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If some guy is coming at me
I'm not going to worry about
legal issues, I'm going to
do what I have to to defend myself.
Nearly every so-called reality based fighter
and practitioner of a "deadly" fighting art
I've ever spoken to.
The cost of 'winning'
Winning is Just One Step in Many | Legal repercussions | Street justice | In conclusion
I have stated elsewhere there are only two problems with using your deadly fighting art:
Obviously it's a problem when a system fails to perform as advertised in a violent confrontation, but the second? How can 'winning' cause problems?
That's like asking how having sex can cause problems.
When you're young all you see is the 'prize.' The achievement of which eclipses everything else. But when you've been around the block enough times, you know there are all kinds of ways things can go wrong. Getting that prize can cause all kinds of problems. The same thing applies to 'winning' a violent encounter.
Several factors combine to create the 'aftermath' problem. First is people who subscribe to the thinking (or lack thereof) expressed in the quote heading the page often don't know what self-defense is.
This, despite the fact that they banter the term around all the time.
For the record, no matter what your instructor told you or what you believe it entails, self-defense is a legally defined term. It doesn't matter what you think it means. Your actions must conform to that legal standard.
If they don't then odds are you are fighting, not defending yourself. Self-defense is legal, fighting is illegal.
And if you don't know exactly what self-defense is, how do you know when you are -- or aren't -- doing it?
To start with most of what they train to do isn't self-defense. They think it is, but it is far too aggressive. This especially applies to Mixed Martial Arts, Reality Based Self-Defense systems and so-called 'combative' systems (most of whom distain traditional martial arts as ineffective). Because of their training programs, these people usually cross the line when it comes to legally defending themselves. They are no longer "defending" themselves, they are instead assaulting someone who is trying to flee from the engagement.
And then they wonder why they get arrested for 'defending themselves.'
What's worse is they do not want to recognize the importance of pre-violence behavior. In this particular case, they share guilt with the martial arts they so distain. All camps are so focused on what to do during the physical conflict that they ignore both the build up to and the aftermath. What you do BEFORE a situation becomes physical will have a major impact of what happens afterwards.
This becomes important when you realize that win, lose or draw, violence has repercussions. There is a lot of attention paid to the trauma of being "victimized" by violence (i.e., you lost). But there is not enough attention paid to the problems of "winning." This is a huge hole in most MA/SD/RBSD/MMA/street fighting training -- especially in systems that do have a chance of working.
Winning is Just One Step in
To many people, "winning" becomes the golden ring on the carousel. It is the idealized prize that supersedes all others. In this paradigm, as long as the individual "wins," all will be well.
At best, this has developed into willful ignorance. In the worse cases, this ignorance is not only encouraged, but actively defended. These individuals seem so afraid of losing that they have elevated the idea of winning to some kind of celestial status. This creates an almost pathological rejection of the idea that winning a violent encounter brings its own set of problems. How can heaven be a problem? And like religious fanatics these individuals not only believe in the 'heaven of victory,' but will justify any level of force in order to achieve it.
With this mindset, people intentionally train to become loose cannons on deck. They are dedicated to winning at any cost. And with that attitude, you can almost be certain they will cross the line from 'self-defense' into becoming the aggressor.
This gapping hole in their understanding does not go unnoticed. To individuals experienced in violence, it demonstrates exactly how far into fantasy land these people have gone. The idea that 'winning is everything' is ludicrous. Experienced people know that violence has repercussions, and this understanding guides their actions to minimize those consequences before aggression occurs. And this includes avoiding violence whenever possible.
Rejecting the idea that winning creates problems is a sure sign that an individual hasn't been on the winning side of the fence when it comes to violence. Experienced people know winning brings its own set of problems. This isn't an "it might happen," it WILL HAPPEN! The experienced calmly plan for it. If you intend to be the one who coming out ahead in a violent confrontation, you'd not only better know about aggression, but have plans for handling problems that arise from winning.
We have a friend
Martin Cooper who redefined winning thusly. In his
model you must 'win' on four levels:
1) You must be able to perform (overcome adrenalin and fear)
2) You must overcome your opponent
3) You must win in criminal court
4) You must win in civil court
We will add a fifth category to this, you must survive retribution from the person you defeated. These complications are what this page is about.
If a teacher doesn't know about the problems of "winning," how can you trust anything else he is telling you about the subject? This especially applies to what he says will or won't work to end violence.
