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Anarchism and the Martial Arts

The more I think about writing about this topic the more there is that I want to write about. So what I think I’m going to do with this is just write this progressively as I learn more through my own research and the responses I get; instead of attempting a full blown op-ed.

This question is difficult to answer because on the one hand, anarchists have somewhat diverse ethics about various issues relating to self-defense, biopolitics, violence, spirituality, and character virtues that would already be difficult to make many generalizations about. On the other hand, the Martial Arts is even more diverse on these same issues and numerous other ones. To survey both as much as possible in an essay would lead to an enormous text if it was taken to the finest nuance and detail that I could imagine. So I want to begin by making some important clarifications as to why this isn’t going to be that text and what to expect from this essay.

I am by no means an expert on the history of any martial art, the practice of any martial art, or even the practicality of many martial arts. However, I am (and for as long as I can remember) extremely interested in studying martial arts and have practiced a few: Kenpo Karate, Bujinkan Taijutsu (sometimes referred to as Budo Taijutsu or Ninpo Taijutsu), a bit of Judo, and an even lesser bit of Kung Fu. Since I began to formulate my own ethical principals more, my approach to the martial arts has changed and I have found it rather difficult to weight the next MA I want to train in by these principals. I think that this would be an important place to begin for other anarchist and anti-authoritarian revolutionaries as well.

Some Problems

Measuring Stick: There are many reasons why someone may decide to take up martial arts. Some of the more common reasons seem to be for the exercise, developing confidence and skill in one’s ability to defend themselves/others/stuff, for an authoritarian job (military, police, security, etc.), sport, fascination and enthusiasm, and let’s be honest …to be a more fierce asshole. So what’s in it for anarchists?

  • Self-defense: This one seems obvious to me but I can’t say that it is really the biggest concern for any other anarchists based on the amount of self-defense workshops or group meet-ups that focus on martial arts training. At the same time, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there isn’t an interest or even a large number of anarchists that take up a martial art (or have) outside the context of anarchist struggle. Ethically, I do think that it is a good idea to at least explore the limits and capacities that one has to defend themselves in a fairly antagonistic if not outright power-driven society. There is a link between the capacity to free expression and having an ability to do so without worrying about various people trying to kick your ass for it. There is also numerous reasons for those who are persecuted based on their race, sex, sexuality, religious background, and other identifying traits to learn how to defend themselves.


  • Self-empowerment: I think that the issue of self-empowerment or rather, the sense of self-empowerment that some people claim to derive from the practice of a martial art has as much of a chance to prove detrimental as it does psychologically beneficial. Some instruction and instructors have a nasty habit of hyping up what they’re teaching and then the application of the techniques (which may suck or just may have not been trained to efficiency) winds up creating a worse situation for someone than would otherwise be the case. Naivety, especially about what exactly could go drastically wrong with the application of many martial arts techniques (in a street situation) isn’t worth the self-confidence that may come with it. I think what martial arts ought to make abundantly clear is how fragile and easily injured our bodies are, that you’re likely not going to be fighting someone with the same training (or any, they may just use a weapon on you), and that even if you have “the deadly” down …retaliation from people that may be a hell of a lot less ethical than you are isn’t too strange. A sense of purpose, achievement, and self-improvement that can come from playing any sport can make just as many claims to self-empowerment as the martial arts as well.
  • Group defense: A lot of martial arts may concern themselves with how to defend oneself against a group of attackers (and they ought to advice flight first), but hardly any that I am aware of really focus on how to work together as a group. In a sense, an affinity group that trains together may be able to work well together as a group… but this isn’t because there is any sort of tactical training for groups inherent in many arts. Team sports, paint-ball, game theory, etc. – this is the stuff of working together as a tactical unit to accomplish a goal. Some people don’t think of the SCA (society for creative anarchronisms) as a martial art, but at least for this purpose of tactical group stuff, it seems to be very applicable to what could be the needs of an affinity group (or even larger collectives).
  • Flight (Parkour): RAAN covers this well enough. I’ll link to their stuff on the issue; but, I do want to make one point. What makes more sense… getting into a match with thugs in a uniform who probably have better weapons and training than you; or, out-maneuvering them if you think you or your comrades may be put in their cross-hairs? Yes, there are many situations that I will not elaborate on where direct, physical confrontation with thugs in uniforms may be a goal worth the risks (and, by “thugs in uniforms” I mean that non-specific to the cops – I mean neo-nazis and all sorts of scum here).
  • Revolutionary applicability: I’m not ready to fill in this section but at this point, the applicability of many martial arts to what I imagine as contemporary revolutionary activities fall a bit short of the bar. Learning Krav Maga, studying police training manuals, and other such stuff that will provide some good insight into what we’re up against is definitely applicable. But really, it’s going to be a lot of other stuff outside the purview of what is generally taught as a martial art that will be applicable, imo. I’m not saying that martial arts training has no benefits for revolutionaries (far from it); but, in the long run I’d have to say that whatever martial skill is incorporated into various revolutionaries’ arts – it won’t look like anything you’ll find in a gym or a dojo.
  • Other ethical considerations: more on this later


