I have never really been in a fistfight. I've had some schoolyard scuffles, sure, but never had to launch or dodge a closed-fist punch. I was reminded of this rather abruptly the other day, when I saw a friend of mine nearly get in a fistfight in a parking lot. I was trying to back out of a space, but had been parked in by someone who'd rudely left their car directly behind mine. My friend said he'd "take care of it," which I assumed meant he would go inside the business we were parked in front of and see whose car it was. Instead, the next thing I know I see my friend getting into the offending car, which was apparently unlocked, and searching around for keys -- as if he were going to move it himself. Just as I was about to tell him I didn't think this was such a hot idea, the screaming began. A very large, very angry man was running toward him, yelling all sorts of things I can't type in polite company, so I ran over, thinking my friend was in need of a little backup.
Luckily, he wasn't -- the guy never threw a punch, though he looked like he was about to -- and the huge serrated scar along his neck made me think he had thrown (and received) plenty before. But I began to wonder what I would've done if he had -- and here's what I found out.
Don't get in one
This may seem obvious, but if you can use diplomacy rather than your fists, do it. There are around 16,000 murders in the US every year, and a not-insignificant proportion of those are committed with fists rather than guns. So if you don't want to kill someone or go to jail, do your level best to stay out of fistfights. Of course, we recognize that that's not always possible, especially among people of certain age groups; a survey reported that 8% of high school students get into fights every month that require treatment by a doctor or nurse. So it happens.
Don't use your fists
Unless you happen to have a roll of quarters handy to wrap your fist around, closed-fist punching is a recipe for compound-fracture disaster. Instead, use the heel of your hand or your elbow.
Find an escape route
Real fights are nothing like movie fights -- they're messy, they rarely end in someone being knocked out cold and they're usually over before you know it. The really dangerous fights, though, are the ones that don't end quickly, so increase your chances of a speedy end by making sure you've got a clear shot at the exit and beelining toward it at your first opportunity. Run, and swallow your pride ... not your teeth.
Don't kick 'em while they're down
Homer Simpson's famous advice on how to fight goes something like this: "First you gotta shriek like a woman, then keep sobbing till he turns away in disgust -- and that's when it's time to kick some back!" We'd like to officially discourage this technique, or really the kicking of any backs, spleens, faces etc. Spleens get ruptured, backs get broken, people go to the hospital and to jail. This ain't Mortal Kombat, and no fancy pile-driver or stomach-kick is needed to "finish him!"
Go for the soft spots
In the interest of ending the fight quickly, aim your attack(s) at one of your aggressor's "soft spots" -- the gut, the groin, the throat. The eyes are another soft spot, but we recommend a handful of sand in the face rather than anything pointy. You don't want to blind anyone, just incapacitate them for long enough to get out of there.
Take a lesson from Tyson: the bite may be one of the most underestimated tools in the fighter's arsenal. It's effective, it hurts like the devil and if it's done through the clothes, it doesn't leave much of a mark. (The same can't be said for a punch in the face; giving someone a black eye will land you in jail much faster.)
The ol' steak-on-the-black-eye trick
If you wind taking a punch to the face, get something cold on it right away to stop the swelling. In the old days, Real Men used to lay a tenderized steak over their bruised ocular cavity with a bag of frozen vegetables on the other side -- and as it turns out, this isn't such a bad idea. (Just make sure you rinse off the meat to reduce the risk of some bacterial infection spreading to your tender new wound.) The meat form-fits to your eye/check perfectly, it distributes the cold of the frozen peas/ice pack very evenly over your face, and a nice piece of tri-tip draped over your face tends to make you feel like a badass. All good things.
Learn the Moves
Esquire has some great tips on how to move your body:
How to take down a bigger dude: 1. Knock his hands to one side. 2. When his body turns, put your head outside his front knee and your shoulders into his hips. Wrap your arms just above the back of his knees. 3. Pull in and to the side. How to Escape a Headlock: Turn your head into the crook of his elbow and push it up over your head. How You Should Stand: Crouch low, knees bent and with your hands up, like you're defending someone in basketball.
Decide if you're willing to throw a sucker punch
You're in a fistfight -- the rules of gentlemanly conduct are more or less out the window already. Some people might be too proud for this move, but I saw a friend pull it once, and it was surprisingly effective: his pretended to stop the fight and reconcile, went to shake hands with his opponent, and then -- bam, straight to the chin. Then he ran away like a little girl. Pathetic, yes, but effective.