WARNING: The content in this story is provided for illustrative purposes only and not meant to be construed as advice or instruction. Seek a reputable self-defense school first. Any use of the information contained in this article shall be solely at the reader’s risk. This publication and its contributors are not responsible for any potential injuries.

“Win or lose, you always learn.” This quote has been used by coaches and martial arts practitioners in various iterations, and true to some degree. No one will forget the feeling of getting choked out for the first time or what actions, in training, lead to getting struck, thrust, or shot.

These experiences are great teachers. The wise fighter will catalog them to avoid them in the future. Sometimes, though, losing means losing it all. Some fight mistakes aren’t learning experiences — dying doesn’t afford someone a second chance to try again.

What follows are common mistakes that have killed some but taught many.

Mistake #1: “I’ll Just Run Away”


Above: Running assumes your path won’t be blocked. Chain-link fences, locked doors, and tripping hazards can all impede your path and escape.

This is sound in theory. But reality isn’t always so kind. This assumption fails to take into account how real-life obstacles can slow or even stop the flight to safety. Uneven ground can trip you up. Loose gravel will prevent traction. And steep inclines, locked doors, and walls can slow or completely halt your escape.

These are merely the non-human factors affecting the “run defense.” How about the two-legged threat?

The attacker may be faster, have better endurance, or may be working with others. You might be baited into an ambush. The idea of fleeing assumes the end destination will be safer than the present location.

This pertains to a grander bug-out scenario, as well. Running is an option, but it isn’t a foolproof option. One should be ready to run, but also be willing to stand and fight.

Mistake #2: “I’ll Call the Police”


Above: When seconds count, the police are minutes away. What happens when a touch screen can’t be unlocked? Or if the call doesn’t connect?

Calling for help is effective if there’s help within earshot and they’re quicker to respond than the attacker is able to inflict harm. If this sounds unreasonable, it’s because it is.

In a small town, with a population of only a few thousand, there may be only a few police officers or sheriff’s deputies. In some cases there might only be a lone state trooper. Yelling or screaming is ineffective at best, considering an unamplified human voice doesn’t travel far and there may not be anyone within hearing distance to recognize it and respond.

In a city, there might be dozens or even hundreds of officers on duty, but the chances of them reaching you in seconds are next to nil. Assuming you can reach your smartphone, this call will last as long as it takes to unlock the touch screen, enter the emergency number, wait for the dispatch to pick up, alert nearby authorities, and then however long it takes for officers to go from where they are to the scene of the emergency. This, of course, presupposes you have strong mobile phone service.

For these reasons, rape whistles, mobile phones, and personal alarms are not effective means of defense.

Consider this factor as well: Crowded streets are filled with “sheeple” that are less likely to intervene than to whip out their smartphone cameras to record what they think will be the next viral video. When a fatal attack takes seconds, help is minutes away.

Mistake #3: “Fighting Dirty Isn’t Fair”


Above: In a street fight, there are no rules. This includes staying out of the optimal range of their weapon. Understand the “sweet spot” of a long-range weapon and the timing of when to close the reactionary gap.

Biting, thumb rakes, groin strikes, small-joint manipulation — these moves normally aren’t allowed in training sessions for their damaging and unsporting nature. These and other unorthodox moves aren’t considered fair. They also don’t win friends in the gym or on the mat.

However, they’re moves that can be used if the opportunity presents itself and the situation dictates them on the street. Sadly, not incorporating these moves into training creates a negative installation of habit. These moves aren’t repped in practice and, therefore, not likely remembered when they’re needed. When they are considered, the momentary hesitation may be all the time necessary for a thug to get the best of a situation.

There is no expectation of chivalry on the street. In a life-and-death situation, you don’t need to treat an opponent with any respect.

Mistake #4: Confusing Preparation with Ability


Above: According to Colonel Jeff Cooper, “Owning a handgun doesn’t make you armed anymore than owning a guitar makes you a musician.” Don’t buy a $2,000 handgun if you aren’t willing to invest in an equal amount of training.

Aside from the initial firearms safety training undergone to receive a concealed carry or handgun license, very few shooters undertake additional formal education. Range time isn’t formal education anymore than driving in a vehicle and amassing miles is, but many firearms owners will equate one with the other. Time spent at the range creating training scars increases the chance that bad habits will reappear under stress and lead to failure.

Simply owning a quality firearm, an alarm system, or a safe room isn’t enough. It’s essential to train and build familiarity with your own equipment. Also, training must mimic reality. If you keep a gun loose in a drawer, skip the holster training until you’ve learned to efficiently produce the firearm from where it’s usually kept.

Depending on the range visited, training from a supine position as well as shooting from awkward angles and learning to perform one-handed reloads may be frowned upon. In these circumstances, employing snap caps or a SIRT pistol in the comfort of your own home is a better option than not training at all. Of course, formal defensive training from a reputable source is the best option for learning to use defensive weapons.

Mistake #5: Training in Just One Discipline


Above: Mixed martial arts are fantastic for the Octagon, but do little to recognize weapons and their ability to be drawn at any time in a fight. Train for realistic scenarios where ring rules don’t apply.

