Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Ignorance of the law is no excuse

Ignorantia juris non excusat - ignorance of the law is no excuse

Important note: Much of the information in this blog was taken with the author’s permission from Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected.

So go buy the book you cheap bastards

Recently I have had several conversations with internet “experts” about self defense and self defense laws.  When it stopped being amusing and only frustrating I decided to stop wasting my time with people who already know everything.  I have my own forum here.  Anyone who actually wants to read what I [ a professional Police Officer, who teaches use of force and force law to other professionals ] have to write on the subject can check out this blog. 

“I don’t represent the law… I AM the law!”

All of the “experts” are welcome to read it too but what I’m about to write will most likely be in direct conflict with their self image as tough guys so they will probably just ignore it anyway.

Let me start with this thought.  If you are teaching anything that can fit under the category self defense (sport arts, traditional arts, reality based self defense, defensive tactics, whatever) without also teaching your State’s self defense laws you are doing your students a great disservice.

But it is easy to correct.
As an experiment I googled –Minnesota state statutes self defense.
One link lead me to another:

In less than 3 minutes I had all the information I needed to start incorporating force law into my training.

So self defense instructors go find this information for your students. 
Students, if your instructor doesn’t teach this look it up for yourself.

Why is this so important?

Because what you think / have been lead to believe self defense is doesn’t matter.  How the court defines self defense does.

Most self defense being taught only works on social violence.  The thing is 99% of social violence in entirely avoidable and unnecessary.  The court views unnecessary violence as mutual assault, not self defense.

Ok so what is self defense?  "Self-defense" of self, others or property, is an example of an affirmative defense. 
That means that you are basically pleading guilty.
You are saying yes I assaulted, maimed, or killed the guy BUT… It’s not a crime because….
The right to self-defense is a basic human right that has been recognized from ancient times, and recognized in the laws on self-defense.

Let's look at a hypothetical example.

Johnny Apple drives to the store to buy some items.  In the parking lot, a man he does not know begins to yell at him about money he supposedly owes the man.  Then the man proceeds to brutally assault Johnny, during which Johnny notices he is attempting to pull out a knife.  Fearing for his life, Johnny breaks the man's neck which kills him.  The government charges (makes the claim of) criminal murder.  At the trial, Johnny's lawyer questions witnesses who testify about what they saw and heard of the brief assault.  The jury was convinced that it was not a murder to prevent collection of a debt, but a killing in self-defense because the "force" used by Johnny was "reasonable" under the circumstances of the attempted robbery. "Not guilty."


Most State
’s self-defense laws contain a "duty to retreat" (preclusion) provision.  A person facing a threat has a duty to retreat where practical, before responding with "reasonable force." 

This is where a lot of RBSD gurus put their students in peril.  How much training time is spent on barroom fights?

If you can walk away from it, even if it you feel it makes you look like a pussy, but you don’t its no longer self defense its mutual combative assault.

How many RSBD classes show punches to the throat against a chest shove?
The law is reality, so why isn’t it incorporated into reality based self defense training?

Most violence comes with instructions on how to avoid it. “You better leave before I kick your ass”.  Violence occurs because that option is refused.  Instructions are most common in social violence, but often happen in asocial.

A good faith effort to withdraw from the situation will prevent most violence. (caveat, walking away while talking trash, or threatening to come back does NOT qualify as ‘good faith’)

Many people are afraid ‘but what if he follows me?’ and that is their excuse for not withdrawing (actually it’s the Monkey being afraid of losing face that keeps them there) In reality,
        Odds are good he’ll still be talking, but not actually following
        If he does follow it will be a short feint to prove his point
        If he really does follow, it’s not social violence (i.e. he’s got another agenda)
        If he does follow, he’s actually helped your case that it was self-defense.

A real world example. A friend of mine was investigating an assault case.  A guy went into a bar and two wannabe biker type tough guys started picking on him.  They were calling him fag and queer.  They started to shove him.  He said he didn’t want any trouble and left.  Social violence is avoidable and comes with instructions.  Turns out the tough guys follow him out to his car.  This should be a big warning sign that this is not social violence.  Guy gets into his car and drives away.  The tough guys follow him home.  The guy runs from his car to his house and tries to shut the door behind him.  One tough guy grabs the door and starts to force his way in.  Unfortunately for tough guy the home owner has a box cutter inside the door and starts in on tough guy like a sewing machine.  My friend has to go to the hospital to get tough guy’s side of the story.  Tough guy doesn’t want to admit he got cut by a fag (he needed stitches from neck to groin) and refuses to give a statement.  Clearly self defense no charges on the guy.

