Is Self-Defense Legal?

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: Self-defense
11 Oct 2007

This sounds like a crazy question but I guess we should talk about this. I was reviewing other blogs and found references to some self-defense moves as being inherently illegal (I’m paraphrasing). I think this should be a good time to look at what is self-defense and what is legal.


A good definition of self defense is doing whatever it takes to prevent or stop an attack. What does this mean? It will mean different things to different people. If you are a football defensive lineman – you can probably just slap an attacker and discourage or prevent an attack. If you are the preverbal 90 pound weakling – slapping an attacker will not get you out of the situation. 


What is legal to defend yourself? Well that is subject to local, state, or national law. Article 51 United Nations Charter speaks to nation’s rights to defend themselves. In the United States all individuals have the right to defend themselves. In the state I reside a person can do whatever a reasonable man would do in a similar situation. This is open somewhat to interpretation so please be aware.


If I were to get attacked in a dark alley – I would vigorously defend myself up to and including using lethal force. Even though I am a black belt, I would subsequently argue to a law enforcement official that I had to ensure my safety and had no idea how many or who my attackers were, and what weapons they might have (truthfully).  I may end up in court but my friends and family would have the best chance at survival with this methodology. 


I could have lost my argument if I knew I only had one attacker that I quickly knocked to the ground and then stomped him in the neck. I would have not done what a reasonable person would have done in the same situation and probably be convicted (rightfully).


So you see there is not a right answer in all situations. Sometimes an overzealous defense is called for such as an untrained; slight of build man or woman might have to mount. If he then cracked a club on a downed attacker – an argument for self-defense could be reasonably made because what would they do if the attacker got back up? Were they in fear of their life? If so, overzealousness can probably be supported. 


I think a women being attacked by a man (a rapist for instance) would always be justified gouging out a man’s eyes. I don’t think a man, knocking out an attacker, and then gouging out his eyes would be a legal self-defense situation.


A good rule of thumb is to do whatever is needed to be safe. But be aware that continuing after you are out of danger is likely going to be viewed as illegal.

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4 Responses to “Is Self-Defense Legal?”

  1. Connecting News, Commentaries and Blogs at - Says:

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  2. Charlie Says:

    Hi john,
    I agree with your view about this issue. In my opinion, all martial art practitioners must be aware about this to avoid unnecessary legal battles just because he/she is unaware of the boundaries. Great article and also a nice blog! I enjoy it very much!


  3. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Thanks Charlie! I find that you can never stress avoiding a fight enough.

  4. Mariana Says:

    yeah do anything to survive.