Self-Defense

How to Win a Street Fight

people fighting

Chances are you will have had occasion to talk to someone about fighting before in your life.

Does it ever strike you as a little bit funny that everyone you talk to is a hardened fighter who knows just what to do, and if they were attacked like that fella was over there or this fella was over here they would just whip out their patented no-fail strategy, and take out the attacker just as quick and as easy as they please? Yeah, I thought so.

people fighting

As it turns out, most people have a whole lot of ideas about street fights, and virtually no experience. Heck, most people have never even suffered an honest-to-god punch in the mouth before.

This is, as you might expect, a serious problem that must be rectified if you really want to survive the dangers of the world, and especially the dangers that will be present during an SHTF event.

Not every problem can be solved by a firearm, and even if the problem does need solving with a gun, oftentimes you will have to engage in some good old hand-to-hand combat in order to access your gun and get it in gear.

Considering how dangerous street fights are, and how likely they are to result in disfiguring or even crippling damage whether or not you win or lose, it is definitely in your best interest to know how to prevail in a violent encounter. We will talk about doing exactly that in this article.

No Second Place Winner

I’m not sure if it is a good thing or a sad fact of our modern life that most people today have never even been in a stand-up fistfight before. I’m talking about street fights, but also even in a boxing ring or martial arts gym.

As I mentioned above, most people have never been sincerely, seriously, with-emphasis struck in the head or face before. Playground dust-ups back in school don’t count.

I am not calling for a return to the laws of the jungle, but if you do not honor the old ways you lose the old skills. That can spell disaster in the wrong situation.

The simple fact of the matter is that human violence is a constant. It is in us, part of us, who we are. For some of us that seems to be the only thing they know, and go about their lives constantly chewing at the foundations of civilization like hungry termites on an old wooden deck.

We must all be prepared for these people; you, me and everyone else. You have to be prepared to keep the mongrels at bay.

Some of us understand this fact of life and choose to do something about it, typically by pursuing a hand-to-hand martial art of some kind. This ranges from traditional, Asian martial arts and boxing to modern hybridized fighting styles, and even the current state-of-the-art integrated, sporting combatives, MMA.

All of this has some merit, and many of them are worthwhile pursuits when it comes to building core skill sets along with physical fitness. But no matter how hard core and how intense the training is in any of these structured, formalized fighting systems.

Combative Sports vs. Street Violence

All of the arts, styles, schools and systems fall short of truly preparing you for dealing with street-level interpersonal violence in two critical categories. I can already hear a legion of keyboard warriors revving up, getting ready to take me to task for impingement upon their martial art flavor of choice.

Save your anger and your keyboard; I just said above they’re all worthwhile to a greater or lesser degree, but your problem is not figuring out how to beat an opponent in the ring. Your problem is surviving a street fight with one or more people who are trying to kill you.

The rub is that all of these systems have rules of some kind, and your opponent is not genuinely trying to kill or cripple you.

Let’s go through it point-by-point, and they all add up to instill a certain sense of false confidence or worse, false competency, in the practitioner if they are not careful to make up for it with additional training.

In virtually all of the martial arts systems I described above, you won’t be practicing your moves or even sparring with an opponent in an unknown environment with varying terrain and obstacles around you.

You will not be on a padded dojo floor or in a nice, bouncy ring that will absorb the impact to a degree when you fall. Unlike in a street fight, your opponent will not be throttling their strikes and other techniques in an effort to avoid injuring their training partner.

Sure, many martial arts systems and certain schools will ensure you get some dings and dents when sparring, so you at least have a taste of actually being struck, but outside of certain full-contact professional fights none will have you going at each other full power.

Speaking of a one-on-one fight, you can forget that as a guarantee out on the street. You may be accosted by one person only to see others join the fray and not on your behalf. The initial attack might involve two, three or even more assailants all teeing-off and going for broke on you.

When you just run out of steam, become incapacitated from pain or wounds or just get overwhelmed the fight will not necessarily end on account of a timer or anything approximating good sportsmanship.

Your opponent might well keep attacking you in an effort to completely cripple you or end your life. Unlike the dojo or the fight club, the bad guys get a vote as to how long the fight will go on.

The bottom line of all of this is to truthfully assert that street violence has an entirely different texture and tempo compared to even the most hardcore of the combative sports, for they are, ultimately, sports. The stakes of merely participating in a street fight, to say nothing of losing, are far, far higher.

It is true if you are a highly skilled practitioner of some martial art or other fighting system and your attacker is not particularly skilled or motivated you may yet prevail with flying colors.

