6 Lessons I Learned About Self Defence From My Time On The Doors

I was in my very early twenties when I first did a nights bouncing. My Dad, who had been doing the job for a couple of years at that point, was working in a local nightclub and he asked me if I could fill in for him one night while he went and worked another door. I said I would do it, thinking that it might be a good experience.

I wasn’t the biggest of people back then. I weighed about ten stone wet. Despite this I took enough confidence from all the martial arts training I had been doing from the age of seven. This confidence, and a lot of naiveté, allowed me to leave home that night and walk into the lion’s den, so to speak.

Needless to say I was the smallest bouncer there. The rest of the guys where massive, being body builders and burly manual workers and lorry drivers. Compared to them, I just felt out of place. After the introductions and a bit of banter I was told where my station would be for the night, and off I went.

To say I was tense would be an understatement. I stood glued to the spot, arms folded, intensely surveying the crowd before me, unsure even of what I was supposed to be looking out for. I was trying to spot a fight. I don’t think I’d even given any thought as to what I would do if a fight did happen. Standing there, I felt tense and self-conscious, like everyone was looking at me. I wasn’t exactly enjoying myself and I kept wondering why the hell I’d even agreed to do this.

About half way through the night I spotted two guys fighting. They were rolling around on the floor a few meters away from me. Adrenaline shot through my system and without thinking I rushed over to try and separate them. As soon as I grabbed one of them though, I lost my balance and ended up on top of the guy. As I was scrabbling to get back to my feet I felt myself being lifted and dragged back. One of the other bouncers had mistaken me for a punter. “I work here!” I shouted as I was being dragged back. Luckily the head doorman showed up and got the other bouncer to release me. Needless to say, I felt like a fucking idiot.

I went back to my station and finished out the rest of my shift, vowing never to come back. Bouncing just wasn’t for me.

The next week my Dad informed me he had got a job on another door and he asked if I wanted his old position. For whatever reason, I said yes and I soon found myself back in the nightclub again…

From then on I continued to work as a bouncer on and off right up until a few years ago. The more nights I put in, the better I got at the job. I’m glad I persevered with it, because I got a lot out of the experience.

In this article, I want to share with you some of the key lessons that I learned from my bouncing experience and how those lessons relate to self defence. So without further ado…


Lesson #1: Everything Is Easier When You’re Relaxed

There is nothing that can’t be done better when you are more relaxed. Your situational awareness will improve, for a start. When I first started bouncing I found it very difficult to relax. I was on edge all the time, to the point where I was in a constant state of hyper-vigilance, which can be very draining, mentally and physically.

When you are in this hyped up state it is difficult to distinguish between normal and threatening behaviour. Consequently you will see everything as a threat, which isn’t a good way to be.

By staying relaxed you will not be bothered by most people’s behaviour because you will see it as normal and every-day, even if people are behaving raucously and mildly aggressive. You will know real aggression when you see it because it will stand out a mile from the norm, so no need to be tense and over-vigilant all the time.

The same goes when you are dealing with people. If you are tense and on edge in your interactions with others they will sense it and you will put them in the same state. Your over-anxious state will be reflected back at you, which means you could lead them into being defensive, hostile or aggressive.

Staying relaxed will make it easier for other people to stay relaxed around you, and even if the other person is being aggressive, you stand a greater chance of calming them down if you are relaxed yourself. Tension on your part may just tip them over the edge into all out hostility or violence.

Aside from all that, it is much easier to enjoy what you are doing when you are relaxed. Too much tension and anxiety is a buzz killer and will have too many negative consequences.

Relax and everything becomes easier.


Lesson #2: Attitude Is Everything

If you go into something with a bad or negative attitude then you will invariably affect bad or negative outcomes. That much should be obvious.

In your dealings with people, if you have a bad attitude and you behave like a complete asshole, then don’t expect those people to be very co-operative or forthcoming. Also don’t be surprised when they get defensive and turn aggressive.

I’ve worked with a few bouncers in the past who had bad attitudes and who thought it was their job to behave like an asshole all the time and treat people like shit. These guys got into lots of fights. In fact that’s why they behaved like that, I believe, so they could provoke people into fighting with them or to give them an excuse to hit them.

If you don’t want to be arguing and fighting all the time then don’t be an asshole to people!

It is easier to talk to people and to get them to co-operate when you have a reasonable and firm but fair attitude.

Very occasionally you must be more than firm with people. If someone is taking the piss then they are being an asshole and you can react accordingly. Some people just don’t listen unless you force them too.

So I learned to be fair with people when I was bouncing, but I also learned to be a bastard when I had to be. It’s all in the context.


Lesson #3: Be Assertive Or Get Walked Over

This is perhaps one the biggest lessons I learned from bouncing. Before I started on the doors I was never a particularly assertive person, mainly because I’m a very laid back kind of guy. In bouncing however, and in conflict in general, that kind of non-assertive stance won’t serve you very well.

When I first started on the doors I maintained my usual laid back attitude and quickly found myself being pushed around by certain people because of it.

