How To Survive a Street Fight

Human predators are much like a cheetah. Once they scare the pack of zebra, they wait for the weaker ones to fall behind, and then they move in for the kill. So you have gotten yourself in a pickle, and a mugger, rapist, or robber sees his opportunity and moves in for the attack. He will be scared and single-minded in his approach. His intent is to hit and run. Typically this involves stealth. They may have been scoping out an area looking for potential targets who have maintained the same routine, such as walking home from work, the gym, a bar, or a friend’s house.

In street fighting, the location does not matter. If you have failed in your awareness and suddenly become a victim, the following training tips will strengthen your mind, willpower, and determination to survive. Psychologically, defensive choices will allow you the opportunity to survive. You can only develop real-world defensive choices by training.

How should you train? Here are some key techniques and mindsets imperative to surviving a violent-force encounter:

  • Learn to move and breathe to stay calm, in and out, using lateral movement patterns (footwork)
  • Learn how to stand and brace for impact, or how to turn it around if you are suddenly overwhelmed and taken down. You must know how to turn your moment of fear and confusion into an effective offense, breaking the established mindset and determination of your attacker. You have to learn and practice the following:
    • Brace position
    • How to stand and hold your hands while protecting your centerline and vulnerable areas
    • How to disrupt your opponent or roll with the punches until you can
    • Surviving the initial attack
    • Weapons choices before and during the attack
    • Unarmed combat
    • Armed combat
    • Plausible denial
    • Explaining why you’re carrying.
    • Explaining why you are in this location—have a purpose for your actions.
    • Counterattacks
    • Reaction punching and weapons drills
    • Body and shoulder rolls and turns. Flex position in your knees allowing you to brace for impact. This will soften the initial blow.
    • Protecting your head from a knockout. Things happen fast.
    • Weapons choices if you are knocked down and mounted.
    • Knife work and firearms handling
    • Handling darts (such as the Delta Dart)
    • Utilizing a Taser
    • Using fingers to blind or biting
    • Defending from your back with eye gouges and kicks
    • Regaining your feet to run or fight
    • Counterattacking while moving backwards and side-to-side
    • Developing speed and quickness
    • Disguising your intention until the last second; don’t give your attacker a chance to defend
    • Learn to control your attacker’s movement by pushing, pulling, or knocking him off balance. For this you must be able to control the head, neck, triceps, back, hips, or know what you can do to make him pike his hips and lock his weight back onto his heals, reducing his mobility
    • Learn how to maximize your leverage when punching or striking with a weapon
    • Know the human body and target areas for maximum effectiveness. Remember, learn a lot and use a little
    • Always face your attacker and never let him get to your back

Footwork and Leg Strength

Movement patterns and footwork may give you an advantage. The more you know and practice—and even if you only learn a little—the more likely that repetition will take your mind straight to defensive choices in lieu of panicking. If you throw a couple of hundred kicks to the nuts or eye gouge at a heavy bag every day, when you are attacked, this is what you will first think of, and this will give you a second chance to turn things around under fire.

One thing about leg strength is, if you are over 40 years old, they are first to go. If you live and work a sedentary lifestyle, your legs will be weak and prone to injury, and you will be lacking in drive and the power needed to push off or run away. Your striking power actually comes from your legs and not your upper body. Much like a combat diver, you use your legs to propel you, and your arms for work.

You must strengthen your legs and remain somewhat flexible. There are a few exercises you could do in 10 minutes a day for this: a few unassisted squats with weights or without, lunges using a kettlebell or hand weights, or do a few slow, straight-leg dead-lifts. Then, sit down and stretch your hamstrings and hips to increase you range of motion without injury. This is easy right? You can do this before your morning shower.

As for your fighter’s mindset and intention, remember, you must be able to project through your opponent’s intent by appearing to be self-confident and high-spirited, while still practicing avoidance. This starts with relaxed, deep breaths and eye-to-eye contact. Much like a dog fight, there is a moment just before the attack when both animals attempt to assert their dominance by not showing fear. This can be a big moment just before impact.