But what if your opponent has genuinely lived that life? What is violence is his first language, his primary skill? What if he’s a criminal hardened by a life of committing violent crime that risks an equally violent reprisal? What if he has been through the gauntlet of prison, surviving others of his kind?

Do you really think a “weekend warrior” martial artist, like yourself perhaps, is prepared for an encounter with such an individual, and all the ferocity, skill and savagery that they surely possess? Gut check time…

Your Only Goal in a Street Fight

It is imperative that you understand now your only goal in a street fight is to survive it, and to do so with as little harm to yourself as possible. Nothing else matters, so long as you aren’t charged with protecting someone else from the same fate.

Your ego doesn’t matter. Teaching some reprobate a lesson doesn’t matter. Settling the score doesn’t matter. If you get hurt, or killed, the people that are depending on you will be up a creek very literally without a paddle. Don’t let the lizard part of your brain that you sucked into a bad situation for no gain whatsoever.

All we are concerned with is disengaging from the fight cleanly, getting away even cleaner and preventing a follow-on attack.

This is all easier said than done of course, and you might only be able to do the ladder after you have administered a severe attitude adjustment of your own to the quarrelsome assailant. As in all things, your objective dictates your tactics.

Generally speaking as a civilian on defense, even if we have to defend with intense violence of our own you will win a street fight by following these four simple steps. Note that “simple” is rarely “easy”:

  1. Detect Attack Before It Starts
  2. Evade the Attack Before It Starts
  3. Win the Fight and Stop the Attack
  4. Get Away and Prevent Follow-On Attack

I’m going to break all of this down in great detail in the sections below, as well as offer up some more choice advice for coming through your next street fight intact, if not unscathed.

Step 1. – Detect the Attack Before It Starts

Detecting an attack before it starts, meaning you realize you are under attack, or will be under attack imminently before you are struck, is essential for ensuring you have the best chance of obtaining a good outcome.

It is tough to react intelligently and correctly to a complete sneak attack. Ask anybody who’s ever been sucker-punched.

Detecting someone who might intend to do you harm can range anywhere from startlingly easy to extraordinary difficult depending upon the signals they are broadcasting, whether inadvertently or not.

Take for instance the classic dominance display of an agitated human: lots of posturing, loud noises, puffing up their chest, throwing their arms back and doing classic tough guy or tough chick behavior.

This may or may not result in a fight depending upon the actions of the other party. Often times this might be done just to save face. Sometimes, it is done in order to provoke a response or just gain compliance.

Generally, a fight will ensue if the other party does not break down or bystanders intervene to pull the two combatants apart. Oftentimes, the antagonist will settle down and disengage once they feel like they have made a good enough show out of their superiority.

No matter what happens, participants in fights like these, often done for social standing, are typically not trying to kill each other, so no serious wounds and or death will result.

That is an easy one to spot. You know trouble is coming if you’re dealing with a person like that. But how about someone who is a little more cagey, a little better at hiding their intentions or suckering you into a bad position?

This is where the rubber meets the road, and you will have to be alert for subtle pre-attack indicators. A pre-attack indicator is a sign, sometimes subconscious, sometimes not, that can tip you off that another person does not have good intentions for you.

Some of these are easier to spot than others, but you can spot all of them if you are alert, know what to look for, and practice your people watching when you’re out and about.

Generally speaking, the more of these you see exhibited, the more likely that someone is preparing to attack you (or they are emotionally disturbed). And, as always, context is everything:

