Striking a downed opponent

In my 5th and Washington street fight post, I made a couple comments that seem to have upset people. A reader of my blog contacted me and asked (in a rather unpleasant way) why I was advocating striking a downed opponent as “understandable and the right thing to do”.  He pointed me to this forum thread and said he couldn’t agree more with the posts there.

I went over to the forum and quickly scanned the posts but didn’t have the time to read everything in detail. So forgive me if I missed something. Anyway, the part that seems to have gotten the most negative feedback is when I wrote this:

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 normal human reaction and I’m not faulting the boxer for getting carried away by the adrenaline.
  • 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.

I would think I’m clear enough here but apparently not, so let me try and explain. But first, let me repeat this from my original post:

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.

I thought this part makes it clear I feel the boxer didn’t act correctly. For those of you who somehow read something different in what I wrote, let me state it clearly:

The boxer was wrong. He should have gotten away before the first punch was thrown.

I also wrote this in my original post:

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.

The key word in that sentence is “seemingly”. I didn’t say it was self-defense outright. I did say that it looks like it, to many people that is.

To a degree, Mr. Black shirt could have claimed he was acting in self-defense:

  • Mr. No-shirt was acting aggressively and is the first to get physical (he shoves Mr. Black shirt back).
  • IMO, a lawyer could argue self defense up to that point because Mr. Black shirt walked away when Mr.  No shirt steps back to take his shirt off.
  • So he could argue that he tried to leave when No shirt caught up to him right away. Then he could argue he was afraid to get attacked in the back and therefor turned around to further de-escalate the situation or defend himself.

To make things clear: I’m not saying that the jury would agree with his self defense plea. I am saying the video supports such an argument IMO.

Striking a downed opponent

Sometimes, you say something and people get it horribly wrong...

To get back to the three bullet points that seem to upset people, let me try and explain some more:

Striking a downed opponent is a big no-no in most legal systems. Why? Because it works real well. Once you get an opponent on the ground in a real fight and you are still standing, you have a tactical advantage that is hard to overcome. Is it possible? Yes. Is it easy? No. I’ve written enough about this in the past so I won’t go over my reasons for saying this once again.

Many people, especially those unfamiliar with real violence, are appalled when they see somebody punch and kick another person when he’s lying on the ground. In an ideal world, this wouldn’t happen. But neither would fighting happen then. In an ideal world, nobody fights. In that Utopian ideal, we all get along, always. Last time I checked, that world hasn’t arrived just yet… Personally, I think it never will. If you believe it could happen if only we all tried a little harder, then I applaud you for being childishly naive and wish I could agree with you. But my experience in life tells me you’re wrong. I also have thousands of years of mankind’s violent history to back me up on that…


The illusion of civilization

People who adhere to such an ideal often have certain beliefs about how our Western, civilized society is a failsafe against violence. “We don’t kick a man when he’s down; we’re civilized!” Yep, Hurricane Katrina sure did prove how long civilized behavior lasts when society breaks down…

Also, you may be civilized but many other people aren’t. They don’t care about what you think or feel: when you fall to the floor, they’ll stomp you in a heartbeat. If you think I’m wrong, just go to the bad part of town and ask a random tough looking guy if he would kick a downed opponent. Wanna bet he’ll gladly demonstrate it to you before you even finish your question?

Here’s the point: Civilization is a very thin layer on top of natural human behavior: it helps keep things organized and avoids chaos. But it is only a thin layer, one that so often goes away when people are under adrenal stress in a street fight or self defense situation. Which is why you get in trouble with the law in the first place: you do something that is a natural human reaction but the law doesn’t see it that way.

That’s exactly what the boxer did in this video: he managed to avoid becoming a victim but then he went overboard and started punching and kicking a downed opponent. In most countries, the legal system says you can’t do that and still claim to be acting in self-defense. That was the point I was trying to make.

Here’s the rub:

In so-called “uncivilized” societies and in certain parts of Western, “civilized” societies, the law is out of touch with reality.  Not only is striking somebody who fell to the ground normal, it is expected by everyone there. (I’m not saying that’s good or bad, just stating a fact.) There, violence has different rules and consequences. There are situations where you have to “finish off” an opponent and not just knock him down. Because if you don’t, he will get back up and come at you again. And he’ll most likely pull a weapon to make sure he gets you this time.

Another standard response there is to come back at you later. Preferably when you are vulnerable (at home, at night, alone, etc.) and with the help of a bunch of others. Or the response is to get back at one of your friends, family, wife or children. In those cases, it is sometimes (not always) a correct response to “teach your opponent a lesson” once he hits the deck. The object of the lesson is to convey the message that you will escalate the violence far beyond whatever he is capable of and if he tries, you’re willing to make him pay a premium price for it.

I know of many specific where that was exactly what happened and it solved the problem: the bad guy didn’t try to get payback after he came out of the hospital. Because he knew that next time, he might not survive it.

But there are other situations where it isn’t the case: I managed to live next to my Sicilian neighbor for seven years without putting him in the hospital. And this despite his regular death threats, temper tantrums and a whole lot more.

If all this seems crazy to you, then I can only be glad you’ve never been exposed to this kind of violence. Count your blessings and hope you never will. Those of you who have lived through some of this shit know exactly what I’m talking about.

Striking a downed opponent

Striking a downed opponent...

What about you justifying needless violence?

Two more quotes form my post that upset people:

It’s totally understandable wanting to do this, but it isn’t right.  Just because something ought to be legal, that still doesn’t make it so.


Call it “getting even” or something along those lines and I’ll buy you a beer because I’ll probably agree with your reasons for landing that kick. But payback and self-defense are not the same thing.


