22 November 2011

Civilian Self Defence

I've used the phrases “Civilian Defence” and “Civilian Self-Defence Systems” a couple of times on this blog before, particularly during the recent controversial post “Why Taekwon-Do Is Not Good for Self-Defence” and its follow-up. I think that before I can continue my argument, I need to clarify what I mean by “Civilian Defence,” and what I understand a “Civilian Defence System” to be.

Civilian Defence

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For me¹ “civilian defence” refers to the principles, strategies and techniques employed by civilians, as opposed to (military) combatants, to defend themselves within a civilised context; in other words, in a society where the rule of law is generally upheld—thus not in the contexts of war or anarchy. Civilian defence is purposed to defend (the members of) civil society from uncivil elements and to uphold the laws that keep such a civil society in place. In the context of war, civil laws are to a degree suspended, i.e. martial law; and during a state of anarchy, civil laws are ignored or non-existent. However, in a civil society a civilian defending him or herself has to do so within the bounds of the law governing the society he or she lives in. Breaking society's expectations of civility, even for the purpose of self-defence, may result in prosecution. While a civil society allows self-defence, it does so with certain conditions.

A “civilian defence system” is the system of principles, strategies and techniques taught, followed and practised by a fraternity (e.g. club / martial art style) of civilians with the intend to defend themselves within the conditions provided by civil society.

A Civil Society²

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What do I mean by a “civil society”? Simply, it is a society where there is a rule of law governing on the basic principles derived, in part, from the Silver Rule: “Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.” In short, “Harm None.” In a civil society this rule is even extended to criminals and to your attackers. The law will allow you to defend yourself, but only to a degree; certain conditions apply. Use of violence by a civilian is frowned upon in a civil society . While the use of violence for the purpose of self-defence is typically permissible within the confounds of the law of a civil society, it is restricted. For instance, your use of force in self-defence may not be “excessive”; that is, you are not allowed to use any more violence and/or physical force than is absolutely necessary to dissuade the immediate threat and unless you can prove serious threat to life and limb, you cannot cause grave harm or long-term harm to your attacker. Were you to break your attacker's knee or maybe grope out an eye ball, law will probably look very unfavourably upon you, even if the attacker “deserved” such reaction from you.

The law sees all acts of violence as illegal. When you use violence in order to defend yourself, you are also doing something illegal. However, this unlawful action is temporarily permissible in order to protect your own “life and limb” or that of a third party. To legally use violence in self-defence, as Mr Eades pointed out in his article, it must be in a response to a criminal attack upon you (or a third party). Furthermore, your defensive reaction must be both a reasonable and necessary response directed against the attacker. In other words, most people in this civil society should agree that it was a reasonable reaction. Breaking someone's knee for slapping you in the face is not a reasonable response. Also, your reaction must be “necessary to avert the attack”; this means that if there is another option available to you to have prevented choosing a violent defensive response, you are obligated to take it. That means that if an intoxicated guy drunkenly swings a punch at you and you can comfortably sidestep and avoid the attack, then that is probably a more suitable action than stepping in and doing an elbow strike to the guys temple, followed by two knee strikes to the gut!

A civil society, therefore, is a society based on the Silver Rule and requires civil behaviour. Even in your dealings with an aggressor, the law in a civil society still requires from you a certain degree of civility—your self-defence is only legally permissible provided you keep certain conditions.

Civilian Self-Defence Systems

A military combat system and a civilian self-defence
system differ in principle, strategy and technique.
A civilian self-defence system caters for civilians wanting to protect themselves, while adhering to the conditions of self-defence required by the law. A military combat system centres almost exclusively around very hard, brutal and even lethal techniques. A civilian self-defence system cannot be based solely on the same arsenal of techniques. A civilian self-defence system may indeed be lethal; however, it must provide a broad spectrum of techniques, including a wide section of techniques that are not unnecessarily brutal. In should include a “soft” alternative. In other words, a civilian self-defence system must include principles, strategies and techniques that provide “civil” solutions to a violent attack, if possible.

Furthermore, a civilian self-defence system is highly contextual. What is “civil” behaviour in one culture is not necessarily “civil” behaviour in another culture; also, the threats and likely types of attacks and criminal profiles differ widely in different places. The type of civilian self-defence training that Koreans in South Korea with its extremely low crime rate and absence of guns require are drastically different from South Africa with its high crime rate and an abundance of guns and other weapons.

