How often do you see an advert or website claiming something like, “Best Street Fighting Style”, “Ultimate Street Fighting System”, “Scientific Street Fighting”, “The Art of Street Fighting”; or words to that effect.
Many martial arts, and I would say especially the more modern arts, like to emphasis how practical and effective they are and give themselves more kudos by emphasising “street fighting” over all other aspects of martial arts. Some routinely position themselves as superior by deriding traditional martial arts; emphasising how they’ve taken out ritualistic movements, don’t waste time with Kata/forms/patterns, don’t march up and down punching/kicking the air, don’t train for scoring points at competitions, etc; they just (allegedly) get straight to the real 100% practical, functional, better than anything else that’s ever been street fighting system. It’s amazing how many best systems there are out there 🙂
But one of the things that often makes me cringe, is the emphasis on “street fighting”!
Simply put, street fighting is illegal. So these schools are boldly advertising, that if you want to break the law, they’ll teach you to break the law more efficiently than anybody else. Seems like they’ve missed an important point somewhere.
Now the rest of this post is based primarily of UK law, though most other countries will have similar rules. However, if you’re not in the UK, I suggest that you check the law in your own country/state.
So . . . . street fighting is illegal. It doesn’t matter how much I insult you, insult your partner/kids, tell you I’ve done strange things with your mamma and she liked it; the moment we agree to step outside and sort it out, we’re both breaking the law. The level of provocation plays a very small part in it. You react to my provocation, you’re breaking the law too. This is especially difficult for a man when another man insults our partner. We feel emasculated and devalued in front of our lady if we let them get away with it. But bottom line is guys, most women would rather you walk away then get into a fight. It spoils her whole night too! And if you do have a woman that wants you to fight and beat somebody up over an insult; then maybe you should have a serious look at your relationship!
So why spend so much time learning a martial art if it’s illegal to use it anyway?
I’m glad you asked me that!
We can use our martial arts for self protection. Before we go any further, just a little bit of defining terms.
Self defence usually refers to the physical skills, punching, kicking, throwing, locking etc.; sometimes referred to as “hard skills”.
Self protection, includes self defence skills but also includes tactics for talking your way out of or de-escalating a situation so as to make it unnecessary to actually get into a physical fight. These skills are sometimes referred to as “soft skills”.
Now the laws around self protection are quite different to the laws around street fighting. Self protection comes into play when somebody picks a fight with you and you decline; but the other person pushes it to the point where they make it clear that they’re going to take it a physical level no matter how much you try to talk your way out of it. They take away your choice to decline their challenge. Many people advocate running away and I don’t have a problem with that. However, if you have family/children with you, or if you’re in a tight skirt and high heals, or if you’re not that fit and your assailant will easily be able to catch up with you; running is not always a viable option.
This is very much a simplification, but it comes down to choice. If you have a choice about participating in a fight, then it’s illegal to do so. If you have the choice taken away from you, then it’s legal.
You’re even allowed (in UK at least) to strike first (pre-emptive strike) if you honestly and sincerely believe that you’re in imminent danger of being attacked and physically harmed.
At this point, somebody will probably want to the quote the old Karate adage, “in Karate there is no first strike”. This is often quoted out of context. Basically it means that you don’t seek to start a fight. But if you have someone frothing at the mouth, high on drugs, telling you he’s going to kill you and then kill your family and he’s right up nose to nose with you . . . . . do you wait for him to make the first strike before you’re allowed to do anything? Of course not, you wouldn’t stand a chance! Action is always faster than reactions, so you have to take the action first.
Proper training at the soft skills to de-escalate/dissuade a would-be attacker also provide some legal protection too. By using the correct body language and the correct wording, any witness would be able to testify as to who was starting the fight and who was trying to calm the situation down.
Please take a look at the simulation below by Kevin O’Hagan who is one of the Worlds best reality based self defence instructors and one of my inspirations. But before you do so, turn the sound down and imagine that it was caught on a CCTV camera.
If you live in the UK, we have more CCTV cameras per head of population then any other country in the world, so there is a good chance that any altercation could be caught on camera. Kevin (on the right) clearly does not want to fight, but guy on the left (Kevin’s son, Tom) is clearly initiating the confrontation. Even without hearing what’s being said, that is obvious from the body language alone.
Yet although Kevin backs of, his hands are high in a non-aggressive position, whilst Tom is peacoking (puffing himself up to look bigger) and is clearly acting aggressively. Whilst Kevin does not look aggressive and Tom clearly does; Tom’s hand are for the most part a long way from any good target, whilst Kevin’s hands are close to his targets throughout the entire confrontation, giving Kevin a huge advantage. So even though Kevin did strike first, it is clear to any witnesses (including CCTV) that he was trying to diffuse and de-escalate the situation, yet Tom wasn’t having it. Tom was threatening verbally, pushing and moving into Kevin’s personal space. When somebody does that (especially when entering your personal space) you are justified in believing that you are imminent danger of assault and bodily harm, therefore it is legal (and sensible) to strike first. The body language demonstrated by Kevin is clearly giving Tom plenty of opportunity to walk away, whilst at the same time keeping control of the space in the middle of them, protecting himself from sudden attack and allowing him (when all else fails) to strike without resistance to a good target of his choice.
This is good practice for keeping yourself safe and keeping it within the law.
Finally, for any Karateka who might still not be happy with the idea of striking first, I’d like to quote Gichin Funakoshi from his book, Karate-Do Kyohan (The Master Text):
“When there are no avenues of escape or one is caught even before any attempt to escape can be made, then for the fist time the use of self-defence techniques should be considered. Even at times like these, do not show any intention of attacking, but first let the attacker become careless. At that time attack him, concentrating one’s whole strength in one blow to a vital point, and in the moment of surprise, escape and seek shelter or help”.
Although this particular quote is taken from a section on women’s self defence, the same principles are clearly being applied and refined in the video above.