Here’s the infamous “5th and washington street fight” that’s been making the rounds on the Internet. Props to Clint for pointing it out. Take a look first and then I’ll discuss it a bit:
As you can see, Mr. 5th-W makes all sorts of mistakes. Let’s line them up:
- He gives his back and walks away from the boxer to take his shirt off. He could have been sucker-punched right there.
- He does the typical chest-out-chin-forward-hands-low huffing and puffing of inexperienced fighters. The boxer has nothing but available targets; he could have picked his shots at random and they’d all have landed.
- He gets stuck in a predictable pattern in his footwork: step forward-step back, step forward-step back. Makes it super easy for the boxer to get his timing right to throw the jab-cross combination.
- When the boxer puts up his guard, he’s so stuck in his play of intimidation that he walks right into that jab. It’s not like he couldn’t see the boxer was getting ready to strike; his fists were clearly up and in a fighting stance.
For those who might think a chorus of “Hail the conquering hero” is in order, I’m going to have to disappoint you. The boxer does a lot of things right but he makes a few horrible mistakes too. First, let’s look at the good stuff:
- He stays calm under pressure. When Mr. 5th-W gets in his face, he keeps his cool.
- He waits for a good opportunity before he makes a move.
- Instead of puffing his chest like Mr. 5th-W, he takes a de-escalation stance and waits for his moment.
- He sets up his opponent well. He lets Mr. 5th-W step forward a few times and seems to spot the forward-backward footwork pattern. Then he tests the distance twice with a lead hand push, which tells him how to throw his jab. You saw the results; it worked just fine.
- His timing is perfect. The jab lands just as Mr. 5th-W steps forward.
But unfortunately, he also messes up big time and turns a self-defense situation into assault. Here’s what went wrong:
- He hesitates to throw the jab-cross combination. Instead of firing from his de-escalation stance, he puts up his fists in an on-guard position first. That mistake could have cost him dearly had Mr. 5th-W been anything but the clueless loudmouth he seems to be. Throw the punch or not but don’t just stand there with your hands up.
- What was seemingly (more on this in a bit) a clear-cut case of self-defense turns into assault as soon as he punches his opponent when he’s lying on the ground. I totally understand why he did it, but the law does not agree with him. He should have walked away instead of punching some more.
- To make it worse, he puts his boot to the ribs for good measure. Under the influence of adrenal stress, it’s a common human instinct to want to get some payback for Mr. 5th-W’s insults but once again: the law doesn’t see it like this. Especially as this is after other people pull him away from his opponent: he comes back to deal out some punishment instead of walking away.
- He taunts his fallen opponent: “What do you wanna do?!” and “Don’t ever touch (or perhaps “hit”? It isn’t clear.) my fucking face! Ever!” Which part of this has anything to do with self-defense?
- He does it all in front of multiple witnesses and on camera. His claim of self-defense will be hard to defend in court…
Here’s the thing:
Yesterday, I was talking with two of my best friends: both men are experienced operators and have had their share of extreme violence. Fights, knife attacks, gunfights, etc. They’ve seen and done it all.
One of them explained he is constantly amazed at how martial artists mistake the tools for the mission. Because when planning for a mission, you gather your tools in accordance with the goals. You don’t grab your tools first and then see how they fit the goal you want to achieve. That’s ass-backward. What you do is first formulate a plan to achieve the goals of the mission. And only then do you look at which tools you need to achieve that goal.
I totally agree with him but that’s a rant for another time. The reason I bring it up is this:
His second point was about people forgetting the mission and going off the reservation. This means they no longer try to achieve the goals they were sent out to achieve but are focusing on other things. E.g.: if your goal is to protect a VIP and your job is to block everyone from going through a certain door, then you stay in front of that door. When some idiot picks a fight with you because you don’t let him pass, you’re still on mission when you put him down because he takes a swing at you. But when that same idiot spits on your shoes, slaps you in the face and then runs away, you’re abandoning your mission if you run after him.
Is it understandable to want to run after the guy and pound him into oblivion? Yes. Totally.
Is it the smart thing to do? No. Because leaving that door unguarded means abandoning the mission.
Who cares about all your “mission” crap?
Well, you should care and here’s why:
As a civilian, you only have one mission: to defend yourself and your family (In some countries, you’re also supposed to defend people in need, but let’s leave that one out for now.) Your goal is to come home alive and in one piece. Anything else is irrelevant in the eyes of the law.
You may not agree with that.
You may think it stinks and is unrealistic.
You may hate it with a vengeance and think it’s unfair.
But it’s still the law of the country you live in. Dura lex, sed lex
If you don’t like it, go live in a country where the laws are different. But unless you do that, you abide by the law. Why? Hundreds of thousands of people watched the boxer abandon the mission by now. It’s all over the Internet. Which means that if the local DA sees it too and decides to press charges, the boxer could end up in jail. At the very least, he’ll still have to get a lawyer and pay loads of money to defend his actions in court.
The only thing he needed to do to prevent this was to walk away after he put the other guy down.
The fight was already over. He’d won. He could have run away and Mr. 5th-W wouldn’t have been able to keep up. His mission of getting home alive and in one piece would have been successful. But now, who knows what will happen?
Where most people go wrong in self-defense
Before you comment on this post, consider this:
- I totally understand why he punched and kicked the guy after he hit the ground. It’s a common human reaction and I’m not faulting the boxer for being human. The point is that you can learn from his mistake and avoid it yourself.
- Another aspect is that in some parts of society, you have to make sure the message “Don’t fuck with me.” is clear after you put a guy down.
- Some people you can’t afford to let back up and take another swing at you because you might not survive it.
The law frowns upon these things, but sometimes that’s just how it works.
The problem is that in many, many cases, neither of these three reasons apply. More often than not, you can just walk away. This is the smart and lawful thing to do. Look up your laws on self-defense and then study up on case law for precedents. You’ll see just how rarely a judge agrees with people who kick a guy after they punch him to the ground. Just because you feel something ought to be legal, that still doesn’t make it so.
That’s what my friend pointed out and what I very much agree with. Many people are stuck in their feeling of righteousness when they’re in a fight and don’t see it when they abandon the civilian mission (get home alive and in one piece). They don’t even notice they’re wandering into illegal territory and afterward they cry foul because they get arrested and not the piece of shit asshole who started it.
Once again, I totally understand the feeling but if the law says you can’t kick a man when he’s down, then you can’t. If you still do so, fine by me but don’t call it self-defense. Call it “getting even” or something along those lines, but payback and self-defense are not the same thing.
The consequences for ignoring the difference between these too can be the difference between coming home and continuing to live your life, or ending up in jail and ruining your life.