In fight sports, they call this a pre-fight stare-down. This is the moment when you both come face-to-face before the fight begins. Eye contact indicates confidence. Eye contact can show dominance and give you a psychological advantage over your attacker, momentarily disrupting his point of view. Don’t break eye contact. At the same time, you have to maintain a reasonable distance and maintain the ability to use your peripheral vision to see the hands. The threat will normally come from the hands. If you allow someone to get so close to you that you can’t see their hands, you may already be in trouble.

Practice your immediate defensive position i.e. frame, crash, or on-guard position. Along with this, you must practice mechanics while being unarmed and the same mechanics with weapons. Moving, reacting, and countering are extremely important during the initial impact. I would even train my body for impact by sparring or using a medicine ball.

Keeping your opponent out or letting him in is vital. You would let him in if you have effectively disguised your weapon and intent. When he is close, you attack. Controlling the distance is absolutely one of the most important technical principles, period. Whether you close in on your opponent or let him close in on you, it should be your choice. This is what we call “critical decision making”—having courage under fire, striking first, not waiting and allowing your opponent to build his courage.

Trust me, he will not be expecting you to retaliate effectively. This will create a negative effect on your attacker’s bio-rhythms, disrupting his psychological advantage. This will expose his or her weaknesses. Remember, time is not on his side. As for me, I have all the time in the world to defend myself.

Learn these: Strikes—open-handed and with closed fists—elbows, head-butts, blocks, and counters—waist and above, waist and below (changing levels).

I recommend learning and practicing zoning techniques while fighting. Fight from the outside, trapping hands, grappling, and closing the gap. Learn how to fake and set up your attacker, throw punches, kicks, use joint locks, edged weapons, or weapons that cause blunt trauma such as a baseball bat, axe handle, or rebar. Know how to sweep and take down your opponent and fight from your back. Learn about nerves and pressure points, soft-tissue ripping, tearing, and submission holds. Be ready and prepared to use lethal force to save your life.

At the moment an attack is imminent, your footwork and leg strength will come into play. If you keep a safe distance, maintain eye contact, and are able to see both hands, this is a great start. If you can keep your attacker just outside of his reach, then you have a huge advantage over him. This means he would have to take a step to reach you. I call this moving to move.

Joe Lewis taught me a technique called “entrapment footwork.” If you can time your attacker’s steps, from the time he takes his first step and throws a punch or reaches for you, you can move in between the step and the hand maneuver. Most people are unaware that, at this moment of aggression, they are vulnerable to a counterattack. The best move in this situation is to counterattack, foot sweep, etc., at the exact moment your attacker’s lead foot falls and their weight shifts from back to front.

You really have to be aware of an attacker’s foot position and balance. This takes some practice and maybe viewing some YouTube instructional videos on foot positions and how to step/move as a boxer or Muay Thai kickboxer. The Muay Thai kickboxer generally will step down when moving, applying pressure to the heel of the front foot, allowing him to check or block with his front leg. This would be a rare exception in most street attacks, but noteworthy.

This is more challenging when foot sweeping, but a hand strike would still be effective. This is called entrapment footwork due to the manner in which it’s applied. Basically, you will be moving away from an aggressive attacker and get him chasing or following you. You time his steps, and the moment he starts to step down, you spring back in his direction with your offensive strikes. This will turn your defense into offense in an instant.

There are other styles and systems teaching you to block and counter-strike simultaneously. This can also be very effective with the right choices, but the footwork still has to be there. If you are not balanced and do not shift your weight properly, your techniques may be ineffective. In a real fight, you don’t get many second chances.

Pulled From the Fire

Let’s take it from the top. Why do we train? I spent many years training to fight and to win. Eleven years ago, my oldest son was brutally murdered in a gang attack. Once this happened, I went through many different emotions. At first I was angry. And I mean angry. Next, I felt guilty for all of the things I felt I should have or could have done.