This opens a huge can of worms in many areas. The one addressed here, however, is how often lack of experience and knowledge results in the intentional training of people to engage in overkill. If an instructor can't teach someone how to drop an assailant with one punch, he will train students to go ballistic and throw 20 punches. It doesn't matter if the other person stops attacking, this kind of training teaches the student to continue fighting. And this is no longer self-defense, this is assault. And you will be prosecuted accordingly.
Another common problem is encouraging people to use weapons to resolve minor scuffles. This brings us back around to the first factor: crossing the line from self-defense into becoming the aggressor. Engaging in overkill really sets you up to face both kinds of repercussions winning violence brings.
And what are they? There are two basic ways the repercussions of winning a violent encounter will manifest: legal and other. If you're really lucky, both will miss you. Normally, expect one or the other. If you are unlucky, you'll have to deal with both.
So gird your loins for the long haul, because winning the fight isn't your only problem. In fact, there is a good chance it won't even be your biggest one. Repercussions often end up as more of a problem than what caused the violence in the first place.
Legal issues (and why
you will face them)
When I talk about dealing with the repercussions of violence, I often get stonewalled by Internet warriors who, for reasons having nothing to do with self-defense, don't want to consider those factors. These people want to remain enmeshed in their own macho fantasies and repeat the quote at the top of this page. Another popular version is "I'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by six." After nearly two decades of dealing with these kind of people, I have come to the conclusion that they are not motivated by an interest in self-defense. Instead they eagerly dream of the day when they can unleash their deadly fighting art on someone. In short, they look for an excuse to beat someone up. Self-defense is that excuse. Once they can justify it, they give themselves permission to savage another person. No other theory explains their resistance to considering how to deal, with the aftermath of aggression.
The truly ignorant will insist, "I won't get caught!" This is a laughable statement because they have no idea how to function as a criminal. These sorts, for example, will get in a fight in a bar, run out, jump in their car and drive away. They never realize that the bar's video cameras are focused on the parking lot and recorded the license plate number. And their beating on someone was filmed inside the bar. Then they wonder how the cops know to knock on their door.
Knowing how to get away with crime is a professional skill of criminals ... and even they can't always accomplish it. If you are not living a marginal lifestyle don't assume that you -- because of your superior intelligence -- are more adept at the life skills that criminals practice daily.
This goes double when it comes to dealing with the police. Those so-called 'stupid' criminals and dirt bags are far more adept at lying to the cops and avoiding trick questions investigators can use to entrap a culprit. And yet even criminals are routinely tripped up by their answers. That's because, as slick as criminals can be, the police, DA investigators and prosecuting attorneys are even more skilled at asking leading questions. Oh yeah, and to really mess things up, you're going to be as adrenalized when talking to the cops as you were during the incident. It is stressful being interviewed by the police, and you probably will not be thinking straight.
The reason you have to ensure that your actions operate within the legal definitions of self-defense is because -- unless you are a hardened criminal and know how to circumvent the justice system -- you will be dealing with the police and legal ramifications.
And that means that your pre-incident words and actions, your actions during the incident and your actions after the incident are ALL going to be reviewed for indications of misconduct. If there is misconduct on your part, no matter how justified you thought you were at the time, there will be trouble.
The real problem is that -- once the emotions have died down -- you may have to face the fact that your actions and words were part of the creation and escalation of the situation. And they might have been an overreaction on your part.
For example, no matter what your "reasons" were for walking off your property to confront a noisy group down the street, the act of leaving your yard and challenging them is going to undermine your claim that it was 'self-defense.' Let's also say you also took a heavy, club-like flashlight with you. You may claim that you took it to see what was going on, but walking down to confront a pack of obnoxious drunks while carrying a club doesn't automatically make you the hero. The police have seen entirely too many cases of a person leaving his property and attacking annoying neighbors. And why did you go down there in the first place if what they were doing wasn't affecting your property? Why didn't you call the cops? That's the kind of behavior -- even though it made sense at the time -- that will get you into deep trouble.
And now the really bad news. The other guy is going to lie about the situation. And odds are you are going to want to, as well.
Why is this important to know? Simple. Nobody ever looks at the cops and says, "I am the aggressor. I started the whole thing." Instead everyone claims it was self-defense. The police are used to hearing fights explained as self-defense. The participants are not necessarily lying. Perceptually, they really did feel that they were defending themselves. According to their subjective feelings, emotions and perceptions, it was the other guy who "started it."
