So you have been practicing one of the types of martial arts for some months or years now and you are itching for someone in a bar or in the street to pick a fight with you so you can show them some moves. Sadly, while lethal punches and kicks look great in the movies, modern society is less impressed by your dazzling athleticism.

If you find yourself in the position of using your skills, you may well have to prove you employed legal self defence.

Two Martial Arts Fighters Square Up to Each Other to Demonstrate Legal Self Defence

The press has regularly reported on incidents where property owners have employed what they considered (in the heat of the moment) to be legal self defence, only to find they have had to prove their assertion in a court of law.

It would seem wise therefore to understand how to approach a tense situation to ensure it is clear to everyone that you are totally in control and have acted responsibly.

In law there are two aspects to defending yourself against aggressors:

1. You have to prove legal self defence.
2. You only used ‘reasonable force’ to defend yourself and others.

Of course the law varies depending on in which country, state or territory you happen to be but in the United Kingdom the law is guided by the judgement of Palmer versus Regina (1971):

“It is both good law and good sense that a man who is attacked may defend himself. It is both good law and good sense that he may do, but only do, what is reasonably necessary.” (

You may be saddened to understand that the best way to deal with a situation of legal self defence is to avoid it altogether (sorry).

The basis of all martial arts is self-discipline. Indeed, many styles will not accept students who do not demonstrate what Hung Gar Kung Fu describes as ‘moral rectitude.’ On this basis, the first skill in any deteriorating situation is to show discipline and follow these guidelines:

1. Avoid using even legal self defence.

You might consider simply walking away. Keeping clear of a situation means you do not have to deal with the consequences and remember it takes more strength to resist getting involved.

Always keep calm, avoid arguments and keep control of yourself and the situation. Never get drunk or stoned to the position where you are no longer responsible for your actions.

2. If appropriate, react unexpectedly.

Some martial arts styles, such as Monkey Style King Fu, make an asset from acting in a way that confuses the opponent. Saying nothing at all, for example, means the aggression in the situation has nothing to feed on and it is quite likely the whole confrontation will fizzle out.

Smiling, laughing or talking utter gibberish can also confuse the aggressor and diffuse the situation. Never react to their threats or insults. On one occasion, I even found putting my arm around the shoulders of a bully and kissing him on the cheek totally destroyed his attack!

3. Give a warning.

In legal self defence, if you have been unable to avoid a confrontation, you are required to give a warning before any conflict if you can. Your sifu or instructor can help you with what to say but something like, ‘I have to warn you, I practise martial arts and anything I do will be purely in self-defence.’

Always issue the warning calmly and clearly; stated in this way the warning itself might be enough of a threat to end the situation.

4. Allow your opponent to make the first move.

A sure way of proving legal self defence is for any witnesses to note that you did not throw the first punch.

Of course this is something you will have learned in your lessons but when the punch is thrown you should not be there. If you can, make sure you side step out of the way of the attack and avoid injury.

In street fights I have noticed the first attacks usually come in the form of a wild punch or headlong charge, both of which can be deftly avoided and leave the attacker off balance or, even better, in an untidy heap against the far wall.

Should you need to employ further legal self defence, then your sifu or instructor will teach you what to do but it is always best to keep it simple.

A friend was telling me recently of a situation in a bar. A very drunk and short Scotsman was stopped by a doorman who told the smaller man to leave. The Scotsman refused and started to get agitated. The security man immediately struck a fighting stance.

‘Martial arts, eh?’ the Scotsman said to which the taller man nodded.

The short man immediately head-butted his opponent. As he walked over the unconscious doorman and out of the bar, the Scotsman said, ‘f***** martial arts – too many rules.’

Keep control and keep it simple.

Two Men in a Confrontation Approaching Legal Self Defence

Keeping control and staying disciplined shows your skill in martial arts more than your fighting abilities. Using legal self defence involves understanding possible repercussions including potential police involvement. You also need to understand that you represent the good name of martial arts across the world.

Your martial arts licence infers a responsibility to practice legal self defence. Doing everything you can to avoid or diffuse a confrontation and then, if necessary, controlling the situation can give you more satisfaction than you might think.

In any case, it is better to have fighting skills and not use them than use them in uncontrolled anger.

“Showing off is the fool’s idea of glory.”
Bruce Lee

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