Knowing the steps to take in the early stages of a developing fight can be the key to avoiding or surviving the fight. Physical confrontations occur on a wide spectrum from minor to life threatening. At the lower end of the spectrum is the “Hey, you just spilled my beer. What are you doing to do about it?” type of situation. At the other is the terrorist or gang banger clearly intent on taking your life.
There are many steps that you can take to significantly reduce your chances of getting into a dangerous situation. I’ll cover them in a future article, but we’ll assume here that you’ve already been faced with a potential attacker in a more common lower violence situation like the beer example above.
Body Positioning – The first priority is to create space. Your opponent should never be able to grab you or reach you with the first punch. If he moves forward, immediately step back out of range. Never turn your back or let the attacker get close, beside or behind you. I constantly see online closed circuit footage of two people inches away from one another yelling and pushing each other. In almost every video, the person who punches first succeeds in landing the blow, often knocking out the other person! Don’t be in a position to have that happen.
Stance – Take a natural athletic stance with your predominant foot back and feet shoulder width apart. If you are right handed, your left foot should be forward to allow you to throw a power shot with the right hand while blocking with your left. Knees are bent with weight evenly distributed on both feet so that you can comfortably move in any direction. Fighting stances can vary widely for advanced fighters, but keep it basic if you aren’t highly trained.
The Fence – As you set your fight stance, your hands should come up into a ready position. Your hands should rise to chest or shoulder height to provide protection in case a punch is thrown. Keep your arms bent and hands facing forward (called fence position since this is your protective fence) as if attempting to push something away. One alternative to this is to actually make fists and hold them in protective boxing type position. While this is a better position for fighting, it is an aggressive response to the threat and basically says “let’s get it on”. At this point deescalating the situation is less likely and in these litigious times it will be harder to claim that you were trying to stop the fight or retreat.
Attempt to deescalate – Let’s face it. Any fight is a potential loss for you so trying to stop it is the best idea. If you lose, you might end up in the hospital or morgue especially if the foe’s friends get involved or a weapon appears. If you win, even though the attacker was the aggressor, ending up in jail or court is a real possibility. If the attacker is injured or even killed (it could happen as easily as they strike their head on a table or curb on the way down) you can be sure that at the least the police will be involved. Likely so will family members and attorneys. Remember that even the worst scumbag was always a wonderful and happy person when the media or lawyers show up!
Once the fence and stance are set and distance established use your words to try deescalating. Asking open ended questions can redirect an angry person’s brain from fight mode to thinking mode. “What can I do to make this right?” or “I am sorry, how did I upset you?” are good examples. Make them think not just respond with a yes or no. This process activates a different part of the brain than the fight or flight reptilian brain and may cause the person to hesitate or depressurize.
Watch for the sucker punch – Street savvy fighters will often attempt to hit you with an unexpected (sucker) punch. Don’t fall for it as the steps leading to the punch are quite predictable. Here’s what to watch for:
- The foe will put their strong foot back to prepare for the power punch.
- They often begin to rock slightly back and forth on the feet to prepare for a sudden step forward.
- They will stop looking at you, pretending to look in another direction, up or down. The attempt is to relax or distract you.
- One or both hands will come up to their face. They may hold their chin like they are thinking or pretend to scratch their face. This reduces the time it takes to hit you compared to having the hands down.
Since most fights statistically end in 60 to 100 seconds all of the above steps will put you in a much more protective situation, highly reducing your chance of getting hit with the first strike or two.
Mike is a Certified ISSA Fitness and NASM MMA Conditioning Trainer. He operated martial arts schools in Texas and Arizona. He holds a 4th degree black belt in Isshinryu Karate, wore a black sash in Shaolin Kung Fu and studied nine other fighting styles including boxing, Muay Thai boxing, Japanese sword, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and MMA. His lifetime commitment to fitness includes body building, power lifting, tennis, golf, motocross, rock climbing, and many running and triathlon events.