When the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) emerged on the scene more than 20 years ago, it opened the eyes of many martial artists and fight enthusiasts. Far beyond the beauty of kata and forms is the graphic reality of fighting. Since the UFC’s debut in 1993, training in mixed martial arts (MMA) has become popular. More fighters than ever know how to properly apply an arm bar or sink a rear-naked choke. However, training in MMA isn’t enough.

Weapons-based training is vital for survival in the streets. Since weapons stack the odds of success heavily on the side of the armed combatant, training in only striking and grappling severely handicaps a warrior. Combat occurs at all ranges, from grappling to projectile range, and a weapon can be introduced during a fight at any time. There’s no such thing as just a knife fight, a gunfight, or fistfight. There’s only fighting, and the stakes are very high as any fight can be life threatening.

Ground fighting — such as wrestling and Brazilian jiujitsu (BJJ) — takes on a whole new element when a training blade is introduced. The traditional BJJ closed guard becomes a liability rather than a protective position. Equating a street fight to a UFC match is a recipe for disaster.

Mistake #6: Failure to Scan


Above: Despite being across the street from a police station and having trained in various martial arts, one of the author’s friends was slashed outside of a bar in NYC. Any deeper a slice and he’d be 6 feet under. Even the most aware can’t be aware at all times. Exhaustion settles in and guards are dropped.

USAF Colonel John Boyd articulated the OODA (Observe Orient Decide Act) loop, explaining the thought process for fighter pilots in combat. This process applies to all aspects of daily life — especially in determining the outcome of a fight. If the OODA loop is followed appropriately, it’s a continuous loop with scanning done regularly. Unfortunately for some, scanning is replaced with tunnel vision, and the only thing seen is the opponent directly in front of them. Or worse yet, the only thing they see is their smartphone, and they don’t even sense the opponent coming.

Peripheral vision is lost and, in turn, valuable fight data. Without scanning, it’s possible to miss the changing conditions, such as additional threats, the presence of friendlies, the introduction of weapons, or reasons to break contact and find cover. Scanning is a process of collecting information in a fight, and with each second, countless variables change. Failing to scan means being locked in a moment. Even in a brief altercation, that moment is a lifetime.

Practice scanning before, during, and after a fight. At the range, after each course of fire, a thorough perimeter scan should be built in. Similarly, one should learn to identify the voices of coworkers, teammates, friends, and family to differentiate their commands from those of others.

“Zoning out” or “spacing out” is not an option.

Mistake #7: Failing to Have an After-Action Plan

Self defense mistakes fighting combatives survival shtf attack martial arts 8v2

Above: A daughter initiates the call to 911 as her father deals with the threat. Always be the first person to call the police. Don’t become the “wild man with a gun” or someone passersby would describe as the aggressor. Tell authorities your description and what happened before they show up. 

For many martial arts/combatives practitioners, the vision of the fight they’re preparing for ends with them victorious after employing some form of striking, choking, cutting, or shooting. But that’s actually just the start.

When the authorities arrive, the real fight begins. In general, the first person to call the police will be treated far differently than the person with the second story of what just happened. If and when lethal force is used, a demand should be made for a medical evaluation, and no statement should be given until it’s determined the survivor isn’t in shock. One should expect an investigation and even a lawsuit to follow any defensive/offensive action.

You should prepare far in advance should things go south and you’re the one who’s handcuffed. Like a fire drill or a hurricane response plan, you should have a plan for a worst-case self-defense scenario — this includes having a trusted contact who can call your lawyer and relatives. See our feature “Aftermath” for more on this topic in Issue 1 of our sister publication, CONCEALMENT.



Hollywood, profit-driven instructors, gun-shop counter talk, and Internet commandos ensure fight mistakes will continue. Don’t make the additional mistake of trusting questionable knowledge or not heeding these seven tips. Seven — some say it’s a lucky number. Don’t make the mistake of relying on luck either. The wise fighter will learn from others, catalog his mistakes, and run the mental reps so he won’t make the same fight mistakes as those who came before him.

Technique Tutorial: A Flat Ally

Having your back to the wall doesn’t need to be a bad situation. The wall can become a weapon. In the Filipino martial arts curriculum taught by Bayani Warrior, the wall becomes a stationary fist. The author zones out of the path of an incoming fist while simultaneously parrying the strike to the outside. A left elbow is thrown over the top as the attacker’s right arm is extended and their body thrown into the wall face first. Using the back of the collar as a handle, the attacker is thrown to the ground. A thorough scan is done to ensure no other attackers are present.

Technique Tutorial: Get to the Point

Instead of absorbing strikes with blocks, elbow destructions target the jab and cross that’s often thrown. To an onlooker, the moves look defensive in nature, making it seem like the opponent has the upper hand. After the 1-2 combination is thrown, the defender uses a back fist to the face and follows up with a knee to the stomach.

About the Author

Kevin Estela is an associate level 2 Sayoc Kali instructor and a black belt at RiSu Martial Arts in Bristol, Connecticut. He’s a striped blue belt working toward purple in Brazilian jiujitsu under Sifu Chris Smith at IMBCT. Kevin’s interests include handgun and rifle marksmanship, as well as the study and use of primitive weapons. He’s the owner and head instructor of Estela Wilderness Education and has traveled around the USA to pursue further martial arts training. www.kevinestela.com

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