Elite Karate Academy Newsletter

March 2023

Welcome to the March newsletter of 2023. 

St Patrick’s Day Parade

We will once again take part in this year’s parade.  All members of the Academy are welcome to walk with us as are their families and friends.  The more the merrier.

Children are asked to wear their karate uniform.  Depending on the weather, they can wear normal clothes under their uniform.

We will be meeting in Clondalkin Sports & Leisure Club Car Park, Old Nangor Rd, between 1-1:30pm on the 17th.  The parade starts at 2pm and is estimated to finish at 4pm.

There will be no regular classes on St Patrick’s Day.

Elite Karate Academy Expo

The annual Elite Karate Expo will take place on Sunday 23rd of April 2023, once again in the Green Isle Hotel.    This is the biggest event in the Elite Calendar. 

The aim of the Expo, as always, is to allowing students demonstrate their skills and abilities to their family and friends, whilst educating parents about the aims and ethos of Elite Karate Academy, in a relaxed fun environment.

All students will be taking part, those not grading will be involved in demonstrations. 

This event is open to anyone. So bring the grandparents, this year’s Expo will include;

  • Grading (see below for details)
  • Club Sparring Competition (semi-finals and finals only, early rounds will take place in class through March, entries now closed)
  • Demonstrations (Instructor & Students)
  • Award Ceremony (Grading, Competition, and Special Awards, including Student of the year)
  • Full Bar Facilities
  • Bake & Cake Sale
  • Raffle – Can you or your business can donate a prize?


Those eligible to grade must pay their grading fee before 7th of April to insure they receive their certificate at the Expo

Please check with Sensei Gareth if you are unsure if your child is eligible to grade.  Gradings will take place in their regular classes prior to the expo and receive their results at the Expo.  


Pre-entry for the Expo now on sale. 

Current members of the Academy do not need to pay for entry, only their families.  Those that pre-pay will gain entry to Expo earlier to secure better seats.

Children’s Anti Bullying Program

We have now started our Children’s Anti-Bullying Program – this course will teach children how to stay safe, avoid trouble and how to deal with bullies by building their confidence and teaching simple protection skills. 

All done in class via our mat chats.


Our new Elite Karate Academy App is now up and running. 

This is a game changer for modern karate students, video tutorials for every technique they will ever learn to black belt and beyond in an ever-growing resource in the palm of their hand 24/7.

If anybody has difficulty logging into the app, please message me and I will resend the log in details.  If you did not receive an email, please check your spam folder, as some of the emails were landing there.

Once you have the App downloaded to your phone, long press on the app to bring up the app info and turn notifications on.

Leadership Program

The Elite Karate Academy Leadership Team program has been designed for students who are interested in leadership in martial arts or life and is now up and running.  Over the coming weeks these new Academy leaders will be assisting in various classes within the Academy.

Those selected students should now make themselves available in the class times that suit them and confirm with Sensei.  All leaders start a 30-day intro program once they attend their first class as leader.  After 30-days they then move on to level one.

The new Leaders Program Uniforms will be ordered once the Students have been confirmed and accepted to level one.  Uniforms will cost €30 the same as a normal suit.

Those currently accepted on the leadership program, will be given access to the training video on our App and should watch them ASAP.  More videos for level one will be added from next week.

Uniforms and equipment

Unforms are now back in stock, they can be bought through the website for click & collect at the dojo.

Sparring gloves and boots are now available.  I will have x-small boots in stock hopefully by the end of the month.

New beginner’s class

I will be starting a new beginner’s class on Tuesday & Thursdays from 5-6pm this month.  If any current beginner would find that time better suited then the class they are currently in, please let me know and we can transfer you to this time.

Direct Debits

If you would like to set up a direct debit for your membership either weekly, 3 months or yearly, and pay that way please message me and I can set it up.

Moving Dojo

To those asking, I am still looking for suitable premises to move too in Clondalkin.  I have not yet been successful.  Ideally, I would like to move during the summer, if we can find a premises.

As always thank you for your continued support of Elite Karate Academy

Sensei Gareth

Elite Karate Academy Newsletter

December 2022

Welcome to the final newsletter of 2022 and may I wish you, your family and all our students a very Happy Christmas.  Thank you for your continued support of the Academy throughout 2022, and I hope I can count on your continued support in 2023.

I have huge plans for the growing the Academy in 2023.  Including more Instructors, more classes, more courses, and seminars (see below), some events, new programmes including a leadership programme where (some) brown belt students can become Assistant Instructors and assist with classes.

Christmas Hours

Elite Karate Academy will close for our Christmas break on Thursday 22nd of December 2022 at 9.30pm.  We will reopen on Wednesday the 4th of January 2023 for all classes.

Christmas Grading

For those students who are eligible to grade or re-sit for their next belt.  The gradings will take place within your normal classes next week between 12th-16th December. 


In January I will be announcing a series of seminars/courses running throughout the year.  Some of these will be for members, most will be open to non-members.  These seminars/courses will include the following topics:

  • Personal Protection: How to avoid being a victim
  • Personal Protection (Woman Only)
  • Dealing with Multiple Attackers
  • Protecting Others
  • Stick Fighting
  • Defend against a knife or blunt weapon
  • Fitness Bootcamp
  • Meditation
  • Knife fighting

I will also be unveiling a new course, that I am very excited about;

  • Children’s Self Protection & Anti-Bullying Course – this course will teach children how to stay save, avoid trouble and how to deal with bullies by building their confidence and teaching simple protection skills.

Elite Karate Academy Expo

The annual Elite Karate Expo will take place in April 2023.    This is the biggest event in the Elite Calendar.  Dates and more details will be announced in January.

The aim of the Expo, as always, is to allowing students demonstrate their skills and abilities to their family and friends, whilst educating parents about the aims and ethos of Elite Karate Academy, in a relaxed fun environment.

All students will be taking part, those not grading will be involved in demonstrations. 

This event is open to anyone. So bring the grandparents, this year’s Expo will include;

  • Grading
  • Club Sparring Competition (semi-finals and finals only, early rounds will take place in class through March)
  • Demonstrations (Instructor & Students)
  • Award Ceremony (Grading, Competition, and Special Awards, including Student of the year)
  • Bake & Cake Sale
  • Raffle

St Patricks day Parade

We will be walking in next year’s parade.  I hope you all will be able to walk with us.

Exclusive Character Education Programmes

I am currently running our “Word Of the Week” programme in our beginners classes.  Our word of the week programme teaches 14 core values to your child in a 5 minute “mat Chat” within their normal class.  I aim for your child to be a black belt in character not just technique.

In 2023 I will also be running the following exclusive programmes in classes

  •  Dojo Kun (Dojo Rules) – most club’s rules consist of no shouting, no chewing gum etc.  Our Dojo Kun program teaches your child 25 rules of life, that teach how to follow and make your dreams come true, through hard work, passion, and dedication.
  • (New) Self-Protection & Anti-Bullying – Boast confidence and self-belief while teaching how to deal with bullying and violence in a non-aggressive way without having to resort to violence.
  • Karate Kids Fitness Programme – Teaches our students to understand the benefits of healthy eating and exercise.  Designed by a personal trainer, our mat chats, promotes a healthy body image and educates your child how best to eat before and after training and the benefits of an active lifestyle.
  • Junior Black Belt Club (JBBC) – We will be making some subtle changes to this and opening the JBBC to more students in 2023.  Watch out for more info next year.
  • Elite Mental Training Program – This program teaches the mental techniques of the martial arts can be used in all areas of life, reducing stress, and increasing mental wellbeing.

Elite Karate Academy APP

Since August we have had an issue with our App.  BudoCode who ran our app was bought over and the new company decided to shut down the app and BudoCode.  I stopped loading new material to the app until I had the matter resolved.

I am delighted to announce that we will be relaunching a brand new, greatly improved app with better functionality shortly.   I will once again be adding material weekly for students to study/practice at home and the app will be free to all members.  More details in January.

Sensei is an Author

During Covid I wrote 3 books on the relationship between the Martial Arts & Mental Health, 2 of which topped the Amazon Bestseller list.  Click here to view them on Amazon.

They might be a nice gift and I highly recommend them to Parents.

Book 1: “Martial Arts & Mental Health” would be ideal for older children and Parents

Book 2: “Lessons from the mats” mirrors our current Character education programme, “word of the week” and would help support parents to teach these lessons at home.

Book3: “Love You Love Life” is a 5-step process to create the life you deserve.

Google reviews

That many of you refer family and friends is a great source of pride to me.  If you could take a few minutes to write a google review, I would really appreciate it.  Click here  to write a review and I will share them on our website.

Social Media

Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and our YouTube Channel

Merry Christmas

Sensei Gareth

Dear Parent/Student

Welcome to this year’s 1st newsletter.  I am pleased to announce with covid restrictions lifted that Elite Karate Academy is returning to more like its former days.  We have a lot coming up over the next few months that I need to tell you about.


As Ireland’s 1st and only World Combat Association Combat Coach I’m delighted to announce a series of in-house Seminars over the coming months on a range of topics that will be of interest to non-martial artists and martial artists.  These topics will be on a range of subjects such as dealing with multiple attackers, protecting other from violence, personal security and awareness, blunt weapons, and knife defence. 

While most of these seminars will be aimed at the over 12’s, I will also be running some seminar/courses for children including, Anti-bully and Assertiveness Seminar and a Children’s Self Defence Seminar closer to the Summer.

We have 2 seminars coming up in March.

Personal Security & Awareness Seminar – Saturday 26th March 2022 10am-2pm €30 per person.

Aim of the course is to teach a set of awareness, assertiveness, verbal confrontation skills alongside safety strategies & physical skills that enable someone to successfully, avoid, escape, resist & survive a violent attack.  Personal security is not about fighting, fighting is what happens when everything else has failed.  I firmly believe everybody should learn this especially teenagers.

Dealing with Multiple Attackers – Saturday 5th March 2022 10am-2pm €30 per person.

Aim of this course:   Fighting multiple attackers is hard, escaping can be taught and should be practiced.  40% of all attacks on the street involve more than one attacker and statistics show that these are where the most injuries come from.  This seminar builds on the personal security seminar and leads into the protecting others seminar nicely.

Contact me if you wish to book either seminar…

St Patrick’d Day Parade

Also in March the Academy will be taking part in Clondalkin’s St Patrick’s Day Parade.  I will give more details closer to the date.  But any students, their families and friends may join us to walk in the parade.  The more the merrier.


