Fighting has been around since the beginning of time, so naturally violence is in our nature. Even the smallest of men (or women) have the natural ability to unleash their inner violence, and defeat much bigger opponents.
However, street fighting techniques aren’t all about how to throw a punch, taking a punch is just as important.
If you follow the steps in this article, you’ll have a much better chance at surviving even the most brutal fights.
Table of Contents
Realities of Street Fights
The reality of a street fight is an ugly realization for many people, and can be a shocking wake up call to those who are only used to fighting in dojos or gyms under relatively controlled conditions.
The first and most obvious rule of a street fight is that there are no rules. The reasons why people fight vary, and not all violent encounters are created equal, but to say that you will be in an unpredictable, chaotic and rapidly evolving confrontation is an understatement.
The violence of a street fight might be social in nature, conducted for reasons of honor, education or settling a score, or it might be predatory in nature, for reasons of gain or malice, or they could even switch between the two.
But, the one thing you must understand is that you likely will not have much in common at all with your opponent and they will not be bound by any codes of conduct or agreed upon rules.
How does this change our approach to a street fight in regards to self-defense? Our prime directive is never to underestimate or assume what our opponents will do and how quickly they will do it. They simply are not like you and me.
Second, never let yourself fall into the trap of believing that there are any limitations on violence in a street fight. I have myself seen and researched too many to recall.
I have seen the “monkey dance” between two buzzed belligerents at a bar go from a relatively gentlemanly “step outside” engagement using nothing but stand up fisticuffs end with the victor brutally curb stomping his defeated opponent.
I have also witnessed personally some mild heckling end immediately and viciously with the heckler taking a full power shot from brass knuckles right in the mouth.
The point of all this horrorshow retelling is to impress upon you the seriousness of the situation you’ll be in. The bad guy gets a vote in the outcome.
He definitely gets the lion’s share of the vote as to when the fight starts and how long it will last. It is he who will decide if and when weapons will be introduced to the fight, much of the time.
It is up to you to hopefully avoid the fight entirely and if you can’t to get it over with as quickly as possible by either disabling your opponent or convincing him and no uncertain terms that giving up is his best and only option.
Knowing that, we must tailor our training to that standard and practice accordingly to be truly prepared.
Qualifying Our Techniques
Invariably, any discussion of fighting in general and street fighting in particular will quickly segue into a bout of egotistical jousting about which martial arts style is best suited for the rough and tumble down in the dirt realities of real life fighting.
Believe me, if this is not a subject you are well versed on you are in for a wild and depressing ride.
Without going into the weeds on the topic within the confines of this article, suffice it to say that the vast majority of traditional martial arts are not up to the challenge, not even close. Why? The answer is easy, none of the training or the techniques are intended for the environment and context of a street fight.
I can already hear the trad martial arts diehards going full drum set down in the comments. But how can I make such a claim?
I can say so with authority because traditional martial arts, whatever other benefits they provide to the practitioners, are virtually never performed against an opponent who’s making his own decisions and operating at full strength, full speed and with the intention to wound or kill his opponent.
That is the only metric that matters. I don’t care where the technique comes from and I don’t care who the practitioner is, if I’m going to rely on, and specifically learn and practice, a technique that will be used in a street fight it must pass the following test:
Does it work on a resisting opponent?
Any technique that is good enough for use in a real life and possibly life or death fight must work on a resisting opponent. A resisting opponent is one with an objective of his own and he is playing for keeps doing anything necessary to attain it.
Techniques that only work when an opponent gives you a layup with a pre-discussed pre-planned technique repeated ad nauseum until you can nail the timing are not good techniques for use in the street.
Does it work at full power?
There are lots of techniques that look good and seem intelligent when both the practitioner and the opponent are not utilizing their full strength.
Gentle wrist locks that send opponents pinwheeling end over end are choreographed ballet, not actual takedowns or small joint locks that can dislocate bones and tear tendons. Similarly highly stylized punches or kicks look impressive but rarely deliver enough oomph when lives are on the line.
Does it work at full speed?