Then I was sad. This was different for me, as I’ve spent most of my life hiding almost all emotion except anger and the desire not just to be the best and win, but to hurt people. I guess the guilt aspect stems from the idea that karma has an effect, and maybe I should have been a better person. Well, Uncle Sam didn’t take time to teach me that. No, he taught me things at age 17 like “yours is not to question why, but to do or die.” I took it pretty seriously, as I didn’t initially qualify to be in Special Forces. So I went to work.

After my first three years as a paratrooper, I got out of the military and continued to fight. By now, I had many street fights under my belt, had studied Kung-Fu, kickboxing, and boxing. I was determined to learn more and train more. I eventually met Danny Wilson, Keith Haflick, Joe Lewis, and others that guided my fight knowledge. I was getting into a little trouble along the way, as fighting back in the day involved a rough crowd.

I re-entered the military, received my education, qualified for Special Forces Training Group, and became a Green Beret. Later, I earned my HALO jump qualification, became combat-diver qualified, and much more, as well as becoming a combat veteran. I used my fight training to enhance my military training, never giving up either. For a while, I was working out twice daily for about 6 hours a day—all fight training. I have trained with many world champions throughout the years and learned a lot.

Eleven years after my oldest son passed, and being 60 years old, I decided to continue my training. A large part of that decision has to do with Jack Murphy wanting to write my story. What a deal. Our agreement is to train. Jack has pulled me out of the fire. It occurred to me that I wasn’t the guy I used to be.

I’ve had to re-learn to stand, hold my hands up, move my feet. It is a hell of journey recalling everything I have learned and putting it to work in a simple, but effective way. I’m not as strong or flexible as I was before, but I have great muscle memory. It is wild how fast things come back. Over the last few months of training and interviewing with Jack, things I had placed away in some dark hole in my memory have rapidly come back, but with more realization. If I can do it, anyone can.

Impact and Fear

What I am attempting to teach through my writings are techniques and ideas I know will work for anyone. It all starts with the basics. We previously discussed speed and the various ways you can develop it, as well as the need to defend yourself. Now, I want to talk about overcoming initial impact and fear, ultimately turning the tide and beating your attacker.

Remember, all of this starts because you ended up in a bad location at a bad time, and you were complacent—at least enough to think you wouldn’t be attacked. How do you react, then, when everything is happening at the speed of light? You must remember how to breathe. The more defensive choices you have to pick from and the more you practice with mega repetitions, the easier it is to take that breath and slow down the moment in your head, allowing you to defend or attack.

What do we practice? I would do a lot of footwork drills from both your strong-side forward and your weak-side forward. In both cases, you must get your guard/hands up quickly, so practice. For the most speed, you will have to place your weight on the balls of your feet without standing on your tiptoes. Your knees must remain slightly flexed, not locked. During the initial impact, this will help you to avoid getting knocked out by playing turtle with your hands and neck, and riding the punches out. You may even go to the ground here, but if you practice moving in and out and side-to-side, it’s just as easy to stay standing.

If you learn the escape points/routes around while defending, you can exit behind your attacker. You do this by controlling his elbows, head, and hips with something as simple as a push. You should learn some pivot moves by placing your weight over the ball of the front foot and pushing with the rear foot, doing a 90-degree pivot. Keep your hands up. If you can make your opponent miss, you will be in the driver’s seat. Also, learn to create a framing position to protect your upper body and head. Elbows and hammer fists can come in really handy here, especially if you add a dart or other edged weapon.

You need to work your core, so begin your waist movement with twists and turns, practicing evasive head movement by quickly moving your head from your waist up, side-to-side, up and down (bob & weave), and back and forth, by having someone pretend to be punching at your head. Start slowly, and the try it while moving. Once you feel comfortable, add punches and other strikes. If you feel uncomfortable or off balance, go back to the basics—body position and footwork.