  • “Big” Arms – Anytime you see someone making large and expansive movements with their arms, especially up around shoulder level, you should be on your guard. This indicator often manifests as a sort of dress rehearsal for launching a fist at your face. Particularly common in males.
  • Tremor, Shaking, Trembling – A general response to anxiety or adrenaline. Commonly seen in all peoples the world over. This is a particularly common indicator in those who are not entirely comfortable with doling out violence to other human beings. Look for shakiness in the hands and lower arms. Someone that is really on edge might even exhibit a tremor through their whole body.
  • Darting Glance – This is one you likely know even if you have no experience with violence. Many of us are instinctively wary of or do not trust those with shifty eyes. A darting glance, or quickly looking away while trying too hard to seem “natural” after you make eye contact with them might signal they have bad intentions. Also be aware of anyone who seems to be looking around constantly or regularly, but for nothing in particular that you can put your finger on. They could simply be looking for witnesses or their backup.
  • Sweating – This is not just the stuff of movies. People who are hyped up or very nervous, like they are nervous about the deed they are about to commit, will oftentimes perspire noticeably and some people will sweat buckets through a quirk of genetics. If you notice someone sweating copiously that is not out an extraordinary heat or out of breath from exertion pay close attention. Something is bothering them.
  • Touching Face/Head/Neck – If you notice someone has a tic that involves touching their neck, head or face in a stroking or massaging manner they’re engaging and what is known as soothing behavior, and is an indicator of heightened stress. It might seem counterintuitive that someone is stressed out enough that they are essentially petting themselves, but studies show you time and time again this one crops up before someone launches their assault.
  • Clenching or Clenched Fists – This is another classic display of anger or impending violence. It is true that the eyes are the windows to the soul, but it is their hands that will hurt you, either all on their own or by accessing a weapon. This is another type of rehearsal behavior along with the stroking or wringing of the hands.
  • Hidden Hands – This is a big one, and it must come in your full attention if someone is exhibiting other pre-attack indicators, and does not have any certain excuse for having their hands hidden. This could take the form of a hand held behind the hips, inside a jacket or coat, a deep pocket, or even inside a bag or some other container or piece of luggage. This almost always occurs because someone is accessing a weapon before the fight begins, and will be ready to bring it to bear on you in the blink of an eye.
  • Patting or Pressing a Body Part – This pre-attack indicator is part rehearsal maneuver and part soothing behavior, and often occurs when someone is carrying a weapon some place on their body. If you notice someone pressing a hand to location on their body in an odd way or regularly touching, nudging or patting it in a sort of a nervous tick, pay attention to them; this is likely done because the person is very aware that they have a weapon and it might be visible to others, or they are doing it to adjust the weapons position since it has shifted or is uncomfortable.
  • Excuse to Approach – If you learn nothing else from this article, learn this: Many criminals will use some simple and innocuous favor, question or request as an excuse to get inside your personal space which will allow them to launch their attack completely unopposed and dominate you. This could be asking you if you have the time, have a light, or some other meaningless and seemingly inconsequential interaction. If this occurs and someone is exhibiting any other pre-attack indicator you must be on guard. Tell them that you can’t help them and then start backing away or otherwise getting away from them and be prepared! It might seem rude to blow off someone who is just asking for the time, but it is better to be safe than be sorry when dealing with strangers.

Now that you know what an attack looks like before it starts, with a little luck and some quick thinking you can avoid it before the pain starts.

Step 2. – Evade the Attack Before it Starts

Evading the attack before it actually begins might be the easiest or the hardest part of this entire exercise depending on the chief intangible present for the entire affair: the willpower and the intention of the attacker or attackers.

Broadly speaking, if you are facing a showdown with someone who is gearing up to fight according to the traditional “display posture” behavior we talked about above, it is entirely likely you can avoid the fight by doing the following:

  • Assume a Passive Posture – Remember what I said about not giving in to Ego? Yeah, this is that time. Don’t blow up to the guy that’s blowing up at you. Instead, angle your body away from them with your dominant leg to the rear. Raise your hands up to shoulder level, Palms out and away from you, hands open. Dip your chin to lower your head. This makes it look like you are turning to leave or Shrink yourself, which is submissive behavior and we’ll hopefully defuse the aggressor. The joke is on them though, if they want to proceed, since the only thing you will have to do is ball your fists up, and you are in a traditional boxing stance ready to throw blows.
  • Acknowledge and Apologize – And do so repeatedly! No matter what you are being accused of or threatened with for trespassing some known or unknown social code in these parts, agree with him, apologize and generally talk in such a way as to placate, not antagonize. This is once again another element where your ego will absolutely sink you if you do not keep it in check.
  • Edge Away and Back Off – It is essential that you do not turn your back on your antagonist as this could open you up to a brutal sneak attack, but nonetheless you must start backing away from them. Your retreat will hopefully mollify them. Don’t let someone get in your space without a response. If they start to close in, start backing up rapidly if you can. If you cannot, be prepared to fight. If you are able to back off and get out of the situation make sure you maintain your dialogue that you started above.

Hopefully this did the trick, and will back-down someone who was planning on administering a corrective beat down to you for some transgression.

Do keep in mind this is not likely to work on someone who’s prepared to inflict truly predatory violence upon you, because there he has very little to do with it; they are attacking you for a reason, for something you have, or just for the simple bloodthirsty joy of it.

If you have the misfortune to be targeted by one of these psychopaths you’ll be completely dependent on spotting them before they close in and picking up on other pre-attack indicators, if they are present.

