What the bouncer knows, Part 3

In response to What the bouncer Knows, Part 2, Sean asked an interesting question. Instead of leaving it in the comments section, I figured I’d answer it here and share it with everybody. First up, what Sean wrote:

I was wondering – you touched upon how bouncers fight a lot differently than thugs, criminals and especially martial artists. Can you elaborate a little more? you have probably answered this question at length before, in previous blogs, so apologies in advance. sean.


There are several ways you can approach this subject as it’s a big and complex one. I’ll give you my take on it but by no means am I claiming to be the expert here. My days as a bouncer were limited and I didn’t enjoy the work. After the last time (worked for free as a favor and ended up as the only bouncer at an open party of 3-400 people), I made a promise to myself to never do that work again. It’s not worth it to me.

That said, I can speak (a little) of experience and have numerous friends who have been or still are bouncers. So I’m not just pulling my opinion out of thin air either.


The good, the bad, the mediocre.

Before I go on, I’d like to point out what I think a bouncer is supposed to be. Not everybody has the same definition of the job, so let’s clear that up first.  For me, a good bouncer:

  • Has his ducks in a row. He has done everything he can to keep things under control before the club/bar opens. That means training his team/bar personnel in procedures, have the cameras in good working order, has talked everything through with the owner, arranges the location to suit his needs, etc. In other words, he stacks the deck in his favor.
  • Is a master of de-escalation. He knows it’s not about how hard you can punch but about how much fun patrons have at the bar/club. Fights (regardless of who strikes first) take away the patrons’ fun. Fights get people hurt and scared, also those who aren’t involved. Those are the people who just want to have a good time and spend money at the bar. They then stay away with eventually only the troublemakers coming over. A bar with only thugs as patrons doesn’t survive easily. It sure won’t make a lot of money either. So every fight the bouncer can avoid by talking the patron out of the door instead of punching his lights out is a good thing.
  • Has his ego under control. He doesn’t strike out of anger or because he feels like it. He strikes because it’s the best solution to get the situation under control.
  • Has a use of force continuum and restraint. Not every situation warrants pounding a guy’s head into the concrete. For instance, a drunk who starts getting out of hand doesn’t necessarily need an ass-kicking right then and there (though it might come to that eventually) and a good bouncer knows this. He’ll have a number of tools at his disposal to solve each problem and violence isn’t necessarily the first one he picks.

There’s more than just these few bullet points but for this post, I’ll leave it at that.

Depending on how well they have these points covered, I personally qualify a bouncer as good or bad at his job. Some bouncers will disagree with me about these points and would replace them with others. Again, that’s fine. This is just my opinion and I already labeled it as such. I’m not selling bibles here.


How do bouncers fight?

Sean asked how bouncers fight. I’ll reply with this caveat: this is how, in my opinion, good bouncers fight. There’s all sorts of them out there so if what you’ve seen doesn’t conform with what I’m writing here, maybe it’s a qualitative issue. Or a matter of culture and context, who knows?

Also, every bar is different; every fight is different: An upscale club with mainly young, rich brats as patrons doesn’t need the same kind of protocols than a dive in some backwater town where the criminal elements of society like to get drunk and do business. Totally different context, which means it takes different skills from the bouncer to run either place.

Last point: if you’re expecting scenes from Roadhouse when a bouncer fights, please go stand in a corner until you’re a good boy and can come out again. Fun as the movie was to watch, precious little of the fighting Patrick Swayze did in that flick was anywhere close to realistic.

Please keep all this in mind when you read the following.

Now we can get to the actual fighting part. How do bouncers fight differently from street thugs or regular people? Here we go:


They’ll often be close, inside critical distance, before they launch their first strike. Sometimes this means they’re standing still in front of you, other times it will be from a moving position while there’s pushing/pulling and there’schaos all around you.

In this video, you see the bouncer throw straight punches from up close while the shoving match is going on. He nails the patron repeatedly until he knocks him out with a jab.


Pre-emptive strike

In this incident, apparently the patron threatened to shoot the bouncer. Watch how he steps into critical distance and then explodes into the punch. He even manages to hit the guy again on the way down.



