With as many schools and systems out there, there is some rather confusing articles and videos regarding the effectiveness of martial arts on the streets. Too many places show and teach students the same techniques taught to and practiced by EMT, paramilitary and military staff. The issue with this is that those types of people want and need to gain and maintain control over the assailant.
If the primary goal is just to survive an attack, this is a mistake. The goal of self defense is to quickly and efficiently place the attacker in such a position that he/she either cannot or is unwilling to continue to attack you and then get away and go home to your family.
But self defense starts LONG before attacker ever comes in to contact with the “victim”. I’m going to break down every stage of what we call the “self defense cycle”; consisting of five (5) distinct parts. I’m also going to compare and contrast the psychology behind street fighting and self defense so the differences are clear.
The Psychology of Street Fighting
Street fighting – as opposed to self defense or personal protection – is the circumstance where two or more people voluntarily engage in battle either to prove superiority or to prove a point. Similar to a bar fight – without the bar – street fighting usually begins when two or more people have contrasting viewpoints and they are unwilling to concede their position; either out of pride or simply because they know they are in the right.
It may not be very comfortable to hear, but street fighting is all about ego. This is the case of two people with differing points of view who either don’t know how to properly and responsibly expressing their position or the concept of compromise; choosing instead to impress upon the other person/people the error of their ways physically. In this writer’s humble opinion based on almost 40 years of martial experience, this is pure idiocy. But, hey, it happens.
The Psychology of Self Defense
Self defense is the situation where a generally peaceful person is approached or attacked because they have something someone wants and is willing to harm them for. This could be money, jewelry, their body, their children or simply their happiness. The person being attacked is less an active participant and more of a victim who is forced to engage physically for their own safety.
A person placed in a self defense situation on the street simply desires to move on with his/her life with as few obstacles as possible. They are not looking for trouble, but it seems to have found them. They are not out to make a point or prove something. A person simply wants to get home to their family by the end of the day.
Keeping Yourself Safer – The Self Defense Cycle
Earlier, I mentioned the five (5) stages of the self defense cycle. You see, self defense starts long before the first attack ever occurs. This means that the “fight” – if that’s what you want to call it – often doesn’t even need to happen if proper self defense is applied. This is how you do it.
- Environmental awareness – Know what and who is around you at all times at least a distance of 30 feet (roughly 3 meters) away from your position. Objects can be just as dangerous as people or they can be used as weapons by the people who wish harm to you in some way. Note the inconsistencies in clothing choice, behavior or location. This is also known as “Threat Assessment“. Your brain is a difference engine; constantly comparing situations, objects and events against known criteria. Used – or taught – to recognize signs of possible threat is the first, best step to insuring a person’s safety.
- Avoidance – Once a “possible” threat is recognized, the next step is to either create or maintain a position where that possible threat is less able to do you harm. This is much like wanting to cross a street, but you see a vehicle coming toward the area you want to be and you estimate that it will be at the same location at the same time if you attempt to cross. So, you decide to either continue walking until you reach a safer crossing location or you simply wait until there is no danger or being hit by a vehicle when you attempt to cross. Avoidance can take many forms; entering a building, turning a corner or positioning yourself in a crowd are several examples of this.
- Negotiation – Many times, you have the opportunity to talk to the person who is threatening you in some way. After all, they normally let you know what they want – “Give me your money” – so that opens a dialog and buys you time to figure a way out or delays/distracts them from taking actions that might get you hurt. You will want to stay aware of your surroundings, of course, because THEY may be trying to distract YOU while someone sneaks up behind you. Opening a dialog with the threat gives you the chance of engaging them verbally and possibly finding a way out of a situation that is escalating at a rapid pace.
- Indirect Physical Manipulation – Anything between you and a potential attacker hinders their ability to attack you. This is your opportunity to make some space, get some distance, provide barriers or leave the scene entirely. At this point, the potential attacker is still a potential attacker. They have engaged you and gotten your attention, but – even though you are getting uncomfortable – they have not yet physically attacked. They may be posturing to get you to make a move they can control or they may just be trying to get close enough make some form of action. At this point, you have verified the threat and things are about to get real.
- Direct physical manipulation – This is where things get REAL. You know that you are in danger and must do something in order to regain control and ensure your own safety. This is where martial arts training and self defense for the streets comes in VERY handy. All the work you have done to improve the tools that martial training pays off at this point. It’s time to fight for the very safety you want to maintain.
Using Weapons in Street Fighting or Self Defense
- Street Fighting – Each person is going to do their best to overcome the obstacle that is their opponent. They may bring a weapon – seen or concealed – to the engagement and will more than likely have it in hand at the beginning of the fight. They might use it as a visual deterrent or for the function it was designed for. This all depends on how far the situation escalates.
- Self Defense – If you are carrying a weapon, you probably will not have the time to draw it. If the weapon is concealed by either a pocket, in a handbag or under a piece of clothing, chances are that – in your haste to gain access to the weapon that it catches on something and renders itself unavailable. It is best to know your surroundings well enough that you have located potential weapons rather than trying to carry a weapon and take the chance of it getting taken away and used on you. Using ANY tool outside your body does several things. First, it provides a false sense of confidence. A weapon doesn’t make you less of a target. It occupies at least one hand and takes your attention from the real goal; getting away and to safety.
So, street fighting usually involves inflated egos, something to prove and – if authorities arrive – the most likely scenario is that all participants will be going to jail for the intention to harm another human being.
The ONLY goal is to escape the area and make it to your destination safely. It truly does NOT matter which system you choose to learn. They are ALL geared for one thing only; to make you more efficient at moving and manipulating your environment. Martial Arts – as a whole – is a toolbox. It is up to the practitioner as to how to use that toolbox and for what purpose. More on that later.