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jxa127 03-13-2003 01:43 PM

Where is the street, and why does it matter?

Aikido and other martial arts have their share of clichés, but one in particular is really starting to bother me.

The idea of a "street fight," or what happens "out there, on the street," (as opposed to in here, in the dojo) is held up as some sort of ultimate trial. This scenario brings to mind random violence, maybe an attempt at robbery, and most likely multiple attackers. (I doubt that many of us imagine ourselves participating in a gang war.)

The thing is, most statistics I've seen indicate that the largest percentage of violent crime involves an assailant known to the victim. True, one could end up facing an angry co-worker in the "street" or parking lot, or whatever, but people are more likely to face violence at home or in the work place. That's not to say that random violent crime does not happen, it just is not as likely as non-random violent crime.

So why this attraction to street fights? Why do they hold such a prominent place in our collective imagination?

Part of the reason that I ask this question is that we had a very disturbing incident here in Harrisburg, PA earlier this week around 2 PM in a fairly busy part of town. Here's an excerpt from the news story:


According to police, Neff (the victim) was walking south along North Street, coming from the vicinity of the State Museum and heading toward Locust Street, when she noticed Travis (the assailant) talking to himself.

She could not understand what he was saying and passed by, according to police. They said he yelled or spoke loudly after she passed him.

Neff told police she felt a blow to her back as though she had been hit hard. She did not realize that she had been stabbed until she turned around and saw Travis behind her, holding a large knife slick with blood, police said.

Travis said something incoherent and left, police said. Neff collapsed against a building on the southwest corner of North Third and State.

As officers fanned out through downtown, Travis turned up a few blocks away at the police station in the 100 block of Walnut Street. He was taken into custody without incident.
The article states that the woman lost a lot of blood, but survived the incident.

This is not a "typical" street fight scenario (whatever that is), but it is an example of random violence. I'd like to think that I'm more aware of my surroundings than most people. I imagine myself in the victim's place, hearing a loud shout, turning, seeing the knife, throwing the guy, pinning him, and taking his knife -- just like in the dojo. Except that, in reality, I ignore mentally ill homeless people too. I don't make eye contact, and I can see myself behaving just like the victim did, regardless of how perceptive I think I am.

So, what's the most dangerous situation we can face? Is it a street fight where we are attacked by street-hardened criminals out for our wallets? How about angry co-workers picking a fight in the office (yes, this actually happened to me)? What about the truly random violence of the mentally ill like the situation above?

In my dojo, we focus on principles, proper body movement, and strong technique. We are fully aware that dojo attacks are not "realistic" attacks, but we also realize that proper application of aikido principles can be learned through studying those attacks and our responses. However, we sometimes even fall into the cliché of thinking that a street fight is the most dangerous challenge we can face.

So, what do you folks think about the nature of violence and how we perceive it?



shihonage 03-13-2003 01:52 PM

Re: Where is the street, and why does it matter?

Drew Ames (jxa127) wrote:
I imagine myself in the victim's place, hearing a loud shout, turning, seeing the knife, throwing the guy, pinning him, and taking his knife -- just like in the dojo. Except that, in reality, I ignore mentally ill homeless people too. I don't make eye contact, and I can see myself behaving just like the victim did, regardless of how perceptive I think I am.

That woman made a mistake by not respecting the environment - in this case, an potentially aggressive homeless guy who could do her harm.

She went into denial mode and continued walking without acknowledging what's going on around her.

In these situations, you need to walk a middle ground.

Sometimes you need to say Hello, sometimes you might give them a buck, or you may choose not to, but no matter what you do, even if you ignore them, always keep them in your peripheral vision.

Sure you may not see exactly what the expression on their face is, but you'll spot a movement immediately.

They will also notice the fact that you are monitoring them and will think twice before doing anything.

This "looking-past-the-person-but-not-directly-at-them"

tactic is something that I use all the time.

If some macho tough guy starts playing a staring game in a bus, I just do the same thing. I don't clash with his stare, but I look just past him, like I'm looking outside the window, but yet he knows that I monitor him.

This approach also gives the aggressive party a "dignified" way out.

John Boswell 03-13-2003 02:11 PM

Most people who encounter violence generally put themselves in the vicinity of violence. Whether it be a bad relationship compounded by some sort of substance abuse, or just being alcoholic/addict hanging at bars and clubs or "those" neighborhoods that are rough. (and we all know darn well if its a rough neighborhood, we're not stupid)

Where you live, How you live, Who is around you during the day and night... these are all indicators of your environment as to whether it is safe or not.

At one point in time I lived in Hollywood. I went to school there, but just doing the tourist thing and going up and down the boulavard I learned Day 1 that I was not in a safe place. I expected violence at every turn and thankfully I never found it. I was even there for the Rodney King Riot. I was not drawn up into the violence of the night due to the actions I took, but one block away a building was looted and burned to the ground. (I was never so glad to leave a place as I was when I left L.A.)

