A street fight, a real one, has very little to do with a sparring match in the dojo or boxing gym, and almost nothing to do with the theatrical chest beating that accompanies egotistic displays so commonly seen when to aggrieved parties cannot settle their differences with trash-talking alone.
Real street fights are unpredictable, fast and may be extremely violent. It is a lot easier than you think to suffer a life-altering wound in a street fight.
It goes without saying, but there are no rules in a street fight. That one person you’re ready to start something with may suddenly have himself backed up by two or even more accomplices more than eager to give you an attitude adjustment.
Old-fashioned fisticuffs may give way to weapons being drawn and used in the blink of an eye.
For those who are not prepared for it, they may go into a street fight expecting to exchange a few punches, but leave in the back of an ambulance if they get to leave the scene at all.
Today’s article will give you some hard-hitting advice for surviving a street fight.
The Dangers of a Street Fight
We live in an era where most people have never been in a fight of any kind: inside a boxing gym or dojo or outside of one.
Most people have never even been punched in the mouth sincerely. Much of this is a side effect of just how prosperous and safe our civilization has become.
I’m not advocating for some Spartan-style agoge when it comes to raising kids or anything like that, but our chronically safe, perpetually soft lifestyles make most of us ill-prepared for dealing with the eruptions of sudden violence they can, do and will continue to occur.
Even for those of us who make it a point to develop our combative skills through some form of martial arts and go so far as to spar with other human opponents, the majority of us will find our training and sparring lacking compared to the no-holds-barred, no rules and no structure form of combat that is endemic to a street fight.
By way of a for instance, your opponent will not be matching your blow-for-blow with the same style. You won’t be playing by the same playbook, so to speak.
Likewise, the terrain you are fighting on could be anything from a concrete parking lot to the beer, piss and glass strewn floor of a barroom. It will definitely not be the padded floor of a dojo or a springy, roped boxing ring.
Your opponent will not be pulling his punches in any meaningful way, unlike your sparring partner. The fight will also not be over at a predetermined time or when a predetermined win condition is reached.
If you’re on the losing end of the confrontation, out of gas and ailing, you cannot count on your opponent’s good sportsmanship or mercy to end the fight. He will have a vote, the same as you, on when the fight is over.
What’s more, in the gym or in the dojo you will not likely be jumped by two or three other training partners while you’re busy with the first.
You also will not need to worry about weapons being brought into the fight unexpectedly resulting in a shockingly drastic increase in lethality.
In short, street fights are uniquely hazardous no matter where they take place, and no matter what you are fighting over. You’ll need to be planning accordingly if you want to survive one with your hide and life intact.
Your Objective in a Street Fight
I will assume that readers of this article are civilians, meaning specifically people who are not paid to deal with street fights in the course of their job. If you are a police officer, or security guard or even a bouncer your objectives will be different from the man or woman about town.
In a strictly civilian context, your only objective in any conflict, armed or unarmed, is to break contact unharmed so you can return home to your family or to your regular life. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.
You don’t have to break your attacker down like a shotgun to prove a point, to “take out the trash” or clean up the streets. You might have to do that in the course of getting away, but it is not always a requirement.
Because your objective is a clean getaway while incurring as little harm as possible, you will approach and persecute the fight slightly differently the one of the professionals I mentioned above.
This will inform some of your choices that might otherwise be counterintuitive if you were fighting in some professional capacity. Keep that in mind as you read my recommended course of action.
Understanding the Varieties of Street Violence
Not all violence is created equal. Without delving too deeply into the esoteric aspects of it, learning to recognize the key differences between the types of violence you might encounter on the street will go a long way to helping you successfully navigate a street fight.
Violence is broadly grouped into social and asocial, or predatory, classes.
Social violence is violence that is doled out with a point, so to speak. Social violence happens when two guys want to bump chests at a bar over a spilled beer or an insult to a woman.
It is the stuff of jockeying for position, of doing the “monkey dance”, of showing the other guy and everyone else around you that you were king of the jungle.
Social violence may be doled out to correct the breaking of some rule, whether or not the violator knows it.
When somebody gets their ass beaten over an insult or a perceived slight, that is social violence. Social violence itself has a sort of give-and-take, an ebb and flow. It has a trigger, and is committed as a consequence.
Even something as heinous as a hold-up armed robbery is social violence: if you don’t hand over the valuables then you receive a beating, a stabbing or a gunshot.
