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The Force Continuum
Part 1: Determine the level of force you should use in an altercation
 More of this Feature
• Part 1: Introduction
• Part 2: Body Movement
• Part 3: Communication
• Part 4: Control Moves
• Part 5: Less-than-lethal Weapons
• Part 6: Impact Moves
• Part 7: Lethal Weapons
• Part 8: Summary
 Join the Discussion
"You are allowed to use lethal force ONLY when there is a threat, which any other reasonable person in similar circumstances would feel the same significant threat to life or serious bodily injury."
 Related Resources
• Color Codes for Combat Readiness
• Martial Arts: Aikido
• Martial Arts: Jujitsu
• Martial Arts: Weapons
 From Other Guides
• About Law Enforcement
• About Psychology

Suppose you're at a football game, and some fan starts hassling you, trash talking and getting "in your face". Or that you're walking to your car in a dimly lit parking lot, and you see a couple of rough-looking characters moving your way. Or maybe you're at a party and your date's kid brother has had a few drinks too many, and takes a wild swing at you when you tell him to cool it. What do you do?

The level of force in your response is dictated by the situation. In all of these cases, you're likely to be in danger, and will potentially need to defend yourself. Your awareness is high--you're "in Orange," and so you're ready. However, you can't use the same level of force in all cases.

Police officers use a "force continuum", a spectrum of force alternatives, to moderate the level of response used in a given situation. Individual citizens aren't necessarily subject to the same level of community restrictions as cops, but there still are legal and moral limits to the level of force you can use.

Here's the continuum I abide by, starting with the least force option and ending with lethal force:

The Force Continuum
More Force Lethal weapons
Impact moves and throws
Less-than-lethal weapons
Control moves


Less Force Body movement and posture

Click each link in the continuum above for more information on that option.

When you encounter a situation, it's easy to apply the continuum to decide how to handle it. If you're dealing with your date's drunken brother, you don't want to hit him--even if he is a jerk. You'd start with non-verbal and verbal communication. If you need to physically stop him, control moves, like an aikido wristlock or jiu-jitsu armbar, are perfect. You know you can't escalate to chokes--if he doesn't wake up, it won't endear you to your date's folks very well.

On the other hand, if you're in that dark alley, you might need to jump a few levels of the continuum. Ideally, body movement (e.g. taking a different route) would take care of the situation, but if you're about to be attacked, it's probably time to hit that assailant with a good dose of pepper spray.

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