Keep your feet about shoulder’s-width apart and at a 45-degree angle. If you get down into a sprinter’s stance or a three-point stance like the kind most football players start from, and then stand up without moving your feet, you should have good balance. Perhaps you’ll make a few minor adjustments.

Keep your hands above your shoulders and your elbows by your side for protection. Never cross your hands or place them directly in front of your face. Keep your shoulders relaxed; there’s no need to burn energy except when defending. Let your attacker get tired first, and then have your way. Keep your elbows directly under and behind your hand position and punches. So, when you are in your ready, brace, or crash position, you either look like a boxer or your hands and arms are creating a frame in front of your face—protecting your head and jaw areas.

From a defensive framing on-guard position, you can use your elbows, hammer fist, and head butts with extreme success—once again going from defense to offense. From this position, if you have a small knife, dart, ice pick, or something similar, you can put your attacker on the run and in a hurt in the blink of an eye.

Tough Guys and PCP

Look, there are some really tough guys out there who are hard to hurt. Then, you have others that may be on drugs like PCP, numbing much of their pain and giving them a little extra punch. The shorter, pointed dart/ice pick or cork-screw-type weapons can be extremely effective, even against those tough guys. The idea is to place the short, pointed end just past the base of the palm while in the hammer-fist position. You will make short, quick, stabbing actions into the blades of the forearms, collarbone, mandibular angle, around the ear, top of head, and back of the neck and spine. The idea is to connect with the point where the nerves are close to the bones and not protected by a lot of meat or fat.

The thing is not to kill him, but to disrupt his mind and actions through pain compliance. This will allow you to change tactics and use heavy, bone-shattering blasts or knockout blows. If you don’t see immediate results, cut in across the forehead and let blood run into his eyes. Also, a palm-heel strike to the nose, or clawing and scraping the eyes, produces a great effect when turning on your offense. I like to attack my attacker much like the doctor: right down the center line of the body, top of head, eyes, nose, throat, and nuts. I have always been a headhunter, and used to joke that I was the eye, ear, nose, and throat doctor.

When you face these crazies and drugged up tough guys, there are a few things you can do to help yourself.
Stay calm and control your breathing so you can be busier than him—causing him to wear down before you. Go after his eyes first—take away his vision—strike his throat to keep him from breathing, and maybe strike the diaphragm.

Attack his limbs, starting with small bones by breaking fingers and maybe arms. The more you can limit the weapons and range of motion of the outrageous PCP drugged-up guy, the better off you’ll be. In the middle of it all, anytime you have to pause or think, continue to stick your fingers in his eyes. If you need to, grab his nuts and squeeze until they burst. This is no time to be shy or nice.

In my younger days, I had serious street fights. In one, I bit a few plugs out of my attacker’s head and face, broke arms and ribs, and stomped the guy’s balls until he was hooked up to a kidney machine. This happened when an attacker stabbed one of my friends—a Delta operative—on December 28, 1983, at Ft. Bragg. The guy had several knives on him and was all drugged up; he just wouldn’t give in, even after we’d broken his bones from head to toe. Even after stomps to the nuts.

After this, even though he wanted to fight, he didn’t have it in him, nor did he have the physical ability anymore. He had stabbed my friend in the stomach and hip, hitting two arteries. It is in moments like this that will define who you are and what you will do to survive. There is one simple rule: never quit. You must continue to breathe, think of defensive solutions, and fire away from a position of strength.

You can also change levels by squatting or kneeling, and bring down an opponent by stabbing the top of the foot, shin, kneecap, or inside or outside the center of the thigh. There are many nerves and bleeders there. Never let your attacker change levels without you changing with him. If he squats, you squat. Keep your hips aligned with his, or slightly lower so he can’t use leverage against you. It’s kind of like dancing: When he moves, you move. Don’t just stand there and become a target!

I hope this article has conveyed some techniques you could use to turn a fight or an assault around. You have to be mentally prepared to hurt someone for real defense. It could be your life or the life of your children at risk. For me, this is a no-brainer. You have to practice and visualize the worst outcome.

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