Some of us have never seen a real street fight but we’ve all seen a fight.
Whether it’s UFC, boxing, kickboxing, karate or one of the ground fighting sports like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Sambo or wrestling. In a movie, live at a match or the Olympics, or on TV – fighting is everywhere.
If you ask the men in your life whether or not they know how to fight, chances are their response will be either “Sure, I’ve been in lots” (Truth or lie? Win or lose? That’s rarely disclosed..) or “Sure, I bet I’d know how if I ever had to. If someone got me angry enough, I’d knock them out for sure.”
Fighting is sort of like running – in theory, everyone can do it. In practice, very few can do it well.
The overconfidence is unfortunate, since it means many don’t think it’s important enough to get some consistent, realistic, regular training. That means that what they believe or have read about a real street fight is not only wrong, but could get them seriously hurt in a dangerous situation.
10. FIGHTING MULTIPLE PEOPLE is NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE
For anyone who has trained against multiple attackers like we do at SGS during classes as well as sparring sessions, watching someone fight a crowd of people in an action movie is always laughable, especially if the others are skilled.
All newbies stand still and try to fight from a static position, whereas the most effective strategy is to keep moving, mostly on the outside of the attackers, which is pretty much your only hope. You must keep fighting the person closest to you as you move around, maneuvering yourself away from the rest and moving in such a way as to attempt to line up the attackers single file with the person you are fighting between you, and the rest. This is incredibly hard and takes a lot of training, cardio fitness, and stamina.
It requires constant movement, peripheral vision, tactical skills, and a whole lot of “Fight IQ”. You are essentially close to full-out running while fighting at the same time. Most people can’t keep this up very long even against just a few attackers.
If you are in an enclosed space, learning to use obstacles as weapons is a skill you’ll need. Knowing how to strategically place yourself in the strongest position is too.
Like everything, it’s a skill that can be trained, but takes time and commitment. Most people don’t train this way so the reality is that they’ll be surrounded, pinned down, and finish the fight unconscious in the best case scenario.
Unless you’re well trained, you can only throw your hands in so many directions at once in a short space of time.
9. BESIDES FIGHT OR FLIGHT, THERE IS FREEZE
We’ve all heard of the fight-or-flight response, so the conversation almost always goes the way of arguing which one you would do. Realistically, it’s near impossible to truly know because even in training, it’s very difficult to recreate the adrenaline rush that accompanies real terror. So you essentially don’t know how you will react in a truly traumatic or dangerous situation.
If you’ve experienced it, you know how you react, but it doesn’t mean it will be the same if it happens again. Your feelings, mindset, circumstances will change and so will your response.
The truth is that both fight and flight are valid responses. But no one talks much about the third, and most common response – the freeze. We know the “deer in headlights” saying, but don’t normally talk about it happening to us. Forgetting this could truly be dangerous.
Even if you practice martial arts, stress is rarely a factor in training. Ultimately, you know you are safe. If you train combat sports, there is stress and adrenaline, but again it doesn’t compare. There is a referee, rules, protective equipment, and a known opponent.
None of these are the case in the street. There is only the guarantee of an unfair fight.
8. SOME POPULAR SPOTS AREN’T REALLY THE BEST PLACES TO HIT SOMEONE
Many people are confused about the best spots to hit your opponent’s body. People will often give “tips” on these issues and steer you in a dangerous direction. For example, many think it’s ideal to hit someone in the mouth. They probably saw it in a movie, where slo-mo shots of someone’s teeth getting knocked out look really cool.
However, they don’t usually show you that the hand that punched has been horrifically mangled. Teeth are hard. So is bone. So if you are chipping teeth, then you are definitely breaking skin and almost certainly breaking your knuckles.
Once someone’s teeth have lacerated your hand, think of waiting for the results of Hep C, Hep B, HIV and a host of other blood tests afterwards.
Remember: sports fighters use gloves for a reason. Few trainers will focus on the correct punching technique for throwing bone on bone simply because they can’t see the athlete’s fist when it is gloved. Hitting someone without protective gear is a completely different ballgame where technique matters. A lot.
People are often advised to strike up under someone’s nose because it will allegedly “send the cartilage into their brain and kill them.” This isn’t true. You’ll probably get hurt by trying to make such a precision shot in the middle of a fight. It definitely is not a “kill shot.”