On the other end of the spectrum we have asocial, or predatory violence. This is violence committed with the death of the victim, or at least a severe maiming, being the objective in itself.
Unlike social violence which typically features cues, escalation, and the back and forth before the festivities commence, predatory violence is explosive like a lion bringing down a gazelle out of the tall grass; no warning, no posturing, no time to react.
A predator trying to bring down prey looks largely the same no matter the species.
Understanding the difference between these two types of violence is critical for you as a civilian defender. Social violence can often be avoided entirely if you make the right moves.
Someone engaging in social violence may lack the commitment of someone engaged in predatory violence, and typical defensive moves may be more effective.
Someone may be all about kicking your ass right up until the point they take three hard shots to the nose and mouth before getting dumped on their butt.
On the other hand, for someone who ambushes or attacks you with lethal intent there is rarely anything but a lethal response in turn that will work to stop the attack; you cannot reason with them, apologize or make a “correction” to forestall any violence.
Surviving a Street Fight
A street fight can take so many different forms there is no comprehensive guide I can give you to cover every potential situation that you might encounter.
The only thing that I can do reliably is give you guidance for navigating the any fight that does occur and hopefully keep you out of it before it begins.
Like so many of these situations, the reductive method is often the most efficient way to guide your thinking and planning.
It might be more efficient to tell you what not to do then what to do. If you can avoid making critical errors, your chances of having a good outcome are increased dramatically.
Surviving a street fight will entail three basic phases:
- Identifying an imminent attack
- Avoiding it if it is possible
- Stopping the attack
We’ll talk about all of those phases below as well as how to take a punch to the head since your head and face will be disproportionately targeted during any hand-to-hand fight.
And remember what I said above: weapons could potentially be introduced into the fight at any time, before, during or after.
No matter what kind of fist fight you are in the introduction of any weapon immediately turns it into a potentially lethal encounter and you’ll need to react correctly and fast if you want to get away with your life. We’ll cover what to do in that situation separately.
Identifying an Attack: Social or Predatory Violence?
If you can identify a fight before it begins you have a chance of escaping it outright without having to engage in it. It is also beneficial, if you can’t escape, to know if you’re dealing with probable social violence or probable predatory violence.
We’ve all seen a social street fight before it begins: two people squaring off, yelling, insulting each other and psyching themselves up.
Lots of posturing, lots of big arms movements as they slowly close in, bump chests, stare each other down, push each other and then finally go to blows before the fight is broken up.
If a social fight is not broken up, it will usually be ended when one person gains the upper hand and the other person withdrawals or soaks up enough of a beating that the other person feels like their superiority is assured or learning occurred (depending on what started the fight in the first place).
In a social fight the two combatants are, as a rule, not trying to kill each other.
A predatory attack is different. Ideally, a predator will attack the prey without the prey having any knowledge of the predator’s presence prior to the attack.
Generally, you may only have subtle warnings if you get one at all that someone is about to attack you with lethal intent. Be on the lookout for the following pre-attack indicators being exhibited by someone; they might tip you off predatory violence is about to occur.
- Shifty Eyes: Someone with shifty eyes will always look away with a darting glance as soon as you make eye contact with them; they might have bad intentions for you. They might also be looking around to check for potential witnesses, police or anyone who may potentially come to the aid of the victim.
- Wringing or Flexing of Hands: Clenching and unclenching of the hands or caring them balled into fists as a sort of rehearsal and what they intend to do with them. Also related is someone who massages or rubs their hands in anticipation of the damage that might be inflicted on them when they strike.
- Sweating: It is an old trope, but an accurate one. People who are sweaty are nervous if they don’t have cover for being sweaty otherwise. If they aren’t out of breath or haven’t been pushing a post in the hot sun, keep an eye on them.
- Trembling or Shaking: This is a common human response to anxiety the world over. For an attacker who is unaccustomed to violence or just nervous, you can expect to see a rapid, fine tremor affecting the entire body. Killers without a conscience, or those very accustomed to dealing out violence are less likely to shake in anticipation of the deed.
- Rubbing Face or Head: Rubbing of the chin, face or head is a tic in what is known as a grooming or self-soothing complex. Males are especially predisposed to exhibit this behavior when contemplating violence.
- Large Arm Movements: Large and expensive movements of the arms especially up near the chest and shoulder area are another rehearsal movement prior to striking or laying hands on someone. If someone’s arm starts moving around more and more above the waistline, that is a definite clue.
