Matches Vs. Fights Vs. Muggings
On disambiguating your terms
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When I was in my late twenties, I spent a few months after the end of a really bad relationship living in a Single Room Occupancy apartment. It was in a rooming house with a shared kitchen that catered to people who had gotten jobs at nonprofits or with the Federal government right out of college or graduate school. My housemates and I all rented our rooms at the SRO off a Craigslist ad sight unseen and stayed there until a group house with friends could be organized (or in my case, until I could find an affordable one-bedroom). The house was in in a seedy area of Washington D.C. that straddled the line between a gentrifying neighborhood on one side and a neighborhood where people were routinely stuck up (and occasionally murdered) on the other.
My landlady’s son, who I’ll call Julius, was on either parole or probation, having done three years for armed robbery, and lived in the basement. Julius was a professional robber, who had been in a robbery crew of five guys (the three-to-five-man crew is a criminal organization peculiar to Washington D.C., which is too small and too heavily patrolled by both Federal and local law enforcement to support gangs, which are larger) who did stickups as their sole means of earning a living.
Julius and I got along pretty well, and he explained to me the structure of the crew and its various support networks; they had a guy to get them stolen guns, they had a network of fences for stolen property, they had alibis and payoff schedules to corrupt cops arranged in advance, etc. I was particularly interested in how the crew trained to do stickups, which was both more involved and more systematic than I had expected. To take one example of their training, four to five days a week, Julius and his equally beefy younger brother, who was also in the crew, would spend half an hour in the morning trading 3/4-strength punches; three shots to the body, one to the face. This was not to get good at striking, it was so that they would be unfazed by a victim who fought back.
Most people have never been mugged. As such, they do not know the signs of an impending criminal assault, particularly the kind performed by professional robbers whose job—the way such criminals “earn” a living—it is to transfer money and property of a victim from the victim’s pockets to their own pockets.
Criminals are not wholly unsystematic. There is method to a mugging. The goal of a professional robber is not necessarily to avoid violence, but he will make an effort to minimize risk to himself. As such, muggers have systematized the methods by which they typically conduct their business.
The first step to a mugging is most often what is called an interview, whose purpose is to gauge the victim’s projected reaction to a threat, so as to determine how much force will be necessary to separate him, her, or them from their property. Experienced robbers interview victims in conjunction with a fatal funnel (a term also used in the context of close-quarters gunfighting) which I here use to describe the process by which victim(s) are isolated from public view and thus from rescue by the gang or robbery crew. Once a victim enters the funnel, it closes behind them, preventing escape by any but the most determined and/or prepared victim. And crucially, since most victims are unfamiliar with the steps of the process, they are unaware they have entered the funnel until it is far too late to leave.
Analogously, most people who get into physical fights at bars or other public places do not know they are involved in a fight until the fight has been going on for much longer than they may realize. Getting punched in the face isn’t when the fight starts. More often, the fight started five minutes before, and escalated slowly. A physical confrontation comes at the end of a fight, not the beginning.
A fight in public typically has ingredients in common. First of all, an overwhelming number of them involve alcohol. Second, there is very often a social transgression that one party is unaware of. Third, there is a disparity of force; most people never get in even one fight. Those that get in more than one typically know a lot more about fighting than those who don’t.
This is because the word fight is confusing as it is typically used; it means a couple of different things, some of whose connotative meanings are diametrically opposed to one another. Most people use the word to describe both a street fight and a sportfighting match, which is something that occurs in a roped ring or a fenced-off octagon. Disambiguated, though, what most people describe as a street fight or a bar fight is actually a criminal physical assault. Preparing for a sportfighting match, which one does in a boxing, BJJ, Muai Thai, or MMA gym, has overlap with the process of preparing oneself for a criminal assault, but the elements of each form a Venn diagram, not a circle.
While preparing for a sportfighting match carries with it the assumption of a physical confrontation, preparing for a criminal assault is an exercise in avoiding such a confrontation while acknowledging that one may occur. It should involve at least as much training in situational awareness and de-escalation as in hand-to-hand combat, and the hand-to-hand combat element should include training with weapons, even if only to familiarize oneself with how they may be deployed from concealment and how their use by an assailant may be countered. If legal and practical, I support the carry of concealed firearms for this purpose; the goal of training to repel a criminal assault is not to defeat your opponent mano a mano like Jason Statham, it is to keep from being maimed, raped, or killed.
It is worthwhile, as a man, to understand the distinction between these three forms of confrontation. It is not definitionally bad to know how violence works; it is bad for the individual and for society for people to go around applying violence without both just cause and legal sanction.
A favorite phrase of The Wolf’s was “Who are you training to beat?” If the answer is “a BJJ player,” or “a boxer,” your training will take place in a gym. You will probably have a lot of fun and make a bunch of friends; hats off to you for doing it. Learning to roll or box is Tonic AF.
If the answer is “a bar fighter,” feel free to fuck away off. I don’t want to know you; another of my sifu’s favorite aphorisms was “nothing good can be found in bars,” and I share his assessment of people who get in fights at bars in particular (they are invariably the worst kind of asshole).
Finally, if the answer is “a robber or other criminal assailant,” Godspeed. My only advice to you is get good training—the best you can find—and never, ever go looking for ways to test it. I’m torn on whether getting that training in the first place constitutes looking for trouble; I hope it doesn’t, but at the end of the day I’d rather have people know what they’re doing and maybe invite that energy into their lives than not know what they’re doing and get sideswiped by an unlikely tragedy.
(Bonus story: The straight job Julius had secured to meet the conditions of his release from prison was working as a Loss Prevention Specialist for a company that supplied uniformed security guards to department stores. The company issued him handcuffs and an ASP telescopic baton. Turning poachers into gamekeepers is a time-honored tradition any sensible society would be wise to examine.)
odds are vanishingly slim that I'll ever need this information, but better safe than sorry, right? I feel more prepared for the world outside my door than I did when I woke up this morning
If the crews you describe applied their evident commitment & talents to earning an honest buck, they'd probably do just as well for themselves. Without jail time risk.
The addict turned counsellor, criminal turned law enforcer is a time honoured drama triangle switch, in Transactional Analysis. It goes from persecutor or victim to rescuer. It's a more meta level switch than you get in quick games.
Loved this piece, BTW!