When Can You Legally Defend Yourself?
Unfortunately, it happens all too often: you’re out with some friends, minding your own business, when someone sets out to cause trouble with you. And despite your best efforts of de-escalation, you may not be able to get out of the situation easily. Or maybe you stumble around a corner and interrupt an assault already taking place, and the assailant – or assailants – focus on you instead. Or in an extreme case, you could be in a worst-case scenario: you’ve come home unexpectedly, or woken up in the middle of the night, and someone you don’t know is inside your home, and you’re in their way.
In situations like these, preparation is the key. You have to be able to act decisively and effectively, while ensuring the safety of you and your loved ones. You may be willing to do what it takes to protect them – but just how many options do you have? Do you really know when you can legally defend yourself?
(Before going any further, we do have to point out – we are not lawyers, and as with any laws, this information is subject to change! These are guidelines only, and we make no guarantees that what is true today will hold up in the future. If you are in need of detailed help, consult someone who is trained to interpret the most up-to-date laws properly).
Self-defense is a very grey legal area for many reasons, but one of the biggest ones is this – at some point when you are fighting back (if you are successful), you will no longer be defending, but attacking. Finding that point is very difficult to do after the fact, and it is up to the people involved to judge when they can safely stop fighting back and exit the situation. The crux of many cases is whether a person acted reasonably, and did no more harm than absolutely necessary; many factors are taken into account for this, like relative size, weight, gender, weapons, prior behaviour, martial arts training, and so on. But in general, if you are attacked, you are legally permitted to reasonably defend yourself until you are no longer in danger.
When it comes to weapons, you also must be careful of what you use. It is actually illegal to buy or possess pepper spray in Canada, even for self-defense – and the same goes for a bat you pull from your truck, the switchblade in your pocket, or the brass knuckles you carry around. If you have anything on your person that you intend to use as a weapon, and then use it as such, it becomes harder to believe that your actions were entirely innocent, even if they were. The lines get blurry very quickly.
In Canada, you are innocent until the Crown proves you are guilty – which means that in a trial, the prosecution would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were not acting in self-defense. While it’s good that the default position is in your favour, these cases are often decided on sparse testimony, personal interpretations of behaviour, and second-hand evidence, so it is rarely as black and white as that.
In general, when it comes to self-defense, less is more. As a trained martial artist, you most likely have an advantage in a physical fight, and that will be accounted for after the fact. Never cause more harm than you must, and always look for a safer option to defuse the situation before choosing to defend yourself physically. The goal of martial arts like kung fu is not to fight like in the movies – it’s to gain a valuable skill and improve the balance and harmony of your body. Use your brain as much as your brawn, and you’ll always have the upper hand.
(And remember: if in doubt, talk to the real experts. We’re not afraid to admit we might be wrong, so don’t take any of this as complete legal advice!)
Is The Canadian Government Being Unfair?
When it comes to weapons in society and how people should be able to use them, it’s hard to settle on an answer that suits everyone. It seems that the only thing that everyone involved agrees on is that all weapons, no matter how large or small, should only be wielded by those with the training and knowledge necessary to use them properly. Today we want to discuss some of the restrictions on martial arts weapons that you may not even know exist.
Many of the weapons that you might think of when you hear the words “martial arts”, such as nun-chuks, bo staffs, sais, and small clubs, originated as farming equipment in China. In the 1600s, the Chinese government outlawed weaponry for civilians, but also required that they were able to defend themselves and the country if needed. Due to this, they created new techniques with the objects they had on hand, and many of the modern symbols of martial arts were born.
Just like many other household items, like kitchen knives or construction tools, the danger of these weapons depends on who is wielding them. Yet, strangely, while you can own as many knives, chainsaws, nail guns, sledgehammers, baseball bats, and shovels as you want, you cannot own – or even carry! – nun-chuks, three-sectioned staffs, self-opening blades, or ninja stars in Canada. It’s illegal for you to own them, or even transport them for the sole purpose of training somewhere else!
This can be disappointing for martial artists, as it’s a double standard: we trust carpenters, arborists, and chefs with their tools, which are all equally lethal. We allow hunters to bring guns and crossbows into the wilderness, once they’ve shown that they know what they’re doing with them – and if someone gets hurt, we hold them responsible. Why is it not the same with martial arts weapons?
Now, we are not advocating that our students should be able to carry around potentially lethal objects and wave them around for fun – far from it. What we do want is for our students to be able to become familiar with, respect, and transport these traditional martial arts tools to a safe training session without fear of breaking the law, just like plenty of other people do with the tools of their trade. After all, why would a disciplined and knowledgeable martial artist be any more likely to cause trouble than anyone else, who could simply walk into any hardware store and choose from hundreds of potential weapons available? How dangerous is a chainsaw or a set of bolt cutters compared a sai or a set of nun-chuks?
There is a necessary and implicit trust present in many places of society. Just because someone wants to learn how to use a traditional martial arts weapon effectively does not mean that they will have any desire to hurt anyone, or ever use them beyond the walls of the gym. For example, we don’t assume that every gun owner is angry or maniacal – why would we treat martial artists any differently?
So what do you think? Would you like to see reform in the laws, and allow qualified martial artists to own and transport these weapons? Or do you think the risks are too high for the relatively small amount of people that would benefit from such a change?
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