The Best Martial Arts for Bouncers

Sorry for the delay in posting kids, but the last week was all about recovering from a weekend which consisted of many hours in a doorway conversing with individuals experiencing severely technical difficulties. In other words: dealing with drunks.

But on to the subject at hand…

Martial Arts for Bouncers

I have yet to work a job in Nightclub Security where the question, “So, where do you train?” didn’t rear its ugly head. Most bouncers know how to fight and the good ones (in terms of defending themselves) are either seasoned street fighters, have a background in martial arts or train regulary in some type of martial art. And as the testosterone flows, discussions of which style you train in and where you train inevitably crop up. For the record, I’m not an advocate of any style of martial art. If it gets you out of a sticky situation (which, had you been keeping cool and trying to defuse probably wouldn’t have occurred to begin with), I don’t care if you study Aikido or Break-A-Chair-Over-Your-Head-Fu. When self-defense comes into the equation, whatever works, works.

There are definite questions as to which type of self defense or martial arts training works best in a nightclub environment. And in turn, which type of self defense works best for you and your body type. Let’s take a look at the more prevalent styles and how they can ALL be beneficial (or detrimental) in some way or other. And for you blowhards out there who insist that your style is the best, try to open your minds a bit.

BOXING – Everyone should know how to box. And I mean everyone. Boxing teaches you footwork (which will get you out of the way), defense against head strikes (so you don’t get hit in the melon and fall down), and how to punch properly (which I hope you aren’t doing to Patrons unless it’s in self-defense.) Boxing is also great because you will get hit A LOT before you learn how not to get hit and believe it or not, this is EXTREMELY important.

Most people have never been hit in the head or body. When it happens for the first time, it can be such a shock that it will literally freeze them in their tracks. At which point they continue to get hit and well, lights out. Boxing will teach you how to take a shot, return a shot, or move away from the shot. The downside? A lot of people will try to tackle you when they are desperate or are losing a fight and boxing teaches you nothing about fighting on the ground.

BRAZILIAN JIU JITSU – Most bouncers these days are trained in BJJ, because it has become easily accessible and very popular over the past 10 years. It is also a component of most gyms that train in Mixed Martial Arts, which is where most bouncers train. Not only does BJJ help you think (it is a lot more mentally taxing than many people realize), it helps you defend against people trying to take you to the ground, or if you’re on the ground, gain the upper hand. And it works. It works great…

…until you are on the ground choking someone out and their friends decide to kick you in the head.

I call BJJ the best and worst martial art for Nightclubs. BJJ works wonders for controlling and submitting people, and much like Boxing, I think it ground fighting is a skill everyone should learn. But let’s face the facts: the ground is an INCREDIBLY dangerous place to be in an altercation. Not only are you exposed to whatever is on the ground (broken glass, dirt, whatever), but you are vulnerable to attack by anyone and everyone. By all means learn to defend yourself on the ground, but remember that once you are down there, you want to get up as quickly as possible.

KARATE/KUNG-FU – For years, Karate and Kung-Fu were the Holy Grails of martial arts. And in most places in the world they still are. Let’s face it, you don’t stick around as a martial art for several hundred (or thousands) or years without being effective in some way. And for the Boxers or BJJ practitioners who laugh at Karate or Kung-Fu, you’ve obviously never been kicked by a strong Kenpo practitioner or been hit multiple times by a Wing Chun specialist. Karatekas (yes, that is a word) are damn strong if trained correctly and an experienced Kung-Fu student’s hand are extremely sensitive and extremely fast.

That being said, these martial arts are no longer trained (at least in the United States) with the intensity and brutality that they once were. The sparring in Karate has turned into a sport system: one hit, one point, back to your corners, which trains you to hit once and back away…not good in a street fight. And the overblown mysticism and film portrayal of Kung-Fu has lead many a student to believe that they can take on multiple opponents with fancy moves.

The reality of street fights tends to be an adrenaline filled mess with little or no time to think of form or sweet moves. So while these arts ARE valid, you had better be training hard and realistically for them to work.

MUAY THAI KICKBOXING – The Art of Eight Limbs is DEVASTATING. It has an amazing defense system and will make you mobile. Offensively, a well-place elbow or knee shot is pretty much a fight ender. Muay Thai teaches you how to move and strike with brutal efficiency. If you can find a good Muay Thai gym, join it. But be prepared to be put through the ringer and come out the other side a solid fighter.

Unfortunately, Muay Thai has been extremely diluted in the U.S. and is mostly taught as cardio-kickboxing which will do nothing to help you in a fight. And much like its cousin Boxing, Muay Thai kickboxing does not help you on the ground. It is also really hard to kick someone on slippery, wet, muddy, or icy ground which puts you at a huge disadvantage in many places.

JEET KUNE DO – If you don’t  know, this is Bruce Lee’s fighting system/philosophy on fighting. Basically an all-encompassing approach to fighting that focuses on different ‘tools’ for different situations. And it allows its practitioners the ability to use  what works best for them and modify it to a fighting situation. Great because it teaches you how to fight in different ways and adapt to works best for you. Not great because it allows you to fight in different ways without focusing on one particular way. Many call it’s practitioners “Jacks of all trades, masters of none.”

