Is a world-class fighter automatically good at protecting themselves from violence? No!
On May 16th of this year, the incredibly dangerous martial artist Urijah Faber fought the incredibly dangerous martial artist Frankie Edgar at UFC Fight Night 66. In this excellent fight we discovered once and for all whether Edgar’s fantastic sense of shootboxing timing and peerless cardio were up to the task of defeating the durability, veteran experience and whip-smart submissions of Faber.
They’re both ex-champions of the highest calibre. To me this was one of the most interesting matches of the year, and the best match that either fighter had been involved in since Edgar’s (debatable) points defeat at the hands of Featherweight champ Jose Aldo in February 2013.
On watching this fight my mind was drawn back to Faber’s style and his history. One well-publicized incident stands out as a worthy topic for an educational blog post: We’re going back a way here; back to the late noughties. In approximately June 2006, whilst on holiday on the island of Bali, Indonesia, Faber was involved in a serious street brawl in the popular tourist night-spot, Kuta.
Faber recounts his side of the story here:
Further detail can be found at: http://www.mensfitness.com/life/sports/street-fighting-man.
The short version of the story is: Faber was out clubbing in Kuta, when a local man started being aggressive towards him. Faber offered the man outside, and the two fought hand-to-hand. Faber won (of course), but after he had incapacitated his opponent, his opponent’s friends (presumably, although total strangers have been known to start beating on a combatant even though the situation is nothing to do with them personally) jumped Faber, attempting to beat him, and inflicting at least some serious damage before Faber managed to escape. Also, Faber himself claims that innocent bystanders were hurt in the scuffle.
Reactions following this were mainly in two categories: either expressing admiration for Faber for “stepping up” and taking on a group of assailants in an unfamiliar land, or secondly lambasting Faber for failing to defeat all the opponents, and “wimping out” and running away.
Predictably, both of these groups of commentators missed the point of the whole debacle entirely.
The sensible person does not listen to the story Faber told and conclude “wow, Faber’s one tough son of a gun!”, nor that “Wow, Faber’s a wuss in real life!”. Instead, what can we sensible people learn from Faber’s experience? Not “how to fight”. But when and even more importantly why not to fight.
From a self-defence perspective, Faber made a few serious errors that evening:
The first error was staying out to party by himself in a foreign and unfamiliar land when his friends retired for the evening. But I don’t judge Faber too harshly for this error. It’s easy for an average unfit and untrained person to let his or her ego tell them that they can stay out and have fun, and that they’ll be able to “take care of themselves”. Men and women do it every weekend, all over the world. And some, sadly, pay the price for it. How much easier is it for a former world champion cage fighter to delude himself in this fashion? After all, at least Faber had extensive past experience and evidence of his own prowess.
His second error was to initiate violence. Not aggression, as- at least by Faber’s account- the man he initially fought had started the cycle of aggression through his visual and verbal engagement… but Faber most definitely escalated the situation to the physical by inviting the man outside for a fight. This error I do judge Faber harshly for. Not only is it a deliberate act specifically designed to make oneself less safe, but also as a trained martial artist, and a supposed professional in his field, Faber has a greater- not a lesser- responsibility to safeguard himself and others… even his potential opponents. Seneca said it best when he opined:
“If [your opponent] is weaker than you, spare him. If stronger, spare yourself.”
Faber should feel shame for challenging anyone to a fight in the real world. He not only endangered himself by doing so, but he endangered others as well; Faber states that a girl in the club he was partying at was injured during the “mini riot” his actions led to.
Thirdly, by his own account, Faber stuck around after the initial fight too long. After incapacitating his foe, without hurrying, he stopped to collect his belongings before leaving the scene for up to four minutes. It is very close to being the number one rule of self-defence that after ANY kind of altercation, be it physical, verbal or even some purely body-language related conflicts, one should leave the area immediately. Not four minutes later. Not even one minute later. Immediately. If Faber had done this, despite his earlier major errors, he would have avoided the subsequent gang attack.
The last… or maybe the actual first… or the generally overarching error Faber made was to forget (or just wilfuly disregard the fact) that fights in the real world are rarely one-on-one, and are never “fair”. A fight in the real world is not like a fight in a boxing ring or MMA cage. There’s always the risk that additional parties will involve themselves in the fracas; there is the omnipresent risk of concealed weaponry; there are hazardous objects and surfaces which can cause death if one falls onto them headfirst; there is no-one to save you or stop the fight if you end up losing; and there can be serious long-term legal consequences and risks of revenge attacks months or even years later.
It is quite simply never worth the risk to invite a fight in the real world, as even the most “friendly” fight between friends or siblings can lead to accidental death in the real world. It doesn’t matter how tough or skilled you are. You will NEVER be as tough and as skilled as you would need to be to come out of 100% of street fights unscathed. That person does not exist, and never has nor ever will exist.
And lastly the fact is that in an alcohol-fuelled environment, especially if we have been drinking ourselves, we are as vulnerable as we will probably ever be in our adult lives, (barring the time we spend actually sleeping). If Faber had sat down before his evening out and specifically designed his evening so as to completely offset and make worthless his years of training and physical conditioning, he could not have done better than to:
-go to an unfamiliar place full of drunken revellers and get pissed,
-carry on partying alone when his friends leave,
-challenge an aggressive man to a fight,
-and stick around for a few minutes after defeating the man.
Maybe if he’d worn a sign around his neck with “I hate Indonesia” written on it…
What did Faber’s little tale teach us? Well he may be a hell of a martial artist… But he’s a TERRIBLE exponent of basic self-defence. And in this respect, he’s shown us vividly the separation between the two disciplines. You can have zero martial arts experience and be better at self-defence than a world champion fighter. Likewise, you can be one of the greatest martial artists in the world, and be apparently totally incapable of performing the most basic actions to ensure your safety from violence.
Keep this in mind while you train… and/or while not training… and it will serve you better than a UFC career in terms of learning real self-defence.