Read our full take on the weakest spots on the human body to target in a fight. Most are illegal in sports fighting.
Remember, if you don’t train it, you won’t do it when you need it most.
7. BREAKING BOARDS IS NOT A MEASURE OF STRIKING POWER
If you’ve ever seen a martial arts demonstration, you’ve almost certainly witnessed people breaking concrete blocks, boards, or stacks of concrete blocks or boards. Some will cheat and use breakaway boards for a more impressive display. But most martial arts practitioners won’t because it really isn’t that hard to do physically—at least not with boards.
Most of us assume that it takes years of training to develop the perfect striking power and technique. It probably doesn’t hurt to build up a bunch of calluses first, either, or so we think.
However, many up-and-coming black belts break boards in their first class or two. Apart from a little bruising, they are fine. You might imagine that “this is because they are black belts.” But this training is new to them, and it is mostly mental.
Your hand is actually quite strong, and many boards are weak enough to be broken without any special hand techniques or striking motion. Of course, more skill and training can help, but the key to success is mainly a psychological process.
Pain signals in your brain will tell you to “stop” when you hit the board. The true training? Simply force yourself to move past that mental barrier and allow your hand to keep striking instead of instinctively bouncing back.
Realistically, board breaking is not only a useless skill in a fight, but it’s also not an objective measure of power. Striking power is very important and can be measured, and can be trained. As can precision.
At SGS, we use the PowerKube Combat Performance Center to ensure our students not only know how hard they are striking, but have the opportunity to improve striking power, speed, and their fighting endurance.
6. ALL YOUR COOL, COLLECTED SKILL IS NO MATCH AGAINST A NOVICE’S ADRENALINE (OR DRUGS)
Sometimes, you hear stories of a martial arts master going up against a big drunk or some random guy who thinks he’s a great fighter. Everyone expects the expert to win big. But then he gets his backside handed to him, and people wonder why. The truth is that adrenaline, or concentration of particular drugs in the bloodstream (like methamphetamines and alcohol) can give someone a huge boost in strength, endurance, and pain tolerance.
Adrenaline release is triggered by your sympathetic nervous system. This can give you almost superhuman bursts of energy and physical strength, well beyond your perceived natural limits. Adrenaline also numbs the pain receptors and pathways in the body making you much more tolerant to severe pain.
Those who preach staying zen and calm in a fight ignore this very important fact that may help you win, rather than pretty much ensure you will lose. Fear generates adrenaline. Anger does the same. A healthy dose of both is absolutely necessary.
Adrenaline-induced strength and ability to temporarily tolerate pain will help you—and hurt your attacker.
However, if your opponent is bigger than you and he is amped up on adrenaline, you cannot count on your skill to rule the day unless you have trained to face larger opponents and have trained to persist until the attacker is unwilling or unable to continue the attack.
This is rare in combat sports since athletes are matched by weight class, but is part of daily training if you practice self-defence.
5. KNOCKOUTS ARE INCREDIBLY SERIOUS
One trope in movies, books, and other media has always been someone being knocked out by the bad guy and waking up later—sometimes minutes later. This has been done so many times that a lot of people don’t understand just how serious and unrealistic these scenarios are.
In real life, it’s very difficult to knock anyone out for an extended period of time. That should also give you a degree of confidence – that also means you.
Most fighters get knocked out for a few seconds. That’s likely a concussion, and repeated knockouts or even head knocks can result in CTE, which was only recognised as a condition relatively recently.
However, when someone has been out for several minutes at a time, that is truly dangerous.
That person needs to go to the hospital as soon as possible to be seen and for imaging of the brain. A brain bleed can cause death, and even when dealt with promptly, can result in permanent disability.
4. WEAPONS DO ACTUALLY KILL YOU
While your favorite action heroes seem to defy reality and take cover behind ladders from gunfire and continue fighting after being stabbed, the reality is that a knife stab to the chest will take you out of the fight quickly.
The number of knives and guns on the streets of Sydney have increased substantially over the last couple of decades. These days, it’s almost inevitable that a teenager’s bumbag hides a knife so you should always, always assume that whoever you are fighting in the street has a weapon and can pull it out at any moment.
Martial arts training doesn’t take this reality into account.
Knife stabs are very painful and even if the stab is not instantly fatal, the combination of the pain and the shock of seeing the bleeding will trigger a response that will give your attacker an instant and dangerous advantage.
