Bar Fights: Theory and Practice

BrawlingLadiesShirtBurt Likko has a fascinating post up at Ordinary Times on bar fights he analyzed when he worked for an insurer:

The phrase bar “fight” is something of a misnomer. “Assault and battery” are closer to the mark. Sometimes it’s a pretty one-sided affair — a drunk gets out of control and four bouncers eject her. Or one dude wants to fight and another doesn’t so the first dude just whales on the second dude. Because once someone has the upper hand, they use it. Whatever back and forth exchanges of punches mimics a 1970′s Clint Eastwood street fighting movie happens early and briefly. One person is usually better than the other at violence, and the winning tactic seems to be somehow immobilizing the opponent at an early point in the melee.

There are a number of interesting observations about demographics, perception and memory, and dispute resolution.

FearLess Fridays, Week One: Recognize Your Comfort Zone



Let’s begin this 12-week adventure by tuning in to the instinctive skills we all possess, and thinking about how they can help us stay safe. Our senses and subconscious provide useful information about potential danger, but we’re socialized to ignore much of it, or tune it out. This week’s activity will put you back in touch with your “gut”—the intuitive reactions that are often our first line of self defense.

You’ll need a partner, so ask a friend or co-worker to try this with you.

  1. Stand 8-10 feet away from your partner, and have them walk slowly towards you. When your partner is as close as you’re comfortable with—the normal distance you like to maintain during a casual conversation—tell them, “Stop.”
  2. Take a moment to experience what this distance feels like.
  3. Then, have your partner take one more step towards you, inside your comfort zone.
  4. Again, stand quietly for a moment and let yourself experience that distance. What does it feel like?

Here’s a very short (14 seconds!) video of my friends KJ and Doris Ann demonstrating the exercise.

Next, switch roles, so your partner can explore their comfort zone. It might be larger or smaller than yours; different people are comfortable with different degrees of closeness.


  • What physical cues did your body send when your partner stepped inside your comfort zone (maybe flushing, shallow breathing, elevated pulse, sweating)?
  • What was going through your mind? Most of us (especially women) have been socialized to ignore or stifle our gut reactions. We tell ourselves, “Don’t be silly,” “You’re imagining things,” or “Don’t be rude.”

For the rest of the week, try to notice your physical and emotional response when someone reaches the edge of your comfort zone—or crosses it (for example, on subways or busses, or anywhere you have to wait in a line). Practice listening to that response.

The sensations you experience when your comfort zone is breached are early warnings about a situation that could become unsafe. Most of the time, it won’t. But you want to hear that little voice when it says, “I’m uncomfortable; I don’t feel safe.” That’s your gut speaking. Don’t ignore it!

By Friday, I hope you’ll be more familiar with the boundaries of your comfort zone, and more likely to notice violations of it. “Listening to your gut” should feel like a normal activity—one that you’re good at!

Want to know more? Try the Extra Credit!

Let’s use the next five days to make ourselves safer and more powerful! Check in on the website to share how things are going—or Tweet your responses to @SusanSchorn, hashtag #FearLessFridays.

FearLess Fridays Week One Extra Credit!


What can you do to increase your comfort level or safety in a situation where someone is too close? You have lots of options!

  • Assert control over the space between you: Step away to a more comfortable distance (try to pivot and move away on an angle rather than straight back) and re-orient yourself to the other person with your shoulders squared.
  • Use a low hand gesture to fill the space between you and establish a definite boundary. A casual wave might work for a friend; a palm-down “Whoa!” gesture for someone you don’t know.
  • Establish your boundary verbally—using as much politeness as the situation calls for: “Could I have a little more space?” “I need you to move back,” or “Hey, don’t crowd me!”

Be sure to move purposefully—don’t shuffle or shrink—and maintain eye contact as you speak and move.

The Shark Has Pretty Teeth, Dear

Bite1I have a new piece up on The Hairpin today about women’s self defense, and why I teach it: The Shark Has Pretty Teeth, Dear.

I learned Empowerment Self Defense from the women who created it, and I teach it alongside those who have adapted and shaped it in response to the latest research about violence and trauma. For 15 years, I’ve lived by the ethics encoded in ESD—not only when I teach, but in my day-to-day life as well. Doing so made me stronger, more confident, more engaged in the fight to end violence. It reduced my fear and anxiety. It helped me make peace with my vulnerability.


So I was surprised to learn last month that my embrace of empowerment self-defense marked me as not only a shitty feminist, but a perpetuator of rape culture.

I’ll be honest, this was a grueling article to write, because it required sifting through so many of the same arguments women have fought forever–that we aren’t strong, that passivity is our only proper course of action, that we have an obligation to be inoffensive. And in this case these arguments were being voiced BY SELF-PROCLAIMED FEMINISTS.

There are plenty of people in the world who will just say right out that they think women should be second-class citizens. I’d much prefer to invest my energy battling them, not my fellow feminists. So this kind of blow-up is doubly dispiriting, when you consider what we might have been spending our time on instead.

Anyway, I hope the article helps people see self defense as a practical, realistic tool that can do much to improve our personal safety AND help reduce rape culture. Because it is.