Anatomy of a Street Fight

Black Belt - - SCREEN SHOTS -

n his writ­ings, Bruce Lee at­tempted to de­pict a street fight in its em­pir­i­cal form and not through the prism of any style or sys­tem. When he said, “In a fight, we must be like wa­ter and adapt to the chaotic shifts and changes of com­bat,” he was talk­ing about strip­ping hu­man con­flict down to its purest form and ac­tu­ally em­brac­ing the chaos.

Un­for­tu­nately, most peo­ple, in­clud­ing many mar­tial artists, har­bor mis­per­cep­tions about fight­ing. I’ve found that those mis­per­cep­tions ex­ist mostly be­cause of two fac­tors. One is the lack of real-world com­bat ex­pe­ri­ence, which is self-ex­plana­tory. The other is the pre­oc­cu­pa­tion stu­dents have with the style they do. For ex­am­ple, folks who study taek­wondo tend to as­sume the whole world is go­ing to at­tack them with high kicks. Peo­ple who study shotokan karate tend to ex­pect ev­ery­one is go­ing to as­sault them with re­verse punches. Stu­dents of kung fu tend to pre­pare for at­tacks ef­fected with crane beaks and tiger claws.

Lee ob­served this pro­cliv­ity to pit one’s mar­tial art against another per­son who’s us­ing the same art while prac­tic­ing self-de­fense, and he de­ter­mined that it’s a danger­ous er­ror to make, one that leads the prac­ti­tioner away from true pro­fi­ciency.

Re­al­ity Check

It’s been de­ter­mined that 95 out of 100 fights un­for­tu­nately will not un­fold with a mar­tial artist de­fend­ing against a per­son who’s us­ing tech­niques taken from the same art. That’s not sur­pris­ing. What may be sur­pris­ing to you is that re­search also has found that those 95 fights will in­volve far more se­ri­ous cir­cum- stances — like an op­po­nent with an edged weapon, an op­po­nent with a blunt weapon, mul­ti­ple op­po­nents and so on.

Note that th­ese state­ments come from em­pir­i­cal data col­lected by the Los An­ge­les Po­lice Depart­ment and the FBI. Fur­ther­more, decades of per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence in­volv­ing my as­so­ci­ates and my­self back them up.

A one-on-one fight that stays one-on-one with no weapons be­ing in­tro­duced is prac­ti­cally an anom­aly — un­less it in­volves two MMA ri­vals meet­ing up in a dark al­ley. Don’t get me wrong: One-on-one is the ba­sic in­fras­truc­ture of com­bat, and as such, it’s a sce­nario you should pay plenty of at­ten­tion to in train­ing. It’s what I fo­cus on when I teach con­tem­po­rary jeet kune do. (See the April 2010 is­sue of Black Belt.)

That said, I ac­knowl­edge the rigid rod of re­al­ity, which says a one-on-

one fight might be the modal­ity in one out of 20 al­ter­ca­tions, but the other 19 will in­volve mul­ti­ple op­po­nents, blunt weapons, edged weapons or a com­bi­na­tion thereof.

Sug­gested So­lu­tions

When you’re fac­ing one of the most com­mon of th­ese more se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tions — an op­po­nent armed with a knife — there are cer­tain tech­niques and prin­ci­ples you need to know. Oth­er­wise, se­ri­ous in­jury or death is likely to oc­cur. As a thought ex­per­i­ment, pic­ture the heavy­weight cham­pion of the UFC, who­ever that might be at the mo­ment. Next, imag­ine him win­ning the belt and then go­ing out to a club to cel­e­brate. One of the pa­trons of the es­tab­lish­ment hap­pens to be a biker who’s had a few too many. The biker be­comes up­set for some rea­son, pulls out a bowie knife and pro­ceeds to threaten the champ.

Now, if the champ tries to use his MMA skills against the blade, chances are he’ll be car­ried out of the club by EMTs. The same goes for a mass at­tack or a blunt-weapon as­sault. In all three kinds of sit­u­a­tions, there are cer­tain things — foot­work and de­fen­sive move­ments, in par­tic­u­lar — that you need to know to max­i­mize your chance of avoid­ing neg­a­tive con­se­quences.

