TSW Appeal
Our Mission
The Team
Our Sponsors
Book Reviews
DVD Reviews
Course Reports
Website Reviews
Tournament Reviews
Trips to Japan
Instructor Profiles
Beginner's Guide
Beginner's Diaries
Learning Resources
Teaching Resources
Instructor's Diaries
Scientific Study
History of Shotokan
Shotokan Kata
The Dojo Kun
The Niju Kun
Competition Rules
Karate Terminology
How to Submit Material
Coming Soon
Contact Us
Mailing List
Online Shop
Paul Herbert 5th Dan
e-mail me


Moral and ethical decisions on the use of deadly force.



  1. Webster’s dictionary defines moral as relating to principles of right or wrong.  Morally it is up to you to decide what your personal boundaries are or where the line in the sand is crossed to justify deadly force.
  2. Ethical decisions are based on what the accepted standard of conduct of the collective group of people we interact with is.  You must make your own individual decisions on the moral and ethical code of deadly force and you need to begin making those decisions NOW.


Why now?  Because you may be faced with such a decision to use deadly force tonight.  Violence, robbery, home invasion, car jacking etc. may happen at any time and under any circumstance – by chance or design.  To the unprepared, the shock of sudden and unprovoked violence has a tendency to paralyze the victim with fear, or doubt in their mind that violence is actually being committed against them.  They are often unable to react or wish it was not happening.  Often the victim will report, “I was so scared I could not move!”  If you have not made the moral decision to use deadly force in advance, you may not have the time to make the decisions under the shock of sudden and unprovoked violence against you.  Understand that you shoot or strike to stop, not to kill.  Even so, it is not unlikely that your actions may kill.  If you have not made spiritual peace – in advance with your moral decision to possibly take another life to save your own life, or the life of those around you, you may find it difficult to make a quick decision when time is of the essence.  We will take a long look at when you should WALK, TALK OR ENGAGE.  But first let’s use the following as the universally valid attitude for our scenarios. 


1.                  If it is not worth killing or dying for, it is not worth fighting for. 

2.                  If you must think about whether or not you should engage, you probably should not engage or use deadly force.  *Remember:  If your opponent has the immediate ability, opportunity, intent and it looks like an unavoidable danger of death or serious bodily injury, you are justified to use deadly force.  *Lethal force against an unarmed assailant is justified when there is a disparity of force.


Examples of disparity of force:


1.                  Large man against small man

2.                  Able bodied man against disabled man

3.                  Man against woman

4.                  Two or more men against one man

5.                  Three or more juveniles against one man or one woman

6.                  Man or woman known to have training in the martial arts against untrained man or woman

7.                  Any teenager or adult brandishing a lethal weapon showing intent

8.                  A person using chemical mace against you with intent

9.                  Someone exposing a concealed weapon and showing signs of malicious intent, if you do not comply with their demands



I’d like to introduce the “Color Code of Mental Awareness”. 


1.                  Condition White:  in condition white you are totally unprepared for attack, unaware of your environment.

2.                  Condition Yellow in condition yellow you are relaxed, aware and alert.

3.                  Condition Orange:  in condition orange you have identified a specific potential threat.

4.                  Condition Red:  in condition red your observation and evaluation of the actions of the specific potential threat leave no doubt in your mind that the threat is real and dangerous.

5.                  Condition Black:  in condition black the line in the sand is crossed by your assailant(s) and you are engaged in combat and delivering lethal force. 


What is escalation of force?


Escalation of force occurs when one apparently unarmed individual is in a confrontation with another and the apparently unarmed individual produces a weapon which escalates the conflict.  

You should not present your weapon unless your assailant has the ability, opportunity, and intent to kill or inflict serious bodily injury to you or an innocent person. 

A shouting match or scuffle where you are not in immediate and unavoidable danger of death or serious bodily injury, becomes a lethal confrontation if you present your weapon, thereby forcing your opponent to present his. You may be found guilty of escalation of force and thereby loose your innocence in the eyes of the law.   The fault or cause of the lethal conflict may now become yours. 