psychological (perceptual changes, learned perspectives of the Other, mind-body dichotomy/objectification, outward perception, conception of pain, orientation to violence, etc.) and physical (posture, flexibility, cardiovascular, energy efficient motion, endurance, etc.)

Metaphysics: various traditions… Zen, Shinto, Chivalry, etc. (being a martial arts master probably shouldn’t motivate one’s practice of spiritual traditions.

Style: hard, soft, mixed – Western, Eastern, MMA, etc.

Training: aliveness, peer-to-peer or workshop stuff, gyms, rip-offs, instructor credibility (and what that means), ranking systems, etc.

Legal Issues:

  • Registration of body parts as lethal weapons: This is actually a huge myth. Boxers and other martial artists do not have to “register” their body parts as lethal weapons.

The following are commonly spoken words that are often misunderstood. Because they relate to physical confrontation, you, as a martial artist, should have a clear understanding of each of them.

CITIZEN’S ARREST: This is the act of one person (citizen) placing another person under arrest when the citizen observes that person committing a criminal act. You do this at your own risk. If you are wrong, or if you did not actually observe the person committing a crime, you may be liable for false imprisonment. In most jurisdictions, the citizen invoking the arrest will be listed as an arresting officer, and law enforcement is legally required to take an arrested suspect into custody even if they feel the arrest is unjustified. Citizen’s arrest should only be done as a last resort to prevent the alleged criminal from “fleeing the scene” after committing a crime.

ASSAULT: The intentional creation of apprehension of immediate harm to another. It is not a threat of some future, but a threatened immediate harm. Any non-lethal violence that does not involve substantial risk of death will be an assault. You don’t have to actually touch someone, only make them think that was your intention. The degree of assault varies upon instrumentality, numbers, or difference in ability to inflict harm to someone else. For instance, shot at with a gun, the swing of a bat, or some other attempted serious act to harm.

BATTERY: Any unwanted touching. The harmful or offensive touching of someone with the intent to harmfully or offensively touch. Simply grabbing a person in an argument, for example, may be sufficient to constitute battery. The contact doesn’t necessarily have to cause pain or injury. Examples of battery are harsh grabbing or pushing. The common defense to battery charges are: the right to self defense, reasonable touching, consent, implied consent, accident, mistake, and no intent.

GOOD SAMARITAN: The defense of others. You have the right to defend someone who in turn has the legal right to defend themselves but for some reason they cannot or will not defend themselves. If you have made a reasonable mistake of fact, you might still be able to plead defense of others, but not always. The use of non-physical de-escalation skills while law enforcement personnel are on the way is the wisest choice. Be a good witness.

EXCESSIVE FORCE: The use of continued use of retaliatory strikes when the threat is no longer immediate. For martial artists, an act may be considered retaliatory even if it followed the underlying assault by seconds. Reasonable force under assault circumstances is a difficult matter to judge with any accuracy. If you use excessively force, you can be charged with a crime. If law enforcement has probable cause to believe you used excessive force, you will probably be placed under arrests even if you were lawfully defending yourself.

MANSLAUGHTER: “Involuntary” manslaughter is when a person is killed by another unintentionally as a result of recklessness or gross negligence. “Voluntary” manslaughter is when a person is killed by another upon a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion.

STATUTORY RAPE: Actually called FELONIOUS INTERCOURSE, is having sex with someone under the age of consent. The age of consent varies from state to state and can be as young as 16 years old, but 18 years old is the generally accepted minimum age of consent.

SELF DEFENSE: The right to defend yourself with as much force as required to ensure your safety. The critical elements to keep in mind are:

1) the defense must be necessary – no other way out,

2) the force used must be reasonable under the circumstances.


