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Anyone who’s been around the fight scene has likely been roped into countless debates about which art would and wouldn’t work in a self-defense situation. These very same debates are likely playing out at this moment on an internet forum near you.

MMA fighter Rosi Sexton wrote a blog post some time ago about armchair critics watching fights (or TUF) who talk about what they would’ve done instead. But the truth of the matter is that it’s impossible to know what you would do in a given situation until it happens. “With the right training, preparation, temperament and a bit of luck, the best we can hope for is to get our shit together when it counts,” Sexton wrote.

We typically post videos of knock-outs and cool highlight reels, of slick submissions and throws in competition, or gruesome injuries and finishes. But today I’d like to post a video of grappler Ryan Hall showcasing how grappling can be used effectively in a self-defense scenario. I’m not posting this because Ryan Hall’s a submission whiz and multi-time world champion (even though he is), but because it is, to me, a really beautiful display of restraint.

Hall was eating dinner with a group of friends when he was approached by a man asking for a lighter. The man became irate when he learned the table was full of non-smokers and he responded without throwing a punch or causing any permanent damage. He even received an apology in the aftermath.

I’d call that having it together when it counts.

This video struck a particular nerve with me because someone I cared about very much was in a similar situation back in 2005, but it didn’t end so well. My friend Chris, an Oxford graduate with a very bright future, was approached by a man asking for a cigarette. He let the guy know he didn’t have one, and the guy became irate. Chris was an idealist; a pacifist. He did not fight back when he was attacked. He passed away 9 days after the incident took place.

In my armchair banter, I often insist I would err on the side of causing too much harm while meting out karmic justice were I given the opportunity. The truth is that I have no idea what I would do. Chris’s non-violent stance was a consistent area of debate for us in the time I knew him, and an ideal he lived and died by. Since his death, I’ve found myself wishing that there would’ve been some middle ground; a way for him to protect himself, but with compassion and restraint. I believe this video captures the essence of what it would have looked like.

If that’s a bit too heavy, then scratch all that. Watch the below video to see BJJ whiz Ryan Hall choke out some fool. Shit just got real.

3 Comments
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  1. Studog says:

    Very good article, and all too true. I haven’t been in a real fight situation for a long time, but I doubt I would have the self-confidence that Ryan shows here; I’m afraid I would revert to a kill-or-be-killed mentality that, while excusable, would not be good for anyone. Thank you for showing us how the old adage about martial arts is true: “We do not train to fight. We train so we will not have to fight.”

  2. Paul Bergner says:

    Yael, I have a lower belt in Aikido, supposedly the most useless art in the street. Here is how I broke up an 8 on 3 gang mugging using it. I was walking in my neighborhood when I heard a sound out of place, the quality of screeching tires that were screeched in anger. I became hyperaware, hyperalert, and ready for something to happen. I walked 40 years to an intersection, and 50 feet away were three young Mexican men leaning against a car in a 711 parking lot. A car with 4 young white men screeched ubruptly to a stop in front of them and yelled racial epithets, then screeched away. I lingered there for maybe 3 minutes and the car came back, accompanied by another car with 4 more young white men in it. They both screeched to a halt, both cars emptied, the first person out of the first car threw a beer bottle at the Mexican men, which skittered across the street and ended up at my feet. I was on a street corner and got my body behind a telephone pole in case bullets flew, I went went inside and yelled “9 — `1 … 1 … call the police” with all the chi in the world. Really, I repeated it 3 times and it was so strong I partly lost my voice for a few days. The chi hit the scene like a tsunami. All 8 white guys froze in their tracks (3 were not yet all the way out of their cars). All the cars on the street stopped. Lights went on in the trailer court next door. And the guys jumped back in their cars and drove away.

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