Watch how the patron steps towards the bouncer/leans forward and then back a couple of times. The bouncer times his punch to land just as the guy comes forward again. That way he runs into it and increases the damage.


Unorthodox striking

Most good bouncers have pretty good technique and they know how to generate power. But they don’t always use the technique as you’re used to seeing in the Octagon or the ring. Here is an example of that. By all accounts, the technique is unorthodox: half-leaping, off-balance, in between a slap and a strike. Yet the drunk is still launched into the pole and almost knocked out on the floor after the second blow. It’s not pretty, but it worked.

I’ve known bouncers who use techniques from combat sports or traditional martial arts but they change and tweak them so you don’t recognize them anymore or you don’t spot the set-up. This makes it very hard to defend against the damage these techniques can inflict upon you.


Power into the target

Watch the previous videos again, especially the second one. The bouncers always hit with shock-wave or penetrating power. You don’t see many glancing blows or slapping motions: it’s all power shots. The way they generate power is much closer to what you see in traditional martial arts than what MMA fighters are doing. Though I have to admit, in recent years, MMA fighters have gotten a much better striking game than 10 years ago when it was total crap for most of them. More below in a bit.

The second part is that virtually each shot lands and the power is delivered into the target. You don’t see too many set-up blows or feints, nor do you see sloppy flailing around or long combinations. What happens is that an explosive (often pre-emptive) first strike lands on the target, then a next one, and another one, until the patron is down. At which point the bouncer can start controlling him by keeping him down.


It’s never the patron’s turn.

With special thanks to my Bro, The Amazing Eaglemon for articulating this concept so well.

Once that first power-shot lands, it does damage right away and the patron doesn’t get time to get back into the fight; the bouncer doesn’t allow that. Instead, he fires one power-shot after the other, making sure it lands as well and the damage starts to accumulate until the patron is out. Again, he never gets a turn.


Viciousness, dirty fighting and plain old cruelty.

This is usually the norm in the rough bars where most ordinary folks never go but it is a factor you have to take into account regardless, as you never know what kind of bouncer you’re facing. What it boils down to is that the bouncer will use every dirty trick he knows to get the job done. Why? Because he’s expecting for you to do the same thing?

In his line of work, he gets exposed to the ugliest forms of violence, the ones that go way beyond sadistic and psychopathic behavior and into the realm of pure evil. Get enough exposure to that stuff and you either leave the game or you prepare to survive it. That means you expect to get that kind of violence from everybody, regardless of how mellow they may look or what they say to your face. The bouncer can’t take the chance of believing your good intentions and give you an opportunity to get the first shot in and then cripple him for life or kill him. Listen to the podcast with Clint again for some examples of this.

Here’s the thing: it takes a special mindset to bite somebody’s finger off and then swallow it. Or to gouge out an eye and then squish it flat under your boot. Most people cannot and will not take it to that level. Bouncers in watering holes can go there in a heartbeat. In fact, they might even start the dance with a move that scars or cripples you for life. They won’t hesitate, not one bit if it comes to that and you should expect them to have plenty of experience in that area of fighting.

Unless you’ve lived an “interesting life”, you, on the other hand, don’t have that mindset, nor the experience in doing such things. So guess who has the best odds of coming out on top in a fight?



This is the hardest part of fighting a bouncer and also the one most wannabe tough guys forget. If you’re in the mental state (due to drugs, booze or plain old stupidity) in which you start contemplating that fighting the bouncer is a good idea, it’s easy to overlook this simple fact: a bouncer rarely works alone. His team/colleague will help him, regardless if he’s kicking your ass or getting his own ass kicked by you. You won’t get a fair fight, you won’t get to toe the line and square off, not gonna happen. The bouncer isn’t there for any of that. His job is to put you outside if you get out of line and he’ll use as many people as it takes to do that.

Here’s an example of that:


What about MMA?

I promised some more about this when I mentioned power so here goes:

MMA or boxing, or muay Thai training geared towards competition lacks certain elements to be effective for a bouncer. Some of the components are great, others not so much. It takes specific, adapted training to make combat sports work when you’re standing post at the door. It’s by no means impossible; many bouncers train solely in those sports but they tweak techniques so they function for the realities of working in a bar as opposed to what happens in the ring or Octagon. Like I’ve said ad nauseam: the differences are just as important as the similarities.