- Plucking, Patting or Shifting Movements: Anytime someone’s hands move to a location on their body for seemingly no reason except to pluck, pat or smooth something, it might be an indicator that there is a weapon stored at that location. The person might be adjusting to keep it from falling off of them, or simply to reassure themselves that it is still there. You must keep an eye on someone exhibiting this behavior!
- Hidden Hands: This is always a major warning sign of a pending lethal attack. If someone has their hands hidden without cover for it- i.e. the weather is cold or bad and they have both hands in their pockets- you must not take your eyes off of them. Hands that are under an arm, behind a hip or inside a bag or piece of carried luggage may be holding onto a weapon at that very moment, preparing to either draw it or to use it on you through the concealment. You must be prepared to act instantly and decisively if you see someone exhibiting this pre-attack indicator!
Avoiding the Attack if Possible
If someone calls you out, and is starting to do the “monkey dance” that occurs prior to a brawl you can often get out of having to fight by just leaving with haste. If you cannot leave for whatever reason, do the following:
- Assume a “submissive” stance: A submissive stance with your body blades it away to your strongside arms raised. Palms out to your shoulders and your chin lowered will serve to make you look less confrontational than a squared-up, posturing-type stance. This may serve to diffuse the brewing conflict, and at any rate is actually only two clenched fists away from being a proper boxing stance if fighting is unavoidable.
- Agree, Apologize and Repeat: Whatever your opponent’s grievances, whether they are right or wrong, agree, apologize and repeat. “Man, you’re right I’m so sorry I spilled that beer, I’m a clumsy bastard and I totally ruined your evening/ made you look bad/ embarrassed you/ whatever. I am so, so sorry about that.” Now, more than ever, your ego will get you in trouble if you are indeed trying to avoid a fight.
- Start Backing Out: At no time should you square up with the person who is getting bent out of shape. Even if it looks like they are calming down, don’t stand there and let them get in your space. Start backing out and looking for an exit as soon as you can while you are apologizing profusely.
Avoiding a predatory attack may be more difficult. Typically, if you spot someone showing any of the pre-attack indicators above your best bet is to escape as quickly as possible.
If you cannot, you might be able to stall or even ward off the attack if the attacker knows you are onto them before they can strike from a position of ambush or surprise.
If they are closing in, make eye contact with them and tell them firmly not to come any closer. No matter what happens be prepared to defend yourself.
The Fight is On! Stopping the Attacker
Despite your best efforts, the fight is on. You are not able to turn away the enraged meathead or deflect the advance of someone bent on doing you serious harm, or even kill you.
There is nothing left to do but fight in order to disable the attacker and buy yourself a window of opportunity to get away. Don’t shy away from it now!
One thing to keep in mind is it no matter what form of attack you are facing you should not try to get away once you are embroiled in the fight until you are certain you can do so safely.
In any conflict, the fight will often turn for the worse for the side that tries to break and run before they have an opportunity to. Once you are in it, you are in it, and you’ll have to fight your way clear.
There is nothing defensive about defending yourself. You’ll need to go on the offense and inflict damage on your attacker as quickly as possible to either get them to give up, or to disable them, which will prevent them from continuing their attack on you.
In the case of social violence, a bully or a thug who gets the tables turned on them quick and hard may very well decide that they have had enough and give up if you’re able to land a quick series of potent blows.
Even if they seem like they’ve had enough, keep pouring it on until they are actively withdrawing or have completely given up. Plenty of weasels will feign surrender to get you to drop your guard and then retaliate.
If you are facing a lethal threat or a determined attacker, you cannot stop until the attacker is completely disabled, meaning they’re unable to continue using force against you.
If they are unarmed, this might mean disabling them by eliminating their mobility; low-line kicks to the knees when they are standing, stomps to the feet and ankles when they are standing or laying down- any will do the trick if delivered with conviction and extreme force.
If they are armed with a weapon the answer is usually the infliction of lethal force of your own.
During this time, you must be aware of anyone trying to swoop in and interfere. Typically, this will be the attacker’s buddies who couldn’t give a damn about a fair contest or anything else aside from beating your ass and backing up their pal.
You must also be keenly aware, through feel and through observation, of any weapons that your opponent might be trying to access, either on his body or your own. If hands start diving into pockets or going towards waistlines you must be ready for a gun or a knife to come back out with it.
