Exposing the Myth by Joe Lewis
Note: This is the full text of the condensed article, "Street Fighting" published in Black Belt Magazine.
People pursuing martial arts have been for years conditioned to ask all the wrong questions. The classic misleading question, "What combat martial art is the best?" The real question should be, "Why do I need martial arts?" Martial arts is like dieting; it is not, "What do I eat," but more importantly, "Why do I eat?" When access to facts is withheld and we fail to investigate the unproven claims, myths arise.
Martial arts is flooded with myths. There are students who believe if they can emulate or fight like a snake or praying mantis or even a monkey, this method automatically grants them superiority. This accepted practice is as ill fated as the myth that all members in a martial arts class should execute techniques exactly the same. Short people cannot fight as if they are tall, small people cannot fight like they're big, and nor can slow people be expected to emulate those who are genetically quick. Also, small people are even taught to practice their drills standing directly in front of opponents who are often much larger. If you're short or small, you must learn how to fight like a short or small person. In the animal kingdom, snakes don't fight like birds nor do tigers fight like butterflies. Humans have many technical challenges to overcome without trying to learn to fight like some kind of bird or insect or other animal type. Learning to fight like a human is difficult enough.
Out of this abyss of untested nonsense surfaces another untouchable phenomena called the "streetfighter." Professional fighters and martial arts instructors are often harassed by this peripheral group who lack the same dedication, the willingness to train in public, or the confidence to compete. These types consistently claim that they are legitimate fighters, even better than those who compete in the ring. Unlike real fighters, they pretend to be immune to judgment. Some of their familiar self-endowments are, "deadliest man alive" or "king of the streetfighters."
Fighters fight and runners race. They each love competition. Records of wins and losses are administered and include dates, locations, and opponents. A small handful of the ambitious best become world-class professionals, called fighters. This status is earned, never self-proclaimed.
The only "records" streetfighters have are down at the police department. The seasoned officers with whom I've worked describe their many encounters with streetfighters, for the most part, as being nothing more than a joke. These officers report that in the end, all they have is a big mouth.
The word, "streetfighter," always bothered me. It reminds me of the term, "killer instinct." There is no such thing as a killer instinct. Journalists conjured up the term to describe the boxer, Jack Dempsey. "Streetfighter" is a word in the dictionary; however, at age 57, I have witnessed many fights, but to date, never a single one has taken place in the street. I think of a so-called "streetfighter" as either being some hoodlum, terrorist, or immature kid often being the one who creates fights. Usually, their "records" consist of beating up some drunks, a few kids, and even probably a couple of poor bums. These types respect violence. When kids are exposed to adults using violence, such as a parent beating a child, they absorb two messages; one, that adults condone violence and second, that adults use violence to solve problems. This is where all world wars begin. If you're proud to call yourself a streetfighter, I hope, along with all our kids, that you never move into our neighborhood.
Two things about the streetfighter amuse me. What purpose is being served with a practice of suspending rational thought in order to self-appoint oneself the title of "streetfighter," and then with the same zeal, grant the streetfighter higher combat status, claiming ring fighters can't street fight? What major flaws does anyone detect rendering pro fighters helpless or at a disadvantage in a street fight when observing sport fighters, the likes of Mike Tyson or Frank Shamrock and others? There are those who claim ring fighting isn't practical or real. What is unreal or impractical or less deadly about a kick, a knee, or a punch that knocks a ring opponent out and sometimes kills? Also, what about a choke or joint lock, which could also kill or render an opponent instantly helpless?
From physical strength to mental toughness, there is no identifiable attribute of streetfighters unavailable to ring fighters. Sometimes, the technique mechanics are different. For example, if you research boxing's history, you would note that the bare-knuckle fighters kept their palms facing upward. If they had punched like today's gloved fighters, who learn to rotate their punches, turning the palms downwards at contact, then they would have destroyed their hands. Also, the intent of a technique can vary. I could strike you and abstain from hurting you, strike as if I'm abusing and spanking you, hurt, punish, torture, slaughter, or even bury you. Each of these elevating intents vary in degrees of effect. Sometimes, of course, your aggressor may show up with a weapon or others to outnumber you, but then these factors do not make streetfighters better. This only creates the old "what if" scenario. What if the ring fighter pulls out his own gun and so on?
Take 10 top professional fighters ("K-1," "U.F.C.," "Pride," etc.) and put them into a street context. Most rational experts would overwhelmingly select the outcome to largely favor the pros. And if you put the streetfighter in a ring sport context, I can't see anyone having any hope for the streetfighter.
Street fighting does have its place, but is street fighting nothing more than a well-timed trick or sucker punch? One of my older brothers had a nasty reputation back in his day. One night he sat down next to a woman sitting alone in some nightclub. Seconds later, her enraged boyfriend appeared at the table standing over my brother, demanding he step outside. My brother stood up with his beer bottle in his hand and said, "Sure, just let me finish my beer." As he put the bottle to his mouth, he suddenly drops it, simultaneously decking the guy, punching him with the right hand in which he had held the beer. During my younger years, my older brothers taught me a great deal about these types of altercations. This situation with my brother illustrates the oldest tactic known to man, "surprise attack."
Just because you put the word, "street," in front of the word, "fighter," does not make you omnipotent. The word has no magic powers nor does it mean that any untested combatant could automatically last 10 to 12 grueling rounds absorbing dozens of world-class educated punches and kicks or grappling maneuvers. Nor could the streetfighter maintain professional speed, power, and accuracy, which takes years of hard training to develop, working with tough sparring partners aided by profoundly smart trainers. Neither is one granted a winning composure at all times in the face of any struggle, fatigue, stress, or physical pain and be backed up with the fact that you have a long tested career demonstrating during all your fights a marked willingness to always remain engaged while maintaining an inner conviction to never quit. These are a few of the attributes real fighters acquire after years of hard work and consistent dedication. These can only come working in real scenarios against well-prepared world-class fighters.
In the military, we also emulate the success of armies that win, not those who only talk. My blackbelt fighters acquire through action the ability to go 8, 10, 12 rounds with a well-prepared world-class fighter and to be able to look him in the eye and let him know five things. One, he can't handle my speed; two, he can't handle my power; three, he can't hurt me; four, that I will never get tired; and five, I will never quit. If you have never endured the experience standing toe to toe with this type of world-class fighter while having him fire educated punches, kicks, elbows, and knees with cold-blooded, world-class accuracy and conviction, then you can't speak from knowledge or with any confidence, nor have the slightest clue about what you're talking on the subject of fighting.
Lastly, I can assure you that a much greater number of ring fighters have tested and proven their skills in the "street" than the number of streetfighters who have ever entered the ring. If you took 10 top ring fighters and 10 top streetfighters and let each group test their skills in the other's forum, who would have the higher winning percentage? A ring fighter's abilities will always, hands down, work far better for him in the street than a streetfighter's abilities could ever help him in a ring fight.