Street fighting mistakes: being an innocent bystander

One of the things I’ve written about a lot is that street fights and violence are chaotic and unpredictable. If you have some experience in this area, then you know what this implies. If not, then chances are you don’t have a realistic idea of what I mean. Just to be clear, I don’t blame anybody for not having this knowledge. Not having to face violence is a good thing. If I can go my entire life without ever having to do so again, I’ll be a happy man. But violence can pop up any time, any place so it’s best to prepare.

That aside, there’s a fundamental flaw in human nature: we are intrigued by violence and want to watch it.

I’m going to leave the explanations to the scientists, but to the best of my knowledge and after plenty of research, I think this is a fair statement. People are intrigued by violence, men as well as women. You find public executions and torture in all cultures, all over the world throughout the ages. In Saudi Arabia, public beheading is still the norm and somehow there are always enough people willing to watch. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say humans want to watch other humans suffer violence.

For the point I want to make now, let me put that differently:

People who don’t understand violence and haven’t suffered enough from it will put themselves at risk to watch it.

Once you understand the true danger, you don’t want to get involved with anything that could end your life. Once you come face-to-face with your own mortality, have lost loved ones to violence or have had to take somebody’s life, the allure tends to diminish significantly. Like a friend of mine likes to say: “The cost of it.” Those who have not experienced this cost sometimes consider themselves an innocent bystander and assume this keeps them safe from harm. Why should they do anything to avoid becoming collateral damage? After all, they’re just watching, so they can’t get hurt, right?


Street fights are living things, they change and evolve constantly:

  • They add numbers to the active participants in an instant and decrease them just as fast.
  • They start in one spot and then move several yards in a few seconds, to swing back to the original spot (or another) right after.
  • One side may be wining when the dynamics suddenly change and they start losing.
  • They start as fisticuffs and stay that way until somebody starts shooting or stabbing his opponents.

In short, they are chaotic and unpredictable. Making assumptions about your safety because you are just a bystander is a dangerous game. You can be very, very wrong.

Here are some examples of the chaos and unpredictability of real violence:

  • It’s unpredictable. One second the fight seems like an ordinary tussle, the next somebody’s shooting and bodies hit the floor.

  • It’s unpredictable, part 2. One second you’re throwing a tantrum, the next you’re knocked out and on the ground.

  • It’s chaotic. So many things are happening all at once when people fight, you can’t see everything that’s going on. Which means you won’t always be able to react in time when something comes your way. This is just as valid when you are the aggressor than when you are the victim.

  • It’s chaotic, part 2. In the midst of flailing arms, legs and bodies crashing all over the place, it’s easy to miss a knife coming at you or some guy taking you out with a sucker punch. In the movies, this doesn’t happen to the hero, but in real life it does. Notice how the guy with the blue baseball cap tries to separate the fighters and then pulls a guy away, playing the pacifying role. Look at that guy’s left hand and notice the knife: blue cap hasn’t seen it and stays involved, even though he isn’t actively fighting anybody. Blue cap later on runs over to watch the beat-down at the end from a foot or so away, then climbs over the wall to get closer and gets a knife to the kidneys, right before the checkered shirt guy gets two stabs as well. Here’s the thing: the knifer didn’t stab blue cap right away. Blue cap had the opportunity to avoid eating sharp metal in the back. Had he seen the knife, he might have chosen to get clear. But he didn’t see it and paid the price.

  • The cameraman isn’t safe either. Look at this brawl and notice how it moves all over the place, how it splits into several pieces and the total number of people getting involved. The notice how close the fighting parties get to bystanders. See how those bystanders react: they just stand there or hardly move at all. Some even move closer to get a better picture with their cellphone, all while the fight is still raging and moving around in an unpredictable manner. It’s only when the bullets start flying that the cameraman realizes he’s in danger too and he ducks for cover. If the shooter has crappy aim (which happens, a lot), he would have been shot…

The point is this: whenever a fight breaks out, it can go all over the place and escalate into flat-out murder in a heartbeat. Just because you are only watching or trying to separate the fighters, doesn’t mean you are safe. You are never safe when people fight.


So what should you do?


Don’t watch, just get the hell out of there.

It’s that simple.

There is no upside to you standing there yelling “Worldstaaaaar!!!” like an idiot. Nothing good can come of it. If you do stay, then admit to yourself that you are just as fascinated by violence as the people who show up for a public beheading. Because fundamentally, it’s the same thing, just taken to a different level.

This advice goes double for women. Watch the videos again and look at the number of women close to the fighters. It always impresses me how incredibly out of touch with reality these girls and women are. They seem to think “They won’t hit me because I’m a girl.” The problem is that this is simply not true.

Case in point:

I think this guy is an idiot and wouldn’t do what he did, but don’t focus on him for a second. Look at her incredulous look after he punches back. She can’t believe it. And that is exactly my point. Many women are under the impression that violence doesn’t apply to them because, well, they’re women and you’re not supposed to hit them. They might believe that is true, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen. Some men will hit you, on purpose or by accident. Both can get you injured or killed.

So why on earth would you, as a woman, stay close to a brawl or street fight? Or worse, get in the middle of it? Men can blame their stupidity on testosterone, you can’t. So why stay?

Again, just leave.

Street fighting mistakes: being an innocent bystander doesn't keep you safe

Street fighting mistakes: being an innocent bystander doesn’t keep you safe

Man or woman, old or young, when a fight starts, get out of there right away.

Unless you have no choice but to defend somebody (and even then), get to safety. If you don’t, then accept responsibility for your actions and don’t claim you’re a victim. You chose to stay in a dangerous place even though you didn’t have to, accept the consequences of your actions and learn from them.

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  1. Good article.
    Running away seems the smartest thing to do.

    Then again as a good citizen it is your duty to help out when someone gets assaulted. If someone gets stomped to death while you ran off it might be horrible as well.

    So depending on the analysis of the situation and you awn abilities one has to decide to either run away and risk someone gets killed, maimed, or try to break it up and risk death and injury on yourself.

    • Agreed in principle. That said, “Defense of Others” is a part of most self-defense laws and often has a condition linked to it: you need to be reasonably sure the person you are defending is in a legal self-defense situation. If you are wrong, any actions you take that cause injury or worse will have you facing charges. As usual, things aren’t black and white.

  2. IceMaiden says

    I love how the guy in the yellow-shirt tries to ‘protect’ her by getting her to quit bein’ stupid — and when she won’t quit, he washes his hands of her and leaves. Good fer him!

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