In the United States, we are culturally conditioned to avoid conflict and uphold peace at almost any cost. This tendency to adopt a “sweep it under the rug” approach is something I’ve observed in many individuals around me. This observation inspired this article, as it underscores a vital point: avoiding a conflict does not necessarily resolve it.

Often, we’re faced with situations offering no “good options,” leaving us to choose between “bad” and “very bad.” These choices seldom lead to the happy ending we’ve been taught to expect. Reality frequently contradicts the theory.

Let me be clear – peace is viable only when all parties are committed to it. A long-term resolution is unlikely if only one side seeks a peaceful resolution. The less peaceful side learns that instilling fear or pain can be an effective tactic.

Anyone who has taken even a basic self-defense lesson knows our first priority as civilized people is to disengage from dangerous situations. “Go home safe” is our idea of a successful resolution. In my Krav Maga teaching, I often say, “Swallow your pride and leave if you can.” However, this article sheds light on the other side of walking away – a theoretical perspective, not advice.

In Krav Maga, we’re trained to think quickly and use force when necessary to neutralize threats. We also learn to avoid danger by being aware of our surroundings and assessing risks. We constantly profile those around us to identify potential threats – a key aspect of self-preservation.

When forced to fight, we rely on specific tactics.

Three conditional criteria that when aligned, you can act in self-defense.

The essential element for self-defense is to avoid harm, and best if you can avoid harming others on the way.  Let’s break down each condition when you can, or should I say, obligated to act:

I’m not a lawyer, so please don’t read this as legal advice, but I share what I believe should trigger a physical response in self-defense:

  1. Intent to Harm: Determining whether the attacker intends to cause harm is crucial. This intent is often evident in their words, actions, body language and other threatening behaviors.
  2. Capability to Inflict Harm: Assess if the attacker is capable of physically executing their threat. Consider factors like size, strength, whether they’re armed, or the presence of multiple attackers.
  3. Proximity: Proximity involves the physical distance between you and the attacker at the time of the incident. The closer the attacker is, the more immediate the threat is perceived to be. Proximity is crucial because it influences the immediacy of the threat – a key factor in determining whether self-defense is necessary and justified.

These three conditions work together to establish a scenario where self-defense could be morally justified. In a situation where all three conditions are met, the threat is often considered immediate and unavoidable, thereby potentially justifying the use of physical force.

To clarify, here are a couple of examples to illustrate my point:

If someone intends to hurt you and is close enough to do so, but they are incapable of actually causing harm (for example, the aggressor is a 5-year-old child throwing a tantrum), you are NOT justified in harming them, neither legally nor morally.

Similarly, if a person is capable of causing harm in close proximity, but they have no intention to harm you, then there is no need for you to resort to violence.

Legal interpretation isn’t necessarily justice seeking, so please don’t confuse any of the above as advice. Sadly, there’s a big gap between morality and legality. Real justice is more likely to be achieved through moral actions, but too often, it’s the legality that will get in its way. But that is a whole other discussion, for another time.

The paradox of self-defense choices lies in the realization that sometimes, to preserve peace, we must prepare for war.

As a peaceful person who wishes to protect my personal safety, the well-being of my loved ones, and the values I stand for, I recognize the necessity of being prepared to protect these at all costs. Therefore, in order to maintain self-preservation and uphold peace, I must learn how to fight and be willing to harm someone if necessary, so that peace can once again become a viable option.

In other words, I must act in a way that contradicts my values, for self preservation. While I value peace, I also prioritize my safety, and in order to remain safe, I must decide which of these values is more urgent to protect.

Violence in self-defense isn’t a simple black-and-white issue. It involves ethical considerations, personal experiences, and societal implications. These choices are tough, requiring a balance between our survival instincts and our moral compass.

The true essence of self-defense lies in awareness and establishing boundaries to avoid reacting “too late” to threats. When we fail to identify and eliminate threats before they become imminent, we’re forced to react more forcefully than we would have preferred.

As we go through life, these self-defense lessons become part of our identity.

Learning self-defense doesn’t guarantee immunity from harm but provides more options, better choices, and informed decisions. It’s not about seeking violence but being prepared for it.

Sometimes, there are no good choices. You might find yourself deciding between the lesser of two evils. Such dire situations can leave you feeling helpless and lead to significant trauma.

Do something amazing,

Tsahi Shemesh
Krav Maga Experts

1 comment

  1. Sometimes when you are left with very little choice, the only best defense is an offense. Restraint is a luxury available to those who have the time to carefully assess their options. In the face of real violence, we hardly have the time to make that assessment. It’s a fact and those who refuse to acknowledge it are either gonna lose their life or learn a painful truth where they become permanently damaged from the experience. I know people who have had to make very difficult choices and they never regret choosing their lives and their families to protect them from such danger. It is hard especially when there are laws in place that kind of even makes it difficult for one to protect themselves. But like you said this is where the value of knowing self defense comes into play. I always tend to use insurance as the best analogy to compare it to. When we drive, we hope we never get into an accident. Same as when we are outside exposed to the elements we hope we never catch anything or slip on the curb or get mugged. But if god forbid something does happen, that insurance will come in handy. Wishing and hoping for some unfortunate event to happen doesnt mean it will not. Ive always had this impression that most people who are trained in self defense try to proactively not engage in a situation where they know they are at an advantage and can mortally defeat an aggressor. I am not saying everyone share this sentiment but those who are principled do. There are two good books i love that brush on this topic. One is Tim Larkins when violence is the answer, and the other is the gift of fear. These two books should be a must read for everyone. One is about resorting to violence as the last option and the other book is about situational awareness and trusting one’s instinct. Anyway this blogpost is probably my favorite so far. I dont condone violence like i mentioned in a previous comment but sometimes it may be the only way to get one’s self out of a pickle. However if we can try to avoid getting into a situation that would warrant us to use extreme force to protect ourselves, that we should do. It’s not worth it to ruin our lives by being complacent or worse not avoiding a confrontation that we have the chance of not finding ourselves in. Being prepared gives us an advantage, being knowledgeable in basic self defense laws is as well. But the most important thing too is being aware of our surroundings and not compromising our ability to do this (ie not being drunk at the wee hours of the night while travelling alone and having to use the subway or driving while drunk etc).

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