So many will tell the average civilian that “there are no rules and everything goes in a street fight!” Well, not exactly. (Yes, there are, and lawyers, judges, juries, law enforcement, human resources, financial statements, society, and your post-event mind will fill you in later if you’re determined to remain uninformed) This is such a tedious, boring topic by now you’d think we’d be past needing to discuss it…but here we are. Still, daily, we see the tough-guy rhetoric on laying the boots to someone who “attacked” them or fucked with their space-bubble.

In the self-defense industry, the term ROE is often bandied about with reckless abandon, as are so many old-school cliches in the counter-violence industry. It pays to go over every one with a fine-tooth comb to see if they’re still credible….or ever were. “ROE” simply means “rules-of-engagement”, those either verbal, unconscious, accepted, social, legal, or contextual stipulations dictated by what’s inevitably dueling. or match-fighting, or cockfighting, or ego-based combat…whatever term floats your boat. (Of note, your agreeing in-principle to participate in violence or combat – something (dueling/match-fighting) that is in itself, in many countries, illegal…is moot) Let’s use the official military term and see how it translates to civilian-combat. ” Rules of engagement (ROE) are the internal rules or directives among military forces (including individuals) that define the circumstances, conditions, degree, and manner in which the use of force, or actions which might be construed as provocative, may be applied.” That’s pretty specific and aligns pretty well, I’d say. (So, even military forces abroad with hostile enemies have….rules and such)

For many hardened combat veterans and hardcore martial arts instructors, you’ll often hear a mentality of no-gloves, no-rules, and vicious down-and-dirty solutions to all sliding-scale-of-force circumstances….may they be verbal threat, aggressive body posture, stare, push, or shoulder-brush. How fucking dare you. The audacity. My response will be vicious and ongoing until the threat (perceived/varied/scaled) has subsided. But, as always, there’s a catch. A whole ton of intangibles that act as satellites around every situation.

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So, where does this mentality come from. What places of insecurity. Well, there are various areas where this cavalier cowboy approach comes across in the martial arts or self-defense world:

  1. “Othering” and ignorance of subjective perception. An “us-vs.-them” mentality. That all opposition to us is by clearly-marked differences in scope – we’re the good guys, they’re bad. We citizens, they criminals. We being “in-the-right”, they being, of course then, “in-the-wrong”, as should be clear to all present-and-accounted-for. (alternate perception of witnesses can be an awful disassociation from yours) Assumes that we’re always pure, moral, ethical, shining examples of all things above-water and the other person, well, not. Also assumes that “criminals” (are they all?) are inhuman, lacking similarities or motives or behaviors in any way that we – or others – can relate to.
  2. Superiority. “That won’t work in a street fight.” “Sport mentality for street circumstances.” “I’d just pull a knife if you tried that jiujitsu shit on me.” Industry people being deeply-insecure about another style/art/method/system that goes against where they’ve focused and invested their precious time. Assumes that greater aggression is always needed against any level of even mild aggression or conflict and that all situations are of the purely-lethal variety. *We should note that rules-of-engagement are used extensively in all martial arts or self-defense classes as well: tapping, mutually-agreed-upon contact level, protective-gear, safety of all combatants, no intentional hitting during drills, protective surfaces, controlled levels of resistance, etc. (So it’s hypocritical that so many martial artists promote the one-size-fits-all approach to conflict and tell you that rules don’t exist when they adhere to them themselves dogmatically. If they tell you the circumstances are different as it’s “training”, we can debate later then the disconnect of most martial arts classes to street violence anyway)
  3. Sheepdogs. We fighters are the protectors of all creatures innocent, vulnerable, and stupid. Only the sheepdog can match the wolf and fight their game. Or only a good wolf willing to use violence (sigh) can match a bad wolf. Assumes that regular people that don’t train in organized martial arts or take ongoing self-defense classes are dumb and utterly incapable of defending themselves in any way in spite of evolution and mindset.

