So when can I punch someone in the face? We talked briefly yesterday about use of force models. These are the models used to explain why force was used. They are also used as a teaching framework for people who have to use force in the line of duty. It’s interesting stuff, and can help you understand what you are seeing the next time a video is posted on youtube of a bouncer tossing someone out of a club.

But that’s a foreign world to most of us. We don’t deal with violence on a day to day basis. We train to deal with it in various ways in our martial arts clubs, but what’s the reality? What really happens when we have to defend ourselves?

It helps to understand that there is a difference between defense and consent. You might not feel like it at the time, but you can consent to a fight, legally. If someone yells at you, and you yell back, and the fists start swinging…that’s not really defense, or assault. That’s two people being idiots.

If someone yells at you, and you back off? If you try to talk calmly, and take steps backwards, and the guy steps forward and yells more? Now you’re showing that you do not consent to a fight. If the other guys swings, it’s assault, and you are defending yourself. In certain circumstances, you might even be justified in hitting him first. Looking at the Saint Paul’s hospital model, if the other person has escalated verbally right up to aggression? You could make a reasonable argument to a judge that you expected to be struck, and decided to not let that happen.

And that’s okay. You do have the right to not be hit. You also have the right to use reasonable means to ensure you are not hit. “Reasonable means” can cover a lot of territory. For a frail old lady backed into a corner by a screaming meth-head, it might mean shooting the meth-head with a concealed pistol. For two burly young men, it might mean one of them shoves the other one over while yelling “stay the hell away from me!” Reasonable is dictated by the circumstances…which also provides the limit to how much force you can respond with.

You don’t have any right to carry a weapon for self-defense. And a weapon, in Canadian law, is considered to be anything intended to be used as a weapon, or listed as a prohibited or restricted weapon. A hunting knife isn’t a weapon if you don’t intend to use it to hurt people. Neither is a hunting rifle a weapon. A rolled up magazine is, if you intend to use it for self-defense. The rule here is, again, “Reasonable.” Would a reasonable person carry a hunting rifle in downtown Vancouver? No. You may not intend it to be a weapon, but a reasonable expectation in this case is that you do intend it to be a weapon. Out in the woods it’s different.

This test can cause problems for WMA students from time to time. Carrying a sword is unusual, and a reasonable person might not think of any good reason, like taking a class, for carrying one. Something to keep in mind.

You are allowed to use any reasonable means to defend yourself, though. So if you are walking home from a good training class and are attacked by an armed ninja, you are probably justified in running him through with your rapier. Sure, that could happen…

What about defending your property? Say someone comes into your house to steal things, and you confront them. Can you lay into them with a baseball bat? No. This is kind of a fun one. When they come into your house, that’s trespass. All you can really legally do in this case is tell them to leave. That’s it. However…if they refuse to leave, that’s what’s called “assault by trespass.” In other words, they are now committing assault. You are now justified in using reasonable force. Interesting, eh?

Okay, maybe it’s all a little confusing. But honestly, you should put the study in. Know your legal system. If you are seriously interested in self defense, and especially if you are teaching self-defense, you start with the law. Self-defense classes that are run on an ongoing basis should teach reasonable level of force responses to different circumstances. The models presented yesterday can be a good basis. Verbal responses to non-contact threats. Joint locks, pressure point and pain techniques to the next level of threat, and moving on up the chain. Teach de-escalation, teach what to do after the assault and successful defense, teach good debriefing habits to cope with the emotions after. It’s not just block-punch-armbar-kick em in the nuts…

Here’s a start. I’ve clipped the relevant sections from the Canadian Criminal Code so you can read them yourselves…always better than relying on anything I wrote!

Defence of Person

34. (1) Every one who is unlawfully assaulted without having provoked the assault is justified in repelling force by force if the force he uses is not intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm and is no more than is necessary to enable him to defend himself.

(2) Every one who is unlawfully assaulted and who causes death or grievous bodily harm in repelling the assault is justified if

(a) he causes it under reasonable apprehension of death or grievous bodily harm from the violence with which the assault was originally made or with which the assailant pursues his purposes; and

(b) he believes, on reasonable grounds, that he cannot otherwise preserve himself from death or grievous bodily harm.

Self-defence in case of aggression

35. Every one who has without justification assaulted another but did not commence the assault with intent to cause death or grievous bodily harm, or has without justification provoked an assault on himself by another, may justify the use of force subsequent to the assault if

(a) he uses the force

(i) under reasonable apprehension of death or grievous bodily harm from the violence of the person whom he has assaulted or provoked, and

(ii) in the belief, on reasonable grounds, that it is necessary in order to preserve himself from death or grievous bodily harm;

(b) he did not, at any time before the necessity of preserving himself from death or grievous bodily harm arose, endeavour to cause death or grievous bodily harm; and

(c) he declined further conflict and quitted or retreated from it as far as it was feasible to do so before the necessity of preserving himself from death or grievous bodily harm arose.

36. Provocation includes, for the purposes of sections 34 and 35, provocation by blows, words or gestures.

37. (1) Every one is justified in using force to defend himself or any one under his protection from assault, if he uses no more force than is necessary to prevent the assault or the repetition of it.

(2) Nothing in this section shall be deemed to justify the wilful infliction of any hurt or mischief that is excessive, having regard to the nature of the assault that the force used was intended to prevent.

And as a bonus for reading this far, a little discussion on the current state of the law and what might be changing: Legislative Summary of Bill C-26: The Citizen’s Arrest and Self-defence Act.