New practitioners of self-defence based martial arts are often struck by the high level of violence being described. Of course, what they are being presented with are worst case scenarios.
As an analogy; most physicians spend their time dealing with small injuries, and are only rarely expected to cope with emergencies. However it would be strange if student doctors concentrated solely on bandaging sprained ankles, and were restrained from learning about heart attacks.
Moreover, if a doctor is presented with a sore foot, he/she is not expected to deal with it as though the patient’s heart had just stopped. Similarly, martial artists are required to use a force continuum, and there are a few straightforward ways to train for this.
For example; the most reliable way to short circuit an assailant is to strike to the head and shake the brain. Downsides to this include: that severe damage is likely caused to the teeth and facial bones, and that the opponent will probably fall over backwards striking the back of his head off the pavement. Moreover, whilst the mechanism for knocking someone unconscious is fairly reliable, the process for waking them back up, is far less so.
However, the more sophisticated practitioner has options. You may retain the basic movement that you are familiar with, but alter the target – striking the chest instead of the face will cause far less damage. Similarly you can alter the weapon – a strike with an open palm can feel like a full force blow, yet the energy will not penetrate as it would when delivered with knuckles and elbows. Moreover you can regulate your speed and force to further reduce risk to your opponent.
Be wary of timidity however. Sometimes it is better to hit someone once hard and then run away, rather than get into a protracted scuffle that may result in worse injuries for both parties. In this sense, the more skilled you are, the less violent you become.