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The Concept of Responsible Application of Force

It is important to remember that the use of force to resolve a threat situation carries with it social, legal and moral responsibilities: one must apply force in a sensible and reasonable manner. The expertise gained by martial arts training will permit an increased efficiency that should be accompanied by greater caution and/or compassion. You will be able to immobilize or restrain an attacker without causing serious or permanent injury.

It is beyond the scope of this short paper to develop fully the concepts of social and moral responsibility. In fact, they are quite hard to define. But a few ideas may be worth stating. In an era of cultural relativism, multiple interpretations can often be applied to a singular event, and whose “truth” and/or “value” is to be the standard? A definition of morality is even more difficult to even approximate. Notions of what is “moral” are more diverse even within a relatively homogeneous society. Law does exist in modern developed societies. The rule of law, for the most part, does sanction some behaviors and permits others. Even in modern Western democracies, one must recognize that there are movements toward recognizing totally different standards of what is “lawful” (as countries in Western Europe are discovering with a movement among part of their populations toward Muslim law). In some societies entire subcultures exist in an unassimilated and socially segregated manner. These citizens may refuse to adopt the norms of the nation to which they have immigrated. In addition, societal changes (many driven by rapid technological transformations of everyday behavior) often require the legal systems to adapt (slowly) to new realities. Often these adaptations come well after the fact.

Appropriate use of martial techniques must be done according to the circumstances of their occurrence. This includes a span of activities from self-defense, protecting others, martial arts classes and contest, to Federal, state, and local police interdiction and apprehension. There are also legitimate uses in many nations' special military forces.

In Federal cases, the officer or agent need only be able to articulate their rationale for the action taken. The Supreme Court has allowed quite a spectrum of activities and has stated that it does not want to get into second-guessing a split second decision to use deadly force, as long as that officer can articulate the elements of his or her belief (not certainty) that the person posed an imminent threat to her or him or someone else.


Special military and police units exist in many countries, but they are only justified in using deadly force against specific instances of criminal activity. Examples are self defense within departmentally approved procedures, or sanctioned combat.

Remember that injuring or killing someone requires no special skill or training, and happens often (sometimes unintentionally) even in modern societies that have effective forms of government and a rule of law. Excessive or inappropriate use of force is both contrary to the true nature of all traditional martial arts and disciplines and is morally reprehensible.

In the United States, interdiction of criminal activity by Federal, state, and local law enforcement bodies is especially constrained even while possessing a broad range of response options to potentially dangerous and life threatening situations. Media scrutiny, witness objectivity, omnipresent camera phones, street cams, dashboard cams, and other devices present multiple images and accounts. These images and account statements, in a 24/7 media-driven culture that concentrates largely on the sensational, often contain initial reports that are inaccurate or influenced by bias. So, the use of martial arts in a law enforcement context will almost certainly be reviewed.

It is important to remember that the incident doesn't stop when the accused perpetrator is placed into custody. A good written report is essential to defend actions possibly months or even years later when the case actually comes to court. Memory deteriorates with time and important memories can be lost or diminished.

The martial artist trained for law enforcement should train in such a way that his/her actions are automatic and without hesitation. The techniques chosen by law enforcement should emphasize non-lethal techniques which neutralize a threat quickly and efficiently. Training may need to be modified periodically as departmental policy changes. The officer should not let the certainty of review cause hesitancy to act.

Editors note: The author would like to thank D. Shipley and those members of the federal law enforcement, local police, highway patrol, special operations and Taiho Jutsu communities who provided input for this article. Mr. Cooley is a Senior Technical Advisor to the USTJF and has advanced black belt ranks in Judo and JuJutsu with multiple recognized national organizations.

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