The “Street Fighter” vs. the Martial Artist

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Shihan Pascetta

Have you ever been presented the question, “What would be the results in a confrontation between a “street fighter” and a martial artist?” I have been challenged with this question on many occasions along with the subsequent debate that typically follows. In the following discussion, perhaps we can shed some light on this age-old question.

Throughout my career functioning in roles as a Martial Artist, Security Operative/Consultant, as a Police Officer, and as a private citizen, I have had the opportunity to observe, experience, and record various situations which have given me a perspective that is beyond simple speculation and theory.

In any thorough discussion of this subject we must begin with the following fact of reality. First, any real life confrontation is primarily a matter between the specific individuals participating along with the logistical factors that may influence the results.

When we begin to change these variables, then the result is also likely to change. Therefore, it is important to begin with the realization that our conclusions are more a matter of probability rather than a concrete reality. We would be in error to assume that, hypothetically, such results would remain the same in any or every occurrence.

An example of this logic would be as follows:  If a driver hypothetically made a conscious decision to run through every red light on every journey, that is still not a guarantee that he will be in an accident every time he takes this risk. However, this behavior would profoundly increase the “probability” that he would be involved in an accident. This would be in contrast with a driver who was careful to stop at every red light. The reality is that it is actually possible for the risky driver to never have an accident, however profound the probability for such an accident. Therefore, we must always consider the unlikely results as well as the likely results.

The “Street Fighter”

Before proceeding further it is pertinent to define what characteristics are generally viewed as common to the term, “Street fighter”.  Be advised that variations on these characteristics could easily change the final conclusions. Typically I envision a “Street Fighter” as a combatant who is somewhat undisciplined, unregimented, yet an instinctive, unstructured, freeform fighter.

When referring to this term I am specifically including the following characteristics:

1.) A person who has very limited or no formal training in Martial Arts.

2.) A person who has real life experience with physical confrontations on the streets(uncontrolled) in a non-sport environment.

3.) A person who has lived in an environment where physical encounters have been a normal and/or necessary part of his/her survival mechanism.

Assuming that our hypothetical “Street fighter” possesses all these characteristics then we can begin to examine the advantages he/she may possess in any encounter. One of the most significant elements of a person who has been placed in a “survival’ environment, dependent upon  his own mental, emotional, and physical attributes to succeed, is that such an individual already has experiences to some degree the mindset of a “warrior”. Part of this mindset is the acceptance of the fact that he must be responsible for his own survival regardless of the variables and beyond the typical protection or typical rules of society.

In “war” there are no rules. I do not mean to imply that in typical society that rules do not exist, but in a “street survival’ contest we must accept the fact that one of the definitions of  “criminal” behavior  is that such individuals act as though they are outside these rules. In this context and at such occurrences any individual is potentially placed in a predicament where his adversary will likely not limit himself to such “rules”. The “warrior mentality” I am referring to simply is when an individual is aware of such situations and understands when and where such a “survival” mentality must be applied.

SF Advantages

One of the advantages of the “street fighter” is that he is less likely to think beyond the consequences of his immediate action. This allows him to be more spontaneous and less predictable. This is in contrast to more responsible citizens who are concerned with the results of any confrontation beyond simply who “wins”.

The assumed lack of concern is both an advantage and disadvantage to the “street fighter”.  Although it may give a distinct advantage in the immediate moment, it can be extremely harmful to his “survival” beyond that moment, both in society, and legally.

The advantage comes from the lack of hesitation. It is this spontaneous and surprising response or initiation of action that can readily give the advantage in a physical confrontation.  The apparent lack of inhibition to act violently can also be have an overwhelming affect on most adversaries.

A second profound advantage of most “street fighters” is the experience with physical contact during any combative confrontation. There is no substitute for the actually feeling of physical contact in learning the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of any offense or defense. Further, if a person has never been pushed, pulled, struck, taken down in a vigorous manner, then these types of experiences alone can have a debilitating psychological effect during a real life physical encounter.

The third, strongest advantage of most “street fighters” is the “spirit” to “fight to the end” and not give up regardless of the disadvantages.  This “survival”   mindset (also part of the “warrior mindset” described earlier) could readily be the decisive factor if a confrontation is between two closely matched individuals.

The fourth advantage is the likely unpredictability of many “street fighters”. This element can range from unpredictability of technique to unpredictability of tactics and strategy. This advantage of surprise can be make defense against such an individual more challenging.