Finally after a two-year hiatus our Annual Elite Karate Academy Expo is back. The aim of the Expo is to allowing students demonstrate their skills and abilities to their family and friends, whilst educating parents about the aims and ethos of Elite Karate Academy, in a relaxed fun environment.  This year’s Expo will include;

  • Grading
  • Club Sparring Competition (semi-finals and finals only) This is voluntary but students must have protective gloves and boots to compete
  • Demonstrations (Instructor & Students)
  • Award Ceremony (Grading, Competition, and Special Awards)
  • We will also be celebrating Elite Karate Academy’s newest teenage black belts
  • Bake & Cake Sale
  • Raffle

More about the Expo once I have confirmed a date and venue…

Character Education Program

We are nearer the end of our Character Education Program – word of the week.  These our 14 words Courtesy, Growth, Courage, Sincerity, Honesty, Obedience, Humility, Perseverance, Honor, Loyalty, Self-Control, Knowledge, Respect, Integrity. Each class has a 3-5minute matt chat explaining some aspect of that week’s word.  Elite Karate Academy teaches character not just technique. 

Later in the year we will run our Anti Bullying Program and Fight Fat Program this program teaches the importance of diet and exercise.


  This revolutionary video tutorial app is the perfect tool for students to train at home and is an ideal way to prepare for a grading.  New members should check out the new member’s section.  There is a game there for parents to play to help teach their children at home.  Juniors should check out the Wado Ryu Syllabus and their relevant grade.  Up to blue belt is already up.  Teen/Adult students should check out the practical karate syllabus.  There is a kick improvement section, personal protection section among others.  New videos are added every week.

If you have not already downloaded the app, please contact me and I can forward you another email and pin number to access the app. 

Junior Black Belt Club (JBBC)

The ‘Junior Black Belt Club’ is an advanced extra class for those students who have already shown incredible dedication and made notable progress in the art and spirit of Karate do.  This extra class is designed to assist students achieve a black belt, by giving them more personal advanced instruction in a range of areas not covered in their normal classes, such as weapons, throws etc. and a deeper understanding of karate.  Any child over 12 may join the JBBC and students under 12 must be over green belt.

I will give more details to all of the above closer to the events.  As always thank you for your continued support of Elite Karate Academy.

Sensei Gareth

Elite Karate Academy Newsletter

December 2021

Happy Christmas Everyone!!! 

We are coming to the end of another crazy year, and I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and thank you all for your support throughout these difficult times.

Christmas Holidays

Elite Karate Academy will close for Christmas on Wednesday 22nd of December 2021 at 10pm and will reopen for classes on Monday 3rd of January 2022.  Any class credit will be carried over into the new year.

Christmas Grading

For those students eligible to grade, the gradings will take place in normal classes on Wednesday 15th, Thursday 16th and Friday 17th of December, with their results being given in the following weeks classes.  Which in most students case will be their last class before Christmas.  More details will be sent next week.

Black-Belt Grading

We are lucky this year to have two students grading for black belt.  Sean (14) will grade on Friday 3rd of December and Orla (16) will grade on Friday 17th of December.  These are public gradings and students are welcome to come watch.  Doors open at 8pm and close at 8.20pm with the grading starting promptly at 8.30pm and should finish at 9.30pm.

Karate Suits & Equipment

Due to Brexit, Covid and supply chain problems, Karate uniforms are in extremely short supply but my wholesaler has informed me they are getting a supply toward the end of November.  The moment the uniforms hit the website I will be putting in a large order including more gloves and boots.  And I will inform you when the suits arrive in stock. 

In the New Year while sparring (points fighting) will always be voluntary.  Gloves and boots will be mandatory to protect students.  Suits and equipment can be bought in the dojo or as click and collect through our website shop.

Elite Karate Academy App ‘To Black Belt & Beyond’

That so many of you are using the app on a regular basis is a great source of pride and I can see the improvements in technique of those students who are using the app.  Now is the ideal time to use it coming up to the gradings. 

Beginners go to the new member’s section of the app and study the videos there.  Alternatively go to the Wado Ryu Syllabus section and check out the relevant grade. 

Teen/Adult students check out the yellow belt grade of the practical karate syllabus section. 

Any student/parent wishing to access the app, please email me and I will forward the relevant details or passwords.  There will be no app updates over the Christmas break.  I need a break too lol.

The Life Lesson Book Series

I have written 3 books available here on Amazon in either paperback or download. 

The first “Martial Arts & Mental Health” is ideal for older students or those interested in or improving their mental health or for parents to better understand the mental benefits of the martial arts. 

The second book “Lessons from the Mats” covers life lessons and character education learnt from the martial arts.  This covers our current programme of ‘Word of the Week’ and previous programme “Dojo Kun” and is ideal for parents or younger students. 

The third book in the series “Love You Love Life” looks at different areas of your life and simple changes you can make to improve them.

•Reclaim your authentic self and become a shining light to others
•Motivate and inspire health goals and the mindset that guarantees success
•Change your beliefs about wealth and how to create it
•Develop positive lifestyle habits, including mindfulness and meditation
•Change perceptions and explain basic life laws
•Live with gratitude and flow with the universe


In line with my continuing goal to always improve Elite Karate Academy, this year was becoming a World Combat Association Combat Coach, the 1st in Ireland, and developing our App and new practical syllabus.  In 2022, Covid permitting, I will be rolling out a schedule of seminars covering a range of topics, such as:

  • Woman’s Personal Security & Awareness
  • Personal Protection & Security
  • Self-Defence for Martial Artists
  • Protecting Others and Multiple Attackers

And two new courses for children who are non-members.

  • Anti-Bullying and Self-Esteem Course
  • Children’s Self-Defence & Personal Security

These courses will be run in the dojo but can be run for schools, groups, or other interested parties.  I will roll out the schedule in January.

Thank you again for your continued support.  If you have any queries or questions do not hesitate to get in touch.

Sensei Gareth

Just a general news update for Elite Karate Academy October 2021

I would (once again) like to thank each and every one of you for your support of Elite Karate Academy throughout these challenging times. That so many students returned after lockdown is great source of pride. As this is my sole source of support and full-time job your support is greatly appreciated.

Elite Karate Academy App -‘To Black Belt & Beyond’

I launched our app during the last lockdown with the goal of helping students progress faster and help them continue to train outside the Academy. For those students that use the app I can see the progress in their techiques. An example of this is Patrick, a yellow tip, who recently used the app to teach himself the 1st 7 katas, including a black belt kata. An incredible achievement for one so young which resulted with his advancement to Yellow Belt.

Our Elite Karate Academy App – ‘To Black Belt & Beyond’ is a growing video archive of every technique, skill, drill, game or exercise a student could need to achieve black belt & beyond.  This is a game changer for our karate students and/or their parents.  Something that was not available when I began Karate but to have your instructor teach you what you need to learn by video all available on your phone 24/7 would ensure more rapid progress.

The app has new uploads every week which follow the course of the respective classes.  If students learn a new technique, skill or drill, the instructional video will be on the app the following week, if not already there.  All lessons taught by Sensei Gareth. Both the children’s syllabus (Wado Ryu Syllabus) and the teen/adult syllabus (Practical Karate Syllabus) are available on the app and we will fill in all the grades over time. There is content there for all ages and levels.

Anyone not currently using the app on their phones and would like a new log in email, please contact me and let me know. And I can forward a new pin number to you. Non Academy members can sign up for a free 7 day trial here.

Dojo Kun

We are currently coming to the the end of our Dojo Kun Programme in the children’s beginner’s classes. This programme is 25 life rules that teach students how to make your dreams come true. Parents or students can read more about this programme on our website here. Once this programe ends we will be starting our word of the week programme. 14 character values that are the backbone of the martial arts. Read more here.


As many of you know I am now Ireland’s only World Combat Association Combat Coach and now that restrictions are lifting I am teaching Self-Protection Courses and Seminars again. These seminars can be designed to fit your needs and are ideal for schools, groups or businesses. For more information click here. If anyone would like to host a seminar or course please contact me.

I will be running a Womans Only Personal Security Course on Saturday 30th of October between the hours of 10am-2pm. This is not a martial arts class but a presentation on personal security issues that will allow any female feel safer and more secure and is a life skill similar to 1st aid, one you may not need today but maybe in the future.

The course is open to any female over the age of 15 and costs €30 for the day. Places will be limited so please book early.

Children’s Courses

Over the coming months I will be launching two special courses for children. the first will be a an Anti-Bullying Children’s Course to give non-members the confidence and skills to deal with bullies in a non violent manner. This course I will be running in normal classes within the Academy once we finish the current dojo Kun programme. The second course will be a children’s self-defence course teaching awareness, avoidence and escape drills from common grabs and situations.

Once these courses are launched if you or anybody you know is interested in running a course please let me know.

Special offers,

I have some imited numbers of Academy t-shirts in aged 5-6 with the old logo in stock. i am doing a special offer on this size only, 2 for €10. This discount cannot be availed of through the website only in the dojo.

Karate Suits

My suppliers are currently out of stock of karate suits, this is a combination of Covid and Brexit. I will order in new uniforms once they are in stock and will inform when I have them. Sorry for the inconvience and bare with me.

Orders for Christmas

With the uncertain in England of transport and Brexit issues If you are considering purchasing items for Christmas I would suggest you buy them as earlier as you can. I would recommend all child students going forward have a pair of gloves and protective boots. These are currently in stock in a range of sizes both child and adult.

I also have a limited number of paddles and focus mitts in stock. Paddles I would recommend for smaller children, and are ideal for parents to train along with their child at home. Foxcus mitts I would recommend for older children, teens or adults. In these Covid times it is highly recommended that students use their own equipment.

Christmas Grading

There will another grading in the run up to Christmas for those eligible to grade. I will supply more details closer to the time.

Teen/Adult grading

The beginner’s Teen/Adult class will have a grade in class the 1st week of November. I will be in contact with the relevent students and parents shortly.


Please follow us on social media. Click the following links YouTube, Facebook, Instagram.

The Life Lessons Series

As many of you know I wrote 3 books during lockdown on various aspects of martial arts and its connection to mental health. These books were not written only for martial artists and would be of interest to anybody interested in mental health. I would also suggest parent would enjoy understanding more of the benefits their children will receive in studying the martial arts. All 3 books are available in paperback or e-book on Amazon. Click the link to read more.

Edged Weapon Defence

Knife fighting as portrayed in the movies is a fallacy and one that will get you injured or killed if it is your idea of self defence against an edged weapon.  There are some basic rules when is comes to facing and surviving an edged weapon attack. 

