Are You Allowed to Use Martial Arts in Self-Defense?

Using Martial Arts in Self-Defense

Martial arts have been practiced for centuries for various reasons, such as exercise, mental discipline, sport, and self-defense. Self-defense is one of the primary reasons people learn martial arts, but the question of whether it is legal to use martial arts in self-defense arises. Modern martial arts are descended from hand-to-hand combat styles (and other types of fighting) across cultures and millennia used to fend off attacks and inflict bodily harm or death. Everyone, including an experienced martial artist, has a right to defend him/herself in the event of an attack. Here’s what you need to know about protecting yourself in a fight legally as an experienced martial arts practitioner.

Registering Your Martial Arts Skills 

First of all, Guam is the only U.S. territory where martial arts experts are required to register:

“Any person who is an expert in the art of karate or judo, or any similar physical art in which the hands and feet are used as deadly weapons, is required to register with the Department of Revenue and Taxation.”

Guam Ann. Code Title 10 Ch. 62 § 62100

Refusing to register yourself as a trained martial artist in Guam is against the law. Once registered, if you’re convicted of using martial arts to assault someone, you are automatically guilty of aggravated assault.

When Hand-to-Hand Combat for Martial Arts is Legal Self-Defense 

In the United States (and in many other countries), self-defense is considered a legal defense if one uses force to protect oneself from an imminent threat of bodily harm or death. However, the law requires that the use of force must be proportional to the threat posed. You are also legally allowed to defend others with your martial arts, provided, again, that your response is proportional. This means that the level of force used in self-defense should not exceed what is reasonably necessary to repel the attack. As a martial artist, you must be fully aware of the consequences of intentionally or unintentionally misusing your skills. Even though you may be capable of grievously injuring or killing an attacker, the law does not allow you to do so if the use of force is deemed excessive. Using excessive force can result in assault and battery charges.

Each case is reviewed individually and subjectively as to whether the threat to your safety incurring your use of martial arts was warranted - sometimes the threat is so obvious as to be unquestionably warranted, such as assault with a deadly weapon. 

As a martial artist, you want to first make every attempt to neutralize a threat without resorting to using your martial arts skills. You can only safely use your martial arts skills to repel the attacker once every other method of defusing the threat has failed (leaving the scene may be an option in some cases). Only use the amount of force necessary to neutralize the threat without causing any further injury. 

Legal Consequences for Using Martial Arts Wrongfully in Self-Defense

If you use your martial arts skills against a threat that is non-imminent or nonproportional to the amount of force you used, you could be held criminally liable for excessive and disproportionate use of force, and you may be arrested and charged with criminal assault. 

Misdemeanor assault can result in:

  • A probationary sentence
  • A fine of several hundred dollars
  • Short-term incarceration

Felony assault charges can result in:

  • A fine of several thousand dollars and 
  • Long-term incarceration
  • Life imprisonment

Act Responsibly as a Martial Artist in Hand-to-Hand Combat

If you can safely walk away from a confrontation, that’s always the best course of action. If a physical altercation with someone is unavoidable: 

  • Warn the attacker that you intend to fight back. 
  • Do not strike until it is absolutely necessary.
  • Use appropriate force for the attacker and for the attack itself.
  • Plan how you would respond to an attack before you have to do it in real time.
  • Each state has different laws governing self-defense. If you’re an experienced martial artist, it’s your responsibility to know the laws governing whatever state you’re in.

Find Great Instructors and Physical Fitness at Florida Kickboxing Academy

Looking for great instructors who can give you personal training in martial arts to improve your physical fitness? Interested in martial arts classes for kids or adults? Visit to view our schedule of classes and learn about our specialized instructors.

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