Sunday, February 17, 2008

No Rules in a Streetfight

“There are no rules in a streetfight.” How many times have we all heard that statement, usually spoke with a fair amount of bravado and self-righteousness. But, is it true?

Are there really no rules when it comes to street fighting? -Let’s look at a couple of hypothetical situations and see:

First, let’s imagine a scene where an attacker picks a fight with you at a party; After making several threats, he shoves you and then starts to throw a punch.

As a trained martial artist, you quickly move in, throw several elbow strikes to his head, initiate a take-down, break his arm, and place your attacker in a choke hold until he passes out.

Someone calls the police and when they arrive, instead of congratulating you on your skills, they begin to arrest you.

Although you plead, “self-defense,” the officer informs you that you used excessive force while protecting yourself.

As he’s placing you in handcuffs, you remind him that “There’s no rules in a streetfight.”

“Tell it to the judge,” he says as he escorts you into his squad car.

Okay, maybe the Law look at things differently than the rest of us. What if we leave the courts out of it and consider an ‘honor’ fight, where nobody calls the police.

Imagine that your trying to impress a woman at a bar when some jerk begins insulting her and calling her terrible names. To defend her dignity, you challenge her offender to a fight. Both of you agree to “step outside.”

A crowd surrounds both of you as you square off. As your opponent moves in to punch, you quickly reach down between his legs and grab his groin.

Your opponent crumbles to the ground, unable to continue.
You’ve won the fight! Right?

No. You’re shocked to learn that everyone, (including that beauty you were trying to impress,) thinks that you've cheated.

“Wait,” you tell them, “There’s no rules in street fighting.”

Apparently, there are.

While most people wouldn’t begrudge a groin strike against a 300lbs Linebacker who jumps you in a dark alley, it’s still considered unfair and out-of-bounds to grab below the belt in a consensual fight.

The truth is, there are rules to a streetfight.

There are always legal, moral, and social consequences for fighting.

I mention this because I feel it’s important to consider these consequences when training.

As famed kick boxer, Benny Urquidez often states, “The way you train, is the way you’ll react.”

If all of the techniques that I practice end up with my opponent breaking a bone, receiving a concussion, or being choked unconscious; then regardless of how weakly I’m initially attacked, I will likely always cause a serious injury to my attacker. -It’s all I know how to do.

Even if my attacker comes at me with non-lethal force, my training may cause me to respond in an inappropriate manner and result in regrettable consequences.

Take the following video clip as an example. The self-defense techniques presented come from Bas Rutten’s Lethal Street Fighting DVD.

Now, before you see this clip, let me say that I love, love Bas’s stuff.

He’s one of my favorite martial artists and no one does a better showing how combat arts can be applied to actual self-defense. He has also written Bas Rutten’s Big Book of Combat (vol 1 & 2), one of the best catalogues of martial techniques available.

This is an edited, 6 minute, clip of a 105 minute DVD, highlighting many of the more brutal techniques demonstrated. (Also, Bas has a rather warped sense of humor that certainly comes out when he’s demonstrating his techniques.)

Don’t misjudge Bas based only on this clip.

However, unless it’s truly a life or death situation, you should use extreme discretion before attempting any of these techniques for self-defense. Use them at your own risk.

While many of his techniques are fascinating to watch and could be useful under the right circumstances, they fail to demonstrate the type of restraint needed in most self-defense encounters.

Statistically, your chances of facing a knife attack are rather slim when compared to your chances of getting into a shoving match with some drunk in a bar. However, if you respond to both attacks the same way, your going to get into trouble.

It’s a mistake to make the assumption that there are ‘no rules’ in a streetfight and our training must reflect that understanding.

The basis of our self-defense techniques should always include strategies to evade, escape, and control an attacker. We should strive to use the least amount of force necessary to achieve these objectives.

Techniques that cause serious injury should only be used in critical situations and as a last resort.

If we train ourselves to escape or control an attacker during practice, we can always increase the amount of force used in an actual confrontation. Our reactions will be more in line with societies’ legal and moral expectations.

But if our daily training only revolves around lethal force, we'll have trouble reducing our attack in the course of a stressful encounter. This could cause us to ‘strike first,’ without really considering the consequences of our actions.

The first step in developing a self-defense strategy is to realize that there are rules to street fighting. Our job is to understand how to use those rules to our advantage and how to best protect ourselves without violating them.

I hope you find this post useful in your own practice.

Train safe, train hard;



(Author's note: Although I've used Bas Rutten's clip as an example here, readers should know that Rutten teaches many, many non-lethal techniques. Regardless of how he's portrayed in the clip, he actually seems to be a pretty nice guy and would only use those techniques if threatened with serious harm.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Agreed: that old line 'there are no rules in a streetfight' (or most likely a more grammatically incorrect version) is plain stupid and it's likely afterwards you'll get to try your skills on a couple of rough, bulky gangbangers in the prison showers and they're not going to go down so easy.

One thing though: when you train and use locks it's up to you to determine the level of force, this is why they're great at controlling someone (provided it's not a life or death situations and the guy's not on drugs) since you don't have to break something in order to cause great pain and if you can control someone in this fashion it's more humane than stomping them into the ground as is the standard boxing, kickboxing or MMA-routine. If the situations warrants it you can still cause a break and in locks, at least when trained and set up correcly, are a great way to expose someone's vital targets while leaving them almost defenseless (it takes superior willpower to think consciously and defend while you're experiencing great pain).

That's the trick to all training: you should be able to both deal with a really dangerous opponent who's out to seriously hurt you AND the harmless drunk or would be tough who can't fight for sh** (commonly referred to as beer-muscle) but usually you won't know to what category he belongs. Sometimes I think it was easier back in the old days... Don't get me wrong: of course I'm glad I'm not living in a warzone or in a torn society where everyone's left to fend for themselves but in those situations it's actually easier in a way (at least in terms of judgment) since your safest bet would be to just use the maximum of violence.

It's a good thing there are laws and people trained, equiped and payed to enforce them but as a martial artist it doesn't get any easier: once people know you're a martial arts student with years of experience all of a sudden they think your superman and hold you to insanely high moral standards, even judges. I very much support the principle of proportional use of force but to award criminals and thugs damages because you roughed them up a bit too much while they went after you for no reason (at least not a good one) is quite insane yet it happens.

As to your example: I'll never consent to any fight and if I fight it'll be in self defense or in defense of a loved one. It's stupid to get into a brawl willingly and this 'fight like a man' bullshit is exactly that: bullshit. Either I refrain from using force or I go for it including using dirty tactics, there's no middle ground although I will try not to do any unnecessary damage and I'll stop once they're not a threat anymore. I don't have to prove anything to anyone and if they do want a test of skill I'll ask them to put on mouthguard and a pair of boxing gloves and agree to a set of rules. There's no such thing as a 'friendly fight' (contradictio in terminis).


PS: as you said Bass Rutten is great but a lot of what he teaches in his SD video is not really suited to SD (either because it takes way too much strength or because he takes to teh ground which is not a great idea on the street) and while I'm sure he's a nice guy in person he's projecting a totally wrong 'bad boy, devil may care' image, basically encouraging people to use excessive force that'll land them assault and battery charges, if not aggrevated ones. To each his own but I'm not turning to a ringfighter for advice on SD, no matter how good he is at fighting.