Some Basic Rules About Edged Weapons

  1. Treat every attack as a knife attack.  Criminals will not necessarily want or let you know they have a knife.  This is one of the reasons why limb control and taking the initiative is so vitally important in a fight.  Even in combat with a single adversary, a third person may get involved and stab you.  Good self-defence is about escaping not fighting.
  2. If you are involved in an altercation involving a knife, you are going to bleed.  Accept that and make the decision now that you will continue fighting, even if you are bleeding.  In fact, make the decisions that you will continue fighting as long as there is air in your lungs.
  3. There are only two types of attacks with an edged weapon, slashes, and thrusts.  Slashes are far harder to deal with but thrust do far more damage as they penetrate deeper into vital organs.
  4. We have at some time in our life cut ourselves and experienced the pain of a cut.  Even a papercut can be incredibly painful.  This can create a larger psychological fear.  Even more then that of a gun.  Also, at the ranges we are talking about for self defence the knife is deadlier than a firearm.

Primary Uses Of A Knife

On the street a knife will be used for two primary reasons.  1. To intimidate, threaten or coerce.  Or 2. To cause damage.  And each require a different approach to defending yourself depending on the situation.

  1. To intimidate, threaten or coerce.  A criminal will present a knife to facilitate a crime more easily.  Easier for them.  Regardless of the crime being committed, robbery or rape as examples, the criminal’s hope is that by brandishing a blade it will encourage you to acquiesce to their request.  The fact that they are showing you the blade, suggests (at that moment of time) that they are not going to use it (this may change).  The blade has been presented to frighten you. 

How you deal with this situation, can only be made by you, in the heat of the moment, weighing up all the variables and it will be a decision you will need to live with.  There are too many variables to consider them all in this article.  However, you will be faced with two options, acquiesce or fight.  In any situation only you can decide what is the correct course of action.  By handling the goods over in a mugging or not fighting in the case of a rape attempt, there is no guarantee that the criminal will be true to their word and not escalate the crime.  A mugging can turn into an assault, or an assault can escalate into a rape.

Your 2nd option is to fight.  The one great advantage we have when defending against anyone with a weapon is the element of surprise! Now that surprised you, as it’s likely that you were not thinking that when facing a violent offender armed with a blade or club that we held the element of surprise – well we do. It’s all to do with the psychology of weapons.

Anyone armed with a weapon maintains certain expectations. We’re also told that the more powerful the weapon, the greater the expectation, specifically, that the person standing in front of them will be compliant and do as they are told. What they do not expect is to pull a knife, demand your wallet and find themselves on their back with their throat crushed.

Remember ACTION BEATS REACTION. Acceptance of this is the fundamental basis of all proactive defence. “who starts it wins it.”

Reaction times are not absolute. However, when a person’s reaction time is dulled in the mistaken belief that you will comply because of him being armed, the reality is you have all the time in the world to attack the attacker. There are certain absolutes with this concept and the predominant one is distance. Action won’t be guaranteed to beat reaction unless you are within touching distance. It may, but your opportunity to seize the initiative lessens with distance.

Sidenote:  Criminals are Masters of Economy, they want to commit the easiest crime.  They do not want a fight.  If you look like you will present a challenge, they will blindside you, usually hitting you with a tool.  Many criminals soon learn that scaring someone into handing over their belongs is an inefficient way to commit that crime.  Victims get scared and fail to comply or fail to comply quickly.  Hence some criminals learn it is easier/quicker to hit/stab first, take the goods, strike/stab again to cause damage and hide their escape.  This brings us to the 2nd primary use of an edged weapon.

  • To cause damage.  The blade is now used to cause damage.  Having committed the crime as outlined above the criminal then inflicts damage to aid their escape or for enjoyment. The blade may also be used as mentioned above in the sidenote.  Simply to expedite the crime.  Slashing or stabbing reduces resistance, induces shock, and limits witness identifications after the event. 

This blitz-attack should be defended against in the same manner as all self-defence situations with awareness and use of pre-incident indicators.  By correctly observing someone approaching you and passing you by, being alert, making eye contact, maintaining awareness of them, or even turning to face them as they pass you, are all steps that can limit the assault from happening.  More on how to defend against an attack later.

Another sidenote:  Many combative groups love talking and training for the “Shank Attack” or prison type attack, repeated aggressive stabs from behind.  And while I am not claiming that these attacks cannot happen, or even with the greatest self-protection system in place that we can find ourselves “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  I feel there is an over-emphasis on this type of training, with correct self-defence procedures in place we do not need to be unduly concerned with these types of attacks.  Avoidance and awareness should limit the opportunities for this type of attack.  There is an element of “live by the sword, die by the sword”.  Most reasonable everyday people (and I include myself in that description 😊) who are not involved with the criminal world do not have enemies who want to kill them.  Criminals kill this way and its usually for business or personal reasons.

Different types of edged weapons

            Edged weapon defence does not always mean a knife.  A knife is a tool, and many other everyday tools can be used as a weapon.  Scissors, nail files, beer bottles, pint glasses, and garden shears are examples of everyday objects that can be used to slash or stab, even a set of keys held between the fingers may be used.  But the most common items you are used will be knives, screwdrivers, razor blades, and Stanley blades/carpet cutters.  The blade length does not have to be very long to cause a lot of damage.  Even an edged weapon of less than one inch blade length can inflict a lot of damage.  Likewise, not all edged weapon attacks happen on the street.  It is conceivable that weapons can be improvised in the home or a bar/nightclub scenario.  What will alter how we deal with these improvised weapons is more the range the weapon has rather than the angle of attack.

            This brings us to how traditional martial arts approach the topic of edged weapon defence.

Mistakes in traditional Martial Arts.

            There are many legitimate and different reasons that martial artists can train with knifes.  Many of which I shall cover here.   

However, either from ignorance or a genuine belief their systems knows best, much of what is taught is dangerous and ineffective.  Not preparing a student for a violent altercation is bad but teaching material that is blatantly wrong is worse because it could get them killed.

We know from the Martial Map, that not everything must fall into the category of effective on the street.  Some traditional martial arts have a history and a lineage of techniques handed down through the generation from the warrior techniques performed on the battlefield.  Many of these techniques were performed in armour or with edged weapons not in everyday use anymore, such as spear or swords. (Yes, I realise I could be attacked by someone with a sword in the 21st century, but the odds are so slim of that event happening, I am not going to spend decades training in the martial arts on it) This type of training falls under the historical or cultural aspect of the martial arts.  I have no issue with this type of training once it is explained as such and not as realistic knife defence.

When you look at the issue through the prism of historical/cultural viewpoint rather then a practical approach, much of the mistake perpetrated can not only be forgiven but also understood.  Here ends the lesson once it is not taught as realistic.  Convincing them what they are teaching is not realistic is a whole other issue.

Some of these issues are as follows.

  • Attacks from the wrong range.  Typical of the extended karate type attack. 
  • Wrong type of attacks.  Exaggerated slashes or downward/overhead strikes, single stabs or thrusts, with the arm fully extended. 
  • Attacks where the limb is left out or only a single strike is performed.
  • Attacks are cold and stale with no passion.  There needs to be a difference between practice and doing.
  • Attack training that starts with bowing.  And doesn’t simulate realistic situations.
  • Attacks where the knife is shown and in full view as the attacker slowly closes range.
  • Attacks that are defended with unrealistic techniques, such as x-blocks, where the attacker stands stationary waiting the counterattack, wrists-locks or disarms that are initiated before any impact had been delivered.

All training practices/drills have flaws.  Some of these examples may be a legitimate way to train, if and only if, the flaws are explained to the student and they understand how the drill may be part of a training matrix.

  • Distance means time.  Giving lower grade students a longer distance, gives them more time to learn a technique.  May be valid once they realise, they cannot rely on learnt techniques in a real situation.
  • Using a knife as a teaching tool.  Put a (fake) knife in your opponent’s hand can raise the stakes for the student meaning they change to a better mindset.  One they should be encouraged to keep after the lesson.
  • Training by stealth.  Practising a skill or attribute against an empty hand and then adding a knife, can allow a student more repetitions without realising they are practising the same thing.
  • Adds interest or entertainment value for a student.  Learning locks against a knife attack seems more “real” to lower students.
  • By learning (correctly) how to use a knife can give deeper understanding to how to defend against one.
  • Techniques may be a grading required.

The above 6 bullet points are examples why certain training methodologies may be used the way they are.  Many of those examples are only valid as martial arts training not self defence training.  And I would further argue only for lower graded students.


One major area that traditional martial arts fall on is concealment.  As well as the above-mentioned errors, most traditional martial arts attack scenarios start with the knife in full view as the attacker slowly advances.  This may reflect a historical battlefield duelling situation, but it is not how a knife is used in modern society.  The modern criminal will not show you his blade and will not run at you from a great distance.  The blade will be hidden.  Generally, if you cannot see their palms you must assume, they have a knife.  (I make it easier; I just assume everyone has a knife).  Even if you can see their palms the knife may be concealed.  It can be up a sleeve, in their belt, in behind their neck and only the limits of imagination restrict where someone may be concealing a knife.  And I am not going to list all the conceivable places because they are all dealt with in the same way.  Impact plus

What do I mean By impact plus?  Impact plus cover the limb reaching for a weapon. 

Assuming all the pre-incident indicators have been met, you feel threatened, you may or may not be able see the hands.  A pre-emptive strike is the soundest tactical decision.  If the threat reaches for something, regardless of where, you need to explode into action, cover the limb that is reaching and deliver (hopefully) a finishing strike.  To do anything else exposes you to an edged weapon.  You cannot allow the threat to pull a weapon.  The hand must be stopped, and you must deliver impact to allow you to escape.  There are many ways this should be practiced that I will not cover here.  Remember that criminals use deception, bending down to tie their shoelaces may be hiding the fact that they are trying to withdraw a knife from their boot.

Core Principles of edges weapon defence

As mentioned previously the knife will be used for two primary reasons, intimidation, or damage, and the first may progress to the second.  Obviously, I am not going to recap all the principles of self-protection, but we are assuming that your awareness, avoidance, and de-escalation skills have failed you and you are now employing the fence or have a blade pressed against you. (this was covered earlier)

If you are employing the fence with no knife in view (assume there is one) the usual rules of de-escalation or pre-emption apply, with one caveat, if it looks like they are reaching for something, you must act, immediately. 