So, what do I think about the nature of violence? and how do I perceive it? The nature is that if you live in a way and in a place that would expect violence, then you will see it. I perceive violence as something that is easily avoided if you take just a few simple steps.

The other day on a similar thread, I saw an Aikidoka say he had studied Aikido for over 30 years and never once had to use it in a real fight. If you ask me, he's living a good life with good people around him. That's the best way to avoid violence all together.

Dirty Dogi 03-13-2003 02:15 PM

When I was 17 I got into a pretty bad fight. I was walking along the beach one evening, the "hang out" back then, when I was surrounded and taunted by 5 intoxicated college kids. There was no way I could run, no place to hide. I remember getting punched in the face, and I went blank from there. I do remeber thinking to myself to get into a ball and cover my head. They punched and kicked me like it was a game.

They broke 2 ribs, my nose, my cheekbone and gave me one heck of a black eye and swollen lip and I had a concusion.

People watching were to intimidated to do anything...

After they let up and searched my wallet for money, and stole my shoes, I ran as fast as I could to the nearest hotel, called the cops and drove home.

When the police came to my home I told them I had no idea who the kids were, and I couldn't give good discriptions because it was night time and it had happend so fast. I just wanted to get home, I wasn't worried about sticking around to point them out.

The police officer told me that they couldn't help me because I was hiding information. He than gave me a speach on wasting a cops time and how getting back at them by myself wasn't going to solve anything. This made me furious.

I had no intention of helping the kids stay out of trouble, getting revenge or anything. I had no clue who they were. The officer didn't believe me. I just wanted justice/ help/ an explanation for what had just happened.

Thats why I take Aikido. I never want to feel so intimidated or scared that I can't react. The humility and pain reach unbearable levels when something like that happens. I never want to feel that way again. I dont want to have to walk around in fear of a constant fight either. I just want to train my body to react and let the brain think later as im running away from the danger.

I guess most think learning a martial art would be like me walking around as an undercover man of justice. Waiting for some random act of violence to occur so you could show the attacker a lesson. Let them know they picked on the wrong random person.

Randori sounds alot more pleasing than rolled up in a ball at your attackers mercy. But I'm not sure how rational that would be.

Just my thoughts.

kung fu hamster 03-13-2003 02:47 PM

Dear Brian,

Your story makes me mad, reminds me too of the time I got attacked. People came up to me later and said they heard me screaming but didn't do anything. So my first advise to anyone, whether or not they take a martial art, is this -- if you are attacked or get into an altercation or fight, don't expect anyone to come help you. In the vast majority of cases they won't! Expect that you'll have to tough it out on your own, and depending on the situation, that perhaps the guy might have ‘friends' in the vicinity who might enjoy pounding you to a pulp. Yeah, randori sounds like it would be preferable, but don't rely on your running away skills either, I tried running away 4-5 times away from my attacker (he kept running away too until he saw nobody was coming around to investigate the screaming) but his legs were longer and he kept catching up with me. Maybe I should join a track club or something, to stay in better shape. But in that as well, there's always someone else in better shape (for instance, any potential attacker who sizes me up and believes he can easily dominate -- chances are he's correct).

PhilJ 03-13-2003 06:45 PM

Re: Where is the street, and why does it matter?

Drew Ames (jxa127) wrote:
So, what's the most dangerous situation we can face?

I'll vote for "non-physical attacks by family". These kinds of scuffles can not only hurt you, but can hurt a bunch of people not involved in the fight, and their children, siblings, etc.

Emotional/mental trauma takes [sometimes] a lifetime to go away.


W^2 03-13-2003 07:39 PM

Would you prefer 'reality' instead?
Hello Drew,

It is my understanding that the term 'the street' is just slang for what happens outside the dojo - the application of Aikido in life - unless a person is speaking specifically about 'streetfighting'. In this regard, life is the ultimate test of training.

My favorite slang term for all things outside the dojo is 'this is where the rubber meets the road'...

I think the most dangerous situation we can face is not realizing the consequences of our ignorance as we bow to the shomen before leaving the dojo.


happysod 03-14-2003 04:20 AM

I think the most dangerous situations are when you yourself are not fully "up to scratch". With a couple of rather strange exceptions, once I got past my mid-20's the only time I encountered violence was in the pub/club scene. At this point in the evening, my own ability to even think straight, never mind perform any technique was often questionable.

