Reality Fighting, Street Fighting & Self Defense
Practice to Defend Yourself
by Antonio Graceffo
In addition to the spiritual and health benefits of Chinese martial arts, kung fu can be used as a means of self defense. Students have always asked, "Which kung fu techniques would be effective on the streets?" In response to such inquiries, more and more kung fu instructors are offering two courses of study. In addition to classical kung fu, forms, meditation, qigong and wushu, instructors now offer courses in simple no-nonsense kung fu styles designed to be more effective on the street. Buzz words such as "reality fighting" and "street fighting" have gained popularity in the martial arts community, becoming synonymous with self defense.
Before looking at self defense applications of kung fu, it is important to first explain the difference between reality fighting, street fighting, and self defense. These are three completely different skills. They are all good, and have their place. But the student must first decide which of these he or she wishes to learn, and then seek out that type of training. Although all of the martial arts have some similarities, you must train specifically in the art you wish to learn, or you can never become a master.
AS WE TRAIN SO SHALL WE DO.
Reality fighting refers to sport fighting, such as MMA (mixed martial arts), UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships), or NHB (no holds barred). These are tournament-style fighting events, which include striking, grappling, kicking and punching. Although the rules will vary from tournament to tournament, competitors can normally win by a knock out, choke, submission, points, or judges' decision.
While the name reality fighting implies that the organizers of these tournaments have attempted to match, as closely as possible, the reality of a street fight, it is still only an approximation. Reality fighting is a sport. It has a referee, a panel of judges, time limits, rounds, and a clean, designated, area for fighting, whether it be a ring or a cage. The floor is free of debris. You won't get cuts and bruises rolling on the padded mats. There is no chance that the opponent will pull out a knife or other weapon. Your opponent's friends won't stomp on your face when you are down. There are no strikes to the groin, the back of the head, the throat, or the eyes. There is also no biting (specific rules will vary according to the sanctioning body). A loser never comes back the next night with a gun.
The second-place fighter often wins money. On the street, second-place fighters often die.
Street fighting in its truest form means a fight on the street. This could be between two individuals, two groups, or a single combatant battling several opponents. Obviously there are no rules. The groin, eyes, throat, and skull are all fair game. In a street fight, you must always be aware of the possibility of multiple attackers. There is a good chance weapons will be used. Nearly one hundred percent of reality fights go to the ground. Going to the ground in a street fight could be fatal. Rematches can occur when you least expect them, or least desire them.
Although street fighting has many similarities to self defense, there is a huge difference. In most street fights, like in reality fights, the combatants know in advance that they will be called upon to fight. Self defense situations, on the other hand, come about without warning.
The street fight situation that almost every martial artist is familiar with is the showdown with the big bully at school. The story is always the same. There was a mean kid who picked on all of the other kids. One day, you got sick of "taking it." You challenged him to a fight on the playground. The fight felt like it lasted a year. But in actuality, it lasted about twenty seconds. Maybe you beat him. Maybe you didn't. Usually, just by standing up to him, you won respect. For many martial artists, that bully was the one who caused you to start studying kung fu in the first place. And for most people, that fight - at age ten, or twelve, or fifteen - was your last street fight.
Fast forward to your adult years. Unless you are a gang-banger living in a tough, slum neighborhood, you would probably never get into a street fight. If you did, you would be running the risk of injury, death, lawsuit, arrest, and/or a lengthy jail term. Although you would want to check with a lawyer for the specifics, the legal term "assault" would probably appear on your record. No matter how minor your first assault charge (it could even be for throwing a drink in someone's face), if you went before the court a second time, they would consider this a history of violence due to a prior conviction, making your defense very difficult.
The classic adult street fight is this. Two men in a bar get into an argument. One of them says, "Let's step outside." From that point onward, it is no different from the bully situation. The classic street fight is a kind of wild west showdown. It could also be at the site of a car accident. Two men are arguing. One of them hits the other.
