What is a fight?
A fight is different from self-defense. In self-defense, you are defending yourself against an attacker; you have no choice in the matter. In a fight, you are entering into mutual combat another person; you have chosen to fight. While you may not have been seeking a fight, if you enter into one, then you have become a willing participate in it. If one of the participants simply walks away, there would no longer be a fight. If the aggressor attacks you as you walk away and you defend yourself, you are not fighting, you are defending yourself.
Taekwondo was developed as a self-defense martial art; meaning it was developed as way to protect oneself from an attack, not to be an attacker. Modern Taekwondo is much different from the way it was when it was developed in the 1950's when a martial art was viewed as a method of combat and way of life. Today, combat is considered politically incorrect; aggression, even in self-defense, is considered inappropriate.
Modern Taekwondo has become a sport with an emphasis on competition, fitness, and fun. It is a business focused on profit, which means its emphasis is on getting and retaining paying students, mostly children. To keep students, mostly children, standards have been lowered and combat is seldom, if ever, emphasized, so most of today's "black belts" are sports players not warriors.
When Taekwondo was developed, it was based upon centuries old empty hand self-defense fighting techniques. Humans have not evolved significantly in the last few hundred years, so these fighting techniques are still pertinent today. Traditional Taekwondo, while used in competition, is still effective for empty hand self-defense against untrained attackers. Sport Taekwondo is for competition free-sparring mostly; it effectiveness for empty hand self-defense against untrained attackers is questionable. Neither version is great in fight (as explained later) but some of their basic techniques are applicable, but then Taekwondo practitioners should not be entering into fights.
Since humans have not evolved significantly, their methods of empty hand combat have not changed significantly, they have only been refined through scientific research. Personal weapons, other than firearms, have also not changed significantly over the centuries. Certain personal weapons, such as swords, mace, and Tasers come into and out of vogue, and certain weapons, such as knives, have been refined but they are still service the same purpose s they did ages ago.
Personal weapons are used to strike, cut, or puncture (such as by stabbing, spearing, or being shot with a projectile). Most traditional martial arts weapons are no longer used; however, some are still in vogue, such as knives and burgeons. Since traditional weapons, such as knives, have not changed much, traditional self-defense methods against them are still effective. Personal weapons of the future will primarily involve electronics, such as weapons that temporarily stun, blind, or disorientate an attacker.
One point to remember is that most traditional Taekwondo self-defense methods assume the attacker is not a trained fighter, so the techniques learned and practiced in patterns and step-sparring are best used against untrained attackers and are practically useless in free-sparring. When the attacker is a trained fighter, traditional defense methods or modern free-sparring techniques may not be effective, especially since the attacker will know what techniques you will probably use and, since fights usually involve anger, training usually does not enter the mind. With the proliferation of martial arts in the last few decades, it may be assumed that your attacker will have had some martial arts training at some point, either in the military or as a child in martial art schools.
Fights don't start immediately; they evolve over a period from angry words into physical action. This evolution will usually take a few minutes, so each person has the opportunity stop the escalation by just leaving.
Fights are about dominance
Fights are about one person wanting to show that they are tougher, more powerful, or more dominant than the other person. Each person feels the need to prove his or her superiority over the other. If one person does not need to prove his or her superiority and walks away, then the fight does not occur.
Fighters do not care about the fighting ability of their opponents. The purpose in a fight is prove superiority, so even when fighters lose, they rationalize and see themselves as superior since they did not back down from a fight with a better fighter.
In a fight, the participants usually are not trying to seriously injure or kill the other person, they merely want to win the fight to show their superiority. However, fighting is dangerous and serious injury, permanent injury, or death is possible.
How fights start
Fights begin for many different reasons: jealousy, threats, intoxication, bullying, disrespect, territorialism, machismo, etc. Many times, a fight begins over something trivial, such as accidently bumping into someone or not using a turn signal. Fights usually start with angry words. Then they escalate into yelling, followed by pushing, and then by throwing punches to the face. Although not likely, there is always the possibility that a fight may become deadly.
