The term “self-defense” means different things to different people. To a police officer, self-defense differs significantly from defensive tactics or DT, as it is known in the law enforcement training community. 

From a civilian perspective, “self-defense” may be synonymous with martial arts. While others may believe self-defense means using a firearm. Because there are so many interpretations, defining self-defense in terms of functionality is beneficial.

Self-defense infers using your body or a weapon against one or more persons based on conditions at hand – conditions that warrant a defensive use of force. Self-defense is synonymous with the use of force. Those conditions place you or someone with you in immediate jeopardy of losing your life or a limb. 

Best Defense

The best option to keep yourself out of jeopardy is to avoid putting yourself in those situations. Being proactive while using common sense and situational awareness does wonders for keeping yourself and those with you out of harm’s way.

However, for the sake of argument, let’s say that by whatever means you failed to avoid a nasty situation, you ended up in a condition where you couldn’t avoid a violent physical altercation, or defuse, de-escalate, or talk your way out of it. You have exhausted all proactive measures and are now relegated to only reactive ones.

Your best self-defense, in that case, is to get out of there – make tracks, get off the ‘x,’ immediately vacate, and exfil or egress the area. Failing to depart, you are faced with some critical decisions.

After applying your awareness to your immediate surroundings and processing this relevant information, your first decision should be, “Does this warrant use of force?” If there’s any other way to solve the problem other than using force, that would be your best option. The split second you go hands-on, you risk being injured or killed. 

Following your decision to apply self-defense, your next task is determining the appropriate use of force.

Does the situation warrant a firearm, an expandable baton, pepper spray, a blow horn, a punch in the throat, a kick to the groin, or a knife blade driven into your opponent’s left eye?

You have two categories of self-defense from which to choose. One is non-lethal, and the other is lethal. For many reasons (legal, financial, ethical, et al.), the go-to category would be to go with non-lethal options such as pepper spray, stun gun, expandable batons, flashlights, and the like.

Martial Arts

Martial arts fall under the category of a non-lethal force option. You can deliver a punch, kick, elbow, knee, or headbutt to convey that you are not to be messed with while also not taking the life or lives of your adversaries. If you choose martial arts as a non-lethal use of force option, then it is strongly recommended that you train in an art for enough time to become street effective. How long is that?

Think about playing a musical instrument or learning a new language. Granted, you may learn to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on your new piano in a few days; however, you won’t be capable of playing in a symphony orchestra. In learning a new language, you may be able to ask, “where is the bathroom” but that’s a far reach from holding a fluent two-way conversation with a foreign national in their native tongue.

The same applies to martial arts. You may learn a punch, a kick, a choke, or how to take someone to the ground (takedown). You still need to know what to do after that. Never mind being proficient enough against single and multiple assailants who’ve been in more street fights than you or did more time in federal prison than you.

Lethal Force

The remaining category of self-defense is the use of lethal force. Such physical options as employing a firearm or a non-ballistic weapon like an edged or impact weapon would constitute lethal use of force. Even a weapon of opportunity or improvised weapon such as a frying pan, a rock, a broomstick handle, or a sharp piece of glass can deliver a lethal strike if you have the appropriate training.

If you choose a firearm, you rely on two things – 1. You have your firearm with you or within arm’s reach, including ammo, and 2. Possess sufficient training under your belt to use it as a lifesaving tool. 

Just because you own a gun doesn’t mean that you are an expert marksman, possess superb gun handling skills, and know how to safely store and maintain a functional ballistic weapon.

When deploying a weapon of opportunity, such as an edged (knife screwdriver, etc.) or impact weapon, although not as complex as a firearm, you still need some degree of street-level proficiency to prevail.

When it comes to self-defense, think it all the way through. If you intend to be street effective in using a weapon in self-defense – including your body parts – are you willing to make the time, spend the money, and commit to a training regimen that will make you legitimately street effective? Your answer to that question determines your choices in developing a viable self-defense strategy.