From "Taking It to the Street; Making Your Martial Art Street Effective" by Marc "Animal" MacYoung, Paladin Press, 1999
A lot of martial art instructors claim to be streetfighters. They brag about how their system is street proven. To listen to these people, you'd think they were real hardcore street savages. And to give them credit, they may have been bouncers and even brawlers. Still, that's a totally different league than streetfighters.
Simply stated, most martial art instructors who claim to have been streetfighters don't have the stink.
There is a certain psychic odour that comes from growing up and living on the streets. It's a rot that comes from constant exposure to violence, death, alcoholism, drug addiction, sociopathic behaviour, poverty, sadism, and viciousness. It's reflected in a person's attitude, speech patterns, personal interactions, and how he looks at the world. It's a certain hardening of the spirit that comes from living years with the attitude "do unto others before they do unto you." Add to that the chronic paranoia of having spent years looking over your shoulder, lest someone you have wronged slithers out of the shadow you just passed with revenge on his mind.
When I say I was a streetfighter, it means that I was a vicious, self-centred, misbehaving, drunken, stoned thug among other vicious, self-centred, misbehaving, drunken, stoned thugs. We were the worst kind of savages. Man to man, mano a mano was bull. Numbers and weapons were always used to increase our odds whenever possible. Once you realise the other side could and would shoot back, you did everything in your power to make sure they never got the chance. You always stacked the deck in your favour. You hit first, and you hit hard enough to make sure he didn't get up. You ran as often as you hit, and you hit from behind as often as you could. Anyone who didn't play that way didn't last too long. The blood, the bullets, and the knives were real. In the streets, life and death were determined by whims, intoxicants, and sheer stupidity.
Being, or having been, a streetfighter is nothing to be proud of. Nor is it something you turn on and off. It's not a job that you go to and come home from. It's a way of life (and often death) and it's constant. It's living with being the hunter and the hunted every day and night. Knowing that the next corner you turn could end your life, you don't swagger boldly around it. You cautiously turn that corner.
It's not aggressiveness or how many people he's beat up that makes a streetfighter - that's just a sadistic brawler. Such people don't last long in the streets. A brawler goes into places, picks a fight, and then leaves the area to go back to a home far away from the trouble he caused.
Streetfighting isn't stomping someone and then contemptuously forgetting them like so many brawlers and bouncers do. It's spending two weeks after a conflict watching approaching cars lest a gun barrel comes poking out of a rolled down window. It's dashing wildly through alleys to escape six guys who suddenly jumped out of a car. Of course having the guy you beat up waiting in the shadows with a baseball bat as you come out of a door is also loads of laughs to deal with. That is what being a streetfighter is about. It's surviving the aftermath of your actions when someone backs up on you on his terms, not yours.
There's a lot of pain and paranoia involved in being a streetfighter that the fakes don't know about. Standing over a friend's grave is a horrible experience. Spending your life always looking over your shoulder doesn't do your social graces any good. Waking up with the cops pounding on your door for what happened last nights really compounds the suffering of a hangover. Long nights spent in the emergency room because someone blindsided you with a beer bottle or scrubbing your friend's blood out of your car seat - these are the experiences of a streetfighter. The scars, both physical and psychic, stand out clearly. Trying to impress people by claiming to be one is like trying to impress people by claiming that you're a leper.
Most people I knew in the "Life" are now either dead, in prison, totally burned out courtesy of drugs or booze, or crippled because of a shadow with a shotgun. That's what happens to most "streetfighters". The few that do manage to escape know about the downside, and that's why they left. Even people who weren't players, but grew up in lousy neighbourhoods and fought their way out, have the stink. It stays with you forever. Someone who thinks going out and picking fights or working a few months as a bouncer in a local watering hole means he's a streetfighter is very much mistaken.
You can see why such a life would give someone a spiritual stink. I should know - that is how I was raised and that was the environment I operated in while running in the streets of Los Angeles. Even though I left it behind, the residue still remains with me to this day. It's taken me many long, hard years working to improve myself from that state, and I still don't have it down.
Oh, by the way, something I've noticed for you social climbers: One of the more interesting things about "civilised conversation" isn't so much what you talk about, but what it is you DON'T talk about. If a subject is discussed it's reached round about, you don't just blurt it out. That kind of directness is one of the marks of someone coming from the street, not someone with so-called class.
It's knowing the downside of the "life" that is the litmus test for telling ex-streetfighters from wannabees. Basically, you can see now why someone who brags about being a streetfighter isn't one. What's there to impress people with? "Hi! I'm a dysfunctional, intoxicated thug who hurts people unnecessarily ... what do you do for a living?" Gee, that goes over well at dinner parties.
In the same way that a lot of camp cooks suddenly became snipers when they returned from Vietnam, a whole lot of martial arts instructors became ex-streetfighters when they opened their schools. It's a marketing ploy. It sounds really good. It attracts students, and people who don't know the difference believe them - thinking that streetfighting and aggressive sports training regimes are the same thing. The problem is, it's not true. If you believe such a person in good faith, you are the one who will bleed to discover what he's teaching won't work in the real thing.