Yes you can minimise risks, as mentioned. However, I personally don't ever want to get back into the "combat ready" mind-set, which some seem to suggest is the aim of any "true MA". Been there, bought the T shirt, found it barely distinguishable from a dictionary definition of paranoia - it's taken years to lose. I can now relax and that is a much greater gift to myself. Instead learn to assess a situation/venue for potential threat, always know where the nearest exits are, never sit with your back open unless you have a mirror/trustworthy friend in front of you and always get a taxi back if you're out late in a city you don't know well.

As for avoiding the "bad areas" - sorry, but some of us have had to live in them, avoiding them completely is not always an option.

ian 03-14-2003 05:01 AM

I have never been seriously attacked by someone I know. I believe in many ways the US is actually less prone to random violence than the UK. I've had about 5 major altercations (where serious damage was likely) in my life - mostly between the ages of 20-27. All of them except 1 was in areas where alcohol was involved (the other, I was travelling). I think Aleksey is correct about certain areas being more prone to violence.

However I also believe the violence done to men and women is completely different. I am suprised in Ireland (North and South) with the number of domestic abuse cases I hear - and I think much of this is also due to alcohol.

For men I think most violence is about egos and being macho (or race). For women I think it is either very random (as in above case), domestic (usually partners) or rape related. Pretty much it is about sex or power. In some cases it is also related to crime (stealing), but I actually think this is rarer.

And Brian, your story saddens me as well - unfortunately psychological studies have shown that in such situations (especially in crowds) if no single person helps, the others are unlikely to either (type of group behaviour). That is why I really make a personal effort to help those in distress (though it did get me into three of the above mentioned fights). However, in my mind, you know you're going to die, your family are going to die, and everyone eventually will die so its not whether you live, it is how you live that counts. (Also - if you get involved, people will follow your lead).


ian 03-14-2003 05:03 AM

P.S. if I see an argument between two men that looks like it will esculate I often ask my girlfriend to step in because men often feel less threatened by a woman getting involved than a man. This has worked effectively both times.

ian 03-14-2003 05:10 AM


A young woman I know was recently attacked with a screwdriver by a group of teenage joy riders who she saw stealing a car. Although she fought them off she is now suffering from severe depression. In many ways the fighting is just a tiny part of thee conflict. Dealing with it also means not letting your own hatred of these people eat you up (and it can help if you defended yourself in a succeful manner and didn't run away).


ian 03-14-2003 05:12 AM

Sorry to go on!

Why are street fights the ultimate test? Because aikido isn't really designed for competition and because aikido is nothing without self-defence. I actually feel quite upset when people say that aikido is not a self-defence for them. I know it can mean much more (and does to me) however there are many people who benefit enormously from its self-defence aspect, and if it is not being taught as such they are being deluded into thinking it will be useable.

DavidEllard 03-14-2003 08:05 AM

"the street"
I tend to understand "the street" to mean any defense situation that doesn't occur in the dojo, and is therefore likely to involve someone who may really want to hurt you.

(As oppossed to a partner doing a technique knowing full well it's my go next...) 'the street' isn't necessarily a physical street, it could be a bar, a house, etc, etc.

Why is it important? Well for us, a lot of what we practise is to do with the long term aim of making our aikido better, softer, more controlled and controlling. it isn't about learning to snap people.

However in a genuine self defense situation - one that we haven't been able to avoid by not going to the wrong pub, in the wrong part of the wrong city - the rules of the encounter are different.

for e.g - If someone come at me with a knife and i apply an ikkyo style move and they turn their back on me, the way a lot of people do when the move is first applied, I am going to use the opportunity presented to me (exposed ribs and kidneys etc) in a way i would never actually do in a dojo (although i might point it out when training with beginners who haven't learnt to uke.) I may also choose to kick down on the side an exposed knee, or a whole range of other things that wouldn't be done in the dojo becuase they are not safe for the attacker.

bob_stra 03-14-2003 09:35 AM

Re: Where is the street, and why does it matter?

Drew Ames (jxa127) wrote:
So why this attraction to street fights? Why do they hold such a prominent place in our collective imagination?

The physical location has nothing to do with it. People feel alone on "the street" - separated, powerless. Whether that's a sign of the times or not, everyone wants some protection from being made to feel small and insignificant. Ergo, the test for martial arts (the great "important-izer") is in the times and places where one feels most vulnerable.

(was there a Kewpie doll on offer for the best bit of Pop Psych?)

jxa127 03-17-2003 09:43 AM

Thanks, everyone for the great responses. Between what we've got here and the responses to the same post at Aikido Journal's forum, I've got a lot to think about.

Warm Regards,

-Drew Ames

Cyrijl 03-17-2003 11:09 AM

the street is life...and it matter because sometimes one's aggressor does not want to play nice. At the moment when action has to be taken, you want to feel relatively comfortable that you could survive...someone posted somewhere on this forum that it is not important if you live but how you are important.

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