Most people have never been in a fight, but some people seek them, and some people seem to attract them. If you are confident in yourself and your abilities, usually you will never be involved in a fight, you will just walk away from a confrontation— a fight avoided is a fight won. One way to avoid fights is to avoid places where fights usually take place, such as sleazy bars, rowdy fan gatherings at sporting events, and places where people are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Fights are personal
Fights are usually not planned, they evolve from a minor disagreement and then escalate to violence. This means fights are up close and personal; the opponents are in each other's faces. The first attack is usually a push followed by hand attack, such as a punch or slap to the most offending body part—the face. However, not all fights progress this way, so be prepared for an unannounced attack, do not get sucker punched.
In fights, kicks are rare. Since the range is so close, there is not enough room to execute a kick. A knee to the groin is a possibility, but generally people want to attack the person, and the body part that most defines the person is the face. Low kicks may work, such as stomping the foot, raking the shin, or side kicking the knee, but since fights end so quickly, it usually never comes to this.
After a few punches are exchanged and the fighters begin feel the pain, they start grabbing and holding and jerking each other around until they drop to the floor where they begin struggling and rolling around. This is usually when spectators or bouncers begin pulling the fighters apart to break up the fight.
Fights are over quickly
Most fights are over in seconds, not minutes. After a few punches, usually one of the fighters decides he or she has had enough, one of the fighters is incapacitated or knocked out, or someone separates the fighters. Whatever injuries that occur in a fight usually happen in the first few punches thrown. Remember the definition of a fight; it is mutual combat to determine dominance, so once dominance is established, the dominant fighter usually stops. Since fights are over so quickly, unless you have trained yourself repeatedly in using the techniques used in patterns and step-sparing, you usually will not think about using them in first few split-seconds of a fight or self-defense situation; you will just react instinctively and flail away in a mindless frenzy.
Fights are clumsy, awkward, and crude
Fights are nothing similar to competition sparring or the choreographed fights seen in movies. Even if the participants are trained fighters, the fight will not be pleasing to watch except for the excitement of the fight itself. You usually will not see beautiful, well executed techniques; just two idiots haphazardly flailing at each other.
When free-sparring, both opponents play by the rules. In demonstrations, the partner is cooperating with to ensure the technique works and looks exciting. In a fight, there is no cooperation and no rules, except for any unwritten rules of chivalry that may be observed.
Martial arts techniques
Martial art techniques are usually not seen in fight, even if one or more of the fighters has had martial arts training. As stated before, fights are personal, which means both fighters are angry, and anger usually means that rational thought is suppressed and primal instincts take over; the fighters just flail about in a frenzy and try to punch each other in the face. Martial artists tend to be experts at sparring other martial artists who train in the same martial art, not at fighting an untrained fighter or even a trained fighter of another art.
Patterns and step-sparring are a part of martial arts training, but most martial artists just view them as something that is required to make rank, all they want to do is free-spar. Most martial artists forget or never learn that in patterns and step-sparring, you are practicing fighting untrained attackers, not other martial artists. Most of the movements in patterns and step-sparring are useless in free-sparring so they are never used; thus, when a fight or self-defense situation occurs, they do not think about using them.
Fights may be brutal
Some fighters are experienced and ruthless. They may gouge the eyes, bite, use broken bottles, or even use knives. When it comes to a fight or a self-defense situation, feints, fakes, footwork, etc. are practically useless. Things will be happening fast with no breaks in the action; you just do what you have got to do as quickly and effectively as you can do it. If you enter a fight, even if you think it is just a friendly fight, you must be prepared for the worst, which means you must be prepared to be ruthless if necessary.
It is easy to say you would do whatever is necessary to defend yourself, but, when the time comes, it will not be easy to do, unless you a have done it before. Many of the techniques you learn in patterns and step-sparring are actual brutal blocks and attacks. They are not to be used indiscriminately; they are not something to be used on playgrounds or in simple bar fights.
Fighting is not free-sparring, it is not completion fighting, and it is not self-defense. It is mutual combat for some personal, usually trivial, reason. While fights usually end quickly with little serious injury, they may escalate into brutal life or death situations, so take fights seriously and avoid them whenever possible.
Abernethy, Iain. "The nature of fighting." Accessed 20 Jan2013 http://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/article/nature-fighting.