Ethics of Self Defense
By Eric Wasserman
As New Yorkers, we all have a responsibility to live by what have come to be known as social norms. That is not to say that there’s not a certain amount of flexibility here. According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “The field of ethics (or moral philosophy) involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior”. But, how do we define right and wrong behavior in relation to self defense and the protection of ourselves and loved ones?
The human body has certain natural responses to intense, sometimes scary situations. When these natural responses kick in, people become disorientated, confused, afraid, they freeze and are often short of breath. It is not easy to make decisions in these circumstances. When the adrenaline kicks in, as trained Krav Maga practitioners, we can function effectively in high-pressure situations. But in the heat of the moment, it’s often possible to lose your sense of proportion and lose sight of what is considered ethical behavior because we are under threat, in danger and for forced to defend ourselves.
A weakness or disadvantage, like paralyzing fear, or, being physically less able to defend yourself, can quickly play to somebody else’s advantage. When a Krav Maga practitioner is faced with a situation and he or she knows they are a position of advantage, issues surrounding responsibility quickly become an issue.
In Krav Maga, our philosophy is to defend ourselves and in doing so it may be necessary to supply any attacker with strikes to vulnerable parts of the body (soft tissue) that permit us and others to get away safely from a situation. However, there is a fine line between what is a proportionate response to an attack or threat and one where the response is disproportionate – we need to be aware of the difference.
We are not interested in teaching people to hurt others. There is a natural instinctive tendency to want to defend yourself, your friends and family but doing so in a socially responsible and proportionate manner isn’t always a priority, especially in the heat of the moment. We don’t encourage students to abuse their position of knowledge and experience just because they can. For instance, head-stomping automatically after you have defended an attack can cause severe damage and even kill someone and isn’t necessary (you are already safe).
Disproportionate responses to an attack are a major issue generally but especially in New York. It is like punching and kicking someone in the groin just because they accidentally pushed into you in a crowded bar. These are moments people tend to regret and which give certain martial arts and self defense systems a bad name. While local laws, judges, and juries determine the final outcome of these situations, we can effectively deter and fend off potential attackers without taking things to a dangerous or deadly level.
Understanding the progression and stages of an attack helps. Understanding the tactics of self defense and the principles of an effective offense also helps avoid these situations. But, above all, think and act responsibly and proportionately or it could end up you getting into trouble. Our ability to think and act responsibly can save us a lifetime of regret.
Be safe, and walk in peace.