Remember: trying to cut and run before you can cleanly and safely do so will only mean that more damage is inflicted upon you.
Is it especially true if you lack the athleticism to run flat out and lose a potential pursuer. You must take care of the problem at hand before trying to get away.
With your attacker stopped cold or stunned long enough for you to affect an escape, now is the time to lace up those sneakers and get the hell out of there.
Even if your fight was a social affair that you won cleanly, there’s absolutely no reason why you should stick around.
Get out of there and get to a safe place on foot if one is nearby, or get in your vehicle and drive if not. If you can call the police, do so only when you are safe.
I cannot tell you how many people I have heard about in my time teaching self-defense that won a seemingly small altercation, one where only fisticuffs were involved, who then hung around basking in their glory and the free beers being bought for them only be lethally wounded when the person they whipped either produced or went and got a weapon before returning to use it on them.
The days of chivalry are gone, if they ever existed at all. You can never assume that you know what the other guy will do, or what he will stop at.
When the fight is over, win, lose or draw you have to get away from there as quickly as possible. Someone you beat in a brawl may come back with five friends, or he might come back with an AK-47. You don’t want to be around in either case.
Learning How to Take a Punch
If you’re going to be fighting by choice or otherwise you had better learn how to take a punch.
No matter how good you think you are, no matter how quick, no matter how strong, no matter how skilled you have to assume that the other guys are going to land a couple of blows on you.
Knowing how to take a punch and keep fighting could spell the difference between winning and losing, but more importantly, it might spell the difference between life and death.
Getting knocked out on your feet and falling out of control to the pavement is a leading cause of fatal head injuries in street fights.
And even if the fall doesn’t get you, laying there unconscious while you are the recipient of a boot party is a great way to be eating through a straw for the rest of your life.
Keep in mind the following tips and you’ll be rolling with the punches like an old pro:
Keep Your Chin Down
Your chin and jaw bone are priority targets for seasoned pugilists, and a good, hard punch to either location has a disproportionately high chance to knock you out right there on your feet.
Remember what I said about the monkey dance above? Now is not the time to spread your arms, bump chests with the other guy and do that jutting chin thing that is so popular among street toughs. It is hard to look tough when you are knocked out.
Even worse, if you fail to keep your chin tucked down you will open up your neck to damage. A hard shot to your neck can also knock you out, and it might also kill you.
Keep Your Mouth Shut Tightly
Keeping your jaw clamped tightly closed will help prevent broken teeth, a cut tongue and also give you a little bit more resistance to being knocked out.
There isn’t much you can do to help save your teeth if you take a hard shot to the mouth, but every little bit helps.
It is actually the jaw being moved sharply laterally away from the body centerline that contributes to that “lights out” effect of getting tagged on the buzzer. You can give yourself an advantage by keeping your jaw tightly closed.
Sway, Bob and Move
Any professional fighter worth their salt will always keep their head moving an asymmetric rhythm during a fight. Anything at all you can do to disrupt punches power, including moving the target just a couple of inches, is a worthwhile endeavor.
Make sure you practice this so that your movements are random and cannot be predicted. Falling into a pattern is a surefire way for a skilled opponent to land a devastating strike where your face will be.
Anytime you can get your hands or arms between the opponent’s strikes you will lessen the severity of the impact significantly.
Knowing how to block is almost as important as blocking at all, as improper blocking may increase damage to your hands, and it will also limit your visibility, making you more vulnerable during the fight.
Be careful of turtling up as a skilled opponent may deliver a flurry of blows in order to get you to stop attacking them all the while setting you up for the coup de grace.
Roll With the Punches, Literally
Rolling with the punches is not just a pithy figure of speech. Far from it. If you can shift your head and body in the direction that the incoming punches, moving before they impact, you will rob the punches of a significant amount of energy.
Maybe you simply didn’t defend in time, or maybe it’s a punch you didn’t see coming until it was too late.
No matter the reason, if you can get moving in time you can turn a punch that would be severely damaging into one you can fight through.
Build Your Neck
The neck muscles are often sorely underdeveloped in most people, even dedicated fighters.
Since the neck supports the head, it stands to reason a strong neck will help make you harder to knock out by making the head more resistant to incoming damage.
If you can prevent the rotational or lateral movement that leads to brain damage and the subsequent knockout, you can increase your durability and staying power in a fight. Only by strengthening the neck muscles can you hope to attain this.