Assertiveness is closely linked to confidence. To stand up for yourself and to hold your ground in a conflict, you need a certain amount of confidence. If an aggressor senses they can easily back you down then they will, make no mistake.

Nobody has the right to walk over you or treat like you like a cunt, so don’t let them. It may seem to you that you are being a bit of an asshole yourself by refusing to budge, but that’s a feeling you will soon grow used to. You can be assertive without being a wanker into the bargain.

Many conflicts can be avoided altogether if you just assert yourself early on, before the other person or persons overstep the mark. If you project confidence through your body language (even if you don’t feel particularly confident) and refrain from coming across as hostile or aggressive, then you can get most people to back down and co-operate. You just have to stand your ground, no matter what.

Occasionally you will come across people who just refuse to back down. In that case there isn’t much you can do except step things up a level, even if that means getting aggressive yourself. With some people, that’s the only language they understand.


Lesson #4: Never Underestimate Anyone

More than once I have went to tackle someone, thinking they were an easy touch, only to find they were far from it as soon as I put my hands on them.

Some people are stronger and better equipped to handle themselves than their outward appearance would seem to suggest. The smallest of people can turn out to be like raging bulls when they get started, especially if there is drink and drugs involved.

Underestimate no one and be ready for anything. Being surprised in an altercation isn’t the most pleasant of experiences.


Lesson #5: Talking Is Easier Than Fighting

This may seem like an obvious lesson, but sometimes we are too quick to aggression in a conflict. If someone is being hostile and aggressive towards us, it’s natural to want to be aggressive right back and the next thing you know, you’re in a fight.

In my early bouncing days I thought it was my job to be rough with people who were fighting and fucking around. If I got shit from people I would give it right back, even if that meant fighting.

After a while I realised it might be better to try to keep myself in check a bit more and to try to talk to people first. It’s actually easier to go into a conflict with fists flying than it is to try to resolve the situation through dialogue.

So I learned to talk people down, which is a skill in itself. This involves setting your ego to one side, even if the other person is throwing insults your way or is trying to belittle you in front of others. What I found was, in general, if you persist and keep talking to someone, eventually they will relent and listen to you, just as long as you do so in a calm and assertive manner without being arrogant or disrespectful. I got more satisfaction out of handling conflict in this way than I did from resorting to rough handling or violence.


Lesson #6: If You Have To Fight, Don’t Hold Back

Some people can’t be talked down, no matter how hard you try. Some people can leave you no choice but to resort to violence, especially if they see fit to attack you first.

A few times when I first started on the doors I fought with people and tried to hold back a bit because I didn’t want to hurt them too much. That seems silly, considering they were trying to hurt me, but I didn’t see it as part of my job to beat people into a bloody pulp.

Good intentions are all well and good, but when some twat is doing their best to cause you harm, no matter the circumstances, you have to get stuck in or you are going to get injured, simple as that. It was they who crossed the line, not me, so they should suffer the consequences, not me. That’s the attitude I later adopted.

And that’s also the attitude that you need to adopt should you find yourself in a fight. Don’t hold back and do what you have to do to finish the thing. Of course I’m not saying you have to kill the other guy, but you have to defend yourself, right? Regardless of all other factors like the law and morality, you are in a fight and if you don’t do something to stop the other guy you will get hurt.

Whatever you do, don’t do it half-assed. Half-assed will get you in trouble. Give it all you’ve got. That’s the only way to prevail.

So those are just some of the lessons I learned from my time on the doors. What about you? No doubt you have your own experiences in these matters. So why not tell us about some of the lessons that you have learned about self defence over the years? This is all about sharing information, so leave your comments below.


About Neal Martin

5 Responses to “6 Lessons I Learned About Self Defence From My Time On The Doors”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Steven Creen says:

    Hi Neal,
    glad to see you're still plugging away and coming up with new angles to enlighten the masses on self defence. Although I've never worked a door myself I have a few mates who have or still do. In talkiing to them it seems that many of the scraps they get into often involve going to ground; not just the punter but the doorman too, and they are then applying joint locks etc to subdue the person. My question is always "how did the person get close enough to you to get you to ground without being hit? Multiple times?" On the door would you allow someone (a pest) within an arms length? Not likely. And if they approach you would have an arm at least raised as a fend, if not in a formal 'guard' position. I'm not sure if it's a product of the training they have (grappling vs striking) or a sense that subdue and restrain is preferable to a destroyed knee joint, a punch in the the throat and a choke-out – not a good look at the door; and then there's the paperwork! I note your comment about considering the welfare of the punters in your early days, even with them being the aggressor, and that you had to get past that. Too far past it and you have a dead arsehole lying on the footpath. Bugger. What a fine line you have to tread in that job. I would need some re-training to work a door…

  2. Neal Martin says:

    That’s the job mate. Especially these days, you have to think control and restraint first. You only really hit them if they seriously turn on you. Your mates ended up on the ground because a struggle ensued when they tried to restrain them. That’s what happens. Unless you just hit them straight away (which you can’t often do) you’re going to have a struggle on your hands. It’s a thankless job, to say the least!

Leave Your Comment