Justified, Justifiable, Prudent and Smart – Rory Miller

Justified and justifiable are not always the same thing. In 1992, the Oregonian surveyed Portland Police officers. One of the details: In the four years before the survey, 86% said they could have fired with full legal justification but chose not to. There are some implications of that– for every 28 shootings, officers bet their lives they could find another way about 900 times. And were largely successful except, of course, dead officers don’t get to fill out surveys.

So first hurdle, because something is justifiable doesn’t mean you couldn’t find another way. My personal definition, Justifiable means I could convince a jury, Justified means I can convince myself there was no other way out. Prudent means it would be stupid to go in at a lower level.

The thing with fighting out of a crowd is that it shows another level. Getting pounded by eight people is a huge disparity of force. Unless they are all kindergardeners or geriatrics in walkers, it’s not hard to justify deadly force. In general, higher levels force are quicker, easier and more effective than lower levels. You might win an argument with words (verbal), but you will certainly win it with a shotgun. Shotguns also tend to trump other hand to hand skills. Where it can take years to get good enough to fight a boxer, it takes hours or less to get good enough to shoot one. Higher levels of force– quicker, easier, more certain. But the higher level of force, the more it takes to justify it.

But sometimes the higher level of force can be completely justified, completely prudent, but not the smart thing to do. Like fighting out of a crowd. I’m decent at close quarters stuff. That’s my range and I know how to deliver power there. Know how to use one guy as a meat shield against the others. No hesitation on going for the quick finishers. Even have some favorite power generations that are completely non-static. Feet don’t even need to be touching the ground. But in that mass, with all of those variables, with any kinetic energy I deliver changing the physics of my motion, things will go wrong. Someone who goes down might tangle my legs. A push or strike on my part might make me a static target for just an instant.

Hence the swim and it works.

People like rules of thumb. And rules of thumb work reliably enough to, well, become rules of thumb. “High levels of force are faster, safer and more effective than lower levels” is a good rule of thumb. But like all of them, it has a failure point. A situation where something else becomes true. Or truer.

Fast forward to a short conversation with Edwin yesterday. From the Golden Move standard (each motion should protect you, damage the threat, better your position and worsen his) given that sometimes you just can’t get all four, or all four aren’t prudent, how do you prioritize?

You can’t give a quick rule for that. Goals, parameters and environment change. Sometimes it’s so important to finish things quickly that it’s worth taking damage to do so. (And, less academic, you’re probably going to take some damage anyway, so suck it up, Buttercup. But that said taking damage unnecessarily is, by definition, unnecessary. Smart people don’t do it.) Sometimes, fighting out of a shitty position is more important than ending the threat. Better to do both, but if you’re with a bad guy in a burning, collapsing building and damage to him will cost you even a second, improve your position.

Maybe justified and justifiable can be subsumed under smart. Do the smart thing. If it’s not justifiable and you either can’t live with yourself or you go to prison… hmmm, maybe it wasn’t all that smart? Justifying–articulation– then becomes the skill. Do the smartest thing you’re capable of, but practice explaining why it was the best available option.

And maybe, in the end, smart is the wrong word too. Maybe just necessary.

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