Street Fighting Mistakes: expecting bystanders to help

I recently posted a video on my Facebook page that sparked many comments and noticed the same question coming back: why didn’t anybody do anything? This triggered this post in my “street fighting mistakes” series about expecting bystanders to help when violence breaks out. I’ll go into that below, but first, look at the video in question, if you haven’t seen it already.

Apparently, the attacker has been arrested and will get his due, so there’s that.

Some more thoughts now.

Street Fighting Mistakes: bystanders will help you

There are several aspects to this issue and the first one is that, in most modern Western societies, people assume certain things are generally true:

  • There is the rule of law.
  • People are not inherently violent.
  • Certain lines cannot be crossed.
  • People are helpful to each other.

For the most part and for the average person, these assumptions are mostly correct. Meaning, in their daily lives, these assumptions hold up consistently. As long as they don’t stray too far from their social comfort zone, this remains true. It is entirely human to then eventually expect these assumptions to hold up all the time, simply because they always have before.

That’s where the problems start.

At the fringes of these societies (with homeless people and street thugs as is the case here), the rules are different:

  • Rule of law is replaced by rule of might.
  • Violence is a tool that is used to get what you want. It is often the preferred tool.
  • The lines are drawn elsewhere, much further than in regular society.
  • You look out for yourself first and foremost.

To regular folks, this is unheard of and unacceptable. In a fringe society, it is normal. That’s the first disconnect. As a result, when many of these folks are suddenly a bystander to a violent street fight, they have two typical reactions: they freeze as they try to process what is happening or they step in, unaware of the danger to themselves. I believe the freeze is the most common one.

A secondary aspect is the dynamic where, once engaged, the human brain develops a certain inertia for the chosen course. I’m blanking on the correct term but in short, it means that the more and longer you pick a course of action, the harder it is to change it: the longer you remain a bystander while a street fight is going on, the harder it is to get yourself to act. This is an oversimplified explanation of a much more complex subject, but you get what I mean. You often see this in action when a street fight breaks out and nobody acts but when one person steps in to break it up, suddenly the rest moves too. It takes that one person breaking the collective freeze before they also act.

A third factor is decades of increasingly alienating regular people from how violence works, why it happens and how to handle it and you create an average citizen who is out of his depth when confronted with violence. It is alien to him and he does not have the tools or skills to handle it, so avoidance is an instinctive choice. Society cannot have it both ways: you can’t have zero tolerance for fighting in schools, indoctrinate generations with microaggressions, trigger warnings and the cliche of “violence never solved anything” and similar nonsense  and also expect people to know how to handle violence. It takes repeated exposure and personal experience to discover the reality of violence and develop those skills. Expecting each person you meet in the street to have these skills is a mistake.

Street Fighting Mistakes Expecting bystanders to helpCombine all this together and you have a bad mix that makes it more likely other people will do nothing. So if you end up fighting in the street for whatever reason, it is a mistake to expect the bystanders to help you or anyone else for that matter. It if does, great. Hurrah for humanity. But more likely than not, it won’t happen. Would it benefit society if this changed? Probably, depending on certain factors, which is a whole other discussion. But my main point is this:

Self-defense means defending one’s self. It does not mean expecting others to do the work for you.


Street Fighting Mistakes: Every Fight Is To The Death

There are many street fighting mistakes that need to be exposed and this is perhaps one of the most common: thinking that every street fight is to the death.

I’ve seen numerous self-defense instructors and their students claim you should always use lethal techniques, treating every street fight as if the other guy is trying to kill you. That simply isn’t the case, not by a long shot.

There is a problem though, a particular issue inherent to all violence, and I’ll cover that later in this article, but first let’s look at an example of a street fight not devolving into death and destruction.

The usual disclaimer:

  • I wasn’t there and neither were you. So all we can do is interpret and give an opinion on what we see. No more, no less.
  • I don’t know what happened before the video starts or if after it ends. Maybe the guy walked away, maybe he got beat up anyway. No clue.
  • Just because it worked in this video, doesn’t mean it will always work. Nothing does, violence is too unpredictable.

That said, here is the video:

Some of the critical points in this incident:

  • Leather Jacket is talking lots of trash. He’s going on a righteous tirade in French, calling Grey Jacket a dirty faggot and more. He’s escalating things really hard.
  • He avoids a first intervention. The guy next to Grey Jacket gets ready to step in, but he is stopped by the guy in the hoodie. Leather Jacket keeps on insulting Grey Jacket, doesn’t reposition, nothing. He’s oblivious to the danger.
  • He avoids a second intervention. Grey Jacket slaps Leather Jacket’s hand down, steps into the street and it looks like he’s getting ready to start the fight. Leather Jacket doesn’t care and yells at the guy to hit him.
  • He is completely blindsided. Mr. Dreadlock catches him completely by surprise as he rushes in and drives him down on the ground. He gets very quiet as Mr. Dreadlock talks to him and eventually lets him up with the clear message to move on. Mr. Dreadlock seems to go away to hand off his glasses and make the guy leave, but he doesn’t return for an unknown reason.
  • He’s not sure what to do next. Leather Jacket waves his finger about a bit and seems unsure how to proceed. Go away? Get back to whipping himself into a frenzy? The video ends before we find out.

As a friend of mine would say: no blood, no foul. Street fight avoided and everybody gets to go home alive and (more or less) unharmed.

Could this have turned into a full fight? [Read more…]

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: [Read more…]

Street Fighting Mistakes: Getting Involved

I posted an article on Street Fighting Mistakes last week and just found another video that qualifies for that category. In this one, there are several mistakes but I’d like to make a point that is often overlooked: the risks of getting involved.

Before I go on, lets look at the video:

As always, I wasn’t there and neither were you, so we don’t know what started this street fight. That said, we can still look at the mistakes the video shows in an effort to learn something. Here goes:

  • It looks like both guys have some grappling or MMA training. You can see attempts at sweeps, looking for dominant positions, side control, use of the guard, rear naked choke, etc.
  • It takes a long time. The fight lasts almost two minutes, which is pretty long for a street fight. This is in part due to the grappling (which inherently slows down a fight unless one person outmatches the other significantly) but also because both men seem to lack decisive power in their techniques.
  • Nobody gets involved at first. The crowd hangs back during the fight. You can even hear people shouting to leave it one-on-one. This is not uncommon but as you see near the end of the fight, you shouldn’t count on it…
  • It’s only when a “winner” emerges that the third guy gets involved. To boot, he takes a shot from behind as you can see by the blond guy stumbling forward suddenly. So the key thing to remember is to immediately do a 360 scan as soon as you can. Start from the assumption that there will always be more than one threat. If the scan proves you wrong, then no harm done. If you’re right, you at least have a shot at avoiding the sucker punch from the back.
  • No-Shirt quickly learns the error of his ways. He punches the blond guy and look what happens next: in the blink of an eye he gets punched and tossed to the ground. At least four people turn on him, one after the other. He’s pretty lucky that they don’t start stomping him.

Those are some of the key elements from the whole fight. There are two things I’d like to point out here. [Read more…]