The problem with this is that it's entirely internal. You cannot accurately know what someone was thinking or feeling. Nor can you really trust a person to accurately tell you what they were thinking, feeling or doing in the heat of the moment. After-action stories often are edited to make the person telling them look like the good guy -- especially when, upon review, that person realizes that his actions were offensive.
And this includes you and your actions. In the aftermath, it is very common to look back and realize that -- although your behavior made 'sense at the time' -- the actions you took were not exactly sterling. In fact, often you will see how you helped create the conflict. You may have thought it would scare him away to show him you weren't an easy target, but, the truth is, standing up and saying what you did about his mother had a major influence on why things went violent.
This is why culpability in violence is judged by your actions, NOT on what you thought you were doing. And you have to come up with truths that make you look good faster than he can come up with lies that make you look bad.
More importantly, you need to avoid creating truths that make you look even worse. Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment, that can be difficult if you don't have a clear definition of what is and is not self-defense guiding your actions from the start.
Let's use the previous example of walking down the street to confront troublemakers. No matter how rowdy, obnoxious and destructive the group was, they are going to tell the cops that they were minding their own business, and you came down looking for a fight. Not only did you get up in their faces, but, look, you even brought a weapon! The problem is that you at the scene with a flashlight -- especially one that you used to hit someone -- is going to lend credibility to their version. You did leave your property to confront them. That's a truth that is going to make you look bad. And if you were "just going to talk to them," as you claim, why did you bring a club?
Contrast this with how it looks if they came onto your property. Then, when the police show up, they claim that you invited them onto your property in order to attack them. In this case, the truth that you were in your home and minding your own business works a whole lot better to show who the guilty parties are. That is an example of a truth that makes you look good.
What I am trying to tell you is this: Actions that seemed to make sense at the time and that you thought would end the encounter often reveal themselves to be part of escalation of the situation. Often what you thought would scare the guy away will be seen by others -- and the guy who 'attacked' you -- as provocation.
This is why you need to understand de-escalation and boundaries and their influence on whether or not a situation becomes violent. They are a much bigger part of self-defense than the physical aspects. Without a firm understanding of these issues, you will find yourself in many more conflicts because your actions cross from defensive into offensive.
Those actions can come across to the police and witnesses as your being a participant in a fight, not someone who was on the receiving end of unwarranted aggression. It doesn't matter what you thought you were doing. If your actions violate legal standards of self-defense, you will be viewed as a participant -- if not the instigator -- of the fight.
Being able to articulate what you did to avoid the fight is important because, in about 90 percent of all violence, the aggressor is the "winner" of a fight. That means if you "win" a violent confrontation, the cops are going to assume that you are the person who probably started it. And then kept on beating your opponent until he fell down. And the guy you dropped is going to be telling the police that is exactly what happened. Unless you can explain to the responding officer why that wasn't what happened, you're going to be serious trouble.
Oh yeah, and while we're passing through the neighborhood, if you are from a martial art style that teaches you to kick a downed opponent because "he might get up," you are in further difficulty because the situation is not one of self-defense anymore. It is, however, a very common act of an abuser or aggressor. This further undermines your claim that it was self-defense because kicking someone who is down is not a defensive act ... it is offensive.
Once the criminal side is satisfied, there may come the fun-filled challenge of being sued in civil court. Here is something you need to understand. Truly dangerous and violent people are much rarer than all the boogey men that martial artists and reality-based self-defense practitioners dream about having to face. A good deal of violence is between people who are temporarily stupid, if not drunk (the two often are synonymous). As such, the Bruce Lee leap-in-the-air-and-crush-his-chest move is not warranted. Those kinds of moves, while they will get you in trouble in criminal court, will certainly get you hauled over the coals in civil court.
Let's revisit what should by now should be an old saw. Although many people will state that they felt afraid and that justified the amount of force they applied, the bottom line is that most violence is not self-defense. It is, in fact, fighting. That is because an overwhelming amount of violence starts with a confrontation. This confrontation almost always could have been avoided by someone exercising common sense. Once the stupidity subsides, (a.k.a. when everyone sobers up or calms down) most people go running to the police to lodge complaints -- especially if they lose.
And what that really means is that there is a good chance you are going to get sued for any damage you might have caused. I'm not talking about emotional distress (although that could enter into the case depending on the type of shyster ... errrrr ... lawyer he hires). I'm talking about medical bills, attorney fees, court costs and punitive damages. This is especially true if you are a "civilian" who went kung fu commando to 'stop" a dirt bag. The simple truth is that these guys have nothing to lose by suing you. In fact, they have a lot to gain (or to be more specific their attorneys -- working on contingency -- are going to get a lot).