That is a little different than a bar fight.

A lot of what I’m writing I take from Marc and Rory so much so I forget to give them credit, but this analogy I know I stole from Marc.

Take the social violence macho bullshit bar fight that is being taught as self defense.  If you can edit out the back ground of the bar and cgi in a UFC octagon, does the “fight” look like a match?  If so that is not self defense.

It is better to avoid than run, better to run than de-escalate, better to de-escalate than fight, better to fight than die.

A bar fight is not self defense it is a mutual assault.  If you do not make a reasonable attempt to leave. “Hey man, I don’t want to fight.  Whatever I did to piss you off I’m sorry.  I’m leaving”

Most people react out of fear and anger before the ‘fight.’ This is a threat display meant to warn off the other person – or at least that is what they think they are doing. In reality they are participating in the creation and escalation of a conflict.

Peyton Quinn’s instructions:
         Do NOT insult him
         Do NOT threaten him
        (oh yeah, well I’ll kick your ass!)
         Do NOT challenge him
        (what are you going to do? Hit me?)
         Do NOT deny this is happening
        (he’s not going to physically assault me for saying that about his mother)
         Do give him a face saving exit
If an attack is sudden retreat might be unrealistic or create a risk of bodily harm.  In order to protect you, your loved ones, or your property, in some situations there may be no realistic alternative to the use of  reasonable force in self-defense.

What is "reasonable force?"  
There must be thousands of court cases discussing this, in various situations.  
The idea is that the level of force used in self-defense should be commensurate with the perceived threat level at the time. 
The basic formula is:
         The minimum amount of force that you reasonably believe is necessary to safely resolve the situation

The biggest challenge people face is articulating WHY force was reasonable
This is especially problematic for three reasons

         Most attorneys (much less the DA), civilians and juries understand what a legitimate threat is. This is why you must be able to articulate jeopardy. Otherwise the DA is going to have you blubbering about shooting someone because ‘he looked at you mean.’

         The raw truth is that 99% of the violence that police see is both illegal and excessive. Even if it started as self-defense, that last kick or trigger pull usually crossed the line into assault. Although police investigate, this bias is there. It is very easy for that one time where it was legitimate self-defense to get swept into the other. The odds are 100 to 1 against it being self-defense. The Reid Method of questioning really makes this likely.
                     Every asshole I’ve ever arrested for assault, from bar brawlers to wife         beaters have all claimed self defense. 
                     If you have legitimately defended yourself but do not know how to           articulate your use of force you will sound just like the rest of the assholes

         People want to make statements under adrenaline. They want to rush forward and tell their story – except, all the inconsistencies and babbling of adrenaline really makes them say the wrong thing.

You will need to articulate to a jury
         What you did
         Why you did it
         Why other choices would have been worse

Immediate Threat
·         Intent
·         Means
·         Opportunity
·         Preclusion

Intent – I’m going to kick your ass
Means – He has the capability to kick your ass.
(If a 4 year old tells you she is going to kick your ass she may have intent but no means)
Opportunity – The person is right there in range to do harm to you
(Internet experts that threaten me from 1000’s of miles away lack opportunity)
Preclusion – I can’t get away, or walking away puts me or others at greater risk
(That is why castle doctrines exist because you don’t have to run from your own house)

So for all you RBSD instructors who totally ignore the reality of the law this is how you can incorporate it
Role player “The Jerk” picks a fight with your student in a bar. 
You actually have your student try to de-escaluate the situation, work on verbal skills.
That fails
Your student tries to leave
“The Jerk” physically impress the student’s ability to leave.  Won’t let him get out the door
Your student now does the physical techniques required to escape a dangerous situation.
Debrief / Peer review – What worked, what didn’t, what could have been done differently
Force articulation – Have your student explain what he did, why he did it, and why other choices would have been worse.

