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stephen's picture
Teaching inappropriate techniques

Hi all,

Just thinking about self defence and the law. Any good practical-based club should include some advice on legal issues and I think people with a practical training background are aware of the lawful and legal principles of self defence and the use of force.

But what happens if say, a student is taken to court for use of  excessive force in a situation, but then sues their instructor for teaching  them inappropriate techniques? Is the instructor negligent for teaching potentially dangerous methods without first making students aware of the principles of excessive force? Is the instructor responsible for the student's unlawful actions?

For  example it is common to teach a takedown followed by a "finishing  move" such as a reverse punch or stamping kick. In some situations  this finishing move might be considered excessive. Could a student convicted of using excessive force from a finishing blow seek damages from their instructor for teaching the move?

I don't have any specific cases in mind, I'm merely asking the question out of interest and curiosity. Has anyone come  across such a situation before? Understood this is not the place for offering legal advice, it's just for general discussion.

Tau's picture

Are there inappropriate techniques, or is the student guilty of choosing a technique inappropriate for the moment?

I think morality and understanding of implications has to go along with teacing techniques. This is something I'm particularly keen on teaching my juniors. Potentially anything they do could have repurcusions on them. They must be sure that they are acting appropriately and out of necessity, the core aspects of "reasonableness."

bowlie's picture

Im not legal expert but I cant see how a case could be made against the teacher. The student made* the decision to do it.

*although its not a rational decision because of the stress 

lcpljones_dontpanic's picture

As far as I am aware there is no martial arts related specific precedent for such a scenario, however in todays litigious culture who can say that because their is no such precedent then it cannot happen. This is why English common law works the way it does. A new circumstance appears before a court and a judgement is made. This judgement then becomes a stated case against which other cases can be compared against and used as guidance by the courts, likewise the judgements from any subsequent appeals.

As for inappropriate techniques well during my time studying Jujitsu I found that there were many techniques taught as part of the syllabus that would be considered by the courts as potentially excessive dependant of course upon the circumstances. by way of examples;

A common way of finishing a throwing technique was to demonstrate a series of three or four different arm / joint locks / breaks on the downed opponent. Now having successfully avoided any harm from the assailant and then struck them with a distraction strike (atemi strike) you have then proceeded to throw them to the ground. If this was a simple one on one exchange with no other influencing factors then the reasonable next steps would be to either diengage and extract oneself from the melee and head to safety OR restrain the assailant and call for the police. Having struck and thrown the assailant to the ground to then go on and perform a series of destructive techniques of their limbs causing significant injury consistent with a charge for GBH the courts in my  view would no doubt consider this excessive use of force.

Another common finishing technique from various Jujitsu syllabus is the neck break where once you have by whatever method controlled and downed your assailant you violently twist the head in order to break the neck. Remember that Jujitsu is the battlefield empty hand system of the samurai so such a technique would be considered appropriate for such circumstances. This technique is even taught within various military unarmed combatives systems today because it is useful and could be deployed for good reason. However I very much doubt that there are many circumstances where a court would consider such a technnique in a civilian self defence context as reasonable in the circumstances.

Tau you wrote "Are there inappropriate techniques, or is the student guilty of choosing a technique inappropriate for the moment?" I can see your line of reasoning but let us consider the following.

As martial arts practioners we are all familiar with the principle that when a technique or body movement is practiced extensively it becomes ingrained into our cerebral and muscle memory so that we can perform the technique or movement without thinking and dependant upon whether the process is practiced under stress then we may also be capable of performing said technique or movement under high stress conditions without thought or consideration. We are surely all familiar with the principle that under stress we will likely act the way we have been taught / conditioned to, commonly referred to within martial arts and self defence realms as "you fight the way you train".

With this in mind it is likely that if you have acted reasonably in self defence and have successfully stopped the attack and then proceeded to use a "finishing technique" either as I have described above or some other technique that your system / syllabus contains and which is ingrained into you as a result of your training then you would have likely done so without conscious thought of it at the time. This is where the courts could find that your actions went beyound what would be considered reasonable. You are subsequently convicted and any appeals held against you. It would therefore be naive to think that the convicted student would not consider suing their instructor for training them in such a way as to have caused them to act the way they did. Please remember that the conviction of the student for using excessive force was in a criminal law court where the test was of "beyond a reasonable doubt". The claim made by the student against their instructor will be in the civil courts where they have the lower evidential test of "on the balance of probability". So theoretically all the student need show to the court would be evidence of the training they recieved.

So in answer to the specific question of whether there are inappropriate techniques, or simply student culpability I would assert that there are are no inappropriate techniques per se but that there are techniques that are inappropriate for certain circumstances and that such techniques should be taught in line with appropiate legal guidance which any martial arts / self protection instructor should be conversant with if teaching self defence material. This would be conducive with Tau's approach of teaching the morality and understanding of potential implications alongside the techniques.

These are just my personal thoughts on the subject posed and in no way should be considered as proper qualified legal advice.

stephen's picture

Some interesting comments here. I certainly wouldn't want to be the test case for such an action! But it does bring home the idea that clubs have a responsibility to teach the potential consequences of violence - not just the physical, but also the aftermath and perhaps make students aware of the principles of self defence law. Of course any instructors should state they are not offering legal advice unless qualified to do so!

I agree here that use of techniques in a given circumstance is the key - which comes back to the principle of "reasonable force".

We were having this very discussion in our club tonight, and we all agreed that avoiding violence is the best thing to do on so many levels. Getting physical is a last resort and anyone who has any ethical or moral issues (or is just plain confused!) had better resolve them before they become embroiled in a violent encounter, not during one!

mike23's picture

interesting. What if the student loses. Gets wounded, stabbed, shot or loses work due to losing. Say they had attained their......brown belt, or better yet, black belt. Can they sue for failure to ummm, faliure of services? Saying they're qualified but they're not?

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Leaving aside the legal responsibilities of the instructor, I think we can all agree there is a moral responsibilities to teach effective self-protection in a way that is in accord with the laws of the land. I like Marc MacYoung saying that (paraphrased), “There are going to be two problems with your system; firstly that is won’t work, and secondly that it will.” If the methods are ineffective then the student will be ill-prepared. In the methods ignore legal responsibilities then they could land the student in legal difficulties. I find the second concern to be particularly prevalent when people practise “military systems” in a civilian n contact without modification. As an example, I once witnessed a class where almost all the knife defences involved downing the attacker, controlling them, and then “finishing them off” with their own knife. Fine for a military context, but tactically incorrect (escaping should be prioritised over controlling) and legally incorrect (taking the option to kill when the threat had be neutralised) in a civilian context. If legalities are ignored then the “self-protection” being taught is incomplete and the instructor is failing to deliver what they are telling the student they will be taught.

All the best,