You must be sure that there is no reasonable way to retreat from the scene and then, if your opponent continues to show clear intent of harm and it is necessary, you can engage in Code Black.


*Remember if you are using a gun, the distance for personal safety is twenty-one feet.  In empty hand it is at arms reach.  In edged weapons, it is leg distance if using a tactical knife and twenty-one feet for a pocketknife.


When encountering unprovoked violence we will need to discern between the dedicated and the non-dedicated opponent.  The non-dedicated opponent does not show clear intention but could take you to the “Code Red condition of mental awareness”, but not quite to Code Black. 


The dedicated opponent will confront you with clear intent; face to face or blind-side you before you even notice that he is present.


Examples of these two types of opponents


Growing Anger (Physical signs)


1.      The dedicated opponent has decided you are wrong and he is going to teach you a lesson.  He raises his voice, jabs his finger at you too close and tries to close in on you in order to grab you and punch you.  (His intentions are to do you severe bodily harm.) 

Solution:      Evade, use defensive positions and if necessary go to Code Black. 


2.      Non-dedicated opponent (physical signs).  He raises his voice, but from four feet to six feet away:   Paces around but will not close within leg or hand range.  He is mad but is a victim and just wants to complain or bluff his way through to try and save face in front of his friends.

Solution:      You defuse the situation by allowing him to save face, reasonably. 



Your senses are continuously picking up information and filtering it.  If you were aware of everything around you would over-load.  Most people filter out all but a few details that are important to them.  Those details are determined by where you are on the Color Code of Mental Awareness. 


·        Look for the signals that may precede an assault.

·        Don’t ignore your instincts.

·        Proper awareness and conditioning can make you a “hard target”. 

·        The sooner you recognize danger, the sooner you can act.


Examples:      Impending Violation:  This is the person who walks right toward you for no apparent reason.

                  Inappropriate proximity:  This is the guy who sits right next to you on an otherwise empty park bench.  It is socially odd.

Continued invasion:  Repeated unwanted movement into your space; You move, they follow.

Overt violation:  This is a violation of personal space that is as severe and overt as to clearly be out of the norm and potentially harmful.  A stranger comes and leans on the wall next to you at the ATM. 

Hostile Invasion:  No doubt about this person’s intent.  This is the guy that gets in your face.


There are lots of ways to win a fight.  Fight with your mind.  Attitude will largely dictate the outcome. 




·        Physical movement away from scene

·        Verbal commands, “Stop.  Don’t come any closer!”

·        Call for help

·        Use barriers

·        Use of force; Fight if you must.


The law is not black or white.  The detail of the event will dictate the judges determination in the case.  


In 1972 I was asked to testify in a murder trial as an expert witness because of my book “The Medical Implications of Karate Blows.”  They did not let me know anything about the case until it was time for me to take the stand and testify. 


This was a situation where a two-hundred and fifty pound beginning karate student killed his one hundred and fifty-five karate instructor during a confrontation in a public place.  It seems that the instructor verbally and physically goaded and abused the student the student snapped. 


I was given the autopsy information to read and pictures of the body to view.  The autopsy showed damage to the spleen, pancreas and liver with no rib damage or fracture.  A witness said they saw the defendant do a technique called the “Leap of Death” during the fight. This is a kenpo technique and requires the victim to be on the ground on his stomach.  The aggressor then jumps on the victim’s low back with both heels and simultaneously pushes the face into the ground with both palms.  Even though the witness said the defendant had used the “Leap of Death” technique, the damage shown in the autopsy report and photos was not consistent with what would have shown if this technique was used, such as bruising to the low back, and kidney area, broken ribs and abrasions to the face.   There were none of these signs.  I concluded in my testimony that the damage to the organs had to be caused by a frontal blow to the solar-plexus/abdominal area.


Because it was a blow from the front and not from the back, the confrontation was considered self-defense.  The defendant was saved from a murder sentence.  So when considering whether to WALK, TALK OR ENGAGE, and the Color Code of Awareness, remember that code black can be a double edged sword.  Remember to use lethal deadly force only if you cannot evade the aggressor, and your opponent has the immediate ability, opportunity, intent and it looks like unavoidable danger of death or serious bodily injury.