The following question is why we go to such great lengths to educate our self-defense clients about the realities of breaking the physical plane.
“Denver Colorado, three years ago. A friend of mine (we were both Rangers in Vietnam) was out for his 60th birthday celebration with friends. They all decided to leave the restaurant where they had dinner and return to his house for cake and drinks. They separated and headed for their cars.
Bill’s car was in the dark parking lot next to the restaurant. He was about fifteen feet from his car when two men stood up between two cars and advanced toward him. One was carrying an aluminum baseball bat.
Bill stopped and stood there, waiting for them to move. They did. Bill stayed next to the brick building as the two men came at him. As the man with the bat stepped closer and raised it to swing, Bill stepped in and grabbed the man by the head — Bill is six-foot-three and 260 lbs. — he kneed the man in the groin and yanked his head around, tossing him into the wall. The second man hit Bill in the head with his fist. Bill reached out and grabbed the man by the throat, turned him around and slammed him into the brick building with such force that it cracked his skull, dropping him.
The whole encounter took maybe ten seconds. The two men never said a word. Someone from the group he was with saw the fight and called the police. They arrived several minutes later. Bill thought it was all over… But really, it was just starting.
The man with the bat — when Bill grabbed him and swung him around into the wall — the force of the move cracked the man’s neck. He lived for three days on life support, then died. The second, whose head was smashed into the wall, suffered brain damage. He can’t talk clearly, or walk a straight line.
The local Assistant DA filed Manslaughter charges against Bill when the first man died. Bill was arrested, booked and charged. The case was tossed out by the District Attorney, apologies made, charges dropped and his record cleared, but the damage was done.
For two years, the families of the two men filed civil actions against Bill for wrongful death and grievous bodily harm. It took two years, but both suits were tossed out by the judge.
Two years, over $24,000 in legal fees, and being arrested for defending yourself in a two-against-one fight for your life.
How does one ‘survive’ that? How does someone, who fought for his very life, survive the outcome of his actions by a public that is all too ready to blame the winner? The fact that he, Bill, was a combat vet in Vietnam didn’t help his case any. What most people don’t realize is that we survived by using such force, such tactics, that there is no ‘stopping’ once contact is made. If you stop — you die.
But how do we survive the aftermath?”
Laying hands on people to put life-threatening and life-changing injuries into them can have long-term consequences – psychologically, legally and financially.
Resorting to physical self-defense violence puts your own life at immediate risk should you lose, and can expose you to other risks down the line should you prevail.
It is therefore of the utmost importance that it is not engaged in lightly, out of anger, to “kick his ass” or other stupid reasons. You are risking your life and future well-being when you go after someone, so it better be for nothing less than the best reason possible: Your own life or the lives of others.
As I like to say, in the realm of the everyday, my life is worth my life, and not much else.
With that said, Bill had no choice if they advanced on him brandishing a weapon. Being outnumbered—and older—he had a simple decision to make: himself or them. Two-on-one with a bat meant the most likely outcome that he would be the one with brain damage and permanent disability (if he was lucky), or the one who would be dead (if he was unlucky). His skill and resolve allowed him to change the outcome, doing it to them instead.
One question I always have to ask critics of your friend’s situation is would the long-term results have differed with a firearm? Would this be viewed differently by society if he’d pulled a gun and shot them both, affecting an identical outcome (one disabled, one dead)?
Everyone expects that outcome with a firearm, but there is a ridiculously naïve belief that when you get similar results with bare hands, it’s somehow “extreme.” And while I will concede that bare hands allows you some latitude in injury (the last client I know of who used his training – just a few weeks ago – delivered two injuries, recognized non-functionality and then stopped, problem solved) it is still risky and dangerous.
If the guy has a medical condition you don’t know about or if his head strikes the pavement just so, he could die. And like a bullet in flight, you don’t have any control over those factors in self-defense.
Anecdotally, it has come back to us that some law enforcement departments would rather an officer shoot to kill an armed man than break his arm and save his life. Shooting him dead is well understood in the force continuum and the law. There is established procedure and process for working out the self-defense aftermath. Breaking the man’s arm opens up a Pandora’s box of legal issues, from “excessive force” to civil suits for lost wages and medical bills.
Better, the lawyers say, to simply shoot him dead than break his arm and inconvenience him and his family.
With bare hands, society has the wrong-headed conceit that you can simply choose to subdue rather than irrevocably harm as a bullet would. Overpowering and subduing people in self-defense are really, really hard to do. You need to be bigger, faster, stronger, more skilled than the man you wish to subdue, and it helps if he’s alone and unarmed.
Luckily, your friend was a skilled and experienced combat vet… but he’s still stuck in a 60-year-old body. This necessitated making choices that would mitigate the potential physical liability. Being 60 and outnumbered by armed men narrows the possibility space for fancy subdual/forced-capitulation techniques and really just cries out for simple, self-defense brutality.
The choice for him was permanent disability (or death) or two years of emotional, legal and financial hell. I do not say this flippantly, but as someone who has lost a loved one to violence, he came out ahead. And I would gladly choose what he got over what he gave the other two. I train so that I have that choice, and I train others so they can have it, too.
As to that aftermath, when the rule of law works, it allows those who believe they’ve been wronged to seek redress through the courts—instead of through personal violence or vigilantism. It keeps us from each other’s throats and lets us use them instead to speak our piece in court. When it goes wrong, it’s a labyrinth of horrors not even Kafka could imagine.
For better or worse, this is the society we have chosen to build for ourselves.
Violence, as a problem-solving tool, only creates wreckage. It physically wrecks the losers and strews wreckage into the otherwise orderly life of even the righteous victor. No one comes away undamaged. This is why violence must always be the last resort, after all other options have been exhausted.
Given the physical world we live in, and the society we’ve built, I would much rather have the ability to affect the outcome of potentially life-ending choke-points, with all the risks that involves, than have no choice at all.
It’s not nice, easy or fair—but that’s the reality we’re stuck with.