When I was a kid, I watched the Superman show on TV. Many of you younger folks may ask, “What TV show?” A few of you might also have fond memories of watching. The narrator’s dramatic introduction to that show was: “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Look! Up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Superman!” The bottom line is, none of us, nor our students, are Superman. We are mortal. Bullets kill mortals. When I was a white belt, my first instructor, Sensei Mike Smith, taught me that gun defense was all about getting the person with the gun to go away. I was taught to give him every material thing he asked for. The only time I was to attempt to disarm him was if he were trying to get me or a loved one into a car. My mindset had to be: “I’m already dead. Let’s see if this can be a more pleasant death than it will be if I get in that car.” We trained every week with rubber practice guns and rubber knives. When we practiced knife defense, I was repeatedly warned, “You’re going to get cut.” My goal was to attempt to keep the cut from being life-threatening. Again, the first defense was to give the knife-wielder whatever material possession he asked for. Preferably, I would toss the material possession far enough away to buy myself the time to run and escape. I think my training history is pertinent, because I’d like to share a conversation I had recently with a group of school owners. The question posed by one studio owner in the group was along the lines of, “How do you approach gun self-defense?” Eventually the conversation broadened to include knife defense. As I watched this conversation develop, many points were made regarding the need to prepare students for possible real-world situations. I absolutely validate this perspective in martial arts training. I will say, however, that many studio owners and instructors do not seem to realize the depth of their legal liability. In the event of a broken toe, the studio can be held liable. I have broken a toe on two separate occasions thus far during training. I obviously understand and accept my free-will choice to participate in martial arts training. I would not expect or pursue my studio owner to pay for medical attention in the case of a broken toe. Having said that, many families would and do expect the owner to pay medical bills in these situations. “What about my waiver?” you ask. Even in the best of circumstances, a waiver is tenuous. Also, the waiver signed by a parent does not preclude a child from suing you. We’ve seen a rash of these types of cases just beginning recently. Kids have college to pay for, after all. In the circumstance of a student getting injured during self-defense training with a live gun or knife, there is no way a waiver will protect you. In the case of a student feeling confident with gun or knife defenses because of the training you provided, you have liability if the defense you taught fails them. The family can sue if your student dies in the altercation. No matter what your choice is, all of the following are righteous: • to not teach weapon self-defense at all. • teaching with training weapons only. • teaching with training weapons only and including the kind of specific warnings my instructor provided. Make your choice, but please thoroughly understand the risk involved.
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