Any intricate block, parry or counter looks like the bee’s knees when it is being applied at full speed to an attack that is moving at half speed or slower.
For those who are used to this choreographed sparring, the speed and intensity at which blows come in during a real fight is harrowing. If a technique is not sound and sure enough or it can be employed in time and still be effective against an attacker that is moving as fast as he can it has no place in a street fight.
Does it work against an opponent who is trying to kill or cripple you?
You must always keep in mind what it is you are trying to do in a street fight. You’re trying to stop an attacker who’s going to seriously injure you, even kill you, if they succeed.
Accordingly, your techniques must be designed to injure adequately and quickly enough to debilitate the attacker or at the very least inflict substantial pain to motivate them to see the error of their ways and quit the fight. It is worth noting that a one shot solution is unlikely; it is a fight after all and you’re going to have to work for that!
Holding Yourself to the Standard
So considering how we must train for a street fight, how do we actually go about, you know, training for it? If everything has to work at full power, full speed and against a resisting opponent with his own plan, how can we engage in sparring without risking pretty serious injury?
The answer, reader, is that you engage in sparring at full power, full speed and against a resisting opponent. Well, or very nearly full power and full speed.
This type of full contact fight training can still be done with safety measures in place, particularly mouth guards and lightweight gloves and definitely with cups and other protective gear used as necessary.
But the fight must be a free-flowing and to the finish affair putting everything you have learned and practiced together against your opponent.
I won’t lie to you: It is going to hurt, and hurt a lot- and it should! You can expect jammed fingers, busted noses, split lips and more. It is the only thing that will truly prepare you for a live event. Now, this is not to say that you and your training partner should actually try to kill each other.
You definitely don’t want to inflict grievous injuries on each other, things like joint stomps, raking of the eyes and things like that. There are ways to set up training evolutions for those specific maneuvers that will not endanger the health and wellness of your partner.
But when the time comes to spar you really need to spar. It is possible for two seasoned fighters or martial artists to conduct this training safely among themselves or in a fight club type setting, but for everyone else I would highly recommend seeking out a vetted, professional training with a solid track record for orchestrating and conducting this type of sparring.
It is not something you want to engage in with imposters or amateurs because the risk of genuine and substantial injury is just too high.
Naturally, your chances at walking out of a fight with the upper-hand increase if you’re alert when the first blow is dealt. Now, we can’t always know when someone’s about to hit us.
If we could, life would be so much easier. There are going to be times when you’re blind-sided (hit without expecting it). If that ends up being the case, skip this step and move on to the next.
Whether you’re in a crowded place, or simply in a heated discussion with another person, you need to think worst case scenario. If you have already accepted that you may have to resort to violence, you’ll find that your “pre-fight jitters” aren’t as overwhelming as they usually are.
Situational awareness means looking for the signs of aggression, assessing the mood of a room when you walk into it to ascertain if “that guy” is cruising to pick a fight, and being cognizant of what can hurt you (terrain, weapons of opportunity, obstacles) and who else may want to hurt you (friends or accomplices of the assailant) if your potential opponent has his (or her) fists clenched, that’s a good sign that they’re getting ready to throw a punch (don’t worry, we’ll get into how to take a punch later).
Always be aware of their hands, not just because of clenched fists, but also hands are what hold weapons. If your opponent has a weapon and you don’t, try to avoid confrontation as much as possible.
Generally speaking, if the first time you notice someone could potentially hurt you is when they are at close range (touching/conversational distance) you can chalk it up to a situational awareness failure. Bummer!
Disclosure: This post has links to 3rd party websites, so I may get a commission if you buy through those links. Survival Sullivan is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. See my full disclosure for more.
Why waste your time fighting if you don’t have to? Most potential fights can be resolved without conflict, with just words.
A great book to read in regards to de-escalating situations is called “Verbal Judo”, by George J. Thompson and Jerry B. Jenkins.
Most law enforcement officers are given this book in the police academy to study the art of persuasion. This book describes different techniques you can store in your mental arsenal to diffuse potentially hostile situations.
