I was always the quiet guy. I was outgoing when in the company of friends, but reserved and extremely nervous around strangers. Being timid, along with being half-Asian and growing up in Scotland where 98% of the population are white, made me an easy target for bullies.
As a kid, I always shied away from confrontation and would use words to diffuse a heated argument. A smart mouth has allowed me to get through life relatively unscathed and I’ve only had three street fights.
I’ve witnessed plenty more tussles – some were avoidable, some weren’t.
Now, it’s always better to sidestep a fight than risk injury or criminal charges. However, not standing up for yourself, or your friends and family, or your values will eat away at your self-confidence – trust me, I’ve been there.
That feeling of not being able to do anything was one of the catalysts for learning muay thai and boxing.
Since then, I’ve had numerous muay thai fights and sparred in thousands of rounds. I now feel 100% confident in my ability to defend myself.
But the funny thing is, since learning how to fight, I’ve never had to use my skills outside of training or competitive fighting. Exuding confidence perhaps? 😉
All this is to say, that I am not a deadly assassin on the street, but I know a little about how street fights develop, what to expect, and how they’re won.
This guide is what I wish I knew about street fighting growing up as the shy guy. It’s got something for everyone; from those with scar tissue on scar tissue, to those who have never flung a punch before.
Let’s start by getting clear on what street fighting actually is…
Street Fighting VS Competitive Fighting
Many people take up a martial art as they want to learn self-defence. While it’s a good reason to learn combat skills, and while I believe a trained martial artist will come out on top in a street fight against the average guy, let’s get clear on one thing:
Street fighting is NOT competitive fighting.
It’s an entirely different ballgame to what goes on in the ring.
Real fighting is ugly. It’s raw, vicious and frightening to witness.
The people who excel at it are almost always nasty-pieces-of-work. They’re the kind of psychopaths that smile in your face, and then unleash an explosion of violence.
Even the toughest martial artist can be left broken and vulnerable when attacked on the street. And if you’re dealing with an aggressive and particularly sadistic attacker, the fight doesn’t stop when you fall to the ground or lose consciousness.
I in no way advocate using what you learn in the gym out on the street, but I also think it’s important to be able to call upon your training in a time of need. But you have to be aware that training environments are completely different from the street…
6 Differences Between the Ring and the Street
1. There Are No Rules
Street brawls are not going to pit two fighters that are the same weight and similar skill level against one another. There is no referee to ensure a clean fight. There is no doctor on standby or ambulance waiting to rush you to the hospital.
Fairness and gentlemanlike sportsmanship do not exist in a street fight.
There’s the very real possibility that you’re going to be up against someone that has a weapon, that is twice your size, or has brought his mates along for support.
You may even be ambushed or struck from behind as you turn your back. Deception and lies are rife on the street. In fact, they’re winning tactics.
However, you don’t have to resort to biting, head butting, or kicking your attackers head when he’s down to win a street fight. But you must be prepared for it to happen to you.
Let go of whatever idea of fair play you’re holding onto and be prepared for the worst.
2. Style is Non-existent
Just as there aren’t any rules, don’t expect there to be any style either. You’re not going to have a taekwondo guy fighting another taekwondo guy on the street.
The majority of street fights will be a scrappy mix of awkward kicks, boxing, and grappling.
Strikes are going to come in wildly, from all angles, and in an unorthodox style. Tight guards and beautifully polished off technique are going to be substituted for reckless haymakers and charging.
It can be difficult to adapt to street fighting “technique” if you’re a student of a traditional martial art.
3. The Pace is Fast and Frantic
Street fights are pedal to the metal. There’s going to be a flurry of strikes, and you’re going to be highly stressed and pumped full of adrenaline as survival mode kicks in.
There’s no feeling out your opponent with jabs and feints, or sticking to a fight strategy. You’re not going to have time to think about setting up combinations as you do when sparring. How you fight will largely depend on instincts and what comes naturally – which you can influence by training.
My advice? Hit fast, hit hard, and hit first if you can.
If a fight is unavoidable and you sense things are about to kick off, you need to act fast and deal with the consequences later.
Don’t try to pace yourself or conserve energy to go the distance. Most street fights will be over after the first few punches.