If you have distance between yourself and a knife, what are you still doing there. RUN and run fast.  This is not a movie folks.  If you see somebody carrying an edged weapon from a distance, get out of there.

You read a lot about getting or using an equaliser.  Using something to defend yourself from a knife.  I don’t agree with this model as it does not consider realistic scenarios.  Unless you have the tool in your hand and have trained to use that tool defensively you will not use it under stress.  You will not roll your magazine up to hit with, use your briefcase/clipboard/chair as a shield or hit them with an umbrella.  As for picking up a chair to hold him off like a lion tamer, if you have time to get a chair you have time to escape.

If that distance is less or around 1 meter, forward is the only way to go.  Of course, escape is the first option if a knife enters the proceedings, but unless you have a ten-foot gap as a head start, turning your back is not a good idea.  Your attacker can move forward faster than you can move backwards.  So forward is your best option.  Close, control and strike.

Remember action beats reaction. 

If they are using the knife against you, you have several options. 

  • Move inside the strike while striking yourself.
  • Parry the strike while striking yourself.
  • Impact (block) the strike while striking yourself.

All these options can be summed up at pat and attack.  The most important part of defending against an edged weapon is to get control of the limb and to shut the computer down.  This is done by deflecting the blade, (martial artists use terms such as blocking, parrying, or entering) and an endless barrage of blows with the first blow using the maximum force possible, to stun, knockout or discombobulate our attacker.  When, I say control the limb I do not mean grab the wrist.  This you will not be able to do and is bad tactically for many reasons, least of all your attacker can switch the blade to his other hand.  However, maintaining a sensitive pressure against the limb will enable you to feel your opponent’s energy and redirect the blade away from your body all the time delivering devastating blows.  This initial deflecting action must be done as a heavy slap.

 Here the Filipino strategy of ‘Defanging the snake’ may come into play.  If you cannot head, hit the limb holding the blade.  The aim here is to destroy the limb, which may result in them dropping the knife.  However, once you have hit the limb the priority should be to clear the limb to attack the head.

Disarms and locking even throws may be taught as advanced skills.  But like all self-protection they should be considered gifts presented by your opponent, fit your strategy, can you escape while holding a lock?  And should be redundant if your initial strike knocks your opponent out.  There are 3 principles of throwing someone, karate invented a fourth, shut the brain down and there is nothing to hold the body up. 😊

This article will not try and teach blade defences but here are some final points in relation to the body mechanics.

When facing a bladed weapon keep your limbs close to your body to protect vital organs and turn your palms towards you.  When defending against the blade you want your inner forearms protected.  Here is where your veins and arteries are and the ligaments controlling the hand, specifically closing the hand.  If you get defensive cuts you want them on the back of your forearms, firstly this area bleeds less then the inside of the arm, secondly there are no arteries close to the surface, and thirdly if the slash is deep enough to severe ligaments, it means you will not be able to open your hand.  The result of this you will not be able to grab, but your fist will still function as a club for impact.

This hand position with the palms on your head can be used for crashing in and closing distance.  Ideally combined with striking with the elbows.

If thrusted at, pull your stomach in and round your back to create more space. 

In relation to violent thrusts to the stomach.  One hand blocks the strike while your second arm takes the power out of the strike by striking the shoulder.  This needs to be practiced.  At a higher skill set the shoulder strike may be directed at the head/neck instead.

Martial Arts & Mental Health:

How they help us heal and grow

Most people have a basic knowledge of Martial Arts, usually derived from their portrayal in the cinema.  Karate chops, flying kicks, funny noises, and wise old men.  Maybe they have seen the violence of a UFC or MMA event or Judo/karate/boxing tournament on television. Many believe that Black belts are special people (which we’re not, we just don’t quit) and have special powers (which we don’t) like ninjas in the movies.  Many laypeople see black Belts as Mr Miagyi types, the wise old man, or some sort of walking saint, never losing their calm, always in control.  Which is the goal every day.

True practitioners of the art of karate (and it is an art), recognise that, similarly to Yoga or Meditation, Karate is something that improves the quality of your life, and should be trained for the duration of your life.  It is this aspect of the art which I wish to talk about and explain how the proper teaching of karate or any martial art can be an effective tool in counselling and/or personal development.

With the number of knives and guns in society today, defending oneself by hand is becoming less and less practical as a means of survival, and very few people, want, or need to engage in fighting daily. Violence is an ugly thing, and unless you have a psychotic personality, you will not walk out of a violent altercation without suffering some psychological or emotional damage.  Avoidance is the best policy.  So why then, spend years training and learning to fight, especially if you plan to go years hopefully without every using it.  Stress management, mind control, self-confidence, self-discipline, mind-fullness, and relaxation are all other reasons for practising as well as the above mentioned, self-defence, fitness and as a sport.

The Japanese usually refer to people having 3 masks or faces. The first mask (public) is the one we show the world. The second mask (private) is the one we show to the people closest to us. And the third mask is who we are inside. This is our authentic self. Our true self. The one with all our strengthens and weaknesses, all our good points and bad, all our desires, loves and hates. When your authentic self, behaves in-line with your public and private masks then you will be at peace, you will be happy, and life should feel easy. However, if your authentic self is at odds with the mask you show, then life may feel like you are swimming upstream not with the flow.  Sometimes a person may not be aware that there is a disjoint between who they are and who they pretend to be. As Karl Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”  Most people live their lives in an almost automatic mode, never looking internally and seeing what drives their behaviour, both good and bad.  Sometimes, even without any major trauma, people become aware of a feeling, maybe of not being happy, a feeling life is not going their way, or just an empty feeling inside.  This feeling, whatever its cause, can lead someone to counselling, or if they are lucky like I was, into the martial arts with a great instructor or Sensei.

In life we are born pure and unsoiled. As we grow and experience life, these experiences shape us, both the positive and negative experiences. They shape the person we become. Two individuals could grow up in the same house and experience the same events but process them in two completely different ways. That is what makes each of us unique. That is what makes YOU unique. Nobody in this entire universe can see the world the way YOU see the world. Nobody thinks the way YOU do. Nobody can affect the world the way YOU can.  This may be on a global scale or maybe on a much more personal scale, maybe you will not be a world leader or billionaire but instead it means being the best parent you can be, or the best friend, or the best at whatever hobby you have chosen.  Or simple the best version of you on this planet. And when I say the best version of You, I mean the happiest.

In his book Karate-do by Tatsuo Suzuki (1967), he states the true meaning of “Karate is basically a training to bring a person back to the natural state of mind he was born with, dispelling delusions”. Delusions such as doubt, fear, attachment, and anger,

“An example of this would be a baby does not have a complex of fear. A person who narrowly escapes being run over by a car will remain motionless, his limbs frozen by fear. But a baby would continue to move innocently because he has no fear complex.”

One emphasis of karate therefore is to develop and maintain a healthy mind. “That inborn, pure mind unsoiled by evil thought and impressions through the experiences of life.”  Life can wear you down. Proper traditional Karate training teaches a student life-skills and a code of conduct which benefits their life outside the dojo (Training Hall).

Delusions such as doubt, fear, attachment, and anger. can control our lives either consciously or unconsciously. Every decision we make in life either moves us towards or away from pain or pleasure. Accept that. Every decision. The conscious or the unconscious ones. As human beings we gravitate towards pleasurable experiences and doing everything in our power to avoid pain. Every choice you have made has been made to satisfy that goal. Every choice you are still making is doing the same thing.  Martial arts training allows us to become more aware of our decision-making process and control it better, just like counselling.

In a traditional Karate class, your every movement is controlled from start to finish. You are told how/when to stand, sit and move. Because everyone is doing the exact same thing simultaneously it allows students to be less self-conscious about their bodies.  A student with low self-confidence can train to act confidently for the duration of the class, while a student with a large ego can train humbly, meaning each student is training their mind for their own purposes. No matter where a person is on the spectrum and we are all somewhere on the spectrum between low self-confidence and too much confidence, training correctly allows us to train to improve ourselves.  Too shy we can practice being confident, too cocky we can practice being humble.

When Michelangelo revealed his famous statue “David”, people told him he had created a masterpiece. Michelangelo said that the statue was always there, and all he (Michelangelo) did was chip away the pieces of rock to reveal the beautiful masterpiece within the stone.  His genius was seeing the statue within the stone. This is the effect the techniques and training practices within Karate have on Your soul. In Karate we strive to strip away the attachments, the negative, the opinions, to reveal the beauty of the person inside. In Karate we train the same techniques thousands of times, up and down the floor, over and over and this training coupled with the correct mindset has the same effect of chipping away at out imperfections. Patience, self-discipline, mental focus, calmness, determination, concentration all these things can be trained while practising these moves. You may enjoy your martial arts training, but enjoyment should never be the sole motivation. Repeated practise can be boring by its essential repetitive nature. The very act of repeating the same thing over and over allows students to train internal aspects such as perseverance, discipline etc. It also develops these techniques into lethal techniques.

Martial Arts has a profound effect on the psychology of students.  In his book “Theory and practice of Counselling and Psychotherapy” (Corey 1996), Corey states that the two goals of Freudian psychotherapy

          “Are to make the unconscious conscious and to strength the ego so that behaviour is based more on reality and less on instinctual cravings.  Successful analysis is believed to result in significant modifications of the individual’s personality and character structure.”

What psychoanalysis tries to achieve through conscious reconstruction, discussion, interpretation and analysis, Martial Arts achieves in an unconscious process using physical and mental training drills, in order to (Corey 1996) “develop the level of understanding that is assumed to be necessary for a change in character”.  Basically, true Martial Arts works as a kind of psychoanalysis without the talking. 

Shoshaku Jushaku. 

Understanding this concept is the road to achieving a black belt or beyond.  Shoshaku Jushaku means one continuous practice, mistake upon mistake.  On the mats, as in life, people make mistakes.  How you deal with the mistakes of life determines how successful you on or off the mats.  And how successful your mental health is.

Shoshaku Jushaku implies recognising when you make a mistake, learning from it, and continuing to make new mistakes.  This is how winning is done and leads to a successful life.  Most people either refuse to acknowledge their mistakes or are too critical of themselves when they make mistake.  Shoshaku jushaku means to recognise your mistake, acknowledge it, learn from it, and try not to repeat it, however this mind set allows compassion towards ourselves.  We do not condemn ourselves but endeavour to be gentle on ourselves.  Because we know improvements in life cannot be made without mistakes.  In life there is no failure only feedback.