The techniques that would help a kung fu practitioner survive either a reality fight or a street fight would be similar to techniques learned in sparring class. Again, it would be beneficial to first decide which of these two arts you wanted to learn, and then seek out proper instruction. As kung fu practitioners, we tend to respect the sifu, and look at him as some higher being, beyond reproach or criticism. Here I will say something which is probably unpopular, but more expedient. Remember that you are paying for your lessons. The instructor works for you. You have the right to evaluate your instructor and make sure that he is teaching you what you want to learn. He or she may be very well meaning. But taking a more liberal definition of street fighting or reality fighting, you must judge for yourself if the training being offered will serve your needs. You worked hard for your money. Don't throw it away on the wrong kind of training.
Self defense is arguably the most important aspect of fighting. Practicioners of the Israeli art of Krav Maga have said, "Learning self defense can increase your life expectancy by fifty years."
You can walk away from a reality fight. You can walk away from a street fight. But self defense, in the strictest sense of the word, is a life-threatening situation, which you cannot escape. These situations occur at the speed of light, forcing you to meet an attack with violence.
Self defense situations have no warning. If there is a warning - if someone is threatening or harassing you - you still have a chance to negotiate or to escape. As hard as it is for the average testosterone-ridden male to accept, yes, you can walk away from an insult or a threat. If you choose to strike at this point, the situation becomes a street fight.
The classic self defense situation is that you are walking down the street at night, and a mugger or rapist comes out of an alley and physically attacks you. There was no warning, no premeditation, and no opportunity for negotiation. You must react. You must win. But remember. THE RULES OF SELF DEFENSE STATE: A WIN IS A SITUATION WHICH YOU SURVIVE. In other words, you don't have to kill your attacker, or even stomp him into the ground; you just have to escape. This doesn't mean you should exercise restraint in your defense. By all means, tear into him with everything you've got. But don't hang around to finish him off. The moment you see an opening, get away.
THE FIRST RULE OF PREVENTING INJURY IS AVOIDANCE
In any kind of fighting, if an opponent kicks you or hits you flush, you take 100% of the pain. If you use your arms or legs to block, the pain will be shared, 60/40. If you step out of the way, you will have zero percent of the pain. If he has a weapon, the percentages increase dramatically in the attacker's favor.
The same is true for street fighting. No matter how good you are, you are risking being severely hurt when you fight on the street. The odds of walking away from a street fight without a single injury are very low. Your opponent will be bare-fisted and probably armed. Every blow he lands will be damaging. Further, you are a martial artist and probably a nice, law-abiding person. Your opponent won't be. Just by definition of the fact that he is attacking you, he is a criminal. If he is attacking, you can bet that he has attacked other people. He has experience; you don't. If he wants more experience, he can just go out, attack more people, and refine his technique. Unless you are Charles Bronson in "Death Wish," you won't be going out to look for someone to attack you. The only place you can refine your techniques is in a gym, and that is not the same thing.
Your opponent also knows in advance that he will be attacking you. You do not. He will be ready. You will not.
Your opponent may have done time. Prisons are like gladiator academies. They are the only environments where men fight, daily, with bare hands and knives. Many of the new knife-fighting books and training programs were based on interviews with convicts. Experts have said that all of the best knife fighters are in jail. There is nowhere else to get that experience.
Where you are a nice person, your opponent is probably a jerk. He is some sadistic loony who takes pleasure in injuring people. Street fighters will do things that normal people would never think of.
Street fighters who I spoke to, regarding this article, told me many hair-raising details. Some liked to get a man face down on the curb, then kick the back of his head, knocking out all of his teeth. If the man was lying face up, this was no problem. Street fighters wear heavy boots to stomp on the face of a downed opponent. In addition to common weapons, such as knives and clubs, street fighters make and carry a host of simple but highly-effective weapons. If you have the chance to go to a police museum or exhibit, you will be shocked at how primitive most confiscated murder weapons are. A two-dollar steak knife from a discount store is longer, sharper, and just as deadly as a one-hundred-dollar hunting knife from a catalogue. Street fighters also make their own weapons. One man had a chainsaw blade with a piece of razor blade attached to the end. When he hit someone with it, the chain wrapped around the victim's face. When he jerked it back, the razor blade slashed the face wide open.
