Equipment or Weapon?

April 06, 2011

Developing Policies for Use of Martial Arts and Other Sports Weapons

Tamsen K. Burke
Associate Professor, Asst. Chair,
University of Chicago

In 2004, a student entered a university athletic facility with a ‘kama’ intending to practice the weapon in an area which was identified as the dance/martial arts room. If you are unfamiliar with a kama, it is a weapon of Okinawan origin that resembles a traditional harvesting sickle. The student was stopped at the facility entrance and questioned about his affiliation with a recognized martial art club. Having no such affiliation, the student explained that he wanted to use the room to practice with the weapon. He was denied access and the campus police were contacted to escort him from the premises. The weapon was confiscated and the student was arrested for carrying a dangerous weapon on university property.

With the risks associated with potential litigation, and a lack of congruity between governing university policies, state laws and the sport/art mastery utilizing weapons, there is a need to establish guidelines for the use of weapons within the framework of sport club administration.

In September 2006, this author conducted research to identify the validity of the equipment and weapon definitions on college campuses. Three hundred and fifty one NIRSA institutions of varying size, region, and student populations were examined with a goal of identifying the existence and nature of institutional policies that govern the use of weapons on campus. Not surprisingly, 100% of the institutions researched have written policies that clearly defined weapons within the context of on-campus sport clubs and student organizations. Moreover, of the 351 NIRSA institutions researched, 87% had recognized fencing, archery, paintball/gun related, and martial art sport clubs within the institutions.

Despite the pervasive existence of weapons policies in institutions of higher education, this research discovered a remarkable diversity in the substance of those policies, many of which were designed to address the use of weapons in a variety of contexts, including theatrical performance organizations and sports clubs. Structurally, the policies share a common framework, which include:

1. Purpose for the policy;
2. Definition of weapon; dangerous or deadly;
3. Identification of equipment considered weapons (hand gun, rifle, brass knuckles, knives, archery; bows and arrows, sabers, any martial art weapons or electronic defense weapons);
4. Explanation of policy and procedure for implementation, and discipline; and
5. Identification of authorized personnel.

In recognition of the complexity of weapons policies on campuses, and the wide variations found in existing policies, it would seem prudent to devise a substantive framework for weapons policies that is consistent and practical, and can adequately govern sport club weapon registration, inventory, inspections, and storage. The policies should also take into consideration the guidelines established by governing organizations, such as U.S. Fencing, U.S. Archery, and several martial arts organizations for weapon registration, inventory, inspections, safety, instruction, security, and storage.

The following are general guidelines that will assist administrators, coaches, and instructors in developing a weapons policy. You should consult with an attorney for compliance with your State and Federal law.

All equipment designated as a weapon must adhere to the following policies and procedures:

1. All weapons must be used only for the approved recognized program(s).
2. All equipment and weapons must be:
a. Registered, providing a detailed description of the weapon(s) with serial number, and ammunition;
b. Inspected by an approved agent or representative of the club;
c. Secured in an approved locked cabinet.
3. The owner or possessor of the weapon should be issued an “authorization to possess weapon” card.
4. The owner or possessor of the weapon must sign the weapon in and out through the equipment safety officer of the club.
5. Broken or damaged weapons should be discarded in accordance with university policies and procedures.
6. The possession or storage of any weapon or ammunition, including disassembled or display weapons, are prohibited in campus residential housing property.
7. Weapons may not be used outside of the recognized sport club approved practice times in the athletic facilities or competitions without prior notification and approval by the responsible agent (sport club administrator).
8. Weapons may not be used without instruction and supervision by sport club officers, instructors or coaches.
9. It is recommended that weapons be of wood, rubber or approved metal composite.
10. Personal weapons, to be used by approved members, brought to university facilities for the purpose of club participation must be transported in approved locked containers in accordance with applicable State and Federal law. Upon arrival, the above weapons procedures shall be followed.

Hopefully, establishing a policy for weapons similar to the one described above will allow students to freely practice martial arts, fencing, archery and other similar sports, without the threat of being arrested by campus police as in the above example. With proper planning and foresight, weapons can be used safely while allowing students to master the skill of their sports.

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