disarm the attacker - no more.

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Next, you have what the law calls a "duty to retreat". This means that in almost all cases you must run if you can; hide, do whatever non-violent thing it takes to avoid the confrontation. The one and only exception to this is when you are attacked in your own home. As far as we know, U.S. courts so far have upheld your right to stand and defend yourself in that single special case.

If you attack any individual without being actually attacked yourself, you must be able to prove in a court of law that you were completely convinced that you were about to be attacked, and that the amount of force you used in your attack was not excessive - in other words, it was less than, or equal to, the amount of force you believed was about to be used on you.

You must consider these legal issues constantly as you train so that when and if you should become involved in any confrontation, you know exactly what the limits are to what you can do to legally respond to that situation.

Our school can provide the needed skills in order to successfully, legally defend yourself and your loved ones in many types of confrontations. We can help you build a great deal of confidence in your own ability to handle these types of situations - but only you can develop the attitudes you will need when an emergency arises.

Going beyond the restrictions on your actions that the law raises, you must also understand and act on certain human issues.

You have a responsibility to any fellow human being to treat them with care. Life and health are precious to any individual, without regard to what relationship you may have with them.

Consider this in depth:

Think what you, your family and friends would lose if someone put out your eye, broke your back, or went so far as to kill you. Now close your eyes and put someone else in your place; they would experience the same losses, the same feelings, the same effects on family, job and every other facet of life that you would. You are going to have the ability to do these things, and more, very easily. You absolutely must learn how to handle those skills or the possibility is strong that you could make some very bad mistakes!

  1. You have a responsibility to use no more force than necessary to stop your assailant(s) in any physical conflict.
  2. You have a "duty to retreat", with the single exception of when you are attacked in your own home.
  3. If you attack someone without actually being attacked first, you may only do so if you are certain in your heart that you are in immanent danger of attack. Even so, you must observe point (1): Use only the amount of force that is neccesary to deter the attack - not one bit more.
  4. You have a responsibility to all fellow human beings not to harm them if it is in any way avoidable.

Having briefly discussed the way the law sees your use of force, we also need to inject a note of common sense here. In any fight, things can happen that are not completely under the control of the defending fighter; even when that fighter is a skilled martial artist. So it may be that situations arise where you use considerable force - perhaps more than you really thought was required. You simply must do your best to evaluate any situation the best you can and then act accordingly.

Even if you do everything right, we wish we could tell you that the courts will decide correctly that you were in the right because in fact you were - but courts are made up of people, and as we all know, people make mistakes. Judges, juries and lawyers are different from normal citizens only in that when they make mistakes, they can ruin your life more effectively than the average "man on the street". Always keep this in mind, and be as conservative as possible. The more you know, the more skilled you are, the more care you must exercise in using what you know.

3.2 - Blueprint for Action

Here is the simplest possible "blueprint" of how to handle any situation that could involve use of martial arts:

  • In any situation:
    • stay calm
    • leave and avoid the threat if possible
  • If you cannot leave:
    • evaluate the level of threat
    • plan an appropriate, limited response

Every situation is, of course, different - you have to use your head. In order to use your head, you absolutely must remain calm. To remain calm in the face of a serious threat, you need confidence. To obtain confidence, train seriously!

Here is a last point that is important, one highly relevant to the discussion of law and responsibility. There are two types of expertise in the martial arts. They can overlap, or not. It depends on what you're trying to accomplish.

The first is exemplified by what would be called an expert in one or more particular martial arts. This individual knows a great deal about the art(s) they have chosen to study. They have great skill in some, possibly many, techniques in that art; they may be aware of many more. This individual is deserving of the same respect you would give a great scholar - that knowledge can only come from long hours of study and experience in the art.

The second is what is called an expert martial artist. This sounds similar, but is in reality quite different... this individual is precisely aware of what level of capability they have in executing the techniques they have trained in. They know when, how and with what force to execute any given move. They rarely make mistakes, and when they do, they learn from them and you are unlikely to see that mistake again.

The latter, the expert martial artist is the kind of individual who will do the best when faced with a dangerous situation. It's not how much you know, but how well you know it that will determine the outcome of most conflicts. It is equally important to understand which techniques you are not ready to use so that you do not waste time, accidentally employ too much force and injure someone, or expose yourself to successful attack.

Our goal is to make you an expert martial artist. It has nothing to do with what rank you attain, or how much you know - it has only to do with how well you know it.

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