Mindfulness means we become present in the moment, aware of one’s actions and environment.  Like many concepts in the martial arts this is extremely easy to say and much harder to put in practice.  Becoming mindful we begin to see the world as it is, not as we expect it to be or what we fear it might become.

As students, we aim to be mindful, in our training, at-all-times, and to extend that mindfulness to all areas of our everyday lives. It starts with being mindful of your breath, and then your posture, being mindful of your techniques and eventually your mind.  It takes continued practice to make this become second nature. Proper correct training leads to increased mindfulness, ideal for daily living and being aware of threats around us.  Good mindfulness can be used to decrease the risks of ever having to use your martial art skills for self-defence.  Being more mindful helps counteract the state that many people find themselves living in, being on a type of “automatic pilot.”  Being mindful also means to be without judgement.  Experiencing the moment for how it is.  The reality not the way we want it to be.

Bowing can be a way of practising mindfulness.  To bow is to bend. This requires flexibility, otherwise things might crack or break. When one bows as an act of the heart, this is humility. You are not bowing down before someone but before your own buddha nature, your own authentic self.   We are all capable of wisdom, kindness, patience etc to some degree and in one way bowing points back to one’s own buddha nature.

On entering the Dojo (training hall) you should bow.  This sets up a point of stopping, of recollection, “I am in this room, relating in this way, at this time.” You are taking a moment out of your life, a moment to space, a moment of mindfulness. 

When bowing to others, this requires a sensitivity and presence of mind, “I am Junior/Senior, what is this situation now, what is the time.”

Now I want to introduce you to three new terms, Zanshin, Shoshin and Mushin.

Zanshin in English is often translated as Awareness. A better translation would be Remaining Mind or Lingering Mind.  Zanshin is the accumulated information already processed by the brain, as well as the presence of your character and spirit within the current environment. It is not enough to be an observer in the world.  A warrior must always be a part of their world.  A warrior has a moral obligation to interact in the world.  To make that world better.

Warriors with Zanshin have an innate sense of their surroundings and the ability to reach out into the environment to capture information that others might find insignificant or irrelevant. The ever-present need for more information is why Zanshin appears to be most present at the end of a technique or Kata. The mind remains present and hungry. It searches for more information and perceives any changes as it occurs.

Zanshin is to fit exactly within one’s environment, ever present and in harmony. Perceiving threats before or after an attack, snatching that seemingly irrelevant piece of information that gives insight into relationships both business and personal, being aware of your own body and emotions and how it responds to the stimuli from the environment around you. Zanshin is an experiential experience. It must be felt not thought, lived not taught.

Zanshin is free of fear, worry, emotion and prejudice. Words may describe the experience but never fully convey the true experience. I know how a pear tastes to me, but we may disagree over our description of its taste.  The more we describe it, the further from the experience of tasting it we go.  Once experienced it may be recognised in others.  Training in martial arts especially those from a Japanese background, students begin to learn about Zanshin, and incorporate it into their lives.  They become more aware or mindful of their body, their surroundings, and their relationships.  This allows students to start living their lives in their immediate present.  This has huge health and therapeutic benefits.  Becoming more present means students learn to deal with the reality of the world that’s presented to them.  Depression is often associated with thought processes that are focused on the past, while anxiety is often with thought processes that are fixated in the future.  Having Zanshin means we train our brains to deal with the immediate world around us.  I am reminded of the following story.

You drop something into a hole in the ground. Too deep for your arm to reach it. It remains just out of reach. You ask people passing by for help. Those that try all claim the hole is too deep. This story teaches us to come back to ourselves. Ask 100 people and the majority of people, will say the hole is too deep. Very few, if any, will acknowledge that their arm is too short. As human beings it is easier to blame outside forces for the failings in our life, rather than admit our own hand in it. (pun intended).

Zen/Karate teaches us to come back to ourselves, to expand from the centre and return to the centre. To acknowledge our short comings. We are the centre of our universe we must take responsibility on and off the mats for the life around us. We teach people how to treat us, our own subconscious beliefs determine our worth, our levels of determination and perseverance determine whether we settle or make our dreams come true. So, breath, return to centre, accept responsibility and if you’re not happy with some aspect of your life, CHANGE IT… Placing the blame outside ourselves, is a victim’s mentality, and as warriors we choose not to be victims.

If the goal of the martial arts, beyond fighting, is in self-improvement and seeking perfection of oneself.  Then there is no better example of this concept in the martial arts then Shoshin, or beginner’s mind.  No matter how advanced a practitioner you may become, there is always more too perfect or master within the martial arts.  Perfection can never be achieved.  Staying humble enough to always see yourself as a student.  It is the attitude of Shoshin that allows much self-improvement.   Remember the old zen saying,

“In the Beginner’s Mind There Are Many Possibilities, In the Experts There Are Few”.

The goal of training is always to keep beginner’s mind. An empty mind is a ready mind, it is always ready for anything and is open to everything. No matter how advanced you may become one should always aim to maintain a beginner’s mind.

It is easier for an expert to defeat someone with a few years training then a novice beginner. The beginner is untrained or unconditioned, to a particular style of movement that the expert expects within their style so is unpredictable.  A good example of this is the follow story from Japan.

A judoka and a kendoka agreed to fight each other in their respective arts.  The judoka lost in the judo fight and the kendoka lost in the kendo fight.  The reason is because both forgot Shoshin.  Both expected the other to play within the rules of the game they knew.  The other not knowing the rules of engagement rushed in and either threw their opponent or hit him with the sword thus winning. 

In feudal japan, in Tokyo, a sword fencing school where having their students killed and could not understand why even high-ranking students were being killed with a simple sword thrust to the chest.  When the killer was found he explained that the school trained a technique repeatedly when the sword was drawn from the scabbard and raised above the head before delivering a downward cut.  Because it was a basic technique it had been trained thousands of times.  And students where conditioned to block the downward strike.  The Killer simple switched his sword in his hands, raising the scabbard high in the air, forcing the students conditioning to kick in.  The student blocked the downward scabbard strike, while the killer stabbed them in the heart from below.  A complete lack of Shoshin.  The students expected, a particular strike and responding accordingly. 

Martial Arts focuses your mind, giving it something to concentrate on, to allow our thoughts to settle and stress to melt away.  The purpose of training is to develop Zanshin (awareness) or mindfulness and later to develop Mushin (No Mind). 


Mushin translates as No Mind.  It is a mental state into which trained martial artists are said to enter during combat. They also practice this mental state during everyday activities.  This is the focus of long-term martial arts practice, beyond the ability to protect oneself.

Mushin is achieved when a person’s mind is free from thoughts of anger, fear, or ego during combat or everyday life. There is an absence of discursive thought and judgment, so the person is totally free to act and react towards an opponent without hesitation and without disturbance from such thoughts. At this point, a person relies not on what they think should be the next move, but what is their trained natural reaction (or instinct) or what is felt intuitively.  Years of correct training to make each technique natural and instinctive is required, as well as training of the mind.  It is not a state of relaxed, near-sleep, however. The mind could be said to be working at a high speed, but with no intention, plan, or direction.  Sensitivity and flow training combined with Zanshin practice in Kata helps train this mindset.

Mushin cannot be grasped by the intellect; it must be experienced. A Mushin mind has no Ego and no substance; it is pure Enlightenment and is the perfect realization of the self.  Bringing you back to your most authentic self.

This state of mind takes years and years of practice to achieve. Mushin is achieved when a person’s mind is free from anger, fear, judgment, or the ego during combat or everyday life.  It is something to practice every day.  It is a living thing, sometimes strong, sometimes weak, sometimes it feels easy to achieve and at others like the impossible.

Mushin implies a state of mental clarity, awareness and enhanced perception known as pure mind, produced by the absence of conscious thought, ideas, judgments, emotion (fear and anxiety), pre-conception, or self-consciousness. It is a state of total awareness and reaction not impeded by higher mental function or emotion, a mind more open and reactive to subtle sensory input, intuition, and spontaneous action. It is a mind that is totally calm — a mind not influenced or caught up in events or others emotion, thus a mind more able to freely perceive and respond.  The mind is not fixed on anything and is open to everything; a mind expanded through the whole body with total awareness of and focus on everything.  This relates back to any technique in karate, as the body tries to reflect the spirit.

Mushin is not about automatic reactions or lack of thought.  Mindfulness and Mushin may appear to be mutually contradictory.  Mindfulness in the context of martial arts refers to being present in the moment, aware of one’s actions and environment.  Mushin is the instinctive response within the environment that is correct at the time.

In conclusion

Hopefully by now you can see the benefit of the martial arts not just physically but also mentally.  And I have demonstrated that like Yoga or Meditation, the martial arts are something that adds to your life, for your whole life.  As an instructor, I feel, you have a duty of care towards your students.  To train them properly, however you teach, physically, mentally, or spiritually.  An instructor has the ability, to educate someone on how the live physically, changing their fitness, activity levels or diet.  Martial arts instructors are not trained counsellors or psychologists, but they do have the ability to instigate huge mental changes in their students.  To inspire them to be more than they were.  To show them a path worthy of following for the remainder of their lives.  We learnt that the aim of karate was dispelling delusions and attachments, such anger, fear, or doubt.  And we know that training martial arts is good for anger management and stress relief.  Resulting in a calmer, well balanced person with a clearer understanding of the reality of the world around them. We saw the mental benefits of the long-term study of martial arts.  Improved presence in the moment through being mindful, the heightened awareness that comes from Zanshin, the ability to stay young at heart and see the world as a beginner that comes from good Shoshin, and how a mind of Mushin can lead to more instinctive living, always choosing the correct response in every situation.  With the goal of being at one with yourself and your environment, always in the moment, living as your most authentic self in the best version of your live.  Martial arts training can have a huge impact on a student’s life, while the increased ability to defends ones-self increases self-confidence and the improved self-esteem that comes from being fitter and winning in a sporting environment. Through the practice of martial art, we can become fitter and stronger physically.  Healthier and happier mental.  With more control over ourselves and our interactions.  We learn to see the world clearer for what is, it rather than how we want it to be.  But we also become more self-disciplined and goal orientated, and more successful in our lifestyle choices.  We live more in the moment, being more aware and open to new opportunities and growth.  We handle stress better.  Are less controlled by our pasts and more adept at shaping our futures.  We face and overcome our insecurities or weaknesses all the time building on our strengths.  We become more dedicated, passionate, and humble with a never-give-up spirit.   We learn a philosophy and code of conduct that shapes our daily lives and the relationships around us.  We effect change in others by example or our interactions with them.  Thus, improving the world around us.  We become influencers and leaders and the type of person people look up to, admire and emulate.  All this for 2-3 hours practice a week.  And you thought the Martial Arts was simply kicking and punching and making funny noises.  I hope we meet on the mats someday,

Sensei Gareth Fitzgerald is a 6th Degree Black Belt in Wado Ryu Karate-Do.  He runs the full-time Elite Karate Academy in Dublin, Ireland.  His book, “Martial Arts & Mental Health: How they help us heal and grow” expands on the issues covered in this chapter and is part of a three-book series “Life Lessons” is available on Amazon. 

