Tuesday, June 26, 2012

In The Street

It was 3:00 A.M. and the end of a very long night for me. My shift at the bar where I worked as a bouncer had begun 12 hours earlier, but it seemed as if an eternity had passed since. During the course of my time on duty I, along with my partner, had broken up several altercations between drunken customers; thwarted the attempts of numerous minors to enter the bars premise on fake ID’s and had even helped a police officer arrest a very belligerent young man who was selling cocaine in the bathroom. As we placed him in the back of the squad car he screamed police brutality, a charge with no shred of evidence to it what so ever. Fully realizing this the young man began slamming his face into the back of the driver’s seat in an attempt to create his own evidence. The arresting officer and I just stood there shaking our heads as we waited for the paddy wagon to come take our psychotic friend downtown. We both agreed a rubber room would be to his liking.
Later as I stood at the front door watching our patrons stumble out into the cold morning air the thing I wanted most was to go home and climb into bed. I was tired from the long hours, sore from having been slammed into a wall by some drunken Rambo wannabe and just in an over all bad mood due to our cliental who were a mixture of middle- aged men out cheating on their wives, drug dealers conducting business as usual, college kids whose sole ambition was to get blind drunk, and a group of bikers who regularly dropped by to grab a beer and a bite to eat. Ironically, it was the bikers who proved to be the most- well behaved of the lot.
Standing beside me was Brian, one of the bartenders, a tall lanky kid whose expression barely hid his contempt for those he had served that night. His apron was covered with ketchup and grease stains and his boots were soaked from all the soapy water that was used to disinfect the kitchen floor. Like me, he too had, had a long night and just as the last customer was exiting the door Brian, shouted; “Fight, Mike there’s a fight out there.” Without delay I rushed through the bars big oaken doors and sure enough right in front of me were two middle aged men, both filled with whiskey, fighting over the company of a young lady who was very delighted that her presence warranted such drama.
After pausing to make sure no weapons were involved, I circled around the man standing on the lower end of the sloped sidewalk then steered him away from the other combatant. However by doing so I became the focus of his anger, which was soon turned upon me along with a barrage of punches. He was not a trained fighter but that didn’t matter because with his powerful haymakers it would only take one to land and then I would be in trouble. In an awkward manner I blocked some of the incoming blows and ducked others, each one sounding like a dump truck had passed by my head. Finally an opening came and I lunged forward pushing hard into his stomach with both my hands, causing him to double over and fall backwards. After hitting the sidewalk the desire to fight left him, as did much of his dinner. He tried getting up, but only managed to roll over on all fours and vomit. Seeing this I quickly turned about, and there stood the other sport coat clad assailant who was drawing way back with his right hand to hit me.
In the exact moment that he drew back his fist everything went into slow motion and as if in a vision I knew where, when and how his punch would be thrown. The mans eyes were filled with anger when he lashed out at me but the second before his fist crashed into my face I ever so slightly stepped to one side of him. One moment I was there and the next I was not. It was one of the most beautiful slipping actions you have ever seen. Earl Flynn could have not done any better and my opponent’s punch thundered by me out into empty space. “On guard” I felt like shouting but at that precise instant the rule of Murphy and his dastardly law came into play.
Just like the other man, who was now on his hands and knees dry heaving, the fellow whose punch I had side stepped was not a trained fighter. Therefore when his fist went sailing out into nowhere the force behind it made him loose his balance. And because this happened on a sloping sidewalk, one covered in ice and snow he fell right on top of me. I tried desperately to get out of his way but it proved impossible due to the snow and ice beneath me. There was a crash, a curse, and then we both went rolling down the sidewalk locked in one another’s arms. During our decent my opponent made several attempts to gouge me in the eyes and gab hold of my hair. I on the other hand was praying; “please Jesus don’t let him have neither gun nor knife”.
Finally our long protracted roll ended at the curbside where we found ourselves sprawled out in the snow, ice and slush. My attacker had ended up on top of me so I punched him hard on the jaw  then managed to roll over onto his chest in what is known today as the “mount position”. Here I was finally able to choke him by using the lapels of his coat. Yet, before I could render him unconscious, a crushing weight fell upon my back and from somewhere behind me I heard the bar manager screaming: “break it up, break it up”. It was during all the confusion of my “encounter” that the manager, a big man who weighed close to 300lbs ran out and sat astride my back. Beneath me lay my drunken opponent who not only had to contend with me but the managers extra 300 pounds as well. He gasped for breath, groaned, and then finally screamed aloud “Oh God get them off me”. Except, for my pride and dirty clothes I was uninjured, but my opponent was taken to the hospital for several fractured ribs, thanks in part to the managers decision to squash the affair instead of letting it play out. What had begun for me as a very chaotic event, one, which I’d gained some control over, quickly ended up as a scene right out of the keystone cops.
Whenever a martial artist asks me about street fighting and what may or may not be the best tactics I always tell them this story because throughout the years it’s served as a good example of just how chaotic and uncontrollable a street altercation can be. A street fight/self-defense situation never turns out to be how you expect or want them too be. Yet this often is over looked at times in our training. The following explores some of these areas.