Humor is a universal language of peace. If you can, try to resort to it, but don’t humiliate your opponent. Humiliating your opponent will almost always result in a fight, so use humor in other ways.
If there is a group of people, de-escalation is your safest bet. There’s nothing wrong with living to fight another day, so if the odds aren’t in your favor, do your best to diffuse the situation.
You’ve tried de-escalating your situation with no luck, so now we get down to business. Legally, you have a better chance at getting away with a fight if you claim self-defense. You can’t claim self-defense, however, if you sucker-punch your opponent just because he gave you a dirty look.
If they have a weapon though, that’s a different story. Tip – if you carry a baseball bat in your vehicle for self-defense, put a baseball glove in the same compartment with it, your lawyer will thank you.
Distraction techniques come in two categories: verbal and physical. First, we’ll go over verbal distraction, as it’s the easiest technique to accomplish. A lot of times, the first thing that comes to mind when people think of a verbal distraction is the classic “look, over there!”.
A great verbal distraction technique is yelling as loud as you possibly can before you attack. Sounds stupid, right? Well if it’s stupid and it works, it’s not stupid.
Physical distraction is the most effective technique, if done correctly. The three best points to strike your opponent to distract them are the throat, between the hip and the knee, and the front part of the shin. These three areas are the most easily accessible, and painful areas on the body to strike.
Use caution when striking the throat, however, because it only takes between 5-20lbs of pressure (depending on age, and gender) to crush a person’s trachea.
The average force exerted in a middle-aged man’s punch is 170-450 lbs of pressure, so you can see where this could land you with legal action because of a fight.
The three best “formal” martial arts to learn that translate to the real world are Boxing, Wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu Krav Maga and MMA.
Before you get offended that Taekwondo isn’t a part of this list, remember this is an article to prepare you for a street fight, not a debate class.
Boxing is a good fit for street fighting, because it utilizes a strict technique that allows you to strike your opponent with lethal accuracy and discipline. Boxing includes kickboxing as a subcategory that uses kicks, punches, some elbow strikes, and throws.
Jiu-Jitsu studies mostly grappling techniques, as does wrestling making it a highly recommended martial art to study. Most street fights end up on the ground, so knowing your way around your opponent makes your chances of walking out on top skyrocket.
And, just as importantly as knowing how to throw someone to the ground, knowing how to escape holds, chokes and throws that are being applied to you is essential..
While it may take a while to rank up in Jiu-Jitsu, a white belt who’s been studying for a few months has the upper-hand over an inexperienced fighter.
The best martial-art to study for when you get surprised with a street fight is Krav Maga. This martial art is all about speed, and violence of action.
These two traits are critical to winning a street fight, if you can’t overpower your opponent, you can beat them with speed. Krav Maga is a very difficult martial-art, so make sure you do some cardio on the side before you sign up.
MMA, or mixed martial arts, is a combination of many martial arts distilled down to a ruthlessly effective and direct system of combat. It can form an excellent core of skills to build from.
How to Take a Punch
Being on the receiving end of a punch to the face isn’t as bad as you may think. Yes, it hurts, but it’s not the end of the world. There are ways to reduce the impact you’ll feel from a punch, and if you follow them, it’ll help you stay in the fight.
Everyone is made differently, so expect your opponent to be able to take more hits than you can. Never underestimate your opponent, expect them to be more tough than they might actually be, otherwise you could find yourself out of the fight sooner than you expected.
The shoulder roll is exactly what the name says; a defensive move where you roll your shoulders away from and “with” a punch in order to deflect it or allow it to impact the shoulder. This might hurt, but compared to taking a shot to the abdomen or head it will do minimal debilitating damage and also put you in position to counterattack with a big punch of your own chambered. Make sure to keep your chin down and tight so you don’t expose the vulnerable neck muscles to the bad guy.
This is a famous and foundational defensive technique in boxing and one that will serve you well if you can put in the time to master it.
Taking the Punch
Blocking punches is one way to reduce the effect you feel from a hit, but you need to be careful, blocking too much will give your opponent the momentum they need to finish the fight in their favor.