SF Disadvantages

Some disadvantages for the “Street fighter” include the following:

First, many such fighters are in unnecessary confrontations. This is significant due to the same logic previously outlined, describing the “driver” who repeatedly takes unnecessary risks while driving. Although these multiple experiences my actually increase individual prowess, at the same time the probability for failure at some point also increases with frequency.

Second, many such combatants enter into confrontations based on ego, pride, fear, revenge, and/or other emotional motivations.  This provides a tendency for their actions to more driven by emotion.  While on one hand, emotions can provide a tremendous amount of energy for a combatant, on the other hand, emotions can also block the ability to function rationally in the most practical manner. This has the potential to cause such an individual to over reach, or go beyond what is practical or necessary leaving himself more vulnerable to defeat.

The “Martial Artist”

We must first define again the characteristics that are included when we refer to the term, “Martial Artist”.  Since this is a general term that covers so many different disciplines, it becomes a challenge to clearly define. So, let’s begin with some general characteristics and then separate the more specific characteristics that can make the most significant difference in the outcome of our “hypothetical” confrontation.

Here are a list of general characteristics of a “martial artist”:

1.) An individual who has had significant formal training (minimum of 3-5 years continuous) in at least one of the many MA disciplines

2.) An individual who has been trained in physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual aspects of his MA discipline

Here are some significant characteristics that are legitimate variable not always existent among all MA practitioners, however, have a distinct affect on the results of any real life encounter:

1.) The experience of progressive contact in training that may range from pugilistic contact to stand up grappling, to ground grappling

2.) The experience of competitive encounters in training. This may range from non- cooperative drilling in the dojo to full contact sport competition

3.) Training in the mental/psychological changes and “survival mindset” for combat

MA Advantages

One of the primary advantages of the MA fighter is that he/she has the potential to be a more “disciplined” fighter.  Specifically, it is the lack of wasted effort, physically, mentally, and emotionally that allow such fighters to magnify their potential in a physical encounter.

The principles behind most MA systems teach economy of motion and energy. MA typically teaches that by physically aligning the various systems of the body (muscular and skeletal), and by centralizing nervous energy, emotional energy, and spiritual energy, that more power can be generated than typical for a person of a particular size and stature. Further, the intellectual application of pertinent principles, tactics, and strategies are also likely to give an advantage over an untrained individual who is more likely to react rather than be proactive.

The second advantage is the confidence that occurs as the MA practitioner successfully achieves progressively more difficult goals.  In most MA training, these goals are typically span from physical to intellectual and emotional.

It should be noted that the more practical and realistic the physical skill sets are, the more stable and stronger the intellectual and emotional confidence is likely to be. It is this author’s opinion that MA programs that teach unrealistic defense techniques and/or give the students unrealistic perspectives on the probability of successful application of such skills can easily set the student up for a dramatic failure when faced with real life encounters.

A third advantage may well be the physical conditioning in terms or strength, cardio vascular endurance, stamina, flexibility, speed, and explosiveness that comes with consistent MA training over an extended period of time. Any athlete, amateur to professional will confirm the increase of confidence that comes when that athlete is in top condition.  Particularly in any protracted encounter, conditioning could play as a major factor.

The fourth advantage is more esoteric and much more difficult to measure. This is the human element of morality. Whether this morality is based on the spiritual faith of the MA practitioner or on his human spirit and established values, there is a major difference when a human defends from a position of righteousness.

I have personally witnessed situations where individuals have overcome opponents with great physical superiority primarily due to their strong belief that they were defending what was “right” in their hearts or minds. This element is definitely the “X” factor that potentially plays into any physical encounter.

To be more specific, the properly trained MA fighter is taught to fight only when necessary and typically toward unselfish ends. The phrase, “Might for Right”, was penned by one very famous MA Master.  It is foolish to underestimate the individual who is defending his/her children, spouse, family, or some other person/people and even principle that he feels is dear to him.

Further, the MA fighter properly taught will not extend the fight beyond the minimum necessary to end the threat. This is both a moral and legally pertinent principle. Once the MAF extends himself beyond such self restriction, he looses any such spiritual advantage.

MA Disadvantages

The number one disadvantage of the MA fighter may be a possible lack of experience in “survival” situations. Street survival is distinctly different from sport competition where, regardless of how much contact is allowed, there are still rules, and a referee to stop the fight at some point. This is a mindset that can be developed but must be created over time and with much experience.

Unfortunately, there is an illusion that “full contact” fighting in MA is reality. Although it is certainly very much closer to reality than pretend sparring, in sport MA competition there is no real “full contact”. As long as there are gloves and rules it can never truly be “full contact”. It is still “limited contact” regardless of how grueling or rugged the exchange it may be according to the rules.