4. Be Prepared for the Aftermath
Whether you win, lose, or draw, competitive fighting finishes with an outcome. The fighters congratulate each other, acknowledge the other fighter’s trainers, and pay respect to the judges and crowd. End of. Everyone gets to go home from the event.
If you win a fight in a bar, it could just be the end of the beginning. With pride at stake, the loser may decide to retaliate with a weapon, or when you’re inebriated, or with a bunch of heavies that push the odds in his favour.
Retribution may even come days, weeks, or even years later, as grudges are held on to indefinitely.
5. Expect Legal Action
There may also be legal consequences to your actions. What you view as self-defence may not match up what the judge and jury think is reasonable. Dig a little deeper into self-defence laws in your country to keep on the right side of the law.
Common sense also prevails. Think about your actions from bystander’s point of view. If there was a heated argument and you were shoved and then responded by launching a bottle into the guy’s face, that’s most likely going to be seen as excessive by witnesses and a court of law.
6. High Chance of Serious Injury or Death
Barring those early UFC bouts, fights in the ring retain their sportsmanship. If a fighter is downed or clearly injured, the referee calls time or puts an end to the fight. The fighter’s health takes priority over entertainment.
In street fighting, no one is likely (to be stupid enough) to jump in and save you. A beat down could last long after you’re out cold and life-threatening attacks, such as head stomps, are not out of the question.
The risk of severe bodily harm and even death are always prevalent in a street bout.
What Makes a Good Street Fighter
So, now you know what to expect on the street, what makes someone particularly adept to punch it out in public?
Being ferocious, fearless, and willing to inflict pain? How about having phenomenal strength, speed, agility, or just sheer size in your favour?
While these are all traits that help, they aren’t the complete package.
Great street fighters have more than just brute strength or the kahunas to go toe-to-toe with anybody. They have a basket of physical and mental skills that they have honed through years of training and experience. More specifically, they have:
- An understanding of fighting range
- Impeccable timing, reactions, and footwork
- Knowledge on which body areas to target making each strike effective
- Tight defence and the skills to evade, block, and counter
- A fundamental and working knowledge of psychology
- The ability to recognise fear in themselves and in others
- Heightened alertness and a precise awareness of their environment
In summary, they have REAL fight skills.
While it is possible to become a good street fighter, very few people have the discipline, work ethic, and desire to do so. It requires a commitment to training, a dedication to study all forms of fighting, and a willingness to live perpetually outside your comfort zone.
If this sounds like you, then congratulations, you are one of the rare, genuine badasses of the world.
Most people, myself included, don’t have what it takes to be a street fighter. Most fights on the street are between ordinary guys that have let anger, ego, or alcohol get the better of them.
This is good news for you; by reading a guide to street fighting and not being out there acquiring battle scars, my guess is you’re not a lethal weapon. You’re probably just a regular guy, and if you’re anything like me, a little introverted, shy, and passive to violence.
And that’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, by using your smarts and reading and applying the training in this guide, you’ll be able to win a street fight against Average Joe.
So, how do you prepare for a street fight? Should you learn a martial art, and if so, which one?
What is the Best Martial Art for Street Fighting?
Self-defence is one of the main reasons people take up a combat sport. And while I’m all for learning how to protect yourself, let me just reiterate that practising fighting in the dojo is very different from a street fight. However, I still believe that becoming proficient in a fighting system will give you the upper hand against an untrained guy. But which system should you learn?
Should you study boxing as street brawls are predominantly fist exchanges? Aikido so you can disarm your attacker without excessive violence? Or MMA as you learn a bit of every martial art?
The reality is that there is no one best martial art for street fighting or self-defence. Practitioners of a particular style will tell you otherwise, and MMA fanboys will swear that mixed martial arts encompasses the whole game. However, MMA is not street fighting. No martial art is street fighting.
All styles have their merits and their weak points, but some martial arts are more practical for street fighting conditions. However, it all depends on the individual and the proficiency in which they can apply the techniques.
It is the man and not the system that matters.
As long as you are following good fundamentals and being realistic in your expectations, any martial art will give you an advantage.
And if you have a solid base in several martial arts, you probably will have the upper hand as you’ll be proficient at various ranges - which is why the MMA guys preach about its effectiveness.
