The Ethics of Self-Defense

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: Self-defense
22 Jun 2009


You are the proverbial 98 pound weakling at Jones beach one summer day but rather than responding to that Joe Weider ad at the back of the comic book last fall, you sent away for the KETSUGO book! Yes you launched your pseudo martial arts training but now find yourself in a sandy situation! What do you do?


Before we explore that question – consider the ramifications? To what level of adversity must a confrontation rise before you respond? If you respond, how will you respond? Verbally? In kind? Or very aggressively? Are you concerned with your ego? Morally, Legally, Ethically, or do you just want to get even-steven?


In this post we will examine some of these issues as when to fight is every bit as important as how to fight. While you are framing your response, look at this video basically showing the logic of the comic book ad.




What if you were the 98 pound weakling? How would you respond? Does an attack of kicking sand mean you would be quiet like this guy? How about just kicking sand back at them? Maybe punch the SOBs? Whatever response you decide on will have consequences from losing the girl to landing in jail – or worse (someone getting hurt).


Before we talk about solutions to this sand attack (or any attack) lets talk about some basics. Assuming you are dealing with human beings (people) every one of them may have a father, mother, wife, husband, sister, brother, girl friend, boy friend, child or someone that thinks this person is valuable. I know that you might not share this view at the time but one commonality is we are all human!


Having said that if you are a religious person of some persuasion you already might have a moral code that guides your actions. If you do not have a religious moral code you might subscribe to a moral code of conduct of some sort. Failing that, many people subscribe to ethical codes of conduct (nations for instance have their own and might subscribe to the United Nations Ethical codes). Say you have no Moral or Ethical code of conduct – you will probably be part of a nation and subject to its laws.


Sorry for the long winded setup but the points I wanted to make is human life is valuable to someone and we are governed by some code of conduct. Here is a video describing some basic considerations before you defend yourself.



Did you agree with John Graden about avoiding fights? How about avoiding ego and alcohol? I do but before I explain my philosophy, let me tell you a couple of stories.


When I first started working the door I was just turning a brown belt in kenpo karate! I wanted to work the door because I might get to fight some people for real and legally! I just turned 21 years old and was having a good showing at the regional tournaments in SoCal. I enjoyed fighting immensely and wanted to do as much as I could. I reasoned that if someone had it coming – it would be fun to take him out and get paid for it. Boy did I have some learning to do.


My first couple of months on the door lived up to my expectations. I got into about 4 or 5 skirmishes a week (where it did not come to blows) but got into a fight about once a week! I tried to make sure I followed the law and fought only in self-defense as I was discharging my duties of looking out of the clubs interests.


One day I kind of crossed a line. A couple of guys leaving the bar broke a light behind the curtains (at the front door). I heard the noise and ran out to see what was up! I saw two guys running  up the street. I was 155 pounds at the time and fast so I gave chase! I caught them as they were entering their car and were about to get away! I did my only jumping two-foot stomp kick into the driver’s side door and caught the driver in the door – bending his door! I then ask what they did and told them to never come back (kind of realizing at this point I had grossly overreacted – but not admitting it to myself).


I was flagged down by the old security guard across from the bar (he used to keep the bar patrons out of the restaurant parking lot). We got to talking and he said I was really fast. I like the old guy and started looking up to his advice as I was a pup and he had been around the block a time or two.


That same week after observing me – the security guard told a secret that has probably kept me safe for my two year stint as a bouncer and my ensuing life. He made me aware that one cannot ever know what is going on in another’s mind. A guy might have just lost someone he loves. He might have got into a fight with his wife and did not have a dog to kick (my weak attempt at humor).


You never know when someone is at the end of their rope. What if a guy (or gal) is ready to end it all and you make their life harder without any good reason (other than your macho ego)? Why the person might turn their anger on you and respond out of proportion to what you did!


So from then on I started giving everyone every break I could and then almost apologised for having to kick their butt if it came to that. I had nothing to lose by humility and a lot potentially to gain! The fact that I gave people every break began to get noticed by bar patron’s and more than a few stopped by and told me that they felt safe drinking in the bar when I was there because if they every got too drunk – they knew I would try and deal with them amicably.


As to what I would have done with a couple of guys kicking sand in my face and my gal leaving with the dudes? Knowing me I would let the gal go as she had no character and I would have probably got up and offered the guys a friendly challenge to come down to my studio, sign a freestyle waiver (so they could not sue me) and take them both on at the same time. :)


I hope some of this insight might help you in your life – at least think about this, if how to respond to an attack is a real issue in your life.




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2 Responses to “The Ethics of Self-Defense”

  1. Urban Samurai Says:

    Knowing how to respond to a possible attack from someone is probably more important than knowing how to deal with an actual attack if it happens. As you say, you never know what people’s motivations are for their behavior so it’s best to give them the benefit of the doubt. Launching yourself at someone because they looked at you funny or said something mildly offensive to you is no way to act, as far I’m concerned. I see this all the time on the street and I think most of it comes from ego and insecurity. Too many people walk around thinking they have something to prove, an attitude that is born of insecurity and self doubt.

    I am thankful that I started in martial arts because the training has all but eliminated those things in me. I have nothing to prove to anyone really. I feel stronger when I stop myself from reacting too quickly. I feel better when I am able to swallow my pride and walk away from situations were someone is trying to goad me into a fight or get some kind of reaction from me. Yes you feel slightly bad in yourself because you think you should have just done something at the the time, but in the long run, when those initial ego-born feelings subside, I feel prouder for walking away.

    Obviously if my person (or persons with me) is being threatened seriously then I will react with as much force as required and without any qualms whatsoever. But if I can walk away from a situation I will.

    As for the guys on the beach – I liked your idea. Take them to the dojo, gear up and kick some Jock ass!

    Excellent post.

  2. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Neil – good points about self-restraint. It is harder to do the right thing sometimes (when being egged on) but it works out for the best. Thanks for your insight!