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Self Defence and The Law.png

By Andrew Morrell


Many Martial Arts clubs teach self defence to their students and some even deliver bespoke courses. 

However in doing so many don’t fully understand the legal impact this can have on their students should
they then be unfortunate enough to find themselves in a situation calling for the use of the techniques taught to them.

Instructors also hold a certain amount of vicarious liability for what they teach, we have all been in lessons where the Instructor has taken an attacker to the floor and then continued to strike referring to it as ‘finishing off’ justifying it as making sure they stay down and can’t attack again or chase you should you run off. This may be a valid point, but is it lawful?

‎Since attaining the information I'm going to share in this article I now teach my students to back off once their attacker is down. Should he/she then get back up and continue to be aggressive they may then strike again but using more force than before which can then be justified by the fact that the first techniques failed to halt the threat.

Before you read on I'd like to make it clear that this article has been written by request by way of offering guidance and advice and not instruction. You as readers will make your own informed decision as to whether or not to take on board all, some or even none of what you are about to read which is of course your right.

Within the UK Section 76 Criminal Justice & Immigration Act 2008 Common Law Self Defence states that 'Where a person has an honestly held belief that he, she or another is in imminent danger, that person may use reasonable and necessary force in order to repel the attack. A person being attacked need not wait to be assaulted – circumstances may justify a pre-emptive strike'.

As mentioned above the law does allow us to strike first in the event that we have a genuine belief that we are going to be attacked. Any easy way to explain pre-emptive striking would be to state ‘I thought he/she was going to hit me so I hit him/her back FIRST’. Prior to delivering a pre-emptive strike should we give warnings that we train in the Martial Arts? That’s your choice but personally I wouldn’t and never have as doing so could escalate the attackers intentions.

We may use whatever techniques we wish at the time so long as we can justify the use afterwards should we end up in court.

This is referred to as reasonable force and must cease once the immediate threat has stopped by our actions or otherwise. By that I mean if what we do or say results in our attacker backing off, running away or ending up incapacitated on the ground then we must stop at that point as any further strike could be deemed as an assault in its own right rather than self defence and therefore not reasonable force. As mentioned above striking our attacker once they are down may seem valid at the time but can it be legally justified later in court?

Some situations we may find ourselves in will require the use of restraint techniques to gain pain compliance. For those unaware this means using locks/pressure points to inflict pain in order to end the aggression or gain control.


Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 states that a person may use force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in the effecting of assisting the lawful arrest of offenders, or suspected offenders, or person unlawfully at large. In other words we may use force to restrain an offender while Police arrive.

This again is a tricky subject which can leave us open to prosecution ourselves due to the fact that once compliance is achieved the infliction of pain is no longer justified and must cease otherwise we could be accused of torture.


Now for many this will mean releasing our attacker, which could re-create the threat. This can be resolved by simply altering the restraint technique within the club and then pressure testing – pain on or off can our attacker move/escape?

Many people are worried about getting into trouble for using the pre-emptive strike or for injuring a person who as tried to attack them/put them in fear in some other way. In order to help avoid getting into trouble yourself, it is advised that you should either offer after care to your aggressor should he/she be incapacitated by your defensive action, or in the event that you have taken the opportunity to then escape the area for fear of further threat, you should call the Police as soon as possible telling them what happened, what your actions were and give the location of your now incapacitated assailant.

We should also remember CCTV and witnesses may be around and offering after care will change any live commentary and/or statement they may give to the Police later on. Most CCTV does not carry sound so if all the operator sees is 2 people talking/arguing and then 1 striking out he/she could make the wrong assumption regarding what is actually happening.


In addition should the Police arrive on scene and you are offering help in a calm manner rather than screaming and shouting at your aggressor with such things like ‘get up and I’ll give you some more’ it will alter the officer’s perception/risk assessment of the scene as they arrive and make it less likely that they will exercise their power to use force on you.

‘Are we allowed to carry weapons for self defence reasons?’ is a common question often asked, the answer is simply no we aren’t. Section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 defines a weapon, or ‘offensive weapon,’ as any article made, adapted or intended for causing injury. Being caught in possession of such an article in a public place could result in arrest unless we can give a valid reason for carrying it, such as travelling to and from the dojo/club in the case of Martial Arts related weapons for example.

Many every day items can be used to defend ourselves given the correct training however the quoted act above refers to articles being ‘intended for’ and what this means is carrying an item when we don’t really have cause/need to at the time. When training in this specific area try to focus on objects that we all carry/need most of the time such as a mobile phone, a pen or set of keys.

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