Case in point, take a look at this fight between a security guard and a thug:


Now contrast it with all the previous videos in this post.

Here are some of the differences:

  • The guard takes on a fighting stance. He puts his fists up in an on-guard position and starts moving like a ring fighter. How many bouncers did you see doing that?
  • Head and arm movement. Look at his head and arm movement the first time the thug breaks away from the engagement at 24 sec into the video: he moves exactly like a boxer in the ring. How many bouncers did that?
  • Countering. He waits for the thug to swing first. There’s no set up or pre-emptive strike from the guard, just a block and counter. How many bouncers put up their dukes first and then waited for the first punch to land? None. Why? Because that first fist coming at them might have held a knife or razor. Blocking is not a good thing in such a situation…
  • Combinations. I counted at least 20 punches, kicks and knees in one long combination. They were all glancing blows or only did superficial damage. Contrast this with the low number of techniques the bouncers throw in the videos above and how virtually every one of them landed
  • Lack of results. After all those techniques, the thug is still standing… Compare that to the results the bouncers get with only one or two techniques…
  • Mediocre opponent. Look at the difference between the thug and the guard. The guard is obviously well trained and in shape; there’s no denying that. The thug on the other hand has no technique and does nothing but sloppy flailing with very little power. And yet he never gets put down by the guard. Contrast that with the bouncers who also fight crappy opponents but end the fight right away…


Before you think I’m bagging the security guard, some qualifiers:

  • I wasn’t there, neither were you. We can only go by the video footage and extrapolate from there. By default, this means we’re working with limited information which may well lead to flawed conclusions. We can argue all day long about this video, so let’s keep this in perspective.
  • I’m not saying he’ a bad fighter. I’m pretty sure that in the ring or cage, he can more than hold his own. As you saw in the video, he had good technique, good footwork (never lost his balance), distancing and so on. What I am saying is that he fought the thug like he would in the ring or Octagon. But he wasn’t there. He was in the street, so he should have fought differently, using the same techniques or others, but still differently.
  • I’m not saying MMA can’t work in the street/for bouncers or that traditional arts are better. If that’s what you read in this post, you’re wrong. I repeat, you’re wrong. Re-read the first paragraph of “What about MMA?” here above.

The only thing I’m doing is trying to illustrate the differences between how bouncers fight and how others fight. Which was the question Sean asked in the first place. That’s all there is to it.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this post.


UPDATE: Check out Clint’s comment here below. He pretty much said what I wanted to say but in a much more condensed version. I’m a wordy bastard… :-)


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  1. I am a bouncer, no big deal . Sean asked the difference , I am sober and not impeded by a lot of morals . I kick to the shins, ankles and backs of the knee. I headbutt, knee to the groin, stomp your foot and trap it then try to push and rotate you either right or left to tear up you ACL or whatever else will pop loose.
    I throw elbows to the temple and punch/ slap to the throat or brachial area. I will slip and fall on our way down to try and crush your testicles or destroy your knee. I bring friends to the fight and while your fighting me they will hit you from behind. I will employ ever dirty trick you can think of and never blink an eye. I want to go home to my family
    Now all that chest pounding dick swinging is over I will tell you a truth . I would rather talk or trick you into leaving a bar than anything else. I want to repect who you are and treat you like a fellow human being and I dont want you to get hurt.
    Alcohol and drugs bring out your inner primate , your thinking and ability to rationalize what is going to happen is gone. You have become your own worst enemy not me. 90% of what I do is talk , 5% is intimidation , its that other 5% that make my life hard and it is also the thing I hate most of the job . Doesnt mean I wont do it .
    Think of it this way in the past 6 months I have been in over 50 fights , and this isnt the worst bar I have worked in . There were times I fought other people 10 or more altercations a night and was still standing

  2. Very interesting. Very well done. Thanks!

  3. I learned a lot from the articles.
    Some great insights.

    However what i am wondering:
    Aren,t there any legal consequenses to the pre emptive strikes (like the ones in the videos).

    How does the bouncers afterwards prove that the actions they used where justifiable?