And in civil court the case isn't decided "beyond a reasonable doubt" as it is in criminal court. Victory in civil court is usually based on the preponderance of evidence. What this means is that you can lose a case in civil court just because it looks like you did it. For example let's say that in an alley fight, you break someone's leg. People saw you both enter the alley, heard a commotion and then witnessed you fleeing from the alley alone. In criminal court, if there were no witnesses to the actual breaking of the leg, a conviction is harder to obtain. He claims you broke his leg, you claim he slipped. While that is thin, in criminal court it provides enough 'doubt' that you could possibly get away with it. The same facts could easily cause the judgment to go against you in civil court, however. (Think O.J. if you wish to see the vast discrepancies between civil and criminal trials.)
Think about kicking someone while he is down (and not attacking anymore) just because you think he 'might' get up and assail you again. Such a move can cause a civil suit to go against you, even if it was not prosecuted criminally. You will be sued not only for his medical bills, but lawyer fees and court costs. Add to this the personal glee that he gets out of getting his 'revenge' on you for hurting him.
Even if you counter sue, such people are often, in lawyer's terms, "judgment proof." This means even if you win a countersuit, they don't have any money to pay the judgment. Whereas, from where he is sitting, you are a pot of gold. In cases of criminal violence, you are worth more to him in court than he could have gotten from robbing you.
The bottom line is that when the police become involved, you're going to have to spend a lot of money. First on a criminal attorney, then on a civil attorney. The common number bantered around regarding defending yourself after you've defended yourself is an average $20,000. Now if you don't have that kind of money to spend to defend yourself from the legal complications of violence, you better expect to spend some time in county jail for fighting and prison if the charges are worse than just a simple assault.
Or you can proceed to take personal responsibility and start looking into descriptions of the sort of things that cause violence and what you can do to prevent them. And, in so doing, learn how to come up with truths that make you look good faster than lies that make you look bad.
Ever heard a joke that really isn't? I often (not a) joke: I made a mistake in my early writings. I assumed people knew how to hide the bodies.
The reason this is not a joke is that I came from a lifestyle where knowing how to get away with illegal activities was a common skill. Or as one salty old dog put it, "You must have spent a lot of time in places where people were watching their beer." When something happened nobody saw anything. Moreover, the participants and most of the witnesses all cleared out long before the police showed up. Those who couldn't leave in time responded to the officer's questions with: "I didn't see anything, I was looking at my beer." The guy making the comment was right. Where I came from, people didn't go to the police.
Now while this may sound like I just contradicted everything I said in the preceding section, I'd like to point out that I wasn't living a "civilian" lifestyle. In fact, I wasn't even living the life of "Joe Six Pack." I was involved in a lifestyle where people didn't talk to the cops. Instead, they preferred to handle problems themselves.
And that is far more dangerous.
This anecdotal story exemplifies what I am talking about. Supposedly a well-dressed, middle-aged woman was knocked down by a purse snatcher. Unlike in so many of these incidents, someone tackled the perp. Since this was in an affluent shopping area, the police arrived immediately. And as is often the case, the criminal denied culpability. Then something unusual happened. The woman told the police that she didn't want to press charges, but she was interested in knowing the criminal's identity. When asked who she was, she identified herself. When she did this -- and much to the amusement of the police -- the purse snatcher started demanding that the police arrest him for his crime. It turns out her father was the don of the city's Mafia family. The criminal desperately wanted to be off the streets and in police custody. He knew that jail was the safer place because if he was out on the street, he was a walking corpse. While he would end up dead if sent to prison, the short time in jail would have given him time to set up his leaving town, so going to jail could possibly save his life.
It sounds like a cliché to say, "I fell down", when the authorities are interviewing you. But it is, in fact, a common response among those in such lifestyles. That's because they don't want their name associated with someone they plan to murder later in revenge
This also is why witnesses in such areas know to watch their beers, instead of help police. They know that if they do testify, the next body lying in the alley might to be theirs. This goes double to the criminal who is beaten by a bigger predator. The biggest predators don't operate alone -- ever. Those dogs run with equally large dogs. The smaller criminal knows if he testifies, he will be murdered while the larger criminal has the best alibi of them all -- he was in jail and awaiting trial.
