It is absolutely true that a professional fighter could do substantial damage to another person if they got into a fight in the street, but does it follow that their hands are thus weapons? And if so, do they need to register them?
No, professional fighters do not have to register their hands as weapons. However, things aren’t quite as cut and dried as they might appear. A professional fighter’s hands may still be considered deadly weapons in court, even if they aren’t required to register them.
There are also substantial legal considerations for anyone trained in martial arts to mull over before deciding to get involved in a fight. And on top of that, there is also one place in the world, where you do have to register your martial arts prowess by law.
So, Where Does The Idea, That Professional Fighters Hands Are Deadly Weapons, Come From?
Well, we think that there are a few possible scenarios that led to this enduring myth that a professional fighter needs to register their hands as “deadly weapons”.
Boxers Can Be Braggarts
We don’t mean this unkindly. But boxing is all about a show and what bigger show can you make when trash talking your opponent than to boast about the fact, “your hands are so deadly that you needed to register them as a weapon?”
Yes, by the very nature of professional boxing – boxers have to be braggarts. That means there’s a very good chance that this is how the myth came about.
There’s also a nice apocryphal tale that Joe Louis, a professional heavyweight boxer, paid some police (or possibly people dressed like police) to turn up to each weigh in and register his hands as deadly weapons.
We don’t know if this really happened, but we can say that even if it did – it wasn’t any form of legal registration for a professional fighter’s hands, it was just another moment of a boxer bragging for a crowd.
The Legacy of World War II
Some people claim that the idea of professional fighters having to register their skills comes from the time during the American occupation of Japan. Because there was a war on, the American occupiers wanted to make sure they knew what was what.
Thus, martial arts schools, instructors and even trained individuals were required to register their martial arts background and seek permission before they could teach or train in martial arts.
This policy, of course, was not brought back to the United States and was ceased in Japan when the Americans withdrew from the country.
Chancers Looking For A Payout
There is, also, quite hilariously something of a cottage industry which has grown out of the idea that professional fighters have to register their hands as weapons.
You see, some young men are very keen to impress other young men and what better way to do this than to have a “license for deadly hands”?
Well, when the Internet sees a need, no matter how daft that need may be, the Internet likes to fulfil that need. This means that in practice there are dozens of websites that are only too happy to sell you registration (which doesn’t mean a thing) for the bargain price of anything from $19.99 to $99.99.
In exchange, they are happy to send you a little plastic card which is your “Martial Arts License” to show to your, hopefully very gullible, friends.
Professional Fighters Hands Can Be Deadly Weapons
It doesn’t matter where the myth of registration comes from, the absolute truth is that if you get into a fight and have martial arts training, if you end up in court – the judge can still find you guilty of assault with a deadly weapon.
This is logical if you think about it. If, for example, you picked up a rolling pin and then battered someone with it, you would also be charged with assault with a deadly weapon.
Nobody has to register rolling pins (because if we had to register every single thing that could be deadly – there would be no time left in our lives to do anything else) but a rolling pin can still be a deadly weapon.
The State Of Texas Says That A Professional Fighter’s Hands Can Be Deadly Weapons
In 2015, Jamual Parks was charged with assault in the state of Texas. He had a significant amount of MMA training to his name.
When he was charged, the Assistant District Attorney, told reporters, “because he is an MMA fighter — we thought it was appropriate to charge his hands as deadly weapons”.
Jamual pled guilty and the judge agreed. He was sentenced to 6 years in prison.
It didn’t matter that Jamual didn’t register his hands. It did matter what he had done with his hands.
The US Territory Of Guam Says Martial Artists Must Register Themselves
Guam requires all martial artists to register with the government. The law states there that this applies to any martial art where the hands and feet are used as deadly weapons. If you are then subsequently convicted of assault, following registration, this will be automatically upgraded to a charge of aggravated assault (a more serious offence).
Can You Act In Self-defense?
Now, you may be thinking at this point. Hang on! If I take up martial arts does this mean that I will not be allowed to protect myself or other people? That’s a crazy idea!
You’d be right. However, it is important to realize that you must, in any case, only use the level of force which is appropriate to defend yourself or someone else.
If you go full Ninja WarriorTM on someone in the heat of the moment, then you may end up in court. In fact, even if you do use a justifiable amount of force, it’s always possible that you might have to go to court to discuss the matter and to see whether your act of self-defense could really be justified.
There are situations, however, that are always considered justified to act in self-defense; such as if someone pulls a knife or a gun on you.
The same laws as those that govern self-defense are extended to the defense of others too. You must act reasonably but it’s fine to stand up for another citizen and especially a child or elderly person.
The Key Ingredient Here Is To End The Threat Not The Person
If you break someone’s arm while taking a knife from them – that’s a reasonable thing to do. Nobody gets charged with assault with a deadly weapon for stopping a threat.
However, if you break someone’s arm after you’ve disarmed them, and they are lying on the floor – then you’re absolutely going too far.
As soon as a threat is neutralized, you must stop attacking or defending.
When Is It Likely That A Professional Fighter’s Hands Will Be Classified As A Deadly Weapon?
This should be obvious but if you attack someone without being attacked first, you are very much likely to end up in trouble.
While professional fighters don’t have to register their hands as deadly weapons, they absolutely can be deadly weapons and a court is going to view a trained martial artist who picks fights on the street, at home, in bars, etc. very poorly indeed.
In the US, for example, simple misdemeanor assault can result in up to two years in country jail, with a fine and/or probationary sentence too.
If they take things up a notch and make it felony assault, then you could end up serving a long time in state or even federal prison. If you kill someone, you could even be facing the death penalty.
You Should Also Consider Civil Liability
If you get into a fight and your use of force is not in self-defense or is considered to be inappropriate – you may find yourself civilly liable for damages to property or other people even if you are not criminally liable for them.
That means you could find yourself forced, by the courts, to pay sums of money (often considerable amounts of money) in compensation.
In some states, even when the other person is completely at fault, they may be able to sue you for damages. This should be a sobering indication that you only ever use the minimal amount of force even in self-defense. These states are Hawaii, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Tennessee.
Some Tips On Staying Away From Trouble For Martial Artists
- 25 states of America have “stand your ground laws” that protect your rights to protect yourself and others. As long as you have a legitimate right to be where you are.
- 22 states offer full immunity from civil liability if you act in self-defense
- Most, but not all, states operate Castle Doctrine guarantees. That is, they allow you to use any reasonable amount of force to protect yourself in your own home from an attacker. This isn’t a license to commit murder, but it does offer some additional protection to a martial artist who is a little too enthusiastic.
- Always shout out your intention to fight back. This can often cause someone to stop their attack before violence occurs.
- Don’t attack until you feel you are under attack. You don’t have to let them land a blow, but you can’t punch someone for being a blowhard, either.
- Only ever use appropriate force. If you are attacked by an 85-year-old on a walking frame you will use less force than if you are attacked by a 250 lb. footballer.
- As soon as the attack is stopped, stop fighting.
- Avoid conflict where possible rather than seeking it out.
- Be aware of the self-defense legislation wherever you are.
Do professional fighters have to register their hands as weapons? No, they do not. Though in Guam if your hands have been trained to be deadly weapons, you do need to register yourself with authorities.
That doesn’t mean that you have a license to get into a fight though and it is possible to be charged with assault with a deadly weapon even if you don’t have to register your hands as weapons.
There are plenty of way to reduce your risks of getting into trouble though and you should never start a fight without being attacked.