It might go something like this – I was at the bar with my girlfriend when this guy came over and started causing trouble.  We tried to ignore him, when that didn’t work I tried talking to him.  He told me he was going to kick the shit out of me.  I told him I didn’t want any trouble and that we were going to leave.  As I attempted to leave he locked the door way took up a fighting stance and told me I’m leaving until he’s done fucking me up. I (for the sake of argument let say the student punched “the Jerk in the throat) pushed his neck to move him out of the way so my girlfriend and I could leave the bar to safety.

Being able to do this is a valuable skill when the Police show up or “The Jerk” has his daddy send lawyers after you because the night didn’t end as he had planned.

If you don’t practice force articulation you will want to rush forward and tell the story except, all the inconsistencies and babbling of adrenaline will make you say the wrong thing.

That might go like this – This guy was talking shit so I smashed him in the throat.
Potato /  Patato except one you go home and have victory sex with your girlfriend, the other you go to county and pray you don’t have shower room sex against your will.

So why isn’t this taught more often?  Why am I giving them such a hard time?

There are far too many RBSD, Commando CQB instructors offering easy solutions to the vastly complicated topic of violence.  They offer to teach everything you need to know about dealing with violence in a weekend seminar, or if you want to become an Instructor in their system you need to spend an entire week of training, and mock people who train for years to understand something so simple as human interpersonal violence.  How can they offer such results?  They teach lethal force level techniques in response to social violence.  You know the type of violence that is the most easy to avoid.  They do not teach the law, because the law clearly states what they are teaching is UNREASONABLE  and ILLEGAL!  Guy approaches you in the bar? – Smash in his throat stomp on him while he is down!  FEAR NO MAN!  Guaranteed to save your life or your money back!

I have seen “experts” write - In my (insert name of ultimate kick ass system) we have a saying better to be judged by 12 carried by 6.

Or  - If I was attacked the last thing I would think of is the law

Many RBSD, Commando CQB instructors go so far as to say knowledge of the law will cause you to freeze under pressure.

That is like saying knowledge of traffic laws will cause you to freeze if you have to change lanes suddenly to avoid a collision.

Yes, that pressure I may change lanes with out signaling my intent, or use the break down lane to avoid injury or death caused by a crash.  But I will be able to explain my reasonable actions.

Not knowing traffic laws and smashing your car into someone because they cut you off is unreasonable and illegal.

Keeping with this analogy, compared to violence driving is fairly simple.  Yet, how long is the minimum driver’s education class?  At least 3 months? Be weary of anyone who claims they can teach you every thing you need to know to be a safe driver in a weekend, or claims he can make you a Driver’s Ed instructor in a week.

You may have told yourself all kinds of stories about what a total bad ass you are because you know some kind of deadly warrior system or commando combative system. A system that you paid big bucks to be trained in. But when you're looking someone, who means you harm, in the eye THAT'S when you're going to find out what you weren't taught. That's when you're going to discover the difference between training and doing. That's when you're going to learn the difference between fear and panic. And that's why you'll discover how much you trust your training
- Marc MacYoung
Ok, this blog has kind of spiraled into a rant, and I’ve been riding the tough guys and the commandos, and the merchants pretty hard.

Let me say that I’m not suggesting you coddle criminals or hide in your home.  Avoid the violence that can be avoided.  When it can’t be avoided use the appropriate level (avoid ineffective lower levels) of force needed to end the violence as quickly as possible. If that means you have to break the son of a bitch’s neck to get back home alive then break his fucking neck.  I’m just saying that knowledge of the law, and the ability to articulate the level of force you used is just as important as the physical skill used to break his neck.

If you don’t know your State’s use of force laws, that’s an easy fix and it is free – go look them up.

If you want to learn how to incorporate the many various sub contextual issues of dealing with human interpersonal violence into your training please check out this seminar

Violence Dynamics

Marc MacYoung
Rory Miller
9/26 Monday
Conflict Communications
9/27 Tuesday
Force Physics
9/28 Wednesday
Practical Applications of Defensive Tactics
Day 1: Low Level (restraint) Force
9/29 Thursday
Practical Applications of Defensive Tactics
Day 2: Higher Level Force


Conflict Communication Improves understanding of violence, and interpersonal communications.
Increases verbal skills and helps to make use of force less necessary (lessens the need)
If you're emotional and caught up in the default human conflict behaviors, the best de-escalation training in the world (Verbal Judo, C.I.T., etc) is of no use to you. You're not going to be able to do it.
The essential message of Conflict Communications is -
De-escalation starts with you.