The Illusion of Ease: A common belief in many dojo’s today is that trained fighters can defeat an untrained assilants easily.. This even includes an unarmed practitioner pitted against an armed one. The latest phase in this “illusion of ease” is one I saw while browsing in a local bookstore. As I sipped my coffee I came across a martial arts book that showed various means to defend against attackers who were armed in a manner of different ways. Some of the explanations were well founded but one in particular that caught my interest was the segment on how to disarm an opponent armed with a hand grenade. It involved a long intricate process that showed how you grabbed the grenade from your opponent’s hand, threw them to the ground and then placed the grenade beneath them all the while you dove to safety. Of course this wouldn’t work unless your, Rambo, John Wayne, Walker Texas Ranger or any of the other action hero’s who we see on the silver screen. In this presentation of grenade defense running away was never considered as an option, which by the way would have been my first choice.
This illusion of ease is also given with many who teach the ever- popular “pressure point” attacks.. While this can prove to be a very valid aspect of the martial artists training what many forget is if your opponent is drunk, mad, on drugs or are all three combined, then their threshold for pain has risen greatly! A simple touch, tap or grab is not going to achieve the desired results. A strong uppercut to the jaw, or a stomp to the knee, yes, but a finger lightly placed upon the temple or wrist will not. Fighting is a very physically demanding endeavor one where time is measured in split seconds not minutes. When it comes to street fighting and street self defense there is no illusion, it’s tough, demanding and at times down right dangerous stuff.

Weapons: In keeping with our hand grenade scenario the issue of confronting an armed opponent should always be kept in mind. If you can defend against an armed opponent then more than likely your chances against an unarmed one will be good. However what we often fail to understand is that; whenever a weapon is used, then your chances for survival diminish as much as 90 percent depending upon the skill at which the attacker can use their weapon. Should a knife be used your chances may decrease as much as 50 to 70 percent. If it is a firearm and your opponent is at a range of say 10 to 15 feet then your chances for survival may decrease as much as 80 to 90 percent. These are depressing facts but they need to be kept in mind if your object is to plan an effective strategy against an armed opponent. All factors need to be considered because you may have only one opportunity to exploit an opening. Weapons are not something to be taken lightly. You can take a punch to the face or stomach, but when it comes to a gunshot or stab wound the effects can be fatal. Also in teaching weapons defense we sometimes forget that running is a very valid and effective option. Even the most skilled warriors in times past knew when and when not to engage in battle. The call of retreat has been heard more than once in the fighting arts long history. This is a lesson we should not overlook especially in this day and age of automatic firearms.

Your training has to fit the fight: Far to often you will see the practitioner trying to make the fight fit their training instead of vice a versa. This is very common- with practitioners who often spend much time trying to figure out just how kata movements can be applied to an engagement. The movement or movements will be viewed from all angles most of which are beneficial to the defender. What can be lost in this analysis is that the opponent used during the exercise is often a very willing one who wants the definition to work just as much as the defender does. There fore the chaotic reality of a combative situation can and is overlooked. In actuality most fights/self defense situations occur at the most inconvenient times and places. More often than not you won’t execute those predetermined responses found within your form or kata just as you have practiced them so often in the dojo. Instead you may be forced to utilize catch as catch can techniques, which may or may not resemble those you have practiced. In addition to this is the fact that your own surge of adrenaline will hinder your motor skills leaving you with being able to execute only the most elementary of techniques. This is why many combative systems like military bayonet training utilize techniques that are based on a KISS system. Keep It Simple Stupid. They realize that in the heat of battle anything beyond a simple thrusting, chopping, or kicking action may be out of the question.

All fights are different: Experience can play a big role in how you perform in a street altercation. However all fights are different, no two are alike. If you find yourself defending against the attack of a seasoned rapist or mugger then the nature or the engagement will be of a life or death nature. One in which your intent will be to seriously injure or maybe even kill your attacker. Yet, on the other had if your involved in a dispute with your drunken uncle over a football game then breaking his knee may not be the proper response. A come along wrist twist or submission hold yes, but breaking his leg over who did or didn’t score a touch down is a bit much. This leads us to the legality of self- defense. The nature of your attackers threat will determine to a large degree how you respond. For instance if a pickpocket takes your wallet; should you chase them down and then break their back, you may end up spending more time in jail for attempted murder than they do for stealing your wallet. Remember the dynamics of each situation will determine how you respond to it.

Conclusion: Can today’s martial arts training, be of value in dealing with self-defense scenarios? The answer is yes it can, provided that we stop to analyze our training and take time to understand what we may or may not encounter on the street. Probably two of the greatest weapons the study of a fighting art provides us with are a developed sense of awareness that teaches us to be not only in tune, with ourselves but also our surroundings and the ability to develop physical responses to dangerous situations. Both of, which can help us greatly in dealing with potentially dangerous situations should we be forced too. However when I consider some of my past “street experiences”; even with all the knowledge made available today and with all the instructors out there teaching great self-defense, I’m still a firm believer in: The fight you can walk away from is the best one of all.

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