Step 3. – Win the Fight, Stop the Attacker(s)

You did your best when it came to spotting the attack and when it came to avoiding it before things got too bad, but it just didn’t work out: the fight is on, and now you have to fight or hope against hope that you can survive the beating.

Sometimes you simply won’t be able to deter the advance of an attacker, be they out of their mind on some kind of drug, simply enraged or just highly motivated.

Your only choice left is fight and hope that you can disable your attacker or at the very least earn yourself an opportunity to escape.

Before we go any further there is one tenet of fighting that you must understand, and it is simply that you cannot turn to run and flee from the fight until you have created the opportunity to do so. Plainly stated your attacker may pursue you and there is a good chance they are faster than you are.

Breaking to run will often see the participant in a fight who was trying to disengage severely wounded or brought to the ground. You have to get comfortable with the idea that you have to fight your way out, quite literally.

The second tenet of street fighting if you want to call it that is that there is nothing at all defensive about defending yourself. Don’t expect to slap on some comparatively gentle wrist lock and subdue your attacker.

Don’t think you can block or dodge every one of their strikes until you can apply the bare minimum level of force needed to put them out of commission. There are no rules, and if you are hindered by any sort of rules, even ones in your own head, you will be operating at a disadvantage.

You must, of course always be mindful of the law when it comes to using force, even in cases of justified and serious self-defense, but you may meet or preclude any legitimate, imminent force being used against you with force of your own.

If a dude steps up to push you, punch him in the nose. If he strikes you, bust him up with a combination. Really pour it on and keep pouring it on until you are certain they are out of the fight. You must be willing to go further, faster, and do it first if you want to conclude a fight on your terms.

If you are dealing with a bully or somebody who was just trying to make a name for himself, once they find out their “prey” has “antlers” and is willing to use them, they are just as likely to give up quickly.

If you are in a scrum with a real bad hombre, you will likely need to maul them within an inch of their life to get them to quit. But even so, keep your guard up until you are completely clear of danger or they have hit the road with their tail light showing. Always be wary of the sucker punch or the false-surrender.

It must also be brought up that a street fight can turn lethal in an instant, even when no weapons are involved. On the other hand, a hand-to-hand fight can instantly escalate the moment a weapon of any kind is deployed or picked up.

If you are facing a true lethal threat you cannot stop fighting until you are sure that your attacker is genuinely incapacitated.

Don’t think that just because someone does not have a weapon in their hands they aren’t a lethal threat. Slamming someone’s head into a hard object, stomping and simply repeated beating or punching can all result in life-threatening wounds.

Depending on the type of threat you are facing you might be justified in using extreme physical force by delivering kicks, stomps or other strikes to joints in the legs, groin or back In order to hobble or even cripple your attacker, greatly increasing your chances of escape.

If they deploy a weapon, or you are facing great disparity of force, you can be justified in using lethal force of your own, including a gun or a knife.

You must always be alert for hands that start questing for waistbands or into pockets since that is where weapons are typically carried. Also be mindful of your own weapons since your attacker could discover them during the fight, or they might be knocked loose onto the ground.

Another thing you should be aware of is the presence of any backup that the attacker or attackers might have, or the ruthless scumbags that will jump into a fight not their own simply to dogpile someone for one reason or another.

Don’t make the mistake for one second that anyone in the world cares about a fair contest or any kind of fair fight. All they will care about is kicking your ass, or killing you and taking your stuff.

One more reminder: you must never, ever try to break and run until you are sure you have the opportunity to get clear of the attack, and also successfully get away. This is doubly important if you lack the ground speed or the physical fitness to really run for it. Your attacker may chase you!

Step 4. – Get Away and Prevent Follow-On Attack

So you managed to do it: you drove your attacker off or simply beat the brakes off of him badly enough that he’s collapsed in a heap, given up or is otherwise incapable of keeping up the fight. Well done.

Now you need to get the hell out of there, and I mean gone, and do so quickly. Even if your particular street fight was a comparatively tame stand-up fight over a woman, over a spilled beer or something equally stupid you need to get out of there once the fighting is done.

I mean get to a safe place however you can, and if you can get in your vehicle and put as much distance between you and the area that the fight took place do that.

The sad fact of the matter is that your attacker might come back for more, and this time do so with a gun, a knife or some other weapon so we can get one over on you in a spectacular and gruesome way.

