How Long Should a Real Fight Last?

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: Self-defense
12 Mar 2012


When I was a kid I used to watch movies and see the kids in the school play yard fighting. I remember reading a Doc Savage novel where Doc got into a tussle with another strong man. The author was narrating this really long fight – justifying the action because each of them knew about every trick in the book. Well I want to read THAT book!


I was fooled into believing that a good fight might last 10 minutes if each guy knew what they were doing. I was further misled by watching boxing matches (these were about the only fights on the TV when I was a kid).  A championship match might last 12 – three-minute rounds. Watching Batman and Robin or Gene Audrey was no different. Fighting prowess seemed to be linked to how long you could fight.


Nowadays some kids might watch MMA or kick boxing and think that fights could take a long time on the street. In this post I will talk about what you should expect in case you ever have to defend your life or limb and how long it should take.



Before I started this post I searched youtube for some long movie fight scenes but I found the clips even cheesier than I remember. There were not fighting skills to speak of and of course in the movies – the combatants wait for each other.


Here is the deal – assuming you are fighting in self defense where someone attacked you and you have tried to take all reasonable steps to get away – you are in a real fight! I imagine that the attacker is after your wallet, honer or worse – your life. In any of