Inevitably these are the 3 corners (the real “OSS.” triangle?) of where the industry’s inaccurate ROE-abandoning mentality stem from. All are wildly inaccurate and contextually-fallible. If any of these 3 are used as club maxim or to be incorporated into your daily outlook on all things problematic, I’d suggest looking for another club. (Maybe just me…)

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So, moving on to the real-world. What role do ROE play in even a knock-down-drag-’em-out street-fight over something trivial? Well, it should be noted that what seems relatively innocuous can change in a quick heartbeat due to unforeseen circumstances. Some specific examples:

-a fight may be just a fight….until adrenaline gets the best of you and you kick that person in the head 6 times when they’re already unconscious. What was a simple fight may now be a murder- or assault-charge. What started off as self-defense…may not be so any longer.

-matching excessive use-of-force as the first response to a generally low-level threat approach. As we stated in the “Context” article, pulling a knife and cutting the other person’s throat after a right-cross will put you in jail even if he initiated the confrontation, I can assure. That’s true even here in Costa Rica, the perceived (and poorly-coined “Third-World.”

-following someone who pissed you off in traffic for 6 blocks and cornering them in an alley-way for an educational beatdown…will likely not be seen as a self-defense scenario. By anyone. At least anyone that matters to your freedom, pocket-book, or new rap sheet.

-hunting someone down the following weekend for stealing your tire might not be legally-covered.

Now we’ve given some specific context regarding what would be perceived as “rules” in combat-engagement. Let’s bullet-point them for clarity:

  1. Continuing to attack an opponent when they’re not longer a threat.
  2. Utilizing a much higher use-of-force for the type of threat existent, up to and including deploying a weapon in low-level threat circumstances
  3. Pursuing an offender post-incident for retribution or payback.
  4. Generally, any type of educational beat-down where the opponent is either not fighting back or fighting back minimally/futilely.
  5. Overwhelming a far weaker, handicapped, older, slower, smaller, less-aggressive, untrained opponent. (Training, size, experience, sex, and power CAN be a double-edged sword even if not the aggressor or initiator, as tons of case-studies will prove)
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In many countries, including this one (perceived to be “3rd-World” and “undeveloped”), to prove self-defense in a court-of-law, one needs to adhere to the AOIP tenet, that there’s:

-ability: the person confronting you is bigger, stronger, faster, more capable, trained, reputation for violence precedes them/has a history of violence, more aggressive, etc.

-opportunity: they’re within proximity/range, present, in-country, within driving-distance, know where you live/work, etc.

-intent: they’ve stated, made public, intimated, shared that they’re going to do harm to you, explicitly and without convolution.

-preclusion: while the other 3 are opponent-focused, this one’s on you. Have you done everything in your power to prevent violence from being the only solution to the conflict. De-escalated verbally or otherwise, attempted to leave, have a way out, escape, or otherwise demonstrate that fighting is not your preferred way of solving this particular issue.

Many, many countries have this same tenet, regardless of whether worded differently, points added, or slight alterations. This most often tends to be the base. If any of these aren’t present and accounted-for, you may have some problems proving a self-defense case in a court-of-law. Now, to the endgame, if you run the risk of losing financially (losing the court battle), legally (jail-time, criminal-record, travel- and potential work-restrictions), socially (social-status & stigmas, loss of marriage/children), or psychologically/emotionally (PTSD, therapy, guilt, shame)….would it pay to invest in education on those rules, or do grownups still play Wild-West cowboys….

For some reason, looking around, I see this stuff being simply part of procedure in the gun community, for the most part. It’s an accepted element of curriculum. Yet, in the martial arts/combatives world it’s largely neglected to feed the narrative of fear-mongering, image, and projection. I’d say another area where the gun community is light years ahead of the hand-to-hand and non-projectile weapons arena when it comes to real-world problem-solving.

I realize this entire article will likely be perceived as boring, repetitive, and unsexy. And it is! Damn right! Yet many of us continue to regurgitate this information due to the masses who spew otherwise and feed this myth to their unknowing students who rely on them to impart law, context, and justification. It should be moot by now yet, again, here we are. I (again) feel obligated to issue this public-service anouncement. Strangely, most gun/firearms people use this as a base for their programs. It’s a fundamental necessity, unlike the often fantasy-filled martial arts/combatives world. Pity we’re not on to bigger and more enthralling play toys yet.

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