Non-Ideal Civilian Self-Defence Systems

As I argued before, original Taekwon-Do does not provide such “civil” solutions, primarily because of its military origin. For this reason, original Taekwon-Do is not a good civilian self-defence system. I am not saying that Taekwon-Do cannot be a good civilian self-defence system. It can be. However, it requires a re-evaluation of its original purpose; i.e. a rethinking of its principles and strategies. It also requires an augmentation of its original arsenal of techniques.

Shastar Vidya -- Image Source: BBC
While I believe that original Taekwon-Do, like Krav Maga, is not a good civilian self-defence system because of its military roots, it does not follow that I believe simply any traditional system is unequivocally a good alternative. Take Shatar Vidya, the traditional Indian martial art that focusses on traditional bladed weapons. There is practically no way one can use this art with its spears and swords and other weaponry for everyday civilian self-defence. The mere carrying of those weapons in public are likely illegal. (Then again, this style also developed from a military context, even though it is practised as traditional martial art now.)

Aikido -- Image Source
Just because a martial art is traditional style that did not develop from a military context does not by default make it a good civilian self-defence system, either. Take Aikido for instance. One would be tempted to think that because Aikido is so overtly “civil” it is the perfect civilian self-defence system. Unfortunately Aikido's lack of hard techniques (deficiency in basic guards, blocks and strikes), shows it to be as limited in scope and application as a fully offensive military combat system like Krav Maga. The solution is not replacing one extreme with another extreme, but rather a blend of hard and soft, offensive and defensive principles, techniques, and strategies.

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I also believe that most traditional martial arts, even though they have a wide arsenal of techniques, may still be bad civilian self-defence systems because of the principles and strategies that are not focussed on modern contextual realistic self-defence scenarios. Take for instance my article: “I Don't Like Your Self-Defence”. Most martial art schools do not teach proper self-defence, and while the martial arts themselves may have the potential to be effective civilian self-defence systems, the way they are taught make them poor self-defence systems. In fact, most martial art schools are not self-defence focussed. Instead they are health focussed, like most Tai-Chi groups; or sport focussed , like Judo, WTF, or MMA gyms; or focussed on character building and discipline for children, like most Karate and Tang Soo Do schools; or disciplines for ascetic development like most Aikido and Shaolin centres. Any martial art club where the principle focus is on health, sport, character building, and ascetic development, or other such martial art related aspect, will inevitably neglect true self-defence training. It is merely a case of priorities. If self-defence training is not the first priority, then it is obviously a lessor priority. Determining if something is a priority is, at least in part, decided upon how much attention it receives.


1. The first time I heard of the concept of “civilian defence systems” was, I think in 2007. It was during my annual trip in South Africa—I was hanging out with a friend of mine, James Reader, a psychologist and host of creativity workshops. James explained to me this concept, as he understood it from his instructor, Bob Davies, a renowned Karate instructor from KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. I hoped to meet with Master Davies at the time, but was told that he was on a sabbatical of sorts for ascetic purposes, and not meeting with anybody. My return visits in South Africa never afforded me the time to look Master Davies up. My interest in the idea of “civilian defence” made me research it online, where I discovered the blog of Dan Djurdjevic, who wrote an extensive post on the topic.

2. The keen (ITF) Taekwon-Do practitioner will note the correlation between “civil society” and what General Choi Hong-Hi, the principle founder of Taekwon-Do, called “Moral Culture” (ITF Taekwon-Do Encyclopaedia, Volume 1, p. 45-68). In his treatise on the topic, Gen. Choi quotes Confucius: “to promote the sense of morality one must treat others with faithfulness and sincerity based on righteousness, and to eliminate completely vicious thinking.”

1 comment:

Ymar Sakar said...

Ah, so that's where the backstory comes in.

Tim Larkin's instructors and co-developers of the system marketed it as self defense in terms of achieving that goal, but didn't really like the term because what they were teaching was only one thing.

If a person felt justified or necessary to take out a gun and shoot the enemy, then they can use what they learned from TFT. Otherwise, it'd be over kill with certain legal consequences. As a result, people dieing accidentally in bar fights was avoided entirely once people figured out how easy it was to kill people bare handed, which would also include their own lives.

Most of the justified lethal force course material is taught for firearms owners in the US, otherwise it's mostly not covered. That puts martial arts training at a disadvantage since the problem then becomes if you use lethal force, you weren't taught how to do it with legal justifications. And if you don't use lethal force, you can get killed by someone else. Getting caught in a Catch 22 is usually not a good idea.