    • Every time you strike, pre-emptiive or not, you need to consider the legal consequences. Bouncers are no different. They prove their actions the same way as you would yours.

      • Thank you for the addition.
        (From what i know) In my country any civilain has the duty to prevent gething involved in violence (walk away, de-escalate, flee).
        Und when applying self defense noth using more force then necessary to avoid gething hurt and geth away.
        When someone gets hurt the one who has done it better has a good reason that he/she hurt the other person.

        From my perspective that is noth what i see in the third and fourth video.
        The patron is acting agressive and intimidating against the bouncer.
        Buth the bouncer starts with the physichal violence und knocks down the patron.

        Especially in the third video.
        The bouncer (sucker) punches the patron. And the patron does,nt look good afterwards.
        There is a chance he has suffered brain damage or even an Intracranial hemorrhage.

        I know a bunch of situations where people where injured verry badly/died after being knocked down with one strike.

        Are the laws in the USA different on use of force?
        Or are there other reasons that justify pre-emptive striking?

        Could you please explain this to me.

  4. Phil Kouse says

    It looked like most of the strikes were actually closed-fist punches, too, despite the insistence of a lot of RBSD styles that punching does not work as well as open hand strikes. No one seemed to be grabbing a broken hand after the punch, either.

    • Indeed… And if you look at pretty much every traditional art out there, they all teach closed fist punching.You’d think that nobody would do that, especially back in the days without X-rays and complicated hand surgery. Could it be that there’s more to it than what RBSD instructors are saying? :-)

    • Punched a lot of guys with closed fist . Woest thing ever happened was I had to have my wife pull teeth out of my knuckles later that night . Cracked my hand a few times but no big deal . I like throwin elbows at close range or kickin to the shin/ankles no one expects that, most of the time they flinch and cover their genitals

  5. thanks for that great reply wim (and clint),

    never realised how crafty, dangerous and attuned good bouncers are. Makes me think a lot of how I want my own self defence training to progress. Again, thanks for the
    generous use of your time and expertise in answering my question, appreciate it. Sean.

  6. RBSD?

  7. Garry Hodgins says

    My Dad was a bouncer for 18 years and I learned alot from him over pints of guinness in his local bar. I’ve practiced m.a. for about 16 years now and have a couple of training partners who are also bouncers, and extremely decent blokes to boot (no pun intended…). I agree whole heartedly with your comment in the first post about young guys having a sense of entitlement but also remember having it myself 15 – 20 years ago. Its a massive area for analysis, the difference between how you think about and react to violence differently in your late 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s (I hope) than when you’re in your teens and 20s (when most of the fights happen due to hormones, partying, establishing a sense of identity, processing bad stuff from childhood etc.) but I recognise how I see young guys as acting more entitled. I was in a bar a couple of months ago, my wife was sitting at a table beside me with 1 female and 2 male friends, it looked like I was alone as I was watching the rugby highlighs from the next table. Some guy in his 20s walked by, clocked my wife (who is very attractive i.m.o. :-) and reached over to grab her breast and snog her. I intervened before he touched my beloved’s bosom and gently applied a wrist lock, twisting him off balance and had my large ham fist above his face ready to fall heavily on his perfectly sculpted nose, he was also teetering on the edge of a 3 inch step. My good, lady wife suggested I refrain from said action. After, i pushed him back, he started screaming that I was “just a meathead”. He went to the toilet, we quickly exited the bar, the bouncer nodded to me on the way out (I assumed our new friend was now a marked man) and I felt very calm throughout the whole episode. That got me to thinking. I think that now, I only get involved in a physical altercation if I feel justified and, as a result, I dont feel stressed about it, whereas, when I was younger, I’d get seriously stressed, waiting for it to kick off and never really knowing if I was in the right or not. I still have the adrenal rush but its more like an icy cold shower, a sobering up feeling, rather than a chemical frenzy as it felt before. Does this make sense to anyone? Thanks Wim, another great post. Sorry for the long winded digression. but I havent commented in ages.

    • Makes perfect sense Garry. It does change indeed over time. Maybe in different ways for everybody but IME, it does change as you get older, more experienced, etc. The trick is knowing how those changes affect your actions, both in a good and bad way. :-)

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