Why Martial Arts Fail To Teach Good Self Defence

            Firstly, a clarification on terminology.  I recognise that the majority of the general public, happily and ignorantly use the phrase Self-Defence.  For reasons that will become apparent later, I do not like to use this phrase.  I prefer the phrase Personal Protection. 

Firstly, the word defence implies that we must wait for our attacker to initiate an attack before we act.  And as you shall see this is clearly untrue. 

Secondly, use of the word self, implies only the defence of ourselves, and again this could be untrue as we may have to protect our loved ones or come to the aid of a 3rd party.  Personal protection implies the protection of the person without the specific limitation to the ‘self’, the person referred to could be us or another person.  Hence it is more general than self-defence.

Therefore, Self-Defence is a misleading term.  I will use the term personal protection instead.  Protection is defined as ‘being provided to physical objects, organisms, to systems, and to intangible things like civil and political rights.  Systems is a key word there, because good personal protection is about putting a system in place to insure you that any confrontation is a matter of last resort.

A word on martial arts.  I have studied Martial Arts for over 35 years.  I adore the martial arts and I would not be the man I am today without the journey to understand myself and my art of Karate.  However, the term Martial Arts is quite a large global umbrella term that can cover broad spectrum of topics and skills.  It can mean different things to different people, Fitness, Fighting, Culture, Self-Defence, Personal Development, or Sport.

This is the beauty of the Martial Arts it can be whatever you want/need it to be.  I came across Sensei Iain Abernethy’s ‘The Martial Map’ several years ago and it clarified this subject more clearly than any other explanation.  It drastically improved me as a teacher.  The martial maps divides the martial arts into 3 distinct areas, each with their own training goals, methodologies, and mindsets. 

1) Martial art, historical and cultural –

2) Self-protection – non-consensual violence

3) Fighting/Sport – consensual violence

Exclusively training in only one area is acceptable as is training anything simply because it is fun.  It gives clear understanding that each area may be a study in of itself, and also shows where key skills, attributes and mindsets may cross over, be mutually beneficial, and in some cases dangerously opposed.

  1. martial art training for self-improvement, fitness, mental training/abilities, stress relief, martial skill, strength, flexibility, self-confidence, self-esteem, historical or cultural reasons and good old simple fun.
  2. 3) self – protection firstly to instigate practices and procedures to increase situational awareness and threat awareness to insure you are not a victim of non-consensual violence and secondly training to be able to deal with the physical and mental effects of that violence and the legal/mental/physical aftermath.
  3. fighting / sport for competition of consensual violence between two consenting martial artists with agreed upon rules.  Training timing, distancing, speed, strategy, fitness, flexibility, strength, self-esteem, and good old fun.

With this map in mind in can give all martial artists, students or teachers, a clearer insight to what, how and why they train. 

Put any drill, skill, or training video online and within seconds someone will claim that ‘wouldn’t work on the street’.  Martial artists have a particular habit of not seeing something as a drill or misunderstanding it and referring to its effectiveness to how it works on the street. 

For example, a boxer posts a training video of how to improve your skipping or make it more enjoyable.  Other boxers do not immediately comment that he is an idiot because you would not fight in the ring in that manner.  Bouncing with your feet close together and your arms spread wide at hip level.  Neither does the poster of the video have to explain that skipping is a drill to improve cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength in the shoulders, not a fighting technique.

Understanding the martial map allows us to appreciate the arts within their own context, without always referencing personal protection.  Tai Chi in the park in the morning for mental health and physical fitness, or Aikido for personal development, martial skill or cultural understanding, MMA or Kickboxing for fitness and sport.  All these simple examples may be studied for years for their own merits without having to misrepresent them as personal protection training.

The reason Martial Arts fail to teach personal protection correctly is much of what constitutes personal protection falls outside the purview of any particular martial arts.  Irrespective of whether you think your Martial Art is perfect for the street or not, most Martial Arts only deal with the fighting aspect of personal protection.  And in some cases, the student is actually learning only how to fight with another person from the same style, something which can be fun but very different from a non-consensual altercation on the street.

Consensual violence/sparring/kumite can be fun and doing it as part of your martial art is justification enough.  But the skills your style of sparring develop has no or extremely little cross over to the skills of personal protection.  For example, going to the ground in BJJ or MMA may be tactically good in the sporting context, but is never the place we should choose to be on the street.  And the mindset is different too.  If for no other reason than when sparring, if in I dominated my opponent 100% into submission, every time, all the time, it would cease to be fun, we want a back-and-forth contest.  However, with personal protection, regardless of whether it is in pre-emption or after being attacked, we need to cease the initiative and dominate our attacker until we can safely escape.

Non-consensual violence accounts for about 10% of any personal protection system.  The bulk of a good personal protection system must consist of awareness, avoidance, de-escalation, and escape skills.  Much of which is only paid lip service, with token lines, such as, “run away if you can.”  Breaking away or escape skills need to be taught and trained.  Lip service is also paid to avoidance and awareness.  Avoid what?  Be aware of what?  Here again danger signs and warning signs need to be understood to help a student manage a real situation.  And unconscious skills like ‘commentary walking’ and ‘people watching’ need to be practiced to develop awareness skills. 

Other skills that need to be trained include understanding pre-emption strikes, the fence and the legal ramifications.  Legal issue in particular, generally falls outside your traditional martial arts class.  One of the worst statements you are likely to hear is, “It is better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6”.  This wrongly implies that it is not possible to legally defend yourself.  Defending yourself, including pre-emption strikes, is legal under Irish law is covered in the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997.

Another failing of many martial arts is the type of attack scenarios that they train.  This can amount to little more than martial arts in jeans, where unwitting instructors, highly skilled in their art, teach attacks that showcase the best of their and the arts abilities.  Karate lunge punches from outside touching distance and the attacker leaving the attacking limb extended or totally freezing.  The fact that these drills are pre-arranged and with a consenting partner attacking from the wrong range limits their effectiveness.  And may lack a certain level of pressure testing. 

This pressure testing also applies to the techniques taught, constant drilling in line, punching the air does not give the student effective feedback on the technique.  Restrictive punching and uncomfortable ranges and positions should all be practiced on some form of impact training device. 

Also, the type of techniques taught can be ineffective.  So called “dirty fighting” techniques get their name from being banned in sporting competitions.  Many of these “infighting” techniques work perfectly adequately in personal protection and should not be labelled dirty or illegal.

What is personal protection and how is it different to martial arts?

Personal protection is an open system. In a closed system there are known factors and there are right and wrong answers based on these factors. In an open system there are many ways to be right and wrong.  Martial arts are a closed system.  The difference between personal protection training and martial arts training is that personal protection teaches students what they need to know, and martial arts teaches subject matter.  By their very nature Martial Arts styles have a syllabus which teaches the philosophy, techniques, skills, and attributes that those learning the style must learn. 

Here are 2 simple examples.

  1. Personal protection teaches power generation principles, martial arts teach multiple different strikes or techniques.
  2. Personal protection will teach a 20stone man differently than an 8 stone female, martial arts teach everybody the same syllabus. The reason for this is a 20 stone man doesn’t need to worry about being dragged into the back of a van and raped, an 8 stone female will not need advice with how to deal with a monkey dance.  A male is more likely to be attacked outside the home, a woman more likely in a home and by someone she knows.  Different realistic attack scenarios require different response.

Personal protection training must give each student the tools and freedom to solve their problems in their own way.  Techniques that suit the individuals physical and mental makeup.

To understand and defend yourself correctly on the street these days, you must understand the difference between social and asocial violence, and the tactics that must be used to deal with each.  The tactics used to avoid/de-escalate social violence could increase your risks with asocial violence.

Social violence = the monkey dance, the interview, sparring/duelling, sorting it outside, have a knockabout. Social violence is violence used for social status, dominance or to teach a lesson. Examples “Dave’s mad, he took on that huge bouncer last Friday”, or how dare he do that, “I’ll teach him.”

All predatory animals have social violence or some sort of play fighting. Think dogs, foxes, lions, or tigers wrestling and playing. This is how they learn to fight, hunt and display dominance. It is never lethal.  Humans social violence is designed not to be lethal and when it is it is usually from falling and banging their head. With social violence it is for dominance/status or to teach a lesson, i.e., punching someone to teach them to show you respect. The mindset for this must be justified. You will subconsciously be hitting to communicate, not to eliminate.  This could include martial arts sparring

Asocial violence = the group monkey dance, violent crime, a predator. If you go to kill an insect do you need to get worked up or get angry? Do you need to convince yourself that this is a bad insect? Do you need to justify it like its justice? Do you give the insect a chance and fight or just kill it? This is asocial violence. This can be lethal. Experienced violent criminals have gotten past this and treat people like animals, which gives them a huge advantage. Most people defending themselves cannot. Unless you train to flip the switch.  Sometimes you practice a technique, but it is important also to do it with a more realistic mindset.

The things that can prevent or de-escalate social violence can invite asocial violence and vice versa.  In a predatory approach you must be able to distinguish between a crime motivated by cash (resource predator) from one motivated by cruelty (process predator).  And in this scenario the criminal (asocial) wants you responding to them with a social mindset. 

Bad guys don’t fight, they’re not in this to lose. They use surprise or blitz attacks. Martial arts work well in social violence where you have time and choices.  Asocial violence comes as a surprise and you will be surprised, don’t kid yourself that you won’t, especially if you’re awareness skills have failed you.  As the Japanese saying goes, “Even monkeys fall out of trees.”  We should be training for when things go wrong, having a default position to aid recovery when we do not know what to do.  So, when taken by surprise and we do not know what to do, we have a technique to fall back on.

Personal protection is not a physical skill it’s an emotional skill, it is all about how fast you can recover when injured or surprised. What to do is almost never the problem. Acting, or beating the freeze is the issue.  And this takes a change in training, teaching and methodologies that are used.

