The concept of “self-defense”

In some recent discussions, the topic of defining “self-defense” has come up. Different people define it differently, so I want to wrap some concepts within comfortable terminology.

I use a definition of self-defense that is similar to the legal definition. It’s the physical action taken to defend against an imminent physical threat. This is usually a response to an actual physical attack, though it could also be a response to actions that make it reasonably clear (“reasonable person” legal concept) that harm is imminently likely. I like to make this clear, because some include avoidance of conflict in their definition of self-defense. I have no issue with that inclusion, but it makes discussion of legal, moral, and physical concepts confusing.

So, when I refer to self-defense, I’m normally talking about the physical skills used to avoid being injured by someone who intends to do you harm. There is more to the overall concept, however. We need to deal with topics like:

  • Target hardening (making yourself look less desirable as a victim)
  • Situational awareness
  • Avoiding situations where conflict is likely to escalate to attack
  • De-escalation of conflict before it turns physical
  • And, of course, physical self-defense skills

I put all of these concepts (including the self-defense) under the larger umbrella of “self-protection”. Self-protection involves making good life choices, remaining calm and having emotional intelligence, making it less likely you’ll be selected as a victim, and your physical training for self-defense.

Because of what we know about how people end up in conflicts that lead to violence, there are deeper concepts that should be part of self-protection training. Those should include developing emotional intelligence, improving problem-solving skills, developing a level of self-confidence, and increasing personal levels of discipline. Many martial artists cite these types of influences as part of what they’ve gained from their martial arts training. These concepts are built into the fabric of what we teach at the Self-Defense Academy of Western NC. In fact, the Academy’s tagline is, “Self-defense. Self-discipline. Self-development.”

Gerry Seymour is the founder of the Self-defense Academy of Western NC, in Hendersonville, NC.

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