Courtroom Defense: Why You Need to Log Your Martial Arts Training in a Notebook!

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Imagine yourself on the witness stand in a court of law. You’re there because you hurt or killed a person who attacked you two years earlier. The prosecutor requests documentation regarding any self-defense training you received prior to the incident.

Unfortunately, the only questions your defense attorney asked prior to the trial were, “How did it all happen?” and “What did you do?” The attorney then built your defense on those answers. Naturally, an attorney is not a self-defense expert, and producing any supporting training documentation as evidence was never considered.

It’s not the attorney’s fault because most civilian self-defense instructors don’t give their students documentation — except perhaps a sheet that provides the translations of technique names or that lists the moves of a particular kata.Certainly they don’t pass out documentation that can stand up in court in a use-of-force case.

Throughout my almost 50 years of studying and teaching the martial arts as a guest instructor — which has given me the opportunity to be in countless martial arts schools around the world — I have found that very few give detailed outlines to their students. Those schools that do distribute outlines generally fail to explain the legal parameters that pertain to when the techniques and tactics can be applied.

Sadly, most students who are accused of using excessive force in a self-defense situation, when asked in court why they opted for a specific course of action, can only answer, “Because that is what my instructor taught me to do.”

They lack the legal argument to justify their actions because they were never taught how to do so.

If I’m ever called into court and asked, “Why did you defend yourself in that manner?” I know my defense attorney will be prepared. He or she will already have the boxes of training outlines, certificates and notes that I collected.

Then, when it’s all presented to a judge who reviews the contents, he will most definitely declare me voir dire, which is a legal term that means the person to be questioned is determined to be competent to testify. In other words, I would be declared an “expert” in self-defense.

However, that’s me. Chances are this is not your reality — at the moment. But that can be changed. I’ll get you started now. Then if your self-defense actions are ever called into question, you’ll survive the second fight for your life, the one that takes place in the courtroom, which is where you fight to keep your freedom, your money and your possessions. The way to prepare for this day is as simple as creating a training notebook.

When it comes to documenting use-of-force techniques and tactics, the professionals do it best. By “professionals,” I mean members of the military, law enforcement, corrections and private security, all of which I have served in. In those fields, every technique and tactic is well-documented, along with the legal justification for each one. (In the military, it’s called the Rules of Engagement. For the rest, it’s the Use-of-Force Continuum).

In addition, all techniques and tactics are peer reviewed, shared and scrutinized by the tactical community. This helps determine whether they are likely to be successful, are liable to be used wrongfully or are outright illegal.

Now that you know that the justice system works with the professionals every day and that the standards are well-established, you must rise to their level. Here are the steps you need to take:

Step 1

Purchase a large three-ring binder and label the front and the spine TRAINING NOTEBOOK. Inside the notebook, place colored tabs. If you have attended a firearms course, mark one of the tabs FIREARMS. If you have taken a first aid course, mark one of the tabs FIRST AID.

If you have taken online courses offered by the government, such as anything dealing with emergency management, designate a tab for that, too. Of course, any self-defense outlines or certificates will go in the notebook, as well, even if the course you attended was only a one-hour lecture.

Step 2

If you attend a self-defense course or conference and no documentation is provided, take notes and place those notes in the notebook. At the top of each sheet, write the name of the course, the name of the instructor, the date and time of the course, and the page number. When it comes to the courtroom, your notes are indeed evidence of your training.

In your notes, it’s a good idea to quote your instructor on key self-defense issues. For example, if your instructor said it’s justifiable to use deadly force against a person who points a water pistol at you, you’ll want the exact quote because if you ever find yourself in that situation, you’ll need the justification.

For this example, your notes might look something like this: “Instructor Williams said, ‘If someone points a squirt gun at you and you believe a real gun is sandwiched inside of it — because many criminals have done that before to get their victim to hesitate — and if you’re in fear for your life, you may legally use deadly force if you cannot safely get away from the attacker.’”

(The example I just gave is true. Since criminals sometimes conceal real guns inside squirt guns and “super soakers,” law-enforcement bulletins are circulated to warn officers about this trick. It’s why police officers are told, “If it has a barrel and a trigger, it is a deadly threat.” Obviously, common sense still must be used. You’re not going to use deadly force on a 6-year-old who points a squirt gun at you. Most likely, it is just a squirt gun.)

Step 3

If you end up accumulating so much documentation related to your self-defense training that one notebook cannot contain it all, you can have individual notebooks for specific categories. For example, if you are taking courses on how to be an instructor, that could warrant a separate volume labeled TRAINING NOTEBOOK — INSTRUCTOR COURSES.

Because I have collected all my notes, certificates and documentation since I started martial arts at age 14, I have everything in boxes stored in my attic. Of course, the beauty of having all this documentation is that when I need to make specific references, it is easy.

For example, I recently started teaching sniper courses again for a client that interacts with many law-enforcement agencies, including the DHS, FBI and other “alphabet soup” organizations. Well, it’s been almost 20 years since I went through Scout Sniper School at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, since I was on my department’s SWAT team (which required scout sniper skills) and since I taught snipercraft to various agencies. Fortunately, I had all my notes handy, and I re-educated myself on all the finer points — after which I caught up on the latest changes and technological developments.

You’ll never regret having a training notebook, but you will regret not having one if you’re ever charged with using excessive force. It’s better to get all your ducks in a row now and keep that good habit going. Of course, if the self-defense training you’re receiving is not realistic or goes against what the law allows, no amount of documentation will save you.


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