The second disadvantage may be the tendency for most trained fighters to follow certain predictable patterns when they fight. This tendency toward predictability can give any opponent a tactical advantage.  With proper training the MA fighter can be taught to be more aware of such predictability and to overcome it with some very specific drills.

The third, and seemly most common disadvantage of many MA fighters, is an unrealistic awareness of the practical application of many of their techniques.  Kicking and punching the air and/or boards and bricks are no substitute for real opponents.  “Sparring” with partners who never touch you simply create illusions that can quickly turn into defeat in real life encounters.

Unless the MA training includes progressive levels of contact, progressive levels of partner interaction (ranging from cooperative to non-cooperative to competitive), and includes some degree of versatility of technique (i.e., not limited to primarily kicking, striking, grappling, etc.) then there will be serious gaps in that fighter’s potential to adapt to many real life encounters.


In many ways it seems that the “Street fighter” has the upper hand, if nothing else, he is in his own environment when he is in a street confrontation. For the MA fighter to prevail he must take advantage of the weaknesses of the SF. The unpredictability advantage of most SF can usually be overcome with confidence and patience. This is because although the Sf is typically “wilder” in his attack or response, those movements are generally less efficient and there are large “gaps” where the MAF can potentially step in and counter or end the confrontation decisively.

The biggest advantage of the MAF is only if he is able to keep his head clear and execute decisively. It is also of primary importance for any MAF to learn and develop a “survival mindset”. The SF has no monopoly on this element, although this characteristic is more typical to already be established with most SFs.

With all factors added in the MAF has the best potential to win, but only if his training is geared to realistic application.


The realistic truth may well be that although there are major advantages to studying, training and developing realistic Martial Arts techniques, it would however make much sense to recognize that Martial Artists who have the opportunity for practical street experience would have the edge and enjoy the benefits of both worlds. As in academic education, one does well to study the rudiments and theory in the classroom but really begins to learn practical application in the real work environment.

Further, the most honest answer to our original question presented here is that there is no absolute answer! As mentioned in the caveat at the beginning of this article, any confrontation ultimately is between the two specific individuals participating and is subject to the pertinent logistics of that encounter.

Even in sport competitions, a “champion” is only the champion of his last encounter. A World Champion is only World Champion until he defends that title again. As martial artists it is important that we be honest with ourselves and face reality. We are not invincible no matter how hard we train or how thoroughly we prepare.

It is important to note that my survival mindset does not include the acceptance of literal defeat.  I have never entered into any real encounter without the clear vision that I would be victorious. My logical mind, however, knows that at some point I can reach a limit. That is because I am human.

This understanding is a good foundation for the philosophical premises that much MA is built upon. Our perspective of “victory” must be much broader than the winning of any particular match or even beyond our own physical life. Part of this is the acceptance that we all will die at some point, whether it be in combat or for some much less dramatic cause.

Therefore, it is much more important how we live our lives, how we touch the lives of others around us, and the manner we accept and even embrace our own mortality.  This is the true “victory” of the “real Martial Artist” and has been reiterated in many forms, from many cultures throughout the world.

So, although it can be interesting and even somewhat amusing to debate “who will beat who”, the bottom line remains the same. It is how we conduct our lives over the time allotted to us that carries the most significance, not some consequential confrontation nor any particular battle.  That is the true essence of the Martial Arts and as we live by those standard we open our potential to be more than conquerors!


Copyright 2010, R.V.Pascetta, all rights reserved.

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  • Abe says:

    Whats scary is when the Martial artist turns into a street fight!

    • rpascetta says:

      I'm not quite sure what you mean by that Abe. Perhaps you can explain.

      • Abe says:

        In my opinion, a street fighter fights for little to no reason almost on impulse without regard for the law he or she maybe breaking or lack of a justifiable reason to fight in the first place. There are times when you are legally right to fight, but perhaps morally wrong. A street fighter could care less. lol

        Wheras a "good" MA "fights for right" What happens when the good MA or highly skilled MA loses his or her way goes to the "dark side" if you will. That is dangerious and probably is a teachers biggest fear (certainly one of them). There are probally many reason why an once good Martial Artist turns rougue or turns to a steet fighters mentality.

        Most street fighters I know are in jail or have been in jail several times and sadly its almost like they are looking forward to going back again. As a young teacher I have already ran into a few, All they want to do is learn how to fight better so they can go out a hurt more people. However as the saying goes "the nail that sticks up is the one most likely to get hammered down!" Hope this anwers your question. God bless!