In case you’re won­der­ing why weapons ap­pear in fights with such fre­quency, it all comes down to the rep­til­ian side of hu­man be­ings. (Part of our gray mat­ter is even called the rep­til­ian brain be­cause of its pri­mal role in hu­man evo­lu­tion.) The mo­ment fear or anger en­ve­lope us, our vis­ceral knee-jerk re­ac­tion is to grab some­thing — any­thing — to wield as a weapon and get the ad­van­tage. It could be a knife, a bot­tle, an ash­tray, a chair, a crow­bar, a flash­light or a pool cue. If you don’t know the strate­gies, tac­tics, prin­ci­ples and tech­niques needed to deal with such sce­nar­ios, you’ll prob­a­bly get hurt. Own­ing a black belt helps, but it’s not enough. That’s why the best self-de­fense in­struc­tors fo­cus on spe­cial­ized tac­tics and tech­niques that any mar­tial artist can over­lay onto his or her art. It’s es­sen­tial to make your prepa­ra­tion as re­al­is­tic as pos­si­ble for real-world en­coun­ters — and not spend 95 per­cent of your self-de­fense train­ing time the time. where tem­pers kept flar­ing and fights kept break­ing out. Ev­ery time this hap- pants would end up rolling around on the ground. (It flar­ing and fights each other.

In con­trast, when work­ing with var­i­ous mil­i­tary units, I no­ticed that they em­pha­size ab­so­lute speci­ficity for the job they’ve been as­signed. In­ter­est­ingly, this is in step with Bruce Lee’s philoso­phies. That’s what prompted me to note that the most im­por­tant prin­ci­ples for weapons com­bat and mul­ti­ple-op­po­nent sit­u­a­tions are as fol­lows:

• For all weapons, learn, prac­tice and func­tion­al­ize the art of de­fang­ing the snake. That refers to dis­abling the as­sailant’s weapon­wield­ing hand with your weapon. Never de­pend on sim­ple block­ing be­cause all it does is give your foe time to re­group and reat­tack (more on this later).

• For mul­ti­ple op­po­nents, find a teacher who can school you in box­ing-style foot­work, es­pe­cially the move­ment pat­terns that were used by Muham­mad Ali. They’re great for eva­sion, and of­ten they will buy you time to grab a weapon, which is the sin­gle most im­por­tant thing you can do.

Pro­found Words

Once you un­der­stand this re­al­ity of com­bat and start view­ing vi­o­lence not through the prism of your style — or a sport or movie — no doubt you’ll feel the need to learn weapons. Sim­ply de­fend­ing against them of­ten is not enough.

Back when I be­gan train­ing un­der Dan Inosanto, I was re­luc­tant and, to be hon­est, com­pletely in­tim­i­dated by the no­tion of us­ing weapons. I re­call walk­ing into his of­fice and see­ing a plaque on the wall that dis­played 100 minia­ture weapons. Some were shaped like a sickle and some like a

kris. Some had straight blades, and some had zigzag blades.

Af­ter a cur­sory ex­am­i­na­tion of them, I said, “This looks so com­pli­cated. I will never be able to get this down.”

Inosanto changed his ex­pres­sion and his tone of voice, then shut the door and pro­ceeded to ex­plain the most im­por­tant prin­ci­ple of this mar­tial en­deavor: “In all 100 weapons on this plaque, you only uti­lize one — re­peat, one — tech­nique. In­stead of block­ing, you cut your op­po­nent’s hand that holds the weapon.”

It doesn’t mat­ter which weapon you have or which one your op­po­nent has. Once you cut or smash his hand, he’ll drop it. That’s your cue to fol­low up, usu­ally with a bar­rage of

In­stead of block­ing, you cut your op­po­nent’s hand that holds the weapon.” — Dan Inosanto

head and body shots. There’s a good rea­son this is called “de­fang­ing the snake.” Once the fangs (weapons) are re­moved, the snake (op­po­nent) be­comes harm­less. At that point, you can con­tinue strik­ing or leave.

As a mar­tial artist, you should spend 90 per­cent of your train­ing time do­ing smashes and slashes aimed at the hands. Whether you’re in close quar­ters, in­ter­me­di­ate range or long range, fac­ing a stick, knife, bat, blade or staff, you should strive to at­tack the hand that holds it. Most im­por­tant, don’t get hung up on the con­fig­u­ra­tion of the weapon or how it’s be­ing held; in­stead, fo­cus on tak­ing out the hand.

Smart Choices

“I will give you a bet­ter ex­am­ple in JKD class tonight,” Dan Inosanto con­tin­ued. As the ses­sion be­gan, he walked in with a gi­ant body bag, which he pro­ceeded to empty onto the mat. It looked like he’d just cleaned out his garage. Out came tools, lamps, ropes, bat­tery cables, flash­lights and crow­bars. “Ev­ery­one grab a weapon!” Inosanto said. We did and pro­ceeded to spar all night with dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of those ap­pli­ances and tools. The whole time, the only tech­nique we were to use was de­fang­ing the snake.