He might come back with a truckload of friends hell-bent on turning you into dog food on the pavement. There is no telling what might happen. Don’t stick around on the sad little hill that you think you just took. Get somewhere safe, call the police if at all possible and follow instructions.

This is no time for chivalry, accepting drinks from friends or passersby, taking a selfie or any other stupid social behavior. Fighting is often nasty and ugly, and the aftermath can get even uglier, and quick.

If you don’t like the idea of getting filled in by an AK in a drive-by because you were too damn dumb to git while the going was good, don’t stick around!

Conclusion

A real, honest-to-goodness street fight has very little to do with a sparring match at your gym of choice or a boyhood playground dust up from yesteryear. Training in martial arts will give you a leg up, but it is not enough.

You must expect extreme violence if you plan to succeed in any kind of street fight, and that means you must train accordingly knowing what to expect. Unlike a sparring match in your dojo of choice, a street fight can turn lethal at any time, and you must be prepared.

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About Tom Marlowe

Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.
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6 thoughts on “How to Win a Street Fight

  1. When I was young I saw lots of violence. Dead, crippled, or at least scared are the usual outcomes. Often a crowd on one or two. Nothing approaching any ideal of fareness. The few times I was attacked by other women, I punched, kicked, grabbed a windpipe… Anything to make a quick end of it.
    Once it was a man and woman who came after me. A heavy chain I was wearing as a necklace pulled in two neatly wrapped around her neck as I pulled her toward me and turned her around. Held tight by the neck she was under control. The man hit me once and as he was sending another punch I stepped back and kicked him in the groin and as he was going down I kicked at his head. The heel of my boot cought his chin and I heard and felt it shatter. I roughly released the woman and told her to ” take care of your man. Come after me again and I’ll kill you.”
    It was my first and last really Scarry fight on the street that involved a man. I gained a reputation!
    I almost threw up when that jaw broke but it probably saved my life. Hurting someone is not my nature but I acted or reacted to save my life. It happened to work out to my favor. In a street fight anything goes. That goes for the attackers and for the attacked. I’d seen many fights but usually managed to not be part of it.
    During the recent riots on tv I saw an older couple attacked with long 2x4s. How do you combat that? Horrible TBI was the outcome. Another was a man attacked with many blows to the head. When he fell unconscious on the street he’d was viciously kicked in the head. He died. They were not able to mount an attack. So they scarsly defended themselves. Trying to avoid the blows is not a defense.
    Today at well past 70 and recovering from a serious illness, I am not strong nor fast on my feet. My only defence would be an offence involving wasp spray to the eyes or a pistol if I go ahead and get the CC my daughter wants me to get. My favorite pistol was a gift from my husband. A 5 shot 38 caliber (police special) revolver. I’ve killed a dog on the run with it. I found him killing my chickens about 1 am. If I were to shoot another human being I don’t know if I could bear it. But being injured or killed or my husband with Alzheimer’s being attacked can’t be tolerated.

  2. I’ve been “lucky”. Do to situational awareness I have been able to avoid being robbed and attacked by a street mob. Attitude is key. Be Defensive but prepare to go on to Offense if you must to protect you and yours.

    #1. Prevention: Be aware of what is happening in you location or where you are going – Don’t be there when trouble is.

    #2. Act like you’re the 3rd monkey on the ramp of the Ark and it’s starting to rain.

  3. I couldn’t count the number of street fights I’ve been in. From growing up in Detroit to military police work in the Marines, to civilian police work in a town next to Detroit. Fights were a regular fact of life.

    I did learn early on that the best way to win an unavoidable street fight is to hit first, hit hard, and hit often. As a police officer, most people think cops can’t hit first. Nope. The Supreme Court said we could if we could articulate that an attack was coming. We had no obligation to stand there and get beaten just to get lawful cause to fight back.

    If someone makes fists at me and threatens to kick my butt, that is a trigger to go off on them first. I didn’t threaten. I just acted. At my age and physical issues, I can use a higher level of force legally than I could as a 30-year old police officer who lifted weights after work and ran six-miles several times a week.

    One other point that needs to be made about street fights. If the fight lasts much past the first couple of punches or kicks, it is probably going to the ground. A skilled judo fighter has an advantage there, particularly the Brazilian style. But be prepared to grapple on the ground and take advantage of every dirty trick. Also, a fight that lasts more than about 30-seconds is going to suck energy from you like you won’t believe. You’ve got to win fast and decisively.

  4. I’ve had several people “think” that they wanted to fight me, in prison, but when I stopped a front snap kick that the end of their noses, they changed their minds about it, immediately.

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