Traditional martial arts are “ancient” codified forms of warfare or civilian protection.  Some of the techniques were employed on the battlefield using weapons that have now been replaced, spears and swords for example.   Or were designed for personal protection in the days where there were no streetlights, police forces or laws governing self-defence.  The modern form of criminal assault has also changed and the types of attacks they use.  With that in mind, many of the traditional martial arts and not equipped to deal with modern society crimes and laws.  The skills needed to quick draw a sword from a scabbard and slice a bandit or ninja 😊 are vastly different from those skills needed to avoid a fight with a drunk outside a takeaway or deal with 3 guys circling you on a darkened street.  If violence has changed then so too do the martial arts claiming to teach us how to protect ourselves from that violence.

For martial artists to improve the teaching of personal protection within their classes they would need to incorporate the following.

  1. Understand the way in which criminals work?  And train to use their skills against them.  The criminal will generally use the 4 D’s, Dialogue, Deception, Distraction, and Destruction to facilitate their assault.  We can use them same techniques back on them, which they are not expecting.  Dialogue to de-escalate, or deception to play submissive in the fence to draw them in.  Asking opening ended questions to distract their attention to facilitate our pre-emptive strike, destruction to break their will/posture/mental state to insure our escape.
  2. Legal overview of what is legal and illegal, the ability to explain/justify the use of force, modify training to reflect the law of the state, example kicking a downed attacker in the legs rather than the head.
  3. Grappling skills both standing and on the ground.  With the goal to be competent at all ranges not a master at all
  4. Breakaways and escape skills against singular and multiple opponents
  5. Verbal de-escalation skills and some tolerance training for verbal abuse
  6. The fence and what to do when it goes wrong, this can also include other techniques like the modified columbo and the head scratcher, so students can select the one they feel comfortable with and train it
  7. Techniques for when we are surprised or taking damage such as Dracula’s cape, or entry techniques such as the opening moves of Kushanku or Naihanchi
  8.  Understanding the training matrix, the flaws inherent in every drill and how to cross train correctly to compensate
  9. Gifts in a fight such as trapping and locking, and how does locking incorporate into your goal of escape?
  10. Impact drill including restrictive punching/positions and punching whilst in motion
  11. 3rd part perception.  What you say?  Kiai’s may make you look like a madman and the possible aggressor.  How you retreat?  “I’m gonna fuck you up!” or “stay away!! I don’t know you.  I don’t want any trouble.  Leave me alone.” And what message is your body language sending as you retreat?
  12. Conditioning or fitness training.  Having a good cardiovascular base is good, but the ability to fight anaerobically is vital. 
  13. Training against multiple attackers, in escape drills, use of the fence, pre-emption skills where the student is taught the roles attackers will assume, the mouth, snipers and the pack.
  14. Training to protect others against single attackers and multiple attackers.
  15. Training against weapons both blunt and edged weapons
  16. The use of the environment and improvised weapons
  17. Ground fighting and different ranges.  Insure we are not beginners at any level.  Judoka should be able to impact, Karate able to ground fight and regain their feet.

Adding all this into your training will make your art more practical and allow students to have a comprehensive understanding of all the parameters of personal protection/self-defence.  This type of training can be added onto a practical syllabus or taught in the form of top up specialised seminars on topics such as self-defence and the law etc.

With the proliferation of martial arts and styles and instructors teaching gospel what they learnt from their instructors and not knowing any different, there are generations of students who believe what they do is real, and they are prepared for the street.  Therefore, I firmly believe in the martial map theory and why many martial artists are not qualified to teach self-defence.

Self Defence & The Law

The “Essence of Self Defence is a thin list of things that might get you out alive when you are already screwed.”  SGT Rory Miller.

Self Defence is a big topic covering areas such as domestic violence to hostage taking, not just an assaults on the street.  It is impossible to train for every scenario.  But correct physical and mental training through Karate can help you be ready mentally and physically.

All Self Defence should be based on avoidance.  Good awareness, posture, confidence, and common sense should keep you out of trouble.  Never delegate your safety to someone else.  And never ignore what your eyes see.  You are an expert on human behaviour, trust your gut.  Awareness, avoidance, escape, and verbal de-escalation are the bedrock of good personal protection.  Good personal protection is more about mental preparedness then physical skill. 

Rule for life, you don’t get to pick what kinds of bad things will happen to you. 

Self-defence is never a choice.  And It is an emotional skill not a physical one.  If you are a victim of a violent assault it will be a surprise.  And don’t kid yourself that you will not be surprised.  You will always be surprised.  If you’re not surprised, then you had some warning and could/should have taken measures to escape or avoid the situation.  Real self-defence is about recovering from the shock and surprise, whether that is a punch to the back of the head or a hand wrapping around your mouth.  If your awareness is good, all confrontations should be in front of you.

If you put yourself in harm’s way and are the victim of a surprise assault.  You are a rabbit to the wolf.  The attacker is in predator mindset.  They have planned, trained, and rehearsed for this encounter.  They know what they are doing with cold logic.  They have a goal to rob or rape for example.  The attacker is ready for the fight and you are inconsequential.  The shock of an attack can cause you to freeze, wondering what’s happening and why.  Reasons or excuses are irrelevant when you are fighting for your life.

The predator is looking for weak, distracted, & passive victim.  Practicing good awareness on the street is vital.  Be alert to your surroundings and those around you.  Look for places where attackers could hide.   Display confidence in your body language.  Avoidance is far better than fighting and know that if you do fight, you will fight far less effectively then how you trained. 

To understand and defend yourself correctly on the street you must understand the difference between social and asocial violence, and the tactics that must be used to deal with each.  The tactics used to avoid/de-escalate social violence could increase your risks with asocial violence.

Social violence = the monkey dance, the interview, sparring/duelling, sorting it outside, have a knockabout. Social violence is violence used for social status, dominance or to teach a lesson. Examples Dave’s mad he took on that huge bouncer last Friday, or how dare he do that, I’ll teach him.

All predatory animals have social violence or some sort of play fighting. Think dogs, foxes, lions, or tigers wrestling and playing. This is how they learn to fight, hunt and display dominance. It is never lethal.  Humans social violence is designed not to be lethal and when it is it is usually from falling and banging their head. With social violence it is for dominance/status or to teach a lesson, i.e. punching someone to teach them to show you respect. The mindset for this must be justified. You will subconsciously be hitting to communicate, not to eliminate,

Asocial violence = the group monkey dance, violent crime, a predator. If you go to kill an insect do you need to get worked up or get angry? Do you need to convince yourself that this is a bad insect? Do you need to justify it like its justice? Do you give the insect a chance and fight or just kill it? This is asocial violence. This can be lethal. Experienced violent criminals have gotten past this and treat people like animals, which gives them a huge advantage. Most people defending themselves cannot. Unless you train to flip the switch. 

The things that can prevent or de-escalate social violence can invite asocial violence and vice versa. In a predatory approach you must be able to distinguish between a crime motivated by cash (resource predator) from one motivated by cruelty (process predator).

Bad guys don’t fight, they’re not in this to lose. They use surprise or blitz attacks. Martial arts work well in social violence where you have time and choices. Asocial violence comes as a surprise and you will be surprised, don’t kid yourself that you won’t be surprised.

Self-defence is not a physical skill it’s an emotional skill, it is all about how fast you can recover when injured or surprised. What to do is almost never the problem. Acting, or beating the freeze is the issue.

And remember there are always two fights to survive.  The first initial violent confrontation and the second legal court case, sometimes years later.

The Irish law on assault and self-defence is covered in the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997. The offences that may be committed against a person vary in degree from a threat to do injury to the actual infliction of violence resulting in bodily injury. This legislation outlines what actually constitutes an assault and the levels of severity. It also outlines the position where an assault may be justified by self-defence.

A person commits an assault if he, without lawful excuse, intentionally or recklessly
(1) directly or indirectly applies force or causes an impact on the body of another or (2) causes another to believe on reasonable grounds that they are likely immediately to be subjected to such force or impact (Section 2 NFOAP Act 1997). It is interesting to note that force is not limited to striking a person, but also includes applying heat, light, noise, electricity or other forms of energy in solid, liquid or gaseous form.

There are three levels of seriousness of assault. They are simple or common assault (Section 2), assault causing harm (Section 3) and assault causing serious harm (Section 4). The punishments increase as the seriousness of the assault rises. The level of assault is, counter intuitively, determined by the nature of the injuries caused by the assault and not the actions of the assault itself. A simple punch could end up in a more serious category than a simple assault based on the injuries sustained.

An assault, of any nature, may be justified if the person is protecting themselves or a member of their family from injury, assault or detention caused by a criminal act based on all the circumstances surrounding the incident (Section 18).

A number of other scenarios may also be justified, but the one mentioned above is what is commonly referred to as the self-defence justification. This defence is what is called an affirmative defence. This means that if a person charged with an assault and claiming self-defence must raise and support the claim with evidence. It is then up to the prosecution to disprove the defence beyond a reasonable doubt. In reality, the judge or jury will decide if the self-defence claim is valid.

In layman’s terms this means that an assault is striking a person or making them believe that they are going to be struck. A person is entitled to defend themselves if they are physically attacked or they reasonably believe that they are going to be attacked immediately. The person’s defence must be reasonable and proportionate to the level of aggression shown by the attacked and cannot descend into revenge if the upper hand is gained by the defender.

As mentioned above, Self-defence is an affirmative defence, what this mean is that you are admitting to an action that is a crime and arguing that you should not be punished because it was justifiable under the circumstances. This shifts the burden of proof to you.  The prosecution does not need to prove you committed a crime.  You did this by claiming self-defence.  You must prove that you had no choice but to react the way you did. 

Knowing the law and understanding the legal jargon can be difficult, even reading the law can be difficult.  Therefore, we must understand and teach the I.M.O.P. Principle.  This principle has the benefit of being useful and are also easy to remember on the streets.  If you meet these four criteria, Intent. Means. Opportunity. Preclusion, before taking action, you will have a good case for claiming self-defence.  If one or more are missing you may be on shaky legal ground.  Knowing these elements are in place may not be enough to prevail in court.  We must be able to explain how we personally knew that each element was present in a way that the jury will believe. 

Let’s take a close look at what the I.M.O.P principle is. 


You must be able to show the threat wanted to do you harm and tell how you knew.  Someone screaming “I’m going to kill you” is fairly clear especially if their body language backs this up.  If they make a fist and draw their arm back you can make a case they where about to hit you.

