Under: Self-defense
18 Sep 2009

I suppose that I have one advantage over most law-abiding citizens of nations – I have worked on the fringe as a bouncer! What does working the on the fringe mean? Well that means in any county, city or other form of municipality – the authorities do not want to over budget their resources (read man/woman power – jails – courts) to any one business.


Well in America, if you want to play fast and loose with normal laws – you become a bounty hunter (laws of normal search and seizure do not apply). If you want to have various municipalities tolerate your fights – you become a bouncer!


In this post I will review some of the common issue facing these folk that want to make the easy money (supposedly) by watching an establishment as a bouncer!  I will also relate some true life stories of my life as a bouncer and why you should tell your children not to travel my path. I’ll open with this Danzig song entitled, “Mother” for how I really feel about bouncing and I will then relate some stories and video about the act of balancing called bouncing. Also I will speak about a city’ s role in law enforcement at bars and regarding specifically bouncers! Here is how I really feel about bouncing:



Ok – as you can see this is going to be a “dark” post. I was a bouncer in the 1980’s for a couple of years. It was easy money at the time because my day job as a cook only paid for my basic expenses but the bouncer gig paid an additional 32 bucks a night! If I had not spent the extra on breakfast and other expenses – I would have come out with a profit!

Therein lies the first issue – I spent my money and more partying with the other bouncers and dancers each night! I actually had less money available to me then before I had two jobs!

Forgetting the obvious overworking (even though it seemed simple enough) and lack of sleep, I could only keep up two jobs for about six months! Then I quit the day job (cooking) and kept the “fun” job! The result is I (I was single) lost my apartment because I could not make rent and partied every night!

WARNING – Some plain talk not commonly spoken in polite circles is possible (I’ll avoid extremes)

Talk about misguided priorities, I basically shot myself in the foot and had to depend on the generosity of friends and karate instructors (Thanks Dick Willett (my instructor)  for letting me sleep on the dojo floor.

The first point I would like to speak about is the “law abiding” comment from above. Cities walk a tight rope by trying to appease normal citizens while trying to collect sales tax and property tax revenue. Consequently they put up with normal citizens (bouncers) throwing out drunk and unruly citizens at bars so long as they roughly follow the existing self-defense rules.

Normal folk would not get away with this say at house parties. For instance if you were having a graduation party and had a crasher – and you physically threw him out, you would very probably go to jail for assault and battery! You should have called the cops!

Now bars are judged on how many times the cops are called to a joint. For instance if the cops have to show up at a bar weekly – the city will very probably revoke its business license. So that being said- the bars retain attorneys that semi-enforce a “hands off” approach to cops giving bouncers a hard time unless they stray way beyond the normal self-defense statues for the state or municipality!

Now I will set up the candid talk about being a bouncer starting with this video. After this I will speak of my life as a bouncer an some of my experiences.

What a sad life! I lived this life for two years and after I lost my job as a cook, I started to think this was my lot in life! Bounty hunters have it easier then a bouncer because they pick and choose when to massively overwhelm their targets (unlike a bouncer who never knows when the next altercation will come). Bounty hunters can also break into a home with out a search warrant – kind of a hold back from the laws of the old West!

My life as a bouncer included carding folk as they came into the bar and helping the girls out if a customer was hassling them in any way! At the time I weighed 165 pounds and the normal customer that hassled me was more like 225 pounds.

Will your karate training help you when you get into a beef! If found articles on “On My Two Feet,” Mokuren Dojo” and a article about bouncing on Urban Samurai– just click the links. All of these articles either speak to using your martial art for self-defense or applying it to bouncing. The real question I am asking and answering is how well your marital arts are suited for bouncing!

From the framework  of my question – you might be figuring that I am opposed to martial arts for bouncing? Nothing could be farther than the truth! While I might (now as a 52 year old man) question the logic of applying your martial arts training to the task of fighting for someone else (bouncing) – I would totally respect your decision!

A couple of comments about the video that rang true to my life! Firstly I made the mistake early on as a bouncer of impugning a antagonists manhood but saying this a little guy that was trying to fighting me with a pool cue, “You’re too F***ing little to be messing with me.” Boy did he get mad. He went out of the bar and came back with a 10″ blade, that his friends held in check (they were looking out for him).

I learned there is no reason to insult anyone while dispensing your duties (the hard way). In the video above – I noted one bouncer actually wrestling/rolling with a guy and applying a choke!  I only applied a “sleeper”  hold on one guy that was my friend!

The manager of the bar ordered me to throw out one of my acquaintances (I met him at the bar and apparently he had insulted on of the dancers – I did not see it). I argued but I would have been fired if I had not thrown him out.

To make matters worse – the guy would not go easy. So rather than knock him out (As I would have normally done, and dragged him out) , I wrestled with him. He almost got me but I was able to pull off a reversal and I applied a sleeper hold on him. The manager told me to let him go but I knew he was faking it (I know I would have)…. the manger yelled at me so I let him go.

The guy started fighting back and I re-applied the sleeper and held it until I knew he was out – then I dragged him outside.

That was a horrible experience but at least “my friend” came back and the manager got fired for other reasons (hand in the till). Towards the end of my two years as a bouncer – I was highly nervous. I asked my uncle (a sheriff’s deputy at the time) the law’s on weapons. I found out that each sheriff had some leeway on how they enforced statutes. I decided to tape a 5″ blade to my shin.

One day a couple of guys were messing with me as the bar was mostly deserted and they came in high. I escorted them outside and they attacked me! I punched out one guy (easy with my karate training – step half-step back and reverse punch) and then wheel kicked him in the face! Unfortunately my blade twisted and cut my shin – fell out on to the sidewalk!