Street fighters will use metal hair combs and brushes as weapons. They will insert sharp objects, like ten-penny nails or razor blades, into the soles of their shoes, then kick someone in the groin. A former female inmate said that she would take the cellophane off of a pack of cigarettes, fold it to a sharp point, then heat it with a cigarette lighter. The cellophane would become hard, and she could use this weapon to stab someone in the eyes. Other prisoners said that they would make a knife by breaking open a tooth brush. The inside of a plastic tooth brush is soft. So, they could sharpen it by grinding it on a brick wall or concrete floor. One of the most common street weapons in New York is a screw driver, sharpened for stabbing. Screw drivers are very cheap, easy to get, and much harder than knives. The grip-stop handle makes them perfect stabbing weapons. Back in the 70s car antennas used to be a big favorite for putting out someone's eyes in an attack.
Recently, in Taiwan, while I was out training on my bicycle, a motorcycle gang attacked me. Luckily, my martial arts training saved my life, and I escaped, more or less unharmed. I managed to put down three out of eight attackers, but could just as easily have been killed if they had been better organized. I was lucky. Since then I've spent a lot of time analyzing the fight, going over it time and again in my head. I now realize I made a number of mistakes, all of which came from my own lack of experience in street fighting.
First off, there was a point where I could have escaped, but chose to stand and fight instead. So technically, this was not a self defense situation so much as a street fight. Being male, it is often hard to swallow your pride and walk away. Although I got out of this situation physically undamaged, it effected me emotionally. For several days I felt the effects of minor shock. Once again, AVOIDANCE IS THE BEST POLICY.
A note to those macho men who believe they would kill an attacker on the street: the psychological effects of committing murder would be with you for the rest of your life, so don't even go down that road.
We are all familiar with the story of Bernhard Goets, the man who shot several youths he believed were attacking him on the New York subway. Wrong or right, his life, and the lives of those young men, were destroyed by this event. Goets lost everything, and served time in prison.
Several years ago I interviewed a man - call him "John" - who was a gun enthusiast. He had proper licensing, training, and registration. John did everything in accordance with the law. John was so squeaky clean that he was one of the few people issued a gun carry permit by New york State. One day John walked into a bank while it was being robbed. The one law John had broken at this point was that he was carrying a concealed firearm inside a bank. John drew his weapon and killed the robber with a single shot. Who knows why John intervened. Maybe he wanted to be a hero. Maybe he didn't. But he could not possibly have anticipated the results of that single action. First, he was arrested. His wife had to put up their home and most of what they owned for bail. Next, John became the defendant in lengthy legal proceedings, which took the rest of his money. By the time he was sentenced to serving one year in jail, John's wife had already left him. When I met John, he was marked as an ex-convict. Even worse, he was a convicted felon. This man, who had never so much as had a parking ticket, was now on parole, restricted in his movements, restricted in his behavior, and reduced to working as a night janitor cleaning offices.
THINK BEFORE YOU ACT.
My next mistake was that, once I realized I was in a fight, I began boxing the first opponent who took a swing at me. In a street fight, there are no points, and there is no restraint. You should OPEN UP WITH YOUR MOST CASUALTY-PRODUCING WEAPON. If you are a kicker, kick, go for the groin, mid-section, or side of the knee. If you are a puncher, don't jab; throw heavy knockout blows to the jaw or temple. If you are a classical stylist, go for the throat. Whatever you do, do it instantly, explosively, and follow up. Don't throw one or two kicks or strikes. Throw a hundred. JUST KEEP SWINGING UNTIL THE OPPONENTS CRUMPLE TO THE GROUND.
STRIKE EXPLOSIVELY AND FOLLOW THROUGH.
If your first strike breaks bone or draws blood, the attacker or attackers may run away. Don't chase them. If you have to do something, wait till they are really far away, and then shout something like "Yeah, you better run." Or, "Next time I'll kick your butt!"
SCREAM the whole time, from the moment you are attacked. This will give you a psychological edge, as well as alerting people that you need help. The screams will help you release qi, and give your blows more strength. Some instructors tell their students to yell "rape," or "fire," or "call nine one one." The bottom line is that these attacks happen so quickly you probably won't have the presence of mind to yell a specific word or phrase. Also, hitting should be your priority at this point. Don't concentrate too much on dialogue. Just doing some Bruce Lee kung fu noises would probably be enough. You can practice doing fast drills on the bag, screaming while you throw a flurry of strikes.
I hadn't been prepared for multiple attackers. But there were multiple attackers. While I was busy with one, another one snuck up behind me. Luckily, they didn't have knives. If they had, they would have killed me.
