Barroom Brawls – on Renzo Gracie and Tennessee Self-Defense

The professional fighting world has been abuzz after the arrest of celebrity Renzo Gracie following an altercation this past Monday.

For the readers who do not follow MMA closely, Renzo Gracie is a professional fighter and a member of the Gracie Family, famed for their development of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (or “BJJ”).  BJJ is a ground fighting martial art which allows a smaller, weaker opponent to defeat a larger, stronger opponent and so has been trained extensively by many (if not most) MMA competitors.  BJJ is often mixed by competitors with other martial arts such as boxing, Muay Thai Kickboxing, and Judo (hence the name mixed martial arts).

Which brings us back to this past Monday, when Renzo Gracie and friends were at a nightclub in New York.  While it is yet unclear how the altercation began, Renzo Gracie was allegedly observed throwing a bouncer to the ground, leaving the bouncer with a broken arm.  Other bouncers as well as Renzo Gracie’s friends joined.  As reported by, “[t]wo witnesses said the men were ‘executing roundhouse kicks and other martial arts maneuvers’; one witness added that a man began to choke him by grabbing his tie, ‘and that as a result of the ensuing struggle,’ he ‘suffered substantial pain to his left knee and right shin.'”  Renzo Gracie was taken into custody, made bail of $10,000 on the same day, and was due in court today to face charges of assault in the third degree.  As of this post, there is no news yet as to the outcome of today’s court hearing.  ( and were both relied upon for facts stated in this paragraph, click here and here to read each respective article).

While fantastical fight scenes like the ones seen in movies might be coming to mind, most MMA practicioners would probably agree that in most scenarios, fights are better avoided if possible.  However, it must be admitted that there are scenarios where, under the law, people must be able to defend themselves or else be at the mercy of any wrong-doer.  In Tennessee, a person’s violent actions can give rise to being charged with many criminal offenses (domestic assault, aggravated assault, and murder to just name a few), but in certain situations, justified actions can be acceptable forms of self-defense.  The Tennessee Self-Defense statute (Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-611) states in part:

(b) (1) Notwithstanding § 39-17-1322, a person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and is in a place where the person has a right to be has no duty to retreat before threatening or using force against another person when and to the degree the person reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful force.

(2) Notwithstanding § 39-17-1322, a person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and is in a place where the person has a right to be has no duty to retreat before threatening or using force intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily injury, if:

(A) The person has a reasonable belief that there is an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury;

(B) The danger creating the belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury is real, or honestly believed to be real at the time; and

(C) The belief of danger is founded upon reasonable grounds.

Of course far more than the excerpt of this statute is needed for an understanding of Tennessee Self-Defense law (click here to read Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1322), you should of course consult with an attorney if you have any questions, and of course Renzo Gracie’s criminal charges are in New York (a.k.a. Tennessee law doesn’t apply), but this author will watch this case with interest to see whether Renzo Gracie’s actions on Monday are deemed legally acceptable.


The author of TNLawyerLee is Nicholas W. Lee, Esq., an attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee.  If you or someone you know need an attorney, please click herefor Mr. Lee’s contact information and contact him today for a free consultation.  Also, please feel free to visit Mr. Lee’s website, or follow his page on Facebook for updates as to his law practice or new posts to TNLawyerLee by clicking here.

The information on this site is general information and should not be construed as legal advice. Every case is unique and you should consult with an attorney in your state about the specific details of your case. Nothing on this site or in correspondence with Nicholas Lee or his agents shall be construed as forming an attorney-client relationship and information you send prior to the forming of an attorney-client relationship may not be kept confidential. Neither this site nor correspondence with Nicholas Lee or his agents shall be construed as a promise nor as undertaking a duty regarding you or your case. Nicholas Lee and his agents are not retained as your legal counsel unless a valid written Representation Agreement is reached regarding your specific case.

Copyright © 2014. Nicholas W. Lee, Attorney at Law. All rights reserved. This site’s content may not be used without the prior written consent of Nicholas Lee.


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