By: Joel Gelfand
For some people it could be a Bruce Lee movie or a crazy boxing Match or the first UFC. For me, it was a life and death brawl with terrible odds.
My wife often mentions how closed off I am to sharing some of my experiences in street fights when I was a young and dumb teen living in Chicago. She suggested that by sharing I could help prevent others from making the poor decisions I made as a young man. I also think it important for my students to understand that my perspective as a teacher has been shaped by experiences that I ultimately wish their training would help them avoid.
The following story has never been shared with anyone but my wife. The individuals who were involved in it are identified only by their first initial.
As a teen I wouldn't start fights, but I would never back down or walk away from one either. I was very confident in my martial arts skills at the time which included: a Black Belt designation in Tae Kwon Do, extensive experience in the boxing and kickboxing ring, training in Judo/Japanese Jiu Jitsu and a spot on the varsity wrestling team that was getting me scouted for a university scholarship. In Chicago during the early 90's DJ Party's got huge which attracted a lot of gang bangers. Myself and 6 of my friends were at one of these parties at The Purple Hotel (they never had one of these parties again). I remember about half a dozen fights broke out during the party itself and the DJ kept announcing that the party will be cancelled. But we were having a great time dancing up a storm. When we left, we started walking to the parking lot to get to our car, and all of a sudden guys were coming out the side door and about 5 cars showed up and more guys started coming out of the cars. We were slowly getting surrounded. A very large guy came right up to me and started mouthing off. Being who I was at the time, I knew what was about to happen and did nothing to stop it from happening. I put myself in jeopardy but more importantly my friends too (for which I still carry some guilt). I walked right up to the large man and said "let's see what you got". (My thinking was if I knock him out right away the rest would back down, sparing me and my friends from a crazy brawl.) He throws the first punch at me which I easily block and I hit him back with a straight left. I was able to identify that his friend was sneaking up on me so I utilized a sweep on him. My friend beside me was able to punch him while he tried to come back at me. It was chaos! Our group of 7 was instantly swarmed by 25-30 guys - it was so crazy I accidentally hit my friend (who stopped someone from hitting me earlier) in the face. He was hurt badly but got up to continue fighting and was then struck on the back of the head with a bottle, he fell to the ground bleeding and was kicked repeatedly in the head while lying on the ground, unconscious. I fought back with a combination of rage and skill knocking out several guys and managed to pull off a spinning back kick which I knew broke several ribs on impact (I mention this because looking back, it seems highly unlikely to efficiently utilize such a technique in this situation).
The fight was over almost as soon as it happened, when someone yelled "cops". (I recently reached out to two of the guys in this story and together we recalled details from this night. Turns out it was one of our buddies yelled “cops” but there weren’t even any. We do remember security just watching entertained as this fight unfolded. They did not follow protocol or call police. They just watched.) A buddy of mine, M. had his nose badly broken and his Gold chain which was very valuable stolen (in Chicago you usually get your jewelry robbed while fighting). Another friend, R. had a hole through his cheek, not sure if it was from an ice pick or a ring. After the fight we limped back to R.'s house to asses the damage. I had only had a cut on my lip, and my friends had gotten the worst of it. It turns out the guys were from a gang called The Spanish Cobras. And they had mistaken us for football players from a local high school who jumped their friends. A case of mistaken identity could have cost us our lives. This gang was known for some vicious stabbings. Looking back now, we were lucky not to get stabbed or worse. My friend B. mentioned to me that he suffered a concussion that night which caused slurring of his speech from time to time 25 years since the incident. M. had surgery to repair his badly broken Nose. The fight was big enough to make 2 local newspapers.
As a Martial Artist, I immediately began to consider how the styles I was currently practicing helped me survive but each had limitations in dealing with multiple attackers and weapons. So I started to look to different styles like Jeet Kune Do and Israeli Martial arts. I still continued to train in Boxing and Jiu Jitsu because I felt they each had elements that would help in a street altercation. Not long after the fight I had moved to Toronto, where I continued this Martial Arts journey. After many years and many different combat styles, I settled on Krav Maga and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu both which I am privileged to teach to this day. I truly believe that had I been a Krav Maga expert at the time, things might have ended different or I would have been smart enough to walk away from the situation being educated in what could happen in an all out violent brawl. Every now and then I would think about that night and my friends who experienced it with me. When I reconnected with B. and M., I realized that each individual involved had a different scenario and their own fight they had to deal with at the same time. I was sorta surprised how much detail they remembered, both mentioned they would never forget that night. As for me I won't forget it because it changed my outlook on Martial arts.