After the fight

Written by Jim Armstrong

Senshido representative and RAW Combatives founder Jim Armstrong grew up in a town where violence was plentiful and escaping it was hard — even many years after leaving it for life Down Under. Here he explains how even a fight won easily can have bad implications for the victor.

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RAW Combatives founder Jim Armstrong on what to do after a fight.

In this incident, I wasn’t defending myself, I was defending one of my mates — if it can be called that. It was 2001 and I was on holiday back in my home town, Newcastle upon Tyne, where fights were commonplace. I was out with two of my childhood friends and we’d already been to several bars before we sat down in a rather rough pub in the middle of Newcastle. At the time I was in my early thirties, but I was back in Newcastle mode: hit first and ask questions later (not that questions were an important part of the equation in Newcastle).

So, we were sitting in the bar when a guy approached my mate Bairdsy and started talking to him. I presumed it was someone he knew, so I continued talking to my other mate, Stevie. Suddenly I heard the sound of fists hitting flesh and I turned to see this guy punch Bairdsy in the head. Now, my mate wasn’t a fighter and was just taking these shots to the head, so I stood up and pushed the guy back. I remember asking him a question and then punching him right on the chin.

I’ve been involved in a few fights here and there over the years and they always went on for a bit, so I was prepared to start trading, but as I hit this guy, he disappeared. I remember looking left and right and thinking, ‘Where the fook did he go?’ I then looked down to see him face down on the beer-soaked carpet.

I turned to my mates and told them to get out of the bar, which we all did…but of course we carried on drinking in the ‘toon’, as that was always the Geordie way!

I don’t remember feeling anything in the way of adrenaline before or during the fight because it happened so fast, but afterwards it kicked in a bit. I got that ‘Yeah!’ feeling — the elation that comes with victory — but it was mixed with growing trepidation…and that’s the reason why I’m telling this story.

The next day, I woke up convinced I’d killed the guy, or at the very least had put him in hospital in a bad way. For all the fights I’d had, I’d never knocked anyone out before and this guy hadn’t looked right at all afterward. As a result, I spent the last week or so of my holidays checking the local radio, TV and newspapers just in case something was mentioned. I also watched everyone with suspicion when I went out, as most people know each other where I come from, so I was expecting some sort of backlash.

In the end, nothing came of it — I was just lucky that the guy wasn’t seriously hurt from the punch and, even more so, from hitting the floor, as that often hits a lot harder than a fist.

Looking back on it now, I don’t feel I did the right thing. For one, it turned out that this guy did know my mate and he had had problems with him before. Now, I’m always there for my mates but I was leaving a week or so afterward to return to the other side of the planet, so there was no way I could be involved in his protection if there had been any comebacks.

But even if I had been living there, it would have been much better to talk down Bairdsy’s attacker. Obviously if that had failed and he did still want to get physical with me, then that would have been fine, although not the best outcome.

I could have responded differently and I most certainly should have — the problem was, I didn’t have any tools at my disposal besides hitting. I now know that this is where my martial arts training had failed me. It only ever gave me one response and it was always a physical one.

I had practised pre-emptive strikes a lot and had used them in my youth, so it was almost second nature. I, like most others out there, had trained for the fight, so when I heard and saw the stimulus, I responded the only way I knew how, which was to hit hard and fast.

On a side note, I do remember that the ring I was wearing had cut into my finger, which relates to training in that up until then I had always punched with the two biggest knuckles [like a boxer or karateka], but when I hit this guy I must have connected with the bottom three [like some kung fu systems], as that’s what caused the ring to cut into me. I’m no longer that specific in anything I teach, as I know the body doesn’t work that way in the chaos of a fight.

Ultimately, I learned several lessons from that incident and it has since shaped what and how I now teach (although it didn’t immediately). First off, most people won’t strike pre-emptively unless they’ve had some hard lessons growing up, but that’s a good thing; we shouldn’t want to hurt other people and luckily most people are that way inclined.

The biggest lesson learnt from this is that your first response shouldn’t be a physical one if you have other options. So, I always teach students to avoid, control or de-escalate situations. You can’t just pay lip service to this either — it has to be trained and tested. Too many people out there are saying they teach to avoid, control and de-escalate, but it’s simply not true. The physical part of training is always the most fun but it is most certainly not the most important. 

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