Here’s what you need to re­mem­ber: Once you’ve in­ter­nal­ized and func­tion­al­ized de­fang­ing the snake, the only other thing that mat­ters with weapons is range. There’s no su­pe­rior weapon, only a su­pe­rior weapon for a given range. In mak­ing this point at a sem­i­nar, I usu­ally grab a 4-foot-long sword and a 2-inch-long pock­etknife and place them on the floor. Next, I in­vite some­body to choose the one he or she would want in a fight. The vol­un­teer in­vari­ably se­lects the sword and leaves the lit­tle pock­etknife for me. That’s when I say the fight will take place in a re­stroom stall. We move to a con­fined space in the room, and I pro­ceed to show ev­ery­one how im­prac­ti­cal a 4-foot-long blade can be.

Here’s another ex­am­ple to make my point. Say you have three weapons to choose from: a 5-foot-long pool cue, a hick­ory ax han­dle and a bro­ken bot­tle. If I ask you which one is best and you un­der­stand weapons, your an­swer prob­a­bly will be, “It de­pends on where the fight will take place.” Cor­rect. In an empty bar, you might go with the ax han­dle. In a park­ing lot, you might take the pool cue, with its 5-foot reach. In a re­stroom, you might grab the bro­ken bot­tle.

Hard Les­son

Lest you think all this is just the­ory, here’s a real-life in­ci­dent that shows how bring­ing the wrong strate­gies and tac­tics — in this case, those of a sport — into a spe­cific en­vi­ron­ment can turn tragic. The year was 1989. I was liv­ing in a mil­i­tary town in Vir­ginia be­cause I had a four-year con­tract to train the Navy’s SEAL Team Six. My stu­dent and friend Tom Cruse was as­sist­ing me. We’d had a typ­i­cal train­ing day, which was fol­lowed by a typ­i­cal night of par­ty­ing.

The night crew con­sisted of Cruse, three mil­i­tary guys and me. Each of the guys was like a wrestler, prob­a­bly weigh­ing 250 pounds. As the evening wore on, Cruse started clean­ing house on the pool ta­ble, in­ad­ver­tently an­noy­ing a bunch of bik­ers. We quickly found our­selves in a full-fledged fight, and it got ugly fast.

It was as though we were in a slow-mo­tion scene from a movie. Cruse and I grabbed beer bot­tles, broke them and put our backs against the wall. Un­for­tu­nately, the three wrestlers must have thought they were in an NCAA tour­na­ment. Like a syn­chro­nized swim team, each did a dou­ble-leg take­down on a biker. The litany of street-fight­ing rules they broke could fill a book: Stay out of the mid­dle of the room be­cause you can’t pro­tect your back or your buddy’s back from there, keep off the ground, don’t get sep­a­rated from your part­ners (Cruse and me, un­for­tu­nately), don’t be emp­ty­handed when fac­ing over­whelm­ing odds and so on. But that doesn’t change the les­son.

I scanned the room and noted about 20 bik­ers against the five of us — lousy odds, to be sure. When the three wrestlers took those three guys to the ground, within sec­onds Cruse and I were faced with sav­ing our­selves and com­ing to their res­cue. Time was not on our side be­cause all three were get­ting their teeth kicked out by biker boots. That left 17 bik­ers against the two of us, and in the end, we were un­able to help our friends. All three — and Cruse — ended up with mul­ti­ple con­tu­sions, lac­er­a­tions and frac­tures. I got the worst of the deal: a coma that kept me in the hos­pi­tal for four days. It was a hard way to learn a valu­able les­son about the need to do most of your train­ing to deal with the most com­mon threats.

In clos­ing, I ask you to think again about the ti­tle of this ar­ti­cle: “Anatomy of a Street Fight.” My goal in writ­ing it is to out­line what takes place in real fights and to stress that com­bat is al­ways dy­namic. You have to be ready to shift from one threat to three, from fac­ing a fist to fac­ing a blade — in a heart­beat. If you don’t train for this, you could end up los­ing in sec­onds de­spite hav­ing trained for years.

ABOUT THE AU­THOR: Paul Vunak is a renowned South­ern Cal­i­for­nia– based JKD in­struc­tor, as well an ex­pert with the stick and knife. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit fight­

Dan Inosanto is the mar­tial artist who in­tro­duced au­thor Paul Vunak to the self-de­fense con­cept of de­fang­ing the snake.

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