In the first quote, I tried to explain the difference between wanting something to be legal and what the law actually says: when you’re amped on adrenaline and just punched a guy who was in your face for no reason, you’ll likely feel totally justified in kicking him some more on the ground. That’s a normal human reaction and a very strong one at that point in time, especially if you’re new to violence. But it still isn’t OK by the law. That was my point. So I’m not advocating a total free-for-all when self-defense is concerned. If you interpreted my words as such, then you know better now.

As for the second quote, things are a bit more complex.

I can’t explain this in an easy way, nor can I explain it quickly. This is a topic that would take hundreds of pages to cover correctly, which is beyond the scope of my blog. Let me put it like this and state upfront that it’s an inadequate explanation:

Some people cause such damage to society that they destroy or negatively impact hundreds of lives both directly and indirectly. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t always know how to handle them or they manipulate the system to stay out of jail and avoid repercussions for their actions. Some examples:

  • My neighbor was such a case. He had countless complaints filed against him but as there was never enough of a case for the DA, nothing came of it. I had my countermeasures in place and managed to avoid having to use them. But he still lives there and still acts like a flaming asshole.
  • I know somebody who lives across the street (in a nice part of town to boot) from a convicted drug dealer, wife beater, arsonist and the list goes on. He routinely caused costly property damage and terrorized the neighborhood for years but there was never enough evidence to put him back in jail.
  • A guy I knew a few years ago loved beating up people. He’d pick fights with smaller people and then crippled them in a back alley. This happened for years on end until he graduated to dealing drugs and mainly beat up junkies who didn’t pay up.  It was only then that he got caught. He’s bound to come out on parole in five years.

You’ll find that it’s hard to de-escalate a conflict with guys like this. They don’t want to save face or avoid the fight; they want to mess you up. The only thing that stops them is what you do to them during and right after you put them on the ground. The only thing they respect is violence and the fact that you’re capable of it just as well as (or preferably more  than) them. Some of you might not like to read this as it offends your sense of justice and moral values. I understand that, but you not liking it doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

What I tried to convey in my second quote is that I have no sympathy for such evil men. They’re bastards who prey on the weak and are unrepentant for their sins. They don’t care if they injure you for life and they aren’t interested in setting aside their violent ways. Which is why I’ll buy you a beer if you kick one of them on the ground when they mess with you and don’t come out on top for a change. I’ll gladly celebrate when a bad man gets what’s coming to him.

If you don’t understand this, then you haven’t yet met guys like that or haven’t seen the physical, emotional and financial damage they cause. I pray you never do.


To quote a famous Belgian cook: “What did we learn today?”

  • Even when I think I’m writing clearly, turns out I’m not. The good thing about blogging is that I can try to explain myself better. Not so in my books or videos.
  • I probably should explain more that I rarely see things in black and white. Shades of gray all the way, man. Which means that if you want easy answers or quick sound bites, this isn’t the right place for you.
  • People read what they want to read, despite the parts in the same text where I say otherwise from what they claim I said. Nothing I can do about that.
  • Some things, I really don’t know how to explain well in a blog format. The last two quotes come to mind. My explanation is inadequate because it lacks all the elements I need to give a correct answer. But to get them all in, I’d have to expand upon them too much and nobody would bother reading all that dribble. I guess that’s the limit of a blog.

Just to be clear: I really don’t mind people disagreeing with what I say or write. That’s perfectly fine. In fact, it’d be a sad day if it turns out I’m always right (Trust me, I know myself; you don’t want me to be right 100% of the time…). On the other hand, just because somebody disagrees with me, doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Again, the whole black vs. white thing is highly overrated. I believe more than one truth can coexist peacefully within the same topic and we can both be right at the same time.

I also believe the value of a discussion lies in the exchange of ideas and having to rethink your own position. The value is not in proving somebody else wrong or forcing them to admit you’re right. So if you disagree with me, that’s OK. we can still get along just fine. Just be polite when you write me an email. There’s no need to act as if you’re a five-year old and I just stole your ice cream…



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  1. Dan Gilardi says

    Wim, I hate it when you steal my ice cream… :-)

    Great post as always. I understood what you meant the first time around, though. You aren’t as vague as you think; you explained your position well in the original article. I think its more of a case of “people read what they want to see.”

    • Thanks Dan and no worries: like I said, I can handle it when people think I’m wrong. The good thing about blogging is that I can explain myself even more when there’s misunderstanding. :-)

  2. @ Wim, – I thought you did a very good job on your original post and I must say that this is one time where I happened to agree with you 100%. Your thoughts and observations on the situation were spot-on and I was in full agreement.

    Some people, and this can be seen concerning absolutely anything, only read what the want to read instead of the entire context of what was printed. Just look at individuals taking certain passages out of religious books and you see what I mean.

    Keep up the great work!

  3. completely agree with you wim, a well thought out discussion. just a funny aside – i went on a roadtrip to sardinia once and was regularily threathened by irate drivers (picture a bald sardinian leaning his head out of a car, whilst overtaking my car on a motorway at a fast speed, shaking his fist and giving me the finger), this happened a lot. okay i might have sterotyped a whole nation but i had a good laugh when you described the sardinina as a “flaming asshole”. incidently i also met a ton of nice sardinians so apologies in advance.

  4. Support: I say that currently there’s a massive social force that encourages “ground and pound,” so if one’s been to an MMA match (at least in the US) or any thing similar and one’s adrenalized, the social forces of cheering folks may override any kind of sensibility. (I’ll never quite understand because I consider ground & pound…hmm…boring.)

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