JKD is great because it will give you a base knowledge of kicking, punching, grappling. The other bonus is its focus on realistic fighting and training scenarios. It is not so great because it you will not out-box a Boxer, out-kick a Kicker, or out-grapple a Grappler. And mostly because you are NOT Bruce Lee

ESKRIMA/KALI – The Filipino art of sticks, knives, and empty hand work. Efficient, brutal, deadly. It’s practitioners are dangerous people who know strange and unusual ways to kill you. Great system to learn how to defend against weapons, which makes it distinctly suitable for a bar environment. The issues? You can’t carry a stick with you everywhere and a knife should really only be used in a life or death situation. Another problem is that most people don’t train with weapons on a regular basis and the reality of a fight (either armed or unarmed) will often lock you up and help you to forget that you even have one.

MIXED MARTIAL ARTS – First off, not a martial arts system, but a training methodology. Much like JKD, a solid way to learn how to defend yourself, move around, and get in good shots. Excellent cardio training and great for your brain. MMA’s biggest drawback is that fighters are trained for the ring, not the street. There are no bells, cornermen, or rules in a street fight. And you don’t want to find this out the hard way, which is what usually happens to MMA fighters in the real world.

MMA will get you into shape, but it won’t prepare you for a dark bar and some drunks.

KRAV MAGA – Deadly and efficient. There is a reason it is taught to soldiers and civilians alike: it works and works well. The pros: it is deadly and efficient. The cons: if someone grabs you by the collar, your first instinct should not be to rip out their throat. Krav Maga people tend to look at the world in black and white, and unfortunately the real world of self defense is one of gray. Amazing system of defense, but you have to train hard to learn how to scale back your violence level.

STREET FIGHTING – This is not a martial arts style. It is a life choice, and a stupid one at that. If you are a good street fighter, chances are you have a record of assault and battery charges or are just an idiot who likes to get into fights. Either way, there is nothing productive or positive about what you are doing. If you’re lucky you will end up the hospital. If you’re unlucky, you’ll end up dead or in prison. If you aren’t a street fighter, don’t aim to become one.

CONCLUSION – Everything works, except the street fighting part. Learn the basics: punch, kick, defend. Each style will teach you how to do all three. It is up to you to find the style that works for you and train it in as realistic a manner as possible. Realistic training means hard sparring and reality-based drills. If you aren’t working up a sweat, you aren’t training hard. But if you are training hard in any style, you will be able to defend yourself. Maybe not in every single one of a million different scenarios, but well enough to get you home in one piece.

When looking for a place to train, ask them what their training and sparring is like, watch a class, and take part in a class. Don’t worry about obtaining a belt. As it’s been said, “Belts are made to hold your pants up.” Your martial arts studio should be open to the public, teach people from any background, and hold seminars that cover a variety of subjects. They should be focusing on you learning how to defend yourself and fight, not on how quickly you are moving up in the belt rankings.  They should also be focusing on how to avoid fights when necessary and what techniques to use in less-than-lethal situations.

Again, the key word is DEFENSE. Not how cool you look in your uniform, not how tough you think you are, and certainly not how loud you can yell “Hiiiiiiiiii-ya!!!!”

Until next time…


  1. Very well stated article. I like you’re style: you explain everything in a simple and unconfusing detail and yet you are unbiased. I practice Aikido and as a practitioner I’ve gotten loads of crap from non-aikidoists who think that it’s “useless” or “unrealistic”.

    It’s refreshing to hear from someone who has real-life experience dealing with “the street” yet keeps an unbiased prospective to things.

  2. I think your right about most of this forsure I do have to say my background is in street fights being raised in a tough neighborhood there was no way around it and being locked away with murders and criminals at the age of 12 (I was later expunged of the charges) I had to learn the fast way how to survive and then my much older brother trained about 7 of us in boxing bbj Muay Thai literally in his yard in the heat in the cold in the rain on rocks even covered in bugs till we was ready to spar with guys from gyms every weekend it has givin me enough to get by with your average man forsure and the upper hand with most if a fight comes to you theres no way to know what the elements will be the size of the other man if it’s on carpet or gravel standing up or on your back my point is be prepared for anything I work in a rather small bar but you never know who u may be dealing with i see all kinds of people biker,thugs,nutcases,and good people on a daily basis have talked people into leaving without incident 1000s of times but also had shootings,stabbings,all out war with 20 to 30 people involved 100s of fights my best advice is keep a team you can trust to have your back be prepared never expect things to go the way you want them to keep a lawyer on speed dial and stay sharp dont let the girl in the little skirt distract you your there to do a job that sometimes requires you to defend others and if your not willing to get your hands dirty or not experienced in any from of martial art find something else it’s not for you I’ve trained tons of bouncers personally and can tell if they are right of the job the 1st night I’ve worked every job a bar can offer from door man bar back to gm and owner after new years it’s really a life style and love for the work that keeps me going

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s