Street fighters are self-trained combatants. Usually we’re talking about poor kids, who’ve been forced to learn how to fight for their own safety. If your character’s growing up in dystopic slums (either in the future or in the modern third world), without access to any formalized hand to hand training, then you’re probably going to end up with a street fighter.
Street fighters tend to adopt a highly aggressive, improvised, and very brutal, style. They’ll use whatever techniques they’ve seen and managed to copy and place a premium on ending the fight as quickly as possible for their own survival. A lot of techniques from the Only Unfair Fight post are conceptually very at home in a street fighter’s repertoire.
Because of the prevalence of television, a lot of modern street fighters have incorporated bits from both wrestling and prize fighting. For an example: the entire collection of “backyard wrestling” videos sold in the States a decade ago were an example of street fighting (to an extent) and where that kind of combat can go horribly wrong.
It’s important to keep in mind that the major element here is “self-trained”. Street fighters are amateurs, plain and simple. While brutal styles like Muay Thai and various varieties of MMA may seem like they have a lot in common with a street fighter, they don’t. Combat isn’t really a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and be a self-made man” kind of sport, so there are a lot of detriments that come with using street fighting for your character.
The first problem that street fighters suffer from is a lack control. They’ve never been asked to develop the kind of physical control martial artists are drilled in. This may not sound so bad at first, until we remember that the only lesson these combatants have ever learned is that the person who hits the hardest, fastest, wins. Street fighters version of combat is essentially flailing. It’s the twelve year old child on the street trying to do a pirouette compared to a professional ballerina. Because street fighters have never learned to control, their ability to moderate their techniques is severely limited. This means moves that come from martial arts, including wrestling, that place a premium on the fighters’ safety, become much more dangerous for both combatants even when it’s just a backyard practice match.
So, why is this bad? Some of you may be wondering, but if they strike hard and fast, always hit as hard as they can, why is this detrimental? It should make them stronger, right?
Hand to hand combat is not about physical strength, it’s actually about technique and making the most of your opponent’s body mechanics. A street fighter only ever learns that strength means victory, they only learn to strike hard and that’s it. But what happens when they come into contact with someone who is prepared to take the hit? Street fighting is very simple, so most street fighters have no concept of defense and they fail to grasp the underlying principles behind the techniques and how those all feed together into a cohesive whole. See below:
Street fighters lack the ability to chain attacks; this is a conditioning issue. In the beginning of almost any training, most martial arts place a focus, early on, with katas (though, they’ll mix the terminology up a bit). Katas are a specific sequence of strikes. The point here isn’t to actually train a combat sequence. Katas are singularly worthless for that, the point is to train the combatant to move from one technique to another. This can, in some cases, take years of drilling before a combatant will move smoothly from one technique to another in a fight. Because of the self taught element, street fighters don’t do this. In fact, most don’t even see the need for it or understand why they should. They might be able to follow up on a strike, but that’s it. The eight strike rule? Yeah, that’s out the window.
(Michi Note: For example, in Tae Kwan Do, the first set of moves a student learns in their first lesson is the double punch and the front kick. In a thirty minute lesson with an instructor, they are taught first to punch, then they are asked to put both those punches together, so that immediately after one they do the other. Instead of a one, it becomes a one two. Then, we teach them the front kick if they grasp the concept quickly in the first fifteen minutes. By the end of the lesson the goal is to have the student, even one as young as five years old, performing a complete combo for their parents: slide front kick then double punch. Even from the first lesson, the focus is on conditioning the body to move easily from one technique to the next without thinking.)
This difference in approach is one of the main reasons why street fighters are harder to train in conventional martial arts. This difficulty comes out of two competing bits of psychology: the first is that street fighters think they already know how to fight, they don’t. They have a harder time ejecting the ways they’ve learned, in favor of the much slower, more methodical, approach of traditional martial arts training. They feel like they know this, because they’re looking at the techniques not the connections between them. When you combine this with the attitude that self taught fighters have, of their techniques being good enough, it’s almost impossible to shift them over to a traditional style.
Street fighters will get utterly taken apart by trained martial artists. Whatever else we say, martial arts are about using physics and physiology to outmaneuver and disable opponents. Every trained martial artist is going to a solid grasp of at least one of these things, and any good one will have a very solid understanding of both. Against a street fighter with neither, this is an insurmountable advantage.
Street fighters will make rookie mistakes that can cost them, even when they have more practical fighting experience than the martial artist. This ties back into the previous issues, but one major one is that street fighters are more likely to end up on the ground in a fight. While this is going to get its own article in the future, the short version is the ground is the last place you want your combatant. Unless they’ve specifically trained to fight there (and some martial artists are), going to the ground is a good way to get your character killed.
(Michi Note: I was once told, in a seminar, by an experienced MMA fighter that the ground is the last place you want to go in a real fight, even if you are trained. Concrete is very hard, you risk a break in the fall and you put yourself much closer to a head injury by getting close to the pavement. The ground is a last resort and a bad place to be, because most of the advantages a shorter fighter has while standing vanish. The ground is one of the few places in combat where height and weight really matter. Where a larger opponent has all the advantages in weight, reach, and the help of gravity, for women, the ground is the kiss of death. A female street fighter might not know that, because she can use her lower center of gravity to easily knock over her opponents and stomp them. But it’ll catch up with her sooner or later. On that subject: this is why it’s important, for you women and men out there who are looking for a self-defense program to find one that starts you standing, then works the ground. Find one that will give you the necessary tools to back out of a bad situation before the guy or girl is already on top of you.)
If you understand the limitations, street fighting can be an excellent choice for your character, especially in a dystopic or authoritarian setting, if your character is outside the system and used to looking after themselves (and possibly others), without being able to rely on anyone else to guide them, then this becomes a really likely style. This also overlaps with gangs, and even in a modern context, if you’re looking at gang members, then this is the hand to hand style they’re most likely to be using.
It’s important to remember that street fighters aren’t stupid, they can be very intelligent, and they need to be adaptable to make the style work at all. They are, however, untrained and that’s their biggest weakness.
Michi: On female street fighters
Female street fighters won’t and can’t rely on brute strength, they may think that they are, but they’re not. Female fighters base their ability to fight off making use of a smaller, more compact body to generate greater momentum through the strength in their legs and using their lower center of gravity to knock over larger opponents. Female street fighters won’t linger at the back of the pack, they’ll be aggressive and throw themselves straight into the fray with an attitude more akin to a wild animal than a trained fighter. Since they’ll mostly be used to fighting larger, male opponents, they’ll probably start by striking or grabbing low to the stomach, balls, and knees. Their goal is going to revolve around knocking over their opponent and putting them in a prone position on the ground so that they can be annihilated easily. Expect them to fight dirty.
Despite that, they won’t kick. Street fighters are primarily hands only. Kicking requires a different level of body coordination and training, which they lack. Even if they try and master some basics, those basics will be wrong and more likely to get them hurt. If you want your character to kick, then it’s a traditional martial art for you.
Female street fighters will be harder than their male counterparts, especially if they live in a male dominated society. If you want to write a street fighter, make a study of gang psychology specifically to understand the attitudes behind it. The difference in approaches between trained and untrained fighters are vast, so make sure you understand both before layering character traits on top of them.