HAVE EYES IN THE BACK OF YOUR HEAD.
or, as the kung fu masters always say,
BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS
You don't want people circling around behind you. Always move in such a fashion that you keep your opponents in front of you. And, if possible, keep them in a straight line. A prison guard once said, "You can fight ten people as easily as you can fight one. But you can't fight two people." His point was, as long as you stay on your feet and keep your back to the wall, unless multiple attackers are a US Navy SEAL team, trained in team attack, they will probably get in each other's way. The main danger would be if one or more of them got behind you. Avoid this, and you will be better off.
Two men, on the other hand, won't get in each other's way. The classic scenario to avoid here is where one holds you from behind while the other hits you. There are two ways to avoid this: one, move and circle constantly, keeping them where you can see them; two, instantly even the odds by taking one of the attackers down.
Another mistake I made was that I wasn't looking for weapons - and weapons did play a roll. The attackers took off their motorcycle helmets, held them by the chin strap, and swung them like medieval maces at my skull. I was hit three times, always in the back of the head, and always while I was distracted, fighting someone else. Luckily, I was wearing my bicycle helmet, or those blows would have done me in.
Many street fighters will use some type of club to hit you in the head. This is generally the fastest way to render a victim unconscious or defenseless. Attackers have been known to use mace, chemical spray, or even stun guns to take their victims down. The most diabolical attackers will not stop here, however. It is after the victim is rendered defenseless that he or she will be abducted, maimed, tortured, or raped.
WATCH OUT FOR WEAPONS!
A very common question, asked by students, is whether or not they should carry a weapon for self defense. If you do choose this route, there are a number of points to consider. First of all, it may be illegal to carry a weapon in your area. The penalty for possession of a weapon in New york, for example, is one year in prison, whether you used the weapon or not. Just by carrying a weapon you are already putting yourself on the wrong side of the law.
Next, we all want to be Rocky Rambo. But in reality, do you want to stick a knife into another human being? If your answer is other than "no," you really should seek some counseling. Only a sociopath wishes to harm another person. The weapon issue goes back the THINK BEFORE YOU ACT. As soon as you use a weapon, you will be called upon to justify yourself before a court of law. Even if you succeed in proving you acted in self defense, the case will have cost you money, time, and considerable stress.
DON"T RUN AFOUL OF THE LAW.
Another issue with a weapon is the question of experience. You have most likely not stabbed or shot a lot of people. Your opponent may have. By carrying a weapon, you may just be giving your attacker another weapon. It would be entirely too tragic to be killed with your own knife.
Lastly, since self-defense situations happen without warning, there would be no way to make use of a weapon. If someone runs out of an alley and slashes at you with a knife, you have to react to the swing. You have to avoid, block, or strike. The time it would take to reach for your own weapon would be time enough for the attacker to kill you. If, after the fact, you had to explain to the police that you were attacked, and then defended yourself with the K Bar Marine Core fighting knife in your backpack, there will be a huge question of whether or not you had a chance to run away.
The only way you would be able to effectively use a weapon in a true self-defense situation would be if it was already in your hand. The classic way a weapon can be useful, in this scenario, would be if you're working late, and before entering the dark, nearly-deserted parking lot, you slip your chemical spray, knife, or fountain pen into your hand, just in case. This may not be a bad policy in general. Before stepping out of an elevator or into a public restroom, you could have your self-defense device in your hand.
An excellent self-defense weapon is to simply make a fist around a pen or a pencil, with the pen or point sticking out between your second and third finger. If you punch an attacker in the face or throat with that, he is going down instantly.
Before stepping into any new environment, do a visual safety check. See if people are loitering, or if there are people who look like they don't belong. Notice what is amiss about a situation, before committing yourself. When going out to the parking lot, notify a friend, a co-worker, or a security guard. Even the janitor would probably be willing to watch until you are safely in your car.
The points to remember are:
- Look for self-defense training which deals with self defense, not reality fighting or street fighting.
- Avoid fighting at all costs.
- Escape when you can.
- If you do fight, hit with everything you've got.
- Be aware of multiple attackers, weapons, and dangerous situations.
- Return home alive every day.
Written by Antonio Graceffo for KUNGFUMAGAZINE.COM