Pick a fighting style that most appeals to you and master it. But regardless of the style you choose, there are broad skills that you’ll need to learn to win a street fight.
4 Essential Skills Every Street Fighter Must Possess
Just like learning a martial art, there’s a lot to learn for the street. That’s why I’ve stripped away the noise and left with you with only four skills to master. Although admittedly, being proficient in each of these skills could take many years.
1) Solid Guard
Knowing how to protect yourself is fundamental to winning any street fight. Protecting the computer that controls the machinery, i.e. your head, is the most crucial part of any guard.
The classic boxing stance is a closed guard that is an extremely effective defence against punches to the head – the most common attack.
Here’s a quick recap of what a boxing stance looks like:
- Hands high and near your temples
- Feet shoulders width apart, and the toes of your lead foot facing your opponent and the toes of your rear foot pointing to the side at 45°
- Knees slightly bent to remain sprightly
- Elbows tucked in close to your ribs
- Protect your jaw by tucking your chin into your chest
- Keep your shoulders shrugged to shield your chin from attacks from the side
- Leave a small gap between your arms (even when blocking), so you can always see your attacker
Regardless of how you fight in the gym, I would suggest adopting the boxing guard in the street. You’ll be side-on to your attacker reducing the surface area that can be hit from the front, and by keeping your hands held high, and chin and elbows tucked, you’re also protecting your vulnerable areas.
Whatever guard you choose to adopt, it has to be able to withstand at least one punch – preferably a lot more - and protect your most vital parts.
Check for flaws in your defensive stance in front of a mirror before moving on. Even a deflected strike has the potential to knock you out, so make sure your guard is tight, and it only takes small movements to check attacks.
2) Quick Feet
Adopting the boxers stance outlined above will provide a stable base, which is paramount for the quick footwork required to launch effective attacks and move out of striking range quickly.
Good footwork is always important for fighters, but even more so for street brawls where there’s no protective equipment.
In the gym or the ring, blocking a punch from padded gloves isn’t that big a deal. But out on the street, where it’s bare knuckle or armed combat, blocking could injure your arms. A fist can also slip through a loose guard much more easily than a glove.
It’s, therefore, best to evade or parry attacks, which is where having quick feet comes into play.
You should also never be static in a fight. You’ll be a sitting duck, and it will be all too easy for your attacker to pick his shots. Bobbing and weaving, moving in and out of range, and circling your opponent will make you a much more elusive target.
Fighting more than one person at the same time is also a very real possibility (Hey, it’s street fighting; remember that part about there being no rules?). Good footwork will allow you to create distance so that you only have one person in your striking range at a time, or stop you from being outflanked.
3) Effective Striking
Effective striking encompasses proper technique, speed, power, accuracy, and timing. You’ll perfect all of that with repetition. But for the purpose of street fighting, I want to drill down on two areas of striking.
Always Be Protected When You’re Attacking
When you’re in your guard, your defence should be rock solid. We want to maintain that same level of protection as we strike.
That means that your chin is tucked and hidden behind your shoulder as you’re punching, and your other hand is still up at your temple.
Each strike should be an extension of your guard.
If you both throw a punch at the same time and your attacker is faster, it won’t matter as the punch will land on your “armour”. You take the blow on your shoulders, arm, top of your head, or other non-vital areas while hopefully delivering a meaningful strike of your own.
Strike Vulnerable Areas
Winning a street fight means inflicting sufficient damage so that your attacker is incapable or unwilling to attack.
Maximum damage occurs when you strike your attacker’s vulnerable areas with force. Your strikes should, therefore, be aimed at one of three possible target zones.
- Zone One - Your opponent's head and parts of the face that affect the senses (eyes and nose).
- Zone Two - Areas that effect your assailant’s breathing: throat, torso, solar plexus, ribs and groin.
- Zone Three - Anatomical targets that effect mobility such as the knees, shins, feet and toes.
4) Breathing Control
If you’ve done fight training before, you’ll know the importance of controlled breathing to conserve energy and recover quickly. But even trained martial artists forget to breathe in the heat of the moment.
