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The Law and Martial Arts

As a martial artist, you have a legal responsibility when using martial arts for self defense. Wrongful use of your martial arts knowledge can create civil and criminal liability problems for you. In this article, the definitions are those found in the Kentucky Penal Code. Similar definitions and laws will be found in the state or country that you reside. For specific details pertaining the the laws in your area, contact your local municipality.

Deadly Weapons

The term Deadly Weapon includes only those seven items listed in the Penal Code (KRS 500.080(4)):

  • Any weapon from which a shot, readily capable of producing death or other serious injury, may discharged; or

  • Any knife other than an ordinary pocket knife or hunting knife; or

  • Any billy, nightstick, or club; or

  • Any blackjack, slapstick; or

  • Any nunckaku karate sticks; or

  • Any shuriken or death star; or

  • Any artificial knuckles made from metal, plastic or other similar hard material.

Dangerous Instrument

A Dangerous Instrument is any instrument, including parts of the human body, when a serious physical injury is a direct result of that part of the human body, article, or substance which, under the circumstances in which it is used, attempted to be used, or threatened to be used, is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury (KRS 500.080(3)). A dangerous instrument is something other than a deadly weapon. Whether the item is a dangerous instrument depends on the circumstances in which it is used. For example, if a pillow is used to cut off the victim's air supply long enough to cause brain damage, the pillow is considered to be a dangerous instrument. Other examples of items that can be considered dangerous instruments include an ice pick, hammer, baseball bat, chain saw or an automobile.

Serious Physical Injury

Serious Physical Injury means "physical injury which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes serious and prolonged disfigurement, prolonged impairment of health, or prolonged loss or impairment of a bodily organ" (KRS 500.080 (15)).

Physical Injury

Physical Injury is defined as substantial pain or impairment of physical condition. For example, a person who is punched or kicked would normally suffer physical injury.

Understanding these legal definitions may assist you in determining your course of action should you be attacked. Remember that your actions should always be justified by self defense - not anger or retaliation. Also, be aware that carrying the weapons listed in the deadly weapons section is a criminal offense. These items should be stored in a case or bag outside of your reach when traveling to and from your martial arts training sessions. There are no provisions in the law to permit martial art students to carry concealed deadly weapons.


"a wise man walks with his head bowed."

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