Blocking should only be used to catch your breath, or to set up for a counter-punch. To block, simply place your forearms between your face, and the attack. While there are multiple techniques for blocking, this is the simplest.
A good tip to remember for blocking, is that you should never stay in a blocking position for more than 3 strikes. If you do, you risk your attacker gaining momentum. Instead, after an opportunity arises, throw a counter punch.
If you don’t know much about fighting, we’ll get into throwing a punch later. Laying on the ground and curling your legs to your chest while covering your face is not a block, and should only be used to protect your life from multiple attackers.
A term us fighters use is “slip, and rip”, and it refers to moving your head away from an attack, and throwing a counter punch. This is the most effective way to win a fight, because if your opponent can’t hit you, they can’t hurt you.
To slip a punch (or any strike), simply side-step to your opponent’s weak hand side, and move your head slightly to avoid the strike. Try to avoid retreating to the rear, because your opponent will just chase you and gain momentum. While slipping strikes, always keep your guard up, and your chin down.
Never look away from your opponent, ever. If you need to duck down to avoid a strike, keep your guard up, head up, and simply squat. Moving your head down sets you up for a knee to the face, or an uppercut, both of which are incredibly painful to receive.
Whenever you slip your opponent’s strike, always follow up with a counter. If you’re too far from your opponent, a simple leg-kick is very effective to close the distance while distracting your opponent with pain, setting up your finishing strike to the face.
Taking a punch the old-fashioned way
Sometimes you’re unable to slip, or block your opponent’s strike. This leaves us with our last option, taking the hit. Don’t get too nervous, panicking will ruin your focus and give your opponent the upper hand.
Odds are, your opponent doesn’t like getting hit just as much as you don’t. If you must take a hit to the face, you’ll be fine, your skull is built for taking trauma.
What you need to be conscious about, however, is your jaw. Your jaw can easily be broken with a hard-enough hit, so try to avoid taking too many hits in a row.
Your nose can also be broken, or dislocated (painful, however most of the time harmless), but that’s a risk every fighter must take. Don’t be too scared about the “what if’s”, you’re not in a fight to look pretty, you’re in a fight to survive.
Getting “knocked out” is very common in fights. The most common reason is because the nerve cluster located behind the jaw bone becomes agitated and shuts signals down to your brain temporarily.
Most of the time, it’s just a superficial injury, and you’ll recover without any issues. If you find yourself suffering from short-term memory loss, or severe headaches, seek medical help immediately (you may have a concussion).
How to Throw Strikes
Everyone knows how to hit something, but not everyone knows how to properly throw a punch without hurting themselves. Ideally, only the first two knuckles should hit your target when you throw a punch.
These two knuckles are the hardest knuckles in your hand, and can withstand multiple blows before breaking. Avoid hitting your opponent with your pinky knuckle, because it’s very fragile, and will more than likely break upon impact.
When you make a fist, never secure your thumb inside your fist, you will dislocate your thumb. Instead, curl your thumb under your index finger, this will further protect your thumb from trauma.
If the fight goes on longer than expected, you can also strike your opponent with the same knuckles that you use to knock on a door. While this technique is less effective than the traditional punch, it’s still effective at disorienting your opponent.
The best places to throw a punch at your opponent, are the nose, or the jaw. Fighters usually reference the area of the jaw right below the mouth as “the button”. It’s more or less a sweet spot to punch because it pushes the jaw back, and irritates the nerve clusters located behind the jaw, resulting in a knock out.
Another great place to throw a punch is the chest. Punching the chest pushes your opponent back, creating space between you both so you can use your reach advantage (if you have it).
As an alternate to punching, strikes may be delivered with the heel of the open hand, as a straight or jab (a traditional palm strike) or as a hook (a bear slap).
Don’t mistake a palm strike as a sissy slap; executed with intention they can deliver just as much energy as a knockout punch and are generally much, much easier on your wrist and fingers.
That could be an important consideration if you need to use your hands for weapons, dialing 911, or just grabbing someone you are with and dragging them away.