The defense must be necessary. In order for the defense to be necessary, you must be protecting yourself from:

  • Imminent harm by unlawful physical assault. If the harm is not imminent, you do not have the right to use force.

  • Sexual assault.

  • Unlawful detention.

  • You must be in danger at the present time and not threatened with some future harm.

  • You may not retaliate for some past harm or attempted harm.

If you use EXCESSIVE FORCE, you can be charged with a crime. If law enforcement has probable cause to believe you used excessive force, you will most likely be placed under arrest even if the initial self-defense is permitted.


An example of this is as follows:

Someone points a toy gun or an unloaded gun at you in a threatening manner and you use defensive tactics on that person believing they could have and would have shot you, self-defense would apply.

The more innocent the person or unreasonable your belief, the less likely self-defense would still apply.


Most states have laws against the classical “let’s step outside” routine for a challenge match. Unless there are rules and the match is akin to a sporting event, both parties may be guilty of a crime.


The use of certain martial arts weapons is illegal in many states. California, in particular, has zero tolerance with regard to the use of the BO STAFF, NUNCHAKU, ESCRIMA STICK, KAMAS, TONFA, NINJA STARS, BUTTERFLY KNIVES, etc. The whole gamut of Martial Art weaponry is on the DO NOT USE list.

Never use these weapons to defend anyone or anything. If you use any Martial Art weapon outside of a licensed Martial Art school, you are committing a felony, which is a serious crime punishable by one year or more in prison. Using illegal weaponry of any kind will often get you into more trouble that the criminal against whom you used it!

This is the primary reason we DO NOT teach weapons as a means of self-defense. As a martial artist, it’s better to rely upon your empty hand skills if you must resort to physically defending yourself or coming to the defense of others.

TRESPASS TO LAND: Basically, this is coming onto someone’s land without right or permission. Emergencies allow people on land and some people have the right to enter, such as police, postal service, UPS, etc. If someone comes onto land and approaches a door, that is not trespass. If an uninvited person is on your property, you have the right to ask them to leave, and if they don’t you should inform them that they are now trespassing and call law enforcement. You may not physically remove the person or persons from your property.


Personal property can be defined as anything without a soul. Automobiles, luggage, clothing, money, tools, etc.

Using force to protect/defend property is generally frowned on by the law. The amount of force you use to protect property must be minimal, and generally speaking, progressive. You can’t start by breaking someone’s arm because they picked up your jacket at a restaurant.

You can avoid problems in almost all jurisdictions by first making verbal contact, then moving to physically prevent the person from leaving with or harming your property WITHOUT striking them; and then moving on to holds, pain compliance techniques, or other non-lethal methods or protecting your property.


Defending your home is another matter entirely. If you are trying to keep someone out of your home or office or business, you normally have the right to use some degree of force to eject them. Physically pushing someone out will not normally result in any liability. If the person uses force to gain entry, or if there is a probable danger of the person harming any of the occupants, then the amount of force used may be higher. Once the person leaves, you may not use any additional force except that which applies to citizen’s arrest.


Repo man: If the repo man is taking your automobile, you cannot legally stop him from doing his job.

Landlord: If your landlord is coming into your apartment or rented home and has the right to do so under the conditions of your lease, you may not use force to prevent him from doing so.


California Penal Code 422: Any person who willfully threatens to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person, with the specific intent that the statement made verbally, in writing, or by means of an electronic communication device, is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent of actually carrying it out, which, on its face and under the circumstances in which it is made, is so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey to the person threatened a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution of the threat, and thereby causes that person reasonably to be in sustained fear for his or her own safety or for his or her immediate family’s safety, shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed one year, or by imprisonment in the state prison.

For the purpose of this section, “immediate family” means any spouse, whether by marriage or not, parent, child, any person related by consanguinity or affinity within the second degree, or any other person who regularly resides in the household, or who, within the prior six months, regularly resided in the household.

“Electronic communication device” includes, but is not limited to, telephones, cellular telephones, computers, ipod, zune, video recorders, fax machines, or pagers. “Electronics communication” has the same meaning as the term defined in subsection 12 of Section 2510 of Title 18 of the United States Code.


  •  yadda yadda…

The above are the areas I am going to be focusing on to whatever extent I am able to over the next while.



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