Essential steps to educate students about one-punch law

One-punch Law

As martial art instructors, the core of what we do is teaching students how to punch, kick, elbow, throw, etc. So where does our duty of care lie?

Take, for example, a student who goes on a night out with friends, has a few drinks as he/ she is not driving and gets to a point where, if tested, they would have a blood alcohol level of around 0.15 (‘high’ range, if driving). This reading could result from as few assix standard drinks for a 70-kg person — the results vary for males and females, and are also dependent upon how quickly you drink and your body weight. So, your student gets into an altercation and defends themselves using a technique that you taught them. As a result, the other person is seriously injured or dies.

Your student can, of course, claim self-defence. It should be noted that so far only one person has been charged under the new ‘one punch’ laws in mandatory minimum sentence of eight years up to a maximum of 25 years in prison. This man is currently being held without bail and will likely remain in custody until the trial, meaning he could spend anywhere between six months to a year in prison before he has the chance to claim self-defence in court.

As martial art instructors, can we be held responsible for the actions of our students?

That question is yet to be answered, but let’s consider what might happen if our student claims — in court, in the media or to the police — any of the following:

  • 1. The reason they used the technique that caused the damage was because their instructor/s told them to do so if attacked.
  • 2. Their instructor/s only taught a ‘crash, bash and destroy’ response if attacked, and that was all they knew how to do.
  • 3. Their instructor never mentioned ‘reasonable force’ or the legal consequences of using self-defence techniques.
  • 4. Their instructor never mentioned stepping away and avoiding the confrontation.

Or, what if our student decides to sue us for negligence on the grounds mentioned above, because they are facing the prospect of a long prison term and the huge cost of a criminal trial?

What if the injured person’s family sues us because the person who injured or killed their family member may not have been able to do so without our training and guidance, or, alternatively, because we advocated a ‘bash and destroy’ method of self-defence?

These are only hypothetical questions, but if a martial art student is charged with such an offence, there will likely be lawyers willing to test these questions in court.

It is also worth considering if your martial art instructor’s insurance would cover your legal fees to defend this sort of lawsuit. I doubt it.

So, unless you as an instructor want to run the risk of being sued for a vast sum of money, I recommend the following:

  • 1. Educate your students about self-defence and the law, the use of reasonable force and what to do and say to police if they are unfortunate enough to get into this situation. (If you don’t have that knowledge or expertise, contact me for help.)
  • 2. Make public statements that detail your school or regard to workplace issues, it’s no stretch to imagine a martial art instructor being sued.
  • 3. Be careful what you post online to social media, such as Facebook and YouTube, as this material can be used in evidence. Two or three violent YouTube clips could be far more persuasive than your denials.
  • 4. Ensure your social media presence is balanced, as if this sort of incident occurs, the media will use your online material and to muckrake and sensationalise if it allows them to.
  • 5. Promote the positive aspects of your school and style so you can rightfully claim that self-defence is part of what you do and that you don’t promote the brutal destruction of anyone who has an issue with you (you don’t, do you?).

Students need skills in pre-fight negotiation as well as punching.

Unfortunately, we live in an age where many people look to blame someone else for their misfortunes or bad judgment, and if you look at the number of companies being sued in regard to workplace issues, it’s no stretch to imagine a martial art instructor being sued. So please tell students about One-punch law as soon as possible.

Disclaimer: This is general information only; it does not replace advice from a qualified solicitor. Should you require legal advice, seek it from a suitably qualified and experienced legal practitioner in your state or territory.

Phil O’Brien teaches reality-based self-defence in Western Sydney and has been studying the physical and psychological elements of self-defence for 25 years. A former NSW police officer, O’Brien is now a solicitor with Sydney firm Teddington Legal. He can be contacted via

You can read more about one-punch law on NSW Government website.

Source: Blitz Magazine