How to de-escalate a street fight

So, you’ve found yourself face-to-face with a very pissed off individual. They can be angry about a number of things. Maybe you accidentally bumped into them on the sidewalk? Perhaps they’re going through some earth shattering event outside of your control and is just looking for someone to take it out on?

No matter the reasoning, it can happen. How do you manage the situation before it turns into a full-fledged street fight that can lead to disastrous outcomes? You de-escalate.

Sure, coming out the victor in a street fight can seem as thrilling as the movies, but this isn’t the movies. You have no idea who that other person is or what they’re capable of. They can have a weapon, a mental disorder, or friends waiting to turn that one-on-one fight into a six-on-one beat down.

De-escalation is the best means to ending a street fight before it can even begin. Not exactly sure how to do that? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Understand How Your Body Reacts to Stressful Situations

No matter what, our bodies will always react in some way to a sudden bout of stress. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re aware of the three F’s in this case: fight, flight, and freeze.

Both fight and flight reactions generate a variety of bodily responses. Your blood pressure increases as your heart rate accelerates. You can experience trembling, a tight feeling in your chest, and hot flushes or chills. Typically, for flight, you’ll get that cold feeling. If your body is aching to fight, you may run hotter.

When it comes to freeze, you can feel a shortness of breath along with a rapid heartbeat. People don’t just clam up here; some of them can even faint. It’s like playing possum. Your body assumes that whatever or whoever is threatening you will go away if they think you’re incapacitated.

Regardless of what you experience, it throws you off your game. You’re no longer thinking clearly as your body goes through a rollercoaster of sensations. Whatever response you thought you’d give may be lost as you have to break through the fog to think of something new.

Stopping these reactions are just about impossible as they’re biologically ingrained in us for survival. However, you can learn to manage them to better your response ability.

For one thing, you can always pick up a martial art of some sort. This goes beyond learning self-defense as you want to defuse the situation, not make it worse. Rather, martial arts, regardless of which discipline you choose, can help you develop confidence, naturally reduce stress, and even improve your focus and reflexes so you think quicker on your feet.

Time to De-Escalate

Even if you decide on going the martial art route to get some skills, every good instructor out there touts to never use what you learn to cause violence. Instead, you should de-escalate, or reduce the intensity, of the pending violence.

A good first tactic to use in this case is your mind. Assess the situation. Are there other people around who seem like they’ll jump in on this potential fight? Do you see a weapon? Is your assailant physically more imposing than you are? Perhaps the most important assessment is: is there an easy means of escaping?

Once you have an idea of what’s happening, you can focus on how to de-escalate. As you take into account how they look, remember your own posture. Any aggressive stance from you will only intensify their reaction. Although stress has your nerves on edge, try to maintain an alert yet non-threatening appearance. Keep your palms open too; a closed fist can indicate to them you’re thinking about attacking first.

Try to put something between you and them while staying out of their reach. This is especially helpful if you need to quickly leave the vicinity before anything can happen.

Another ideal tactic is simply listening. Sometimes, a person may just need to vent, boast, etc., and you are unfortunately on the receiving end. Let them talk and hear them out. Eventually, they may leave on their own as they’re out of energy from the rant.

Now, if they’re taunting you, don’t fall into the trap. Leave your ego behind in this case as they want you to react. They want you to give them an excuse. Keep quiet, and when you do speak, stick to a composed tone.

How to Handle the Stress

Any tactic you can use to de-escalate a street fight is moot if you can’t control yourself under stress. If you need help in that aspect, try out these simple tips that you should be able to readily recall no matter the situation:


  • Don’t forget to breathe. It’s an obvious one, but so easily forgotten. Shortness of breath is a common reaction to a stressful situation. Take deep breaths while counting quietly. Once oxygen is restored, your body should feel more relaxed and ready to properly and calmly handle the situation.
  • Keep a safe distance. The more personal space you have, the better you’ll feel. You know that they can’t touch you as long as you stay back. This gives you time to mentally calm down so that you can attempt to calm them down.
  • Put things in perspective. This goes back to assessing the situation. It’s easy to panic if you think you’ll stumble into a street fight, so gather as much information in the few seconds you have that you can. You’ll understand more about the situation, which can ease panicking.

Of course, you can work on ways of managing stress on your own time (e.g. taking up martial arts, meditation, etc.). However, in the heat of the moment, you have little time to calm down enough to decide on a course of action. When it comes to a street fight, not getting into one in the first place is always the best option.

Featured image by Alan –– Flickr.