Intent is critical in claiming self-defence.  People have the chance to kill you every day.  A waiter bringing a steak knife in a restaurant has a deadly weapon and is within range, but we do not leap into action. To be a legitimate threat, the person must have intent and you must be able to explain how you knew that.


With all the intent in the world, will not matter if the threat couldn’t hurt you.  Most people have some means – fists, boots or size or they may have a weapon or say they have a weapon.  A 2-year-old throwing a temper tantrum may have a lot of intent but lack the means to do anything severe.  Claiming you feared for your life will not be enough if you cannot prove why you where afraid.  Somebody wearing a bikini and shouting they are going to shoot you clearly does not have the means if they have no gun in their hand.


Intent and means matter little if the threat cannot reach you.  Someone shouting they are going to kill you outside your house cannot get to you.  If you leave your house to confront them, you cannot claim self-defence. 

Situations in reality are subject to change, often quite rapidly, and it is important that we can articulate how those changes affect the threats intent, means or opportunity.  Intent, means, or opportunity are the desire, the ability, and the access to hurt you.  You must be able to show all three to justify using force in self-defence.  Even if all three do exist there is still one more requirement that needs to be satisfied.


You must be able to show you tried all other alternatives before resorting to force.  Awareness, avoidance, escape, and de-escalation are all viable options before wading in with your fists. 

You cannot claim self-defence if a threat screams, “fuck off or I’ll hit you!”, and you did not leave.  The threat clearly gave you away to avoid a fight, ‘fuck off’ and clearly outlines what would happen if you did not, ‘I’ll hit you’.  It is not self-defence if your ego would not allow you to leave.  To quote the ageing reference of Mr Miyagi, “The best way to block a punch is not to be there”.  Don’t let your ego draw you into something.

However pre-emptive strikes are legal and covered under law.  Just be sure you can articulate why you felt the need to strike first.  From a 3rd part perspective, they witness will claim you struck first and started the fight.  Pre-emption is legal but do you have and train the skills needed to articulate that case?  We will come back to third part perception later.

Preclusion includes questions such as could you have left?  Could you have run?  Did your actions contribute to the situation getting out of hand?  Knowing the law should help you make good decisions, but fear of the law should never stop you defending yourself if your life is in danger.

Consensual violence, the Monkey Dance/The Interview (scripted social violence encounters that are designed to be non-lethal), Street fighting (whatever that is), all fall outside the purview of Self-defence.  Do not let your ego force you into a situation where violence become inevitable.  And you may not succeed on a claim of self-defence.

Attacks in your home (the Irish perspective)

What are your rights?

The Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Bill 2011 allows a homeowner, tenant, or visitor in a dwelling to defend themselves with reasonable force and specifically states there is no requirement for the person to retreat.

The Bill also states that reasonable force does not preclude any justifiable action taken in self-defence that later results in the death of an attacking intruder. This Bill therefore gives recognition to the unique circumstances which prevail when an intruder enters a property that is normally occupied for the purposes of a domicile. Concerns over liability for damages, an occupier using justifiable force against an intruder won’t be liable for damages if the attacker subsequently sues in respect of any injury, loss or damage arising from such force.

The issue of whether a person could use lethal force in defending his or her home arose in the case of Co Mayo farmer Pádraig Nally, of Funshinaugh Cross, Claremorris, Co Mayo, who shot dead John “Frog” Ward in October 2004 in controversial circumstances. Mr Nally claimed Mr Ward had come to his farm to rob him, and that he had shot him in self-defence.

He was jailed for six years for manslaughter. He served 11 months of that term before the case was taken to the Court of Criminal Appeal, where he was acquitted after it was accepted, he had acted in self-defence.

The case prompted a major public debate about what level of force is reasonable in situations where people act to defend themselves from robbery or attack and the led to the The Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Bill 2011 being put in place to address this issue clearly.

A court has recently upheld the right of a person to use reasonable force to defend themselves against a home intruder.

In a landmark decision in 2018, a Central Criminal Court jury acquitted Martin Keenan (20) of the murder of an unarmed man he stabbed to death with a part from garden shears after finding him in his bedroom.

It is the first time a murder charge has been defended using the Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Act 2011, which removed an obligation on householders to retreat, and allows for the use of reasonable force against intruders.

Mr Keenan said he was frightened to find “two junkies” in his bedroom and hit Wesley Mooney (33) with half a pair of garden shears after he came running at him.

The defence relied on the act and a Court of Criminal Appeal judgment, which stated burglary was an act of aggression.  My question is why did he have part of a shears in his bedroom?

The following article from Irish Independent December 6th 2006, gives a very interesting insight into the Nally case mentioned above and the use of reasonable force or extreme lack of in my opinion.

Outlining the general facts of the case for the prosecution, senior counsel Paul O’Higgins said the incident had occurred after Nally heard a car revving outside his house.

When he went outside to investigate, he found Tom Ward, a member of the Travelling community, and he asked “words to the effect of ‘Where was the other fellow?’ believing Tom Ward was not likely to be on his own.”

Mr Ward said another man – his father John Ward (42) – was round the back “having a look”. At this point, Mr O’Higgins said, “Nally said words to the effect that ‘He would not be coming out again'”.

He said jury members would hear of the suspicion of the farmer that Ward was “up to no good” and was there to commit burglary or steal from some part of the farmyard. Padraig Nally got a shotgun from a shed and went to his back door, where he found John Ward. He shot at him from a distance of four or five yards and inflicted a wound on his right hand and hip.

It was not fatal.

The two men then got involved in a struggle, before Nally started to hit the other man with a stick. “He then beat John Ward black and blue,” Mr O’Higgins said.

He said there were eight full lacerations to Ward’s skull, exposing the underlying bone. He said there were more than 25 bruises to his body and his nose was broken.

There was also a break to his left forearm, suggestive of a defensive-type injury.

Mr O’Higgins said Nally had described the beating as “like hitting a badger or a stone. You could hit him but you could not kill him”.

There would be evidence that Nally had heard Tom Ward drive away, he added.

John Ward was lying in a bed of nettles and had begun to attempt to stumble out of the yard when Nally went back into his shed, got the shotgun and three more cartridges.

By this time, John Ward was either out on the roadway or stumbling or limping towards it and had turned right onto the road when Nally followed him and shot him again.

The second shot went through his left arm, back out and through the left-hand side of his chest into his lungs, “killing him almost immediately”.

Mr O’Higgins said Nally then took Ward’s body and “heaved it over some wall” before driving to a neighbour’s house, where the gardai were called.

Mr O’Higgins said it was the prosecution’s case “that the killing in these circumstances was not and could not be a lawful killing”.

“There is not a death penalty, so to speak, for burglary in this country,” he added.

It is interesting to note that Mr Nally was originally sentenced, served 11 months before winning an appeal that he acted in Self-defence.  Heading to a shed to get a gun, reloading and shooting somebody from behind as they are limping away does not constitute self-defence in my book.  Irish law begs to differ.

This brings up the issue of Reasonable Force (or lack of)

Exceeding a reasonable level of force may well turn a victim into a perpetrator in the eyes of a court.  As mentioned earlier, justifiable self-defence is a victim’s defence to a criminal charge, then a reasonable person would only use reasonable force.  Using a higher level of force infers intent to needlessly harm the other or seek revenge.  This allows the perpetrator turned victim to use your defensive actions against you.  Even if you win a criminal case you may still lose in civil court.  Remember your affirmative defence was to admit what you did in the proceeding criminal case. 

The level of force we use must be considered within the context of 3rd part perceptions.  Unreasonable excessive force, biting, eye gouging, stamp or kicking a head of a downed attacker, screaming (kiai) may all play poorly in court when described by the little old lady who witnessed the event while standing at the bus stop across the road.  But who’s attention was only drawn after the altercation had begun.

Disparity of Force

This in some jurisdictions there is a legal expectation of a fair fight.  As a side note, John Steinbeck said, “if you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck.”  But legally, in some places, the law clearly states equal force must be exactly equal.  Regardless of what the law states a person cannot respond to an assault of slight degree with deadly force.  If they attack you with a feather, you cannot respond with a bazooka.  In practice, however, you will want to respond with a degree of force sufficiently, but not greatly, superior.

Proportional Force

There are two advantages to proportional force. 1 It places the defender in a more secure tactical position, and 2 is discourages the assailant from continuing to attack and escalating the levels of force.

You often hear the phrase, “It’s better to be judged by 12 then carried by 6.”  While this is correct.  It is also misleading and wrong and should never be uttered by anyone claiming to teach realistic self-defence.  It implies, incorrectly, that it is not possible to act in self-defence and remain within the law. 

As martial artist, if we train correctly and develop the correct habits, that will kick in unconsciously, we can defend ourselves and remain within the law.  Stamping on legs, to incapacitate your attacker, to facilitate your escape, is legally a better option then stamping on their head or body, as many traditional martial arts may teach. 

There were no laws or civil courts back when those martial arts where developed.  And stamping an attacker’s head may have been the correct option in those bygone days.  Good luck trying to proof that in this day and age.  But remember every case is different, my 13-year-old daughter may be quite justified in kicking her attacker in the head and escaping.  Me as a 6th dan may have my actions viewed very differently two years later in a court of law, with a criminal who lies.

I must say here for legal reasons, if you are attacked and forced to defend yourself, your first action after you have escaped are to call an ambulance for the attacker and to report that you have been assaulted to the police. Remember, you are the victim. The police will investigate all the circumstances of the incident.

There was a case in America in the early 1990’s, the Judge’s summation terrified so much it is embedded in my brain forever.  A professional criminal, a mugger, ran out of an aisleway and attacked a passerby.  The victim, many years previously, had trained in Taekwondo and in the course of the altercation, managed to score a lucky shot and knock out his attacker.  Who fell unconsciously to the concrete and banged his head.  The attacker died.

The victim was taken to court and convicted of manslaughter.  In the Judges summation he said. “up until and including the moment you hit him you were acting in self-defence.  But by not rendering fist aid (on his attacker) he was guilty of manslaughter.”

Now if that does not terrify you, I suggest you read it again.  The alternative versions of those events is having knocked out his attacker and bending over to render first aid.  He is stabbed in the back by his attacker’s accomplice.  Remember every d**khead has a friend.  Do not hang around the scene of an attack unless it is safe to do so.  Escape is the goal, and you must insure you are safe before your thoughts turn to looking after the health of your attacker.

All in all avoidance is your best policy.

Please note that above is an interpretation of the available legislation and practice. If in doubt advice should be sought from a reputable criminal law solicitor.