Among the truly dangerous groups, if there is a known association between the killer and the soon-to-be-killed, there is a form of "favor swapping." This isn't the same as buying a "hit" on someone. It is more a "murder for barter" system. An individual, who has a known beef with someone, will often have a third, totally unrelated party, murder that person. This allows the first person to set up his alibi and -- truthfully -- state that he did not kill the victim. In time, the first person will return the favor to allow the third person plausible deniability on another unrelated murder.
There are far bigger potential problems than dealing with the legal system. While it is possible that there will be a guy who comes back to get revenge on you for hurting him, there is just as good a chance that it will be someone else. And he will be coming armed for bear. If you're lucky, it will just be a bunch of guys with baseball bats and tire irons jumping out of a van. But that is usually the sign of amateur hour. With the professionals, it is a whole lot worse.
The bottom line is that criminals and violent people do not like to lose. Pride, face and street credibility are very much a life-and-death issues for them. In their lifestyle, if they lose these things they will become the victims of other criminals. And if they are beaten by a "civilian," their credibility is damaged even more. If the police are not involved (i.e., you beat him and leave) there is a good chance he is going to try to seek revenge.
This can complicate your life ... especially because violence often occurs in places you normally frequent (e.g., your apartment complex). Putting that in simple terms: He knows where to find you. And he's going to be the one who decides when to come looking. So if you think the first attack was bad, wait until he comes at you the second time.
Welcome to the repercussions of violence.
The simple fact is, despite all the squealing Internet warriors do about "being thrown in prison for attempted self-defense," your BEST chances of surviving the aftermath of violence is with the legal system. This is especially true if you acted within the legal parameters of self-defense, instead of giving into your fear, adrenalin, anger -- and quite possibly -- your dark fantasy about savaging someone. If you have crossed that line, then, yes, you have a world of trouble waiting for you after you "win."
We present this introduction to repercussions to inform you of some of the things you will encounter if you use violence. While we are not saying you shouldn't defend yourself, you do need to know that your problems won't end with a body hitting the floor. Because of that, you need to research more about the subject other than just the physical elements.
In my early street fighting books, I spent a lot of time discussing the repercussions of violence, specifically the kind of problems one will encounter among the criminal and violent elements of society. It is ironic that so many cyber-warriors base their criticisms of me on the assertions that I focus too much on these aspects of violence. Apparently a "true street warrior" isn't concerned about such trivial things. Instead, they choose to believe that all they have to know about self-defense is how to beat someone up. And they will tell all who will listen (or read) how ferocious they are for knowing their deadly fighting systems.
When an individual willfully chooses to ignore warnings and proceeds with a self-destructive course of action, my attitude is "tough luck fella!" when thing go wrong. In fact, the more dismissive, arrogant and self-righteous about these problems he was, the funnier it is to me when they rear up and bite him on the butt.
Where I do have a problem is when such people try to convince innocent, unknowing people that they don't have to worry about the repercussions of engaging in violence. This can be through ignorance that such issues exist (as is common with many martial arts instructors who claim to teach self-defense) or via self-defense groups with an agenda. The latter tend to be far more oriented toward giving people permission to engage in violence than they are about preparing them for the realities and problems that arise. This attitude is very dangerous for people who don't know any better. Unlike the person who willfully chooses to remain ignorant, the people who listen to him will never know that these problems exist -- until it is too late.
Unfortunately, you cannot get all the training you need from one instructor. Violence is a complex and multi-tiered subject that touches upon many other fields of expertise. And although self-defense is less complicated than the entire spectrum of violence, it is still extremely complex. It is never about just one, simplistic issue (e.g., what ultimate fighting style you know). This is why to truly understand the subject, find different instructors in various areas beyond the physical components. Knowing the legal requirements for self-defense and negotiate, as well as people skills, are as much aspects of self-defense as any physical training.
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Taking It to the Streets
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Martial Arts America
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Violence, Blunders And Fractured Jaws: Advanced Awareness, Avoidance and Street Etiquette
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The Missing Link: Self-Protection Through Awareness, Avoidance and De-Escalation
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Street Smarts, Firearms and Personal Security
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Secrets of Effective Offense
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A Bouncer's Guide to Barroom Brawling
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Experience- & Reality-Based Self-Defense
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Cheap Shots, Ambushes and Other Lessons
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Freedom From Fear
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The Combat Perspective: A Thinking Man's Guide to Self-Defense
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Surviving a Street Knife Attack
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The Bulletproof Mind
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Turning Fear Into Power
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