As for targeting, you want to strike the same areas that you would try to connect with while punching, namely the jaw, temple, nose and side of the orbit.
Take care to avoid the teeth of the attacker lest you get a nasty “fight bite” and keep in mind that targeting the neck and in particular the windpipe may be considered lethal force.
Incorporating kicks in a fight is a very important rule to follow. Most inexperienced fighters don’t anticipate kicks, so when you throw one, it catches them off balance and gives you the upper-hand.
If you don’t have the flexibility to reach your opponent’s face with a kick (which most people don’t), a simple leg-kick is quite effective if it lands in the proper area.
The best area to kick your opponent in the leg is between the hip, and the knee. There is a soft area in the quad muscle that, if hit, will cause extreme pain and even cramping in your opponent.
Another area you can kick is the shin bone (you’ll want to use the bottom of your foot for that one, not your toes), which has the same effect if you put enough force behind it. The last-resort area to strike on your opponent’s leg is their knee. While very effective, you should only do this if it’s life or death, as you can cause a long-lasting injury to them.
When throwing most kicks, especially to the leg, you’ll want to land your kick with the top of your foot (between your toe knuckles, and your ankle). These kicks come from the side.
If you initiate a push-kick (front kick), you’ll want to land your kick with the ball of your foot (the hard spot at the bottom of your big toe on the bottom of your foot). Front kicks are effective when struck in the groin, or chest area.
A foot sweep can be a surprise maneuver that can quickly allow you establish a dominant position for follow-on strikes, or even escape from the fight entirely.
A properly executed foot sweep is not a long, spinning, low kick, but is instead a brisk, sharp kick that destabilizes the opponent by moving their foot from a position where it is expected to be in order to support their weight.
Best utilized from a clinch or when you have at least one hand on the opponent in order to further pull or shift them off balance, a properly executed sweep can be hard to see coming and even more difficult to stop.
Worst Case Scenarios
There are two “worst case scenario” situations you need to pay attention to when it comes to street fights. The first one is if your opponent has a weapon, whether it be a gun, knife, or a blunt object.
The second being if there are multiple opponents. Both are equally dangerous, so if you want to increase your chances of survival, pay attention.
If your opponent has a weapon, your chances of surviving this fight has gone so low, it’s almost impossible. Don’t worry, there are ways out of this. If your opponent has a gun, and you have no experience in a martial art, your best survival technique is compliance.
Do what they want you to do, don’t argue, and don’t make yourself a threat to them. Make yourself seem more personable, talk about your kids, wife, family. The more you make yourself seem like a person than a target to your opponent, the more likely they are to not harm you.
If your opponent has a knife or a blunt object, and you still wish to fight, you still have a chance. Take the fight to the ground, safely. Once you’re on the ground, control the arm that has the weapon and either take it from them, or throw it a good distance away so it can’t be taken back by your opponent.
When you are attempting to take your opponent to the ground, make sure you control the arm that has the weapon, otherwise you expose yourself to injury while you’re not looking.
If there are multiple attackers, and you’re feeling confident enough to fight, there’s still a chance for you. Take out their leader first if you can, his friends are more likely to be hesitant to attack you if you took their leader out of the picture, as they don’t want to get hurt either.
If you can’t take out their leader without it becoming a long fight, start taking out his friends starting with the weakest one. The less people in the fight, the better your chances.
There are multiple factors that surround street fights, but the ones in this article tend to be the most common. We highly suggest beginning to study one of the martial-arts that are listed above, no amount of reading can prepare you fully for a fight like hands-on learning can.
Remember, never start a fight unless you absolutely must, and always keep a focused mind. An angry mind is an unfocused mind, so never fight angry.
last update: 01/11/2022
I’m an active-duty infantryman with the U.S. Army, and I’ve served a combined-service of over 5 years. Throughout my career, I’ve learned various survival techniques, as well as self-defense techniques. I specialize in weapons, long-range reconnaissance, distance shooting, and long-term isolation survival. I’m a very conservative, very “to the point” kind of person.