Fan Questions | Martial Arts History

Do Martial Artists Have to Register Themselves as “Deadly Weapons”?

So we’ve all heard rumors around the topic of whether professional fighters have to register as “deadly weapons”. Whether you heard it from some guy at the bar, or you saw an incident surrounding this topic on the news, we have all wondered it. So today, I am going to present the research I’ve found in order to answer the question: Do martial artists have to register themselves as “deadly weapons”?

The short answer is NO; martial artists and professional fighters do not have to register themselves (or any part of their body) as a “deadly weapon”. However, a trained fighter who is charged with assault can have his hands deemed as deadly weapons by the judge for the purpose of the court hearing ONLY. This means that a skilled fighter charged for assault has a chance of getting a misdemeanor raised to a felony because of his or her potential to cause harm.

In the rest of this post I will cover where this common myth stems from, as well as the legal ramifications for a fighter who is deemed a “deadly weapon” in a court of law.

Where Did This Myth Start?

So yes, the idea that martial artists or professional fighters are requiered to register themselves as a ‘deadly weapon’ is a complete myth. There is no legal obligation whatsoever on the martial artist to label themselves in any way.

In fact, if you plan on training in martial arts, and someone offers to register your hands as ‘deadly weapons’, then it is 100%, without a doubt, a complete scam. That person will attempt to charge you a fee for a registration that holds no value, so please be aware.

Former Heavyweight Boxing Champion Joe Louis, who famously had his hands registered as 'deadly weapons' before a fight.
Former Heavyweight Boxing Champion Joe Louis, who famously had his hands registered as ‘deadly weapons’ before a fight.

Now with all this being said, yes, a martial artist or professional fighter can be considered a ‘deadly weapon’ ONLY by a judge in a court of law. This is not a choice made by the martial artist, but rather a decision of the judge on whether or not the martial artist is able to cause considerable harm with their bare hands. This is also not a good thing for the defendant (the martial artist), because it would raise a charge to “assault with a deadly weapon”, which is a felony.

It is unclear where exactly this myth was started and why, however, some sources state that it started with a professional heavyweight boxer named Joe Louis. Apparently, Joe Louis hired people to appear at his weigh-ins dressed as policemen, during which the ‘police’ would register his hands as deadly weapons in preparation for the fight.

However, this was only done as a publicity stunt, and the registration held no value, especially considering the policemen present weren’t actually real police officers. After Joe Louis started doing it as a stunt, the myth was likely perpetuated by trainers offering this registration as a service.

Are Martial Artists Allowed To Defend Themselves In the Streets?

This is usually the follow-up question after people are assured that there is no need to register as a deadly weapon if you are a martial artist. The simple answer is yes, martial artists and professional fighters alike can defend themselves in a confrontation in the real world. However, it is riskier when compared to defending yourself as an average citizen. Here’s why:

You could potentially find yourself in legal trouble if you are a martial artist and severely injure or kill someone. As mentioned before, your hands could possibly be considered deadly weapons on a court of law, which could present an issue even if you were only defending yourself.

UFC fighter Polyana Viana (left) defended herself from a mugger (sitting right) in Brazil with no issue. After hitting him a few times, she waited (red shirt) for police to arrive.
UFC fighter Polyana Viana (left) defended herself from a mugger (sitting right) in Brazil with no issue. After hitting him a few times, she waited (red shirt) for police to arrive.

Now, this information should not deter you from using your skills to defend yourself. If you are attacked, then by all means, you have a right to defend yourself using your martial art skills. However, you should understand the extent of your ability and know when to stop, and when to avoid confrontation.

An example of this could be when you successfully deter an assailant by breaking one of their limbs. At this point, they are unable to fight, and you should call the police. Your actions in this scenario were warranted, justified, and defensible for the circumstances.

Now let’s take the same scenario. Let’s say that when the assailant attacked you, you continued to fight them until they died. This may seem obvious to some of you, but this could be considered manslaughter in some states, such as California.

However, in a state such as Michigan, your charge of manslaughter would be mitigated, as you were acting in self-defense. My point throughout all this is, know your limits. Avoid a confrontation if you can, and if you can’t, then use only as much force as necessary.

MMA Fighter Joe Torrez made headlines when he defended himself during a four man home invasion, killing one invader and injuring another. He received no charges.
MMA Fighter Joe Torrez made headlines when he defended himself during a four man home invasion, killing one invader and injuring another. He received no charges.

Can Professional Fighters Be Considered Deadly in Court Cases?

As I’ve mentioned earlier in this post, yes, fighters can be considered deadly weapons during a court case. However, this is almost always due to the fact that the martial artist/pro fighter was the aggressor in the situation. The cases in which this happens are usually very similar to each other, so I’ll summarise this type of case.

Featherweight MMA Fighter Jamual Edward Parks was sentenced to 6 years in prison for assault after his hands were deemed 'deadly weapons'.
Featherweight MMA Fighter Jamual Edward Parks was sentenced to 6 years in prison for assault, after his hands were deemed ‘deadly weapons’.

What usually happens is that the professional fighter or martial artist assaults someone for whatever reason, and is then charged with assault, and rightfully so.

When the case is taken to court, the judge finds out that the defendant is a trained martial artist, which plays a big factor in the case for two reasons: 1) The defendant has a greater potential to cause harm than the average person and 2) The defendant can be charged more harshly because of their combat skills.

The defendant’s hands can then be deemed ‘deadly weapons’ by the judge, which will raise the defendant’s charge of a misdemeanor for assault, to one of a felony for ‘assault with a deadly weapon’.

However, this will likely not apply to anyone reading, as I know you guys would only use your combat skills righteously, and never to assault somebody. 🙂

At What Point Are Someone’s Hands Considered ‘Deadly’ By The Court?

So this is a tricky question. As mentioned earlier, when the hands are deemed ‘deadly’ by the judge, it is usually directed at the defendant in the situation, a.k.a. the person who committed the crime. So in short, to even have a chance at being considered a ‘deadly weapon’ the fighter or martial artist would have to be accused of assault in a court of law.

But how much fighting experience is needed for the judge to deem a martial artist a ‘deadly weapon’? Well, to find the logic behind the judge’s decision, we can look at the case of MMA fighter Jamual Edward Parks.

Jamual Parks assaulted his friend, named Juan Angel, after the two got into an argument. When Angel escaped Parks’ apartment, he called the police. When police arrived, Parks’ assaulted the female officer who responded to the call.

The official Indictment for the case of Featherweight MMA Fighter Jamual Edward Parks.
The official Indictment for the case of Featherweight MMA Fighter Jamual Edward Parks.

This is an interesting case to look at because an image of the official indictment can be found online (seen above). In the indictment, we can see the reasoning behind labeling the fighter’s hands as ‘deadly weapons’. In reference to Parks’ hands, it clearly states, “in the manner of their use… were capable of causing death or serious bodily injury”.

So basically, the assault would have to be committed in part with the hands (punches) and the defendant would have to show above-average ability for the judge to consider their hands ‘deadly weapons’. Jamual Parks was 6-1, with 2 wins by knockout.

So in conclusion, there is no reason you should want your hands deemed as deadly weapons. A registration might be cool to show off in theory, but it has no real value or proof of your ability, and even less usefulness.

Even a ranking such as a black belt can be inaccurate when determining the skills of a martial artist. The only people who have had their hands legally deemed ‘deadly weapons’ are criminals, and it likely isn’t something they will be able to show off.

Remember that any label put on you as a martial artist comes second only to your actual ability as a martial artist. Belts and registrations hold no significance in a confrontation. Keep training hard and thanks for reading. 🙂