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

What’s The Scenario?

A local Head of Security and I were discussing a variety of topics the other day and the subject of training came up. And while many security teams in other fields – Executive Protection being one – practice scenarios on a regular basis (or at least they should), I have rarely seen a Nightclub Security Staff working any type of training drills. Some of my readers might argue that scenario training is unnecessary in a nightclub environment. “You see the same situations all the time, why train them?”

Easy answer: Proper Prior Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Performance

Any field of work that requires an immediate or urgent response should do some type of scenario training. Scenarios will show where there are gaps in response time, failures of action, failures of inaction, overreaction, and any other issues. Many people, when placed under some type of pressure, will freeze up. The pressure could be something as basic as your boss asking you an unexpected question or as terrifying as having to respond to a choking child. In an fluid environment, filled with intoxicated individuals, having the correct response can mean the difference between life, death, a lawsuit…or vomit on your shoes. Training can help to minimize dangers and shorten the response times to a variety of incidents.

A basic game of question and answer is a great start when building Scenario Training. Think up 3-5 scenarios that your crew might run into on a given night. During the night or at the pre/post shift meeting, throw out a scenario and ask what your Staff would do. You can ask them individually or have them brainstorm as a group. Then, break down and evaluate the answers. Point out conflicts with policy or procedure and ask for other options or solutions to the scenario. And always remember to give them what your response would be. You might be surprised to find that your crew has come up with responses you had not considered.

Another possibility would be to actually put your crew through some physical Scenarios. Place them in their respective positions, grab some extra Bar Staff, and act out the Scenarios you have imagined. The mere fact that your crew is being tested will usually bring up their heart rates and adrenaline level – even if they know it is only a Scenario. Run the Scenario multiple times with different people in each position. Observe their reactions, take notes, and review what just happened. Discuss aspects of Situational Awareness that they could use to their advantage.

Scenario evaluation should be an opportunity for you to positively reinforce your crew’s actions. If you find yourself constantly berating your Staffers, it might be a case of your original training not being up to par. Evaluate yourself and your skill set as well. Put yourself in the mix once in a while. Don’t ever think that because you are the one presenting the problems, your skill set is miles above that of your trainees. Again, you might be surprised what you discover about yourself..

The one type of training that I would avoid with Security Staffers is physical ejections. While it is necessary to discuss how to physically remove someone from an establishment, showing things like wrist locks, arm bars, and chokes WILL open you up to liability. The Use of Force continuum is one that should be discussed and re-enforced regularly, but there are plenty of ways to move a person besides being hands-on. Aside from the risk of liability, the mindset of some Security Staffers will prevent them from working an ejection Scenario safely. They will be more likely to act out against their other Staffers, “Oh yeah, well you’ll never take me down! Try it!”, and this can lead to sparring and other ridiculous behavior. These are training sessions, not tough guy sessions, and anyone that can’t work in an environment of learning is probably not someone you want working for you to begin with. Scenarios are used to train your brain, not your brawn.

Until next time…

Bouncer Fails

Every month I like to do a little Googling of the word “Bouncer” and see what comes up. The results are usually some type of fight video or altercation between a Bouncer and a Patron. And in about 50% of the cases, the Security Staff are too hands on. If you read my last post, I made a big deal out of “being nice”. When you watch a lot of these videos, you can see that the Staffers are either not being nice or they are allowing the customers to get the better of them.

What I mean is that the Patrons keep pushing the Staffer’s buttons until the Staffer “snaps” and get “hands on”. Basically, the individual running the door runs out of patience or they let their emotions get the better of them. Either way, it’s a huge problem. Ultimately, your job in Security is to protect people, not put them in harm’s way or cause the harm yourself.

In the following video, I see an example of a complete loss of composure by the Doorman, accompanied by some very serious lapses in situational awareness by all of the Security Staffers involved. First, let’s look at the video*:

(Be forewarned, the language is NSFW)

Not pretty is it? I see an intoxicated Patron (yes, he’s annoying, but that’s besides the point) being pushed around for no discernible reason. So let’s break it down a bit:

00:00 – 00:34     Just Another Night?

The Patrons are drunk and there is some kind of dispute trying to be resolved. So far, nothing out of the unusual. BUT…

FAIL #1 – The Staffer in the black jacket has his hands in his pockets. Why? The worst thing you can do in any situation involving a possibly dangerous or suspect individual is talk to them with your hands in your pockets. You’re asking to get hit.

00:35 – 00:51     The Trouble Starts 

The Patron approaches an individual who I assume to be the Manager. The Staffers intervene, which is understandable, but their pushing of the Patron is waaaaaaaay over the line. Not only that, but when the Patron returns, they just stand there, not creating any type of safe zone around themselves, even going so far as to let the Patron bend down and pick something up off the ground.

FAIL #2 – The Patron could have very easily used this as a distraction to grab a weapon (in his off hand) OR  jump right up with a head butt or attack on either Staffer. Bad Situational Awareness. Is the Patron verbally abusive? Yes. But hey, everyone has been cursed at. Suck it up.

00:52 – 01:10     Things Fall Apart 

Is it necessary for both Staffers to push back the Patron? I would argue no. At this point, the Staffers have escalated the situation.

FAIL #3 – The Patrons are now heated and they are coming back for more. Why does the Staffer in the Black Coat place his hands behind his back? And why do they let the Patrons approach them again without some type of verbal warning to back off.

01:11 – 01:25     Disasters, Inc.

What a mess. Red Coat Staffer actually removes his hat and tells the Patron, “I’m going to give it to you.” Wow.

FAIL #4 – An implied threat of violence accompanied by the act of preparing an attack (hat removal). We just drifted from stupid behavior into possible assault territory.

01:26 – 01:45     How Can We Possibly Make This Situation Worse?

Red Coat pushes the Patron (again), and actually starts instigate a fight, to the point of having to be held back by his partner. And the Staffer in the Black Coat keeps his hands occupied (with a hat), turns his back on his buddy (to put down the hat), and puts his hands back in his coat.

01:46 – The End     Epic Failure

Red Coat is obviously trying to get into a fight at this point. Multiple pushes on the Patron, multiple failures in situational awareness and body positioning, and basically breaking every rule in the book in terms of procedure when dealing with intoxicated individuals.It gets bad enough that they need to bring back up from inside.

Videos like this serve to demonstrate how a situation can turn bad very quickly, especially when accompanied by severe lapses in judgement. Remember it is up to you as a Security Staffer to dictate the conversation and guide yourself, your fellow employees, and yes – even intoxicated Patrons – into the zone of safe conflict resolution.

  • Calm your Patrons down – Use phrases like, “Slow down.” or “Let’s talk this out.”
  • Remove yourself from the situation – If a Patron is angry at you, leave the scene and have someone else deal with it. It doesn’t make you a coward, it makes you smart and keeps you out of trouble.
  • Keep your head and hands up – Always. No matter how safe you feel, anything is possible.

Don’t be like these Staffers. Be intelligent about your approach, patient in your attitude, and DON’T FAIL.

Until next time…

*(as always, any and all video is the property of the YouTube poster and I make no claims as to its authenticity or the actual actions depicted)