How To Break Up A Bar Fight

While this blog is generally targeted at Security professionals, I occasionally like to include information that I believe will be useful/helpful to the general public as well. This is a post that – should you pay attention to it – will come in very handy.

A couple of months ago, I was approached by a reporter from Men’s Health magazine. She wanted to do a piece on “breaking up a bar fight”. I readily agreed to help her out and we had a nice couple of conversations about bar fights (is that even possible?). A little while later, this little blurb came out in the magazine:


I was not surprised by the length of the article. Having dealt with reporters and journalists before, I know enough to be realistic about the amount of actual information that will be pulled from any interview. That being said, I thought that it would be in everyone’s best interest to discuss bar fights and how to break them up in greater detail than was presented in the article.

But before I begin, know this:


Sorry, but that is just the fact of the matter. Bar fights happen very quickly and are usually over within 5-10 seconds. The first person to get hit usually goes down and just like that, it’s over. If the fight goes longer than 5-10 seconds, it is turning into melee and YOU are not stopping that. Period. The key is to get ahead of the curve and keep the fight from happening at all.

RULE #1 – Don’t be in the Bar or Nightclub

Now, this might seem like a strange thing for someone who works in Bars and Nightclubs to say. But the reality is this: if you aren’t in a Bar or Nightclub, you’ll never have to worry about breaking up a fight or getting into a fight. One of my martial arts instructors likes to refer to “The 3 S’s”: Stupid people, in stupid places, doing stupid things. If you avoid any of the 3 S’s, you will more than likely avoid instances of physical violence.

RULE #2 – Don’t get involved

You know what the best defense against a punch is? A good pair of running shoes. Should you be present when a fight breaks out or when one seems to be brewing…leave the area. I’m sure that there are plenty of tough guys who want to get involved and jump in, fists swinging. Not only is this a TERRIBLE idea in terms of liability but it is incredibly dangerous. Bar fights tend to be free-for-alls. You WILL get hit and not necessarily by a fist. Tough guy? Big guy? Excellent fighter? There will ALWAYS be someone tougher, bigger, or more excellent than you perceive yourself to be. And that person might not “look” like you expect them to. CASE IN POINT…GHURKAS


See trouble commencing? Yell for help or run and get it. Grab a cocktail waitress, bar back, bartender, or best case scenario: actual security or law enforcement. It is their bar and their problem, NOT yours. Sometimes even yelling that “Security!” of “The Cops are on their way!” can buy enough time for cooler heads to prevail or give you and your group a chance to LEAVE THE AREA.

“But what if my friend is the one in the fight?”, you say.

Easy, sarcastic answer: Your friend is an idiot. Anyone willing to risk physical injury due to a perceived slight, spilled drink, or someone “talking to my girl” is an idiot. But more realistically…

RULE #4 – Grab your friend…and leave

If your friend is about to get in the mix or is in the initial stages of The Monkey Dance*, grab him or her by the collar, belt, or arm, and drag them away. They might get angry. Too bad. They might call you names. Who cares? They might yell, “Let me at him!” Ignore them. Get them and yourself as far away as possible from the source of contentious behavior. “But our drinks, girlfriends, table are over there!”, you say. You can come back and get all of the above once you have extricated your friend from the situation AND informed Security.

RULE #5 – Don’t get between the fighters

Let’s say your friend is too deep in the Monkey Dance to get out or has already started swinging. First off, DO NOT – under any circumstances – insert yourself between your friend and the aggressor(s). You will become an additional target for someone’s anger and you may even escalate the situation. By jumping in you just got involved, so the aggressor’s friends get involved, and it builds exponentially from there. You might get hit as someone tries to hit your friend. I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count. Should you make the poor decision to involve yourself, grab your friend from behind or from the side and drag them away. It doesn’t have to be some amazing ninja hold, just grab them and move.

RULE #6 – Let Security handle it

If the fight is in already full swing, YOU SHOULD NOT GET INVOLVED. Please know that when Security arrives, they are going to do whatever it takes to separate the “fighters” …and by jumping in to the mix – even if it is to “break it up” – you just became one of the fighters. There are not a lot of investigative enquiries being made by Security when the fists start swinging.

Security Staffer are trained (hopefully) to get the situation under control. You are not. Even if you are a bouncer hanging out in another bar…don’t get involved. Step back, leave the area, and let Security break it up. THEN you can talk to them about what happened. They may need witnesses if someone was injured.

RULE #7 – Check your ego

The biggest cause of the bar fight is the male EGO. No one wants to be a “p*ssy” or be “disrespected”. Get over it. You can be called names all night and go home in one piece, not having lost your teeth or you can “defend your honor” and end up at the bottom of a pile of brawling bodies. Listen, fights end one of three ways: in the hospital, in the morgue, or in jail. None of which is particularly appealing. The person instigating the fight will be dealt with by Security at some point in the evening, guaranteed.

So instead of getting feisty and “in the mix”, grab your girl, your boy, your friend, and your crew, and either ask for help from Security or pick another bar. You’ll wake up with a hangover – not an arrest. Your ego might be a little bruised but at least you’ll retain possession of your teeth.

Until next time…

* Anyone interested in violence in society, security, or how/why violent behavior occurs is greatly encouraged to read this book:

Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence

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