When Knives and Guns Come Out: Dealing with Weapons in a Street Fight
Guns, knives and other weapons come out a lot more frequently in street fights than you might imagine.
Sometimes they come out accidentally. Just because you have a knife inside a scabbard or clipped to a pocket, or a gun securely in its holster does not mean it will stay that way when the tussle starts.
Plenty of good guys and good gals have been horrified to hear or see their weapons go skittering across the pavement after going hands-on with somebody.
Additionally, as I have alluded to several times in this article, there is no guarantee that the person you are currently boxing with will not pull a shiv in a murderous rage if you start to get the better of them.
You’ll have to deal with this and do so decisively. Your first instinct is probably to produce a weapon of your own.
This is commendable and understandable, but is often times the wrong answer if someone has already got their weapon most of the way in gear.
If you do not immediately try to deal with their weapon they’re going to be using theirs on you before you can pull your own.
Just like attempting to escape a fight before you have created an opportunity, you’ll need to create an opportunity to pull your own weapon if you want to do it safely.
Even if you are faster than greased lightning and beat the baddie to the drop with your own weapon, there is now the not-inconsequential issue of them potentially going for your weapon to save their own hide.
Tussling over any weapon is very risky business. Sometimes you are better off going fully on the offense without your own weapon in an effort to tie up or disarm them of their weapon.
Remember that no matter how the fight started, and no matter what it started over, any honest fistfight that sees weapons get introduced to it is now a lethal force encounter, and you have to change gears quickly.
This does not mean there will not be legal consequences in the aftermath. There certainly might be. But you’ll have to survive in order to get the opportunity to deal with them.
EDC Items for Street Fight Survival
I would depend on most readers of this site carrying a good assortment of EDC gear with them at all times as just a normal part of their day.
There are quite a few small, unobtrusive EDC items that can definitely help you out in a street fight if you have them with you when the fight starts.
Even if the fight is shaping up to be a social violence affair, and one where lethal force is not involved, you’re more than justified in using several of the implements listed below since they are not typically considered lethal force weapons in most jurisdictions.
As always, it is up to you to learn and understand the laws as they will apply to you and your locale.
Ounce for ounce, pepper spray is one of the most effective, and also most legally permissive self-defense tools that any prepper can carry. High-intensity pepper spray is excellent for taking the starch out of most attackers in most circumstances.
While it is not 100% effective (and what is?) and is known to fail against those who are on mind-altering drugs, or simply have an extremely high pain tolerance, a blinding pepper spray solution will significantly degrade on attackers vision and induce fits of coughing and shortness of breath.
As a result, many so affected will usually give up unless they are highly motivated. This is also one of the only reliable ranged non-lethal tools that are worth carrying.
The kubotan, also known as a yawara stick or pocket stick, is an unobtrusive and unassuming stick made out of acetate plastic or solid hardwood used for amplifying the power of strikes, pressure point manipulation and applying small joint locks.
Since they are often sold in keychain form and completely devoid of any aggressive features that might see them remotely classed as weapons they can go almost anywhere.
A kubaton requires some martial arts training to make the best use of it, but even in the hands of an untrained user they can be used to deliver ferociously powerful over hand strikes to hard or soft targets on an attacker’s body.
No training is required either to grind the small rounded end into the soft parts of the human anatomy.
Cat’s Ears / Mini-Knucks
Lately we are seeing a proliferation of devices devised as a sort of halfway point between a pronged self-defense stick and a miniature set of brass knuckles.
These devices, sometimes called cat’s ears after their whimsical shape, often feature a single or sometimes two pointed protrusions that stick out beyond the fingers and knuckles of the hand that is gripping it.
While typically not sharp, the protrusions serve to greatly amplify the force of a punch, and are usually made of acetate plastic or high-impact resin, thereby avoiding most state statutes on metallic or “brass”, knuckles.
Street fights are high-risk affairs where injury is all but guaranteed. Training in the relatively sterile environment of the boxing gym or martial arts dojo will only give you half the puzzle pieces for surviving the no-holds-barred brutality and wild chaos of a proper street fight.
You’ll need to assess the attacker and try to understand his motives as best you can before applying your own defensive countermeasures.
You can never be certain that a fistfight won’t turn lethal, and that weapons won’t become involved. Make sure you are ready for all eventualities if you want to survive street violence.