When you’re fighting on the street, the intensity is going to be MAGNIFIED, and you’ll naturally tense up and forget to breathe.
But holding your breath for just a short exchange of blows will gas you out.
The correct way to breathe when fighting is to exhale with each strike. The easiest way to do this is to make a short, sharp “eesh” sound each time you connect. You should also maintain deep, controlled breathing when you have space to aid with recovery.
Controlling your breathing is difficult when you’re just beginning fight training, but it is an essential skill to learn as fights can go on for more than a couple of minutes.
Start by being conscious of your breathing during training and making sure you’re breathing out with each strike. Sparring will also allow you to practice breathing in a high-stress environment, which is as close to a real fight as possible.
8 Tactics to Win Street Fights
Now that you’ve got skills to work on, it’s time to get into the specific tactics that will help you win a street fight.
1. Avoid Fighting in the First Place
If you can diffuse a heated situation with carefully chosen words, you automatically win. No one gets prosecuted, injured or dies, and everyone gets to keep enjoying their night.
Let go of your ego. Publicly apologising or walking away doesn’t make you a little bitch, and is a mark of intelligence. If you do apologise, act with authority and do so confidently. Never show weakness as bullies will try to take advantage.
2. Back Away Safely
Apologies are going to fall on deaf ears when you’re dealing with drunk and/or angry people. Same goes if you’re in a noisy environment.
Do not move closer to make yourself heard. The last thing you want to do is move into their personal space. In this case, put your hands up and mouth “sorry” as you walk away. Always walk backwards and never take your eye off your attacker.
3. Read the Signs
Admittedly, street smarts take many years to develop. Nevertheless, you should try to improve your situational awareness and become a student of body language so that you can see early warning signs of a fight developing.
Also, learn to read the subtle signs before a strike. Everyone emits tell-tale signals before launching an attack: a shift in weight, cocking the arm, clenching the fists or tensing the body. Being able to read these signs will allow you to pre-empt strikes and successfully evade or counter.
4. Put Your Hands Up
Putting your hands up at shoulder level with open palms facing your attacker can help to diffuse the situation. It also means your hands are up and protecting your head. If you step back subtlety, you’re now in your fighting stance while remaining un-confrontational.
5. Hit and Run
A solid punch to the throat or kick to the groin can disable an attacker long for you to get away. There’s no shame in hitting and running if it saves you from being hospitalised.
6. Fight Dirty
I know I mentioned that you don’t have to fight dirty at the start of this article, but underhanded tactics can significantly increase your chances of winning. And when winning is the difference between life and death, NOTHING else matters.
Your bag of unscrupulous tricks might include striking the groin, gouging the eyes, head butting the nose, or using whatever weapons are close to hand.
7. Wake the Fuck Up
Awareness Training is something you should be working on all the time. Always be conscious of where the nearest exit is and where the nearest weapons are. Avoid getting too intoxicated or doing anything else that results in you losing control.
Being aware is not the same as being paranoid - life is sweeter when you notice the details. While you are training yourself to be more alert, you’ll also be practising mindfulness and living in the moment, techniques well-known to increase happiness.
8. Hit First and Hit Hard
If you’re certain there is no way out of a fight, make sure you hit first. Self-defence is reactionary, and by reacting rather than acting, you risk losing the fight or injuring yourself.
Street fights don’t last long, and many have ended after the first blow. If you don’t stop your adversary after the first strike, keep attacking until you do. Maintain the pressure and don’t let your attacker recuperate.
I in no way endorse street fighting. If you want to fight, do it in the ring against a trained fighter. What I am all for, is training to protect yourself and your loved ones from serious bodily harm or death.
Training for street fights is just like training for competitive fighting: it takes a lot of time and dedication to master the skills and to train yourself to overcome emotions and act in spite of fear. This training is best done in a safe learning environment; i.e. join a fight gym.
Do not go out and start fights for experience. Not only is it a dickhead move, but it also puts you at risk of serious harm, will get you in trouble with the law, and will rack up lots of bad karma.
The goal of this article was to arm the average guy with the knowledge to come out the other end of a tussle alive and well enough to tell the tale. Hopefully, I’ve done that, and also provided you with enough action items to work on.
Until next time, best wishes and enjoy your training.