The chaotic reality of a “real” fight

The chaotic reality of a real fight

If you look around at various blogs about self-defense or ask certain people with experience of fighting. They, in the end, tend to end up saying the same thing. Don’t fight if you can at all avoid it. Why? Where is the tough man attitude that says winner takes all and I’m the main man?

The reason this tends to be stated is that a real fight or Self-Defense situation is so chaotic and unpredictable that anyone with enough experience knows that it is better to avoid it if you can. The gung ho attitude of youth is replaced with a more philosophical view based on the experience of seeing many things go wrong and many situations that start easy, end up being ridiculously difficult and dangerous.

A dose of reality

This is a quote from Kelly McCann asking his uncle, a world war two veteran, about the reality of combat and the answer came as a bit of a surprise to him.

“So what was closing with the enemy like?” I asked. “I mean, how did it sort out on the battlefield? How’d you pick a particular Jap to go after, and how did each of them target a Marine?” Johnny picked up his glass and looked away, clearing his throat. “It’s not like that; it’s a collision. It’s like the worst goddamned bar fight you can imagine—but to the death. It’s chaos.”

McCann, Kelly. Combatives for Street Survival: Volume 1: Index Positions, the Guard and Combatives Strikes (p. 2). Independent Publishers Group. Kindle Edition.

Not quite John Wayne kicking ass is it?

Part of the problem with gauging the reality of a real fight situation is that it is portrayed so often as something very easy to control in many films or comic books. The other part is the macho obsession with showing who is boss or not taking any crap from anyone. The intelligent part of the brain takes second place and this can lead to avoidable trouble.

A typical free for all punch up

Here is a video clip of brawl in a Spanish town. Look at how random it is.

The adrenalin is pumping and anything goes. I tracked one person and he wanders round intimidating people but ends up getting knocked out. There is no use of any form of defence and if you are unlucky enough to end up on the floor, you will get a few boots in the head for good measure. You could be doing very well and it’s quickly turned on it’s head as you get thumped from someone you don’t even see.

This is how a street fight with many people involved, actually is. More similar to the quote above, but hopefully not to the death. And let’s be honest, if someone hits their head hard enough on the concrete floor, they could die. It happens. None of what you are watching here matches a typical film portrayal of a fight, does it?

Welcome to Hollywood

In contrast, let’s have a look at film star, Jason Statham in Transporter 3, and how he deals with multiple attackers. As cool as he is and this isn’t a criticism, it’s obviously very very different from how it works in the previous clip. It’s cinema and very often people can tend to forget this.

So what does this mean and how do we train for it?

It is simply a form of knowledge, that is what it means. If you are aware of something and understand the reality, then you can be better prepared for it. Training to deal with this kind of chaos, in my opinion, would have to follow certain principles…

  • work on avoidance and de-escalation as a primary focus in training. Become an expert at spotting trouble and also at being able to calm a situation.
  • Train in specific skills that relate to the reality of a chaotic brawl. A good shield defence against head strikes. A solid stance to avoid going to ground. Close striking techniques.
  • Pressure test your techniques under duress to hone relevant skills
  • Constantly improve your tactical skills to give you a better chance to move to the right space that gives you a maximum view of the trouble and any available advantage

Various training drills

Here is a good example of a specific drill, from Rory Miller, that was developed to recreate the chaos of a brawl.

“Do this: get them all to a small area— a specific section of floor or mat or, if you are training in a gym, the basketball key works well. Tell them that they happen to be on a crowded dance floor when a wild brawl breaks out. You will be doing the count. As you say each number, everyone gets one simultaneous action. Part of the purpose of this drill is that it is fun. The students should be thinking tactically, using space and momentum more than technique.”

Miller, Rory. Training for Sudden Violence: 72 Practical Drills (p. 21). YMAA Publication Center. Kindle Edition.

It works specifically on the type of mess that we saw in the first video. So if you are inventive in training, you can work on things that deal with the reality of what can happen and not some notional idea that you picked up from traditional methods.

With experience and the right instruction, you can develop good habits that can help you see through the chaos. How many times have we seen video clips of a brawl and several people gang up on one person or someone gets punched from behind by another unseen attacker? It’s important to train to deal with this sort of thing, whether it be a tactical and more mental approach or an understanding of the physicality involved.

Example of a training session I was involved in

We worked on fighting multiple opponents in a session with The Combat Academy and it was bloody hard work I can tell you. The key to survival was to constantly keep moving, this being a military tactic. Once you were fool enough to engage with any of your attackers, you ended up in real trouble. The sheer numbers were difficult to control, so avoidance was essential. I did ok but ended up running out of energy. Something only training can expose. What you imagine happening ( like in a video game ) in contrast to hard reality. The session helped recreate the randomness of a real situation and even just that in itself was beneficial.

To conclude:

As human beings, we tend to develop and look for order. This is a natural part of how we survive. When it comes to a self-defense situation, especially when many people are involved, the set patterns we have learnt can very often be counterproductive. The reality can be quite a shock.

So to seek, if it isn’t a contradiction, a sense of order in the chaos is a vitally important part of any modern self-defense training program.

Working on conditioning yourself to not be surprised at how chaotic things can be when you are in a hostile situation should be part of any modern training system. Without exception.

Author: Andrew Johnson

I trained many years in Kung Fu, fought in full contact competitions and am a qualified instructor at The Combat Academy in the UK. The aim of this blog is to look at what modern self-defense training actually is and what it most probably should be.

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