A common maneuver in many martial arts movie fight scenes, involves the protagonist, running up a wall and flipping over to get behind an attacker, who is chasing and/or fighting them. This use of the environment in a fight, involves a level of athleticism, that is beyond most of us. When involved in a real-life violent altercation; we can use our surroundings as barriers and funnels, to restrict, block and control our assailant’s movements. Understanding how to recognize and use the landscape to our advantage is a key fighting/survival skill.
In most real-life situations, you are not going to have a lot of space in which to operate e.g. even something like a dance floor in a club. It would seem expansive when empty, affords little room to move around in when packed full of people. Your training should reflect this reality, and you should be comfortable and proficient at fighting in “close quarters”. In most situations, you will run out of space very, very quickly, either because you’ve been pushed into a wall. With training you can use these things to your advantage.
Real-life violence is non-consensual, it’s not like a competitive sporting match which you have agreed to participate in. It involves one or more people trying to hurt, injure, or possibly kill you. No attacker will want to give you the time and space to defend yourself. They will want to take these things away from you so that they are the one(s) with all the advantages. Putting an object such as a parked car, a table, or seating, etc., between you and an attacker can help you gain a few vital seconds in which to compose yourself and formulate a plan/strategy for dealing with the situation.
Trying to get behind some large object as a barrier is extremely important if your assailant has a weapon. If you don’t have to directly deal with a frenzied knife attacker, but can instead keep moving behind things. Put more and more distance between you and them, you are much more likely to come away unharmed/uninjured. For example, if an attacker with a knife starts attacking patrons in a bar or restaurant, rather than running straight for the door, it may be a better solution to weave through the tables, making sure that there is always a “barrier” between you and them.
There is nothing that says you must directly engage with an attacker. If you are walking along a street late at night, and feel that somebody is following you, it may be worth crossing the street to the other side to check if they are synchronizing their movement to yours (a pre-violence indicator). If they follow you, then they obviously have an interest in you. You should make a dynamic risk assessment of your situation to determine whether you are in danger. One simple thing you can do, get behind a parked car, and ask the person if they are following you. Even if they are, they will be unlikely to say they are. If they weren’t, they won’t have a reason or justification to get violent with you.
If their intentions were nefarious then you have taken away the element of surprise they were relying on for their assault to be successful, demonstrated that you are not afraid to confront/challenge them. Put a solid protective barrier between yourself and them. With these things against them, there is a good chance that they will leave you alone. If you are carrying pepper spray or another defensive weapon, getting behind the car give you time to access it.
Objects in your environment don’t have to only act as barriers. You can also use them as funnels to limit an assailant’s attacks against you. It could be that you’ve been involved in a road rage incident, and the other driver has followed you to the parking lot you were planning to use. You park your car, next to another, and get out. The space between the two cars is a natural “funnel”, any movement in this space is restricted/limited. As you walk past your car and into the lot, the driver who followed you appears with a tire iron in their hand, determined to punish you for whatever driving infraction you committed against them.
At the moment, you are in open space, where your aggressor has the room to swing their improvised weapon in any arc or direction they choose. If you move back between the two cars, into the “funnel”, your attacker won’t be able to swing the tire iron from side-to-side, they will only be able to swing it downwards. If you limit your assailant’s ability so that they can only attack in one way, then you can “predict” their attack. You can also prepare to deal with it, rather than have to determine the exact assault they will make.
You can also use funnels and barriers together to create safe spaces. If you reverse into a parking space that has a wall behind it, and park next to another car, when you open your driver’s door, you will have created an enclosed protective area for yourself – this will allow you to get in and out of your car safely. Without turning and exposing your back to anyone in the environment who might have harmful intent towards you, such as a mugger, carjacker or abductor, etc.
Once we understand how the environment can aid and assist our survival, we can start to take advantage of it. We can even use it as a weapon against our assailants e.g. a tabletop, car or wall. It is a much harder striking surface than any part of our bodies. If we slam somebody into these objects, the impact is likely to be greater than if we were to punch, elbow, kick, or strike them.
A fight doesn’t occur in a sterile environment. There are objects that we can use as improvised weapons, as well as those that can be used as barriers and funnels. When this is appreciated, we can turn everything at hand to our advantage, and at the same time prevent our assailant(s) from using them against us. If we can manage and control the environment, we can control and manage the fight.