I did a quick body fake on the other guy and he backed off – I recovered my blade. I quit the bouncer gig soon after that because after two years of doing it – I figured my luck was running thin. You see I had been in over 100 fights and had never lost! The odds were against me for that continuing! I had a few scary experiences too!

One time I had gotten into a beef with a couple of guys and messed them up. They were crying when the left but luckily my friends were looking out for me and one guy came back into the bar and told me about a couple of guys ducking in a truck across the street. I walked out and verified they were ducking. I called the cops.

The cops came and found a shotgun on their laps but could not find the shells. The cops let them go and after an altercation later at a breakfast house where I was trying to get them to throw the first punch – the cops took them and us (the bartender and I) into separate cars.

The cops admonished us for messing with them, saying they already were watching for them – to take them in for drunk driving. Then, just like the old west – the cop started showing us how fast he could draw his gun! He made the comment that no one messed around on his beat!

So you can see that the rewards are not very great and there is a lot of potential risk! One more thought – When an off duty cop got into a beef with a patron, he made the mistake of calling the guy outside to show him his badge. Well the guy just thought the guy wanted to fight and knocked the heck out of him as he turned around (what he assumed the guy was going to try with him)!

Well the guy took off and the cops got there and I had to deal with the vice squad for a few weeks. Finally the guy came back in and I called the cops. I later testified in the guys behalf because I felt bad for him. The guy did not end up getting prosecuted criminally but had to pay hospital fees – probably a just verdict in light of what actually happened.

So again I say to you, Mothers don’t let your children grow up to be bouncers, but rather let them be a butcher, plummer, doctor, or polititian! Yes your martial art will work great but the question you should ask is should it?

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

7 Responses to “Bouncing; Martial Arts for Self-Defense?!!!”

  1. SueC Says:

    Hi John, You know I’m not so many years behind you but in the eighties our backgrounds would have been worlds apart – many worlds apart. If I’m honest, back then I would have given a guy like you a wide berth. But martial arts is a real leveler and brings people together. Now I don’t think we would be so far apart in our outlook on life. Thanks for sharing your story and being so honest.

  2. Neal Martin Says:

    Hey John. Great post as always. I think some people see bouncing as being a somewhat glamorous job, which as you pointed out and illustrated quite well with your anecdotes, it certainly isn’t. I only did the job for a couple of years but I did it long enough to know that I didn’t want to do it again. It’s boring and the hours are terrible, not to mention the low pay. It’s fine if you want to test yourself for a while, maybe gain some experience and boost your confidence, but apart from that I see no other reason to do it. I find a lot of guys get addicted to it and don’t know when to quit. They end up doing it for many years. My dad has been bouncing now for over twenty years at weekends. Approaching sixty (though you wouldn’t think it to look at him or fight him) he’s still at it, mainly because he has gotten so used to the money.

    As for martial arts training, well it definitely helps, but you have to modify it a bit for it to work, simplify it. It certainly helped me out of a few scrapes. I think you’re better of knowing it as not knowing it. You also need a fair bit of diplomacy and a bit of wit about you. You can’t go in all guns blazing all the time.

    Incidentally, the guy who wrote that short film, Geoff Thompson, has in my opinion, wrote the definitive account on bouncing and the life that goes along with it. That film was based on “Watch My Back”, the excellent book Geoff wrote on his experiences as a bouncer. I suggest anyone interested in bouncing or anyone who is thinking of becoming one, read that book. It articulates very well the reality of the job.

  3. Neal Martin Says:

    By the way, I didn’t have you down as a fan of the Evil Elvis!

  4. Wim Says:

    Great post John. I didn’t work as a bouncer too much but the last time was enough. Due to the organizing party fucking up, I was alone for a crowd of several hundred. Ended up putting out little fires all night before it got hairy: me against about ten guys. That’s when the owner finally stepped up, joined me and had already called the cops. No blood was shed but with my first kid on the way, I vowed never again.

    The relevant point here: the main thing my martial arts training gave me was enough self control to listen to all the verbal abuse and not rip their heads off. :-)

    .-= Wim´s last blog ..So you want to be a writer, Part 7 =-.

  5. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hey Sue! Honestly I was worlds apart from most people at the time. I lived, breathed, and slept fighting… I only had respect for fighters – if you were not a fighter – we could not be friends (I was a snob!) Well luckily as most kids do – I survived my youth! And my two boys are not bouncers!
    Hi Neil! I felt the need to inject a face to the bouncing thing as it was big part of my life for a while. It was great to “test” myself because it gave me the confidence to know my training really worked. I always wonder when other folk muse about this subject (to me it is not a question). That video Geoff Thompson sure said it the way it is! I found the music video on you tube – the song and fit my mood as I was writing about bouncing – Evil Elvis?

    Hey Wim! Sounds like you came to the same point as I did – not wanting to fight other peoples battles/gigs! Although martial arts schools tell people about using self-control, some do not practice. You obviously were wise to keep things in check as much as possible because as you stated – you were “supervising” several hundred… not a good place to be for anyone! Glad things went well.

  6. Adam @ Low Tech Combat Says:

    Crikey John. Sounds like you’ve learnt some lessons the hard way hey? Interesting reading. It certainly is a thankless job. From where I’m from the law has really cracked down on the entire security industry now. Correct use of force and that good stuff. I don’t think people can get away with as much stuff these days. The law is a big threat…

  7. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hey Adam,

    Yep, the school of hard knocks. :)

    Today with all of the camera phones and traffic cameras – you really have to be careful. A bad viewing on a video could be taken totally out of context. Better to avoid if at all possible.