Conflict Communications' goal is to teach you how to prevent conflict whenever possible and to minimize its impact when unavoidable.
Most conflicts can be successfully controlled by using the principles of this system. This is not specialized education only a select few can master. The program is designed so anyone can use it to prevent a conflict. And we do this by teaching you to de-escalate yourself first.
Originally designed for law enforcement  to be used when confronting violent felons, the principles of this program also works in business, social and familial situations
By understanding how and why confrontation occurs, Conflict Communications will show you conflict management, de-escalation, situation resolution and, if necessary, articulation of why action was both necessary and reasonable.


Force physics is not a defensive tactics system or a “martial arts” style.
Force physics is a training method developed to enhance your ability to use the defensive tactics or martial arts system you are trained in more
Increasing your competence, and confidence in your existing training.

Force physics will not only make you better at applying force to a resistive subject, but will help you understand the fundamental principles that make the application of force possible.

Force Physics will increase your ability to:
Articulate your use of force
Instruct others in the application of force
Repeatedly attempting to apply ineffective tactics on a resisting subject:
1) Creates hesitation to engage
2) Causes fear of committing WHEN engaged
3) Results in excessive use of force
Force physics enhances your ability to successfully use departmentally approved tactics against an actively resistive subject, increasing officer safety and decreasing use of force complaints


How to apply your defensive tactics system in a dynamic situation.
How to choose, apply and justify an appropriate force response.

This training will improve the student’s ability to improvise effective joint locks, move a larger threat on the ground and demonstrate effective
weapon retention
Practical Applications takes the skills developed in  conflict communications and force physics and “Pressure tests” them using reality based scenarios and force on force training.

Topics covered will include:
Student specific (customized) scenarios
Force Articulation
Action Debrief
Peer counseling

Train Hard, Train Smart, Be Safe


  1. Great article, Kasey. So many of the fights I deal with at the school are "self defense." I explain to the kids that it's not self defense when there is a teacher standing 10 feet away who you can turn to and say "help me, this kid is bullying me." They just do not understand the concept of walking away. It is unfathomable to them.

  2. Aparently illegal is not spelled ILL EAGLE!
    Ha, thanks Lise

  3. Awesome blog. Needed to be said and needs even more to be read and applied!!!!

  4. Lots of great points, and things I've argued many times with 'net warriors who spout the "tried by 12, carried by six" crap. My answer is usually simple: I'd encourage avoiding EITHER option. You don't have to be a lawyer -- but you do have to know what the laws say.

  5. I though of another analogy on my slow rainy commute into work today. Running a stop sign is a crime. Police Officers have the right to ignore / violate most traffics laws en route to an emergency with lights and sirens on. Yes I went through that stop sign because I needed to get to that domestic assault call. I activated my lights and sirens to make it through that intersection as fast as I safely could. Police Officers know the traffic codes and know what constitutes an emergency. If I go lights and sirens to go get a Diet Dew because I’m thirsty and need a caffeine kick I’m going to be in a world of shit. Especially if someone got hurt. Self defense is assault. But that assault is necessary under the emergency circumstances. Yes I smashed that guy in the throat. I tried to leave and he began attacking me. I ended the confrontation as quickly and safely as I could. If you don’t know what constitutes an emergency you are going to be in a world of shit. Especially if someone gets hurt.

  6. Great blog. Just got turned onto it by Marc. I just finished the ILEETA conference and looking for another training this year. Marc and Rory's may just be it. Going to be in the Upper Midwest? I'm in the Rockford, IL, area.

  7. emac, It will be in St. Paul MN

  8. I'll be sharing this post. Nicely done :-)

  9. Thank you Maija, I was just thinking that those of us that like to play with swords, edged weapons, fire arms and teach others how to use those weapons better know these laws cold

  10. So true ... I'm actually somewhat horrified on a regular basis at the blase nature of so much edged weapons stuff that is taught out there for 'self defense'. It's why my class is sword dueling - not self defense, so much less likely for someone out on the street to do a "Blade" and whip out a Katana from down the back of their coat and get themselves into trouble ..... though I have to say that once asked what my ultimate carry would be, I said a Katana and a big dog ... and perhaps a short Pinuti :-)

  11. Very, very well said. I've shared this around. Good stuff.