3. MOST SPARRING IN MARTIAL ARTS PRACTICE IS POOR TRAINING FOR REAL Fighting
After most people see martial arts movies like The Karate Kid, they have distorted ideas about fighting.
Boxing sparring tournaments are generally silly because they don’t allow kicks—Daniel-san would have been disqualified in real life—and you can’t do much below the belt except for a few low sweeps.
Strikes to the head are also restricted, and people wear thick, padded helmets and gloves. This leads to a unique “for fun” competitive fighting style that would get you destroyed in a real fight.
Many karate schools focus too much on these sparring methods, which do a poor job of properly teaching kids how to fight. Read our blog on how karate is different to Krav Maga here. Similarly, in ground sports like BJJ, no striking is allowed and standing while grappling is almost always used as a transition to wrestling on the ground. That’s entirely unrealistic.
In a real fight, you can kick, punch, and strike anywhere on the head or below the belt. You can also fight dirty (aka “be dishonorable”), a tactic that may help you win.
While it may be fun in movies to talk about zen and honor, you should focus on your own safety and survival in a real fight.
2. THE MANY WEAK SPOTS ON THE BODY
Certain weak spots on the body make especially good targets even though most people don’t realize it.
One example is the throat: it’s cartilaginous, very sensitive, and does not break or hurt the knuckles when punched. Remember – unless you train a technique, your muscle memory will kick in a stressful situation and you’ll do what you trained to do.
When we train at SGS, we learn to target the throat as a matter of course.
If you can only get the side of the head, go for one of the temples and try to get your knuckle in there real good. It’s the softest part of the skull and the place where three skull bones meet (fun trivia fact: it’s called the pterion) and the middle meningeal artery runs relatively close to the surface.
It is the most common place for brain bleeds post traumatic injury and if you need a target that will disable an attacker quickly, striking the pterion is your best bet.
1. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS HOW TO BREAK HOLDS
You may be a skilled fighter with massive experience. You may even have adrenaline on your side. However, if a bigger, stronger opponent takes you to the ground or grabs you, then you’d better get good at defending against holds and tackles, and breaking holds really fast.
Many attackers, especially if they’re much bigger than you, will grab you from behind or try to tackle you and get you on the ground. They can also try to shut down a defence by grabbing you from the front when you start to fight.
This will be a larger person’s greatest advantage.
So you must be able to get out of holds before your opponent gets you on the ground. If you mess up and they manage it anyway, you need to know how to get out of a hold, and get up from the ground safely.
No matter what else you learn about fighting, you should know how to break out of things like a headlock or a bear hug and to get up safely from the ground, especially in a multiple attacker scenario. This part of regular krav maga training at SGS, but in addition, we have Sambo Classes to make sure our students are excellent at ground fighting.
Defending from the ground is difficult, but not impossible and can be learned. The reality is that staying on the ground, unless you’re rolling in a wrestling class or competition, is a death wish.
TLDR: DO WHATEVER IS NECESSARY TO WIN
It’s nice to know the theory of human weak points to strike to defend yourself. But realistically, unless you train it, you won’t be able to execute in a situation of fear and stress.
Before you get into a potentially dangerous situation, you should know yourself enough to know what you are capable of doing and what kinds of weapons you can use to defend yourself if you need to. Weapons can be unconventional and include common objects and everyday carry.
One of the greatest skills to have in a fight is a “killer instinct”. Just like mindfulness, aggression can and should be trained because it simply doesn’t come naturally to most people who find themselves on the receiving end of an attack.
Training aggression and “killer instinct” does not mean that training will turn you into an aggressive, people-killing monster. But learning about your own capacity to turn it on when you need to is very important for self-defence. In the moment, that instinctive willingness to do serious harm to another person to save your own life or those of your loved ones is often your greatest edge.
Interestingly, most people truly are peaceful throughout their lives and rarely get into random fights with strangers. So they will not know how much of that instinct they really have until push actually comes to shove.
Fighting is largely a mind-game and learning how to be the most aggressive person in the moment can be one of your greatest defensive tactics. It can take the fight out of any accomplices, and make your attacker lose their willingness to continue the fight with you.
Part of this is combat mindset training. Part of this is regular aggression training. Everyone has the instinct for self-preservation and defence of loved ones.
Figuring out how far you can develop and harness it can keep you safer than hundreds of hours of any martial arts or sports fighting training.