Martial arts offer us a conundrum. On one hand, we are taught to never seek out violence, and to avoid hurting others at all cost. On the other hand, it is commonly known that there can be no exact substitute in the dojo for the fury and adrenaline of real danger, and thus our life protection skills can never be complete without at least brushing with combat.

This catch-22 is all too familiar for most civilian martial artists, and has helped charlatans stay in business for years without ever having to prove anything.

Modern day artists have one luxury that previous generations never had – the prevalence of video. It’s true that there is no substitute for the feeling of uncontrolled violence, but at least we can see what it looks like and ask ourselves the tough questions regarding our own preparedness.

Today I found an excellent video that demonstrates an all too classic scenario – a muscley street thug causing trouble with a person he thinks might be an easy target. The cause of the confrontation is unknown, but the thug can be found confronting the man aggressively on his own doorstep. Watch as the situation escalates, and what happens when the thug finds out the hard way that he picked a martial artist for a target:


I like this video because it is very ‘real’. The martial artist wasn’t outside of a bar, or at a ruckus sporting event; he was simply at his home when trouble came his way. This is the kind of thing that could happen to anyone, even individuals who make good decisions to stay away from questionable areas.

One thing that impressed me about the martial artist was his patience. He sustained significant verbal abuse, and got screamed at right in his face. That experience causes the hair on the back of the neck to stand straight up and puts a person in a very aggressive mood instantly. Nevertheless he maintained himself and didn’t show any signs of agitation.

Secondly, when the thug went so far as to put hands on him, he didn’t react with an immediate death blow, or ground and pound pummelation. He pushed him away to try and create distance and give the thug yet another opportunity to go away. The martial artist also kept his hands in front of him in a ready-to-use position (not quite as good as Geoff Thompson’s fence, but still good and unaggressive).

Eventually, as the thug noticed he wasn’t getting anywhere, he began to escalate the situation by throwing a trash can around and pushing the martial artist persistently. It was soon after that that the martial artist made the personal decision that he no longer felt safe, and made an attack. Once he made that aggressive motion, he didn’t go back to trying to be passive. He controlled distance and kept his hands up. He waited, still patiently, until the energetic thug, bounding around with unchecked adrenaline, tried to close the gap. At that time the martial artist punched him square in the face with a well executed straight punch.

As the thug limped away the martial artist maintained distance and control, but did not follow up with further punishment. He used enough violence to eliminate the threat, and then allowed the situation to dissolve.

At no point did the martial artist try anything fancy. He kept a natural stance and hand position. He made small movements and kept control at all times.

This martial artist may not win 1,000 tournaments with style and panache, but he had ‘it’ when ‘it’ really counted.

Video and the Law

One very important take-away from this video is that the martial artist behaved well in accordance to the law. He tried his best to de-escalate the situation, and did nothing to provoke the thug. He defended himself once the thug began showing signs of  persistent physical aggression. In fact, the martial artist would probably have been justified punching the thug out the first time he went to push or grab him. (Indeed, the one thing that makes me nervous in this video is the possibility of the thug having a knife and being so close inside the martial artist’s personal space).

This video also shows the abundance of video these days. Flip cams and cam phones are all over the place, which means if trouble starts (especially in a crowded area like in the video), there is a very decent chance it will be on video. We as martial artists can use that to our advantage. We can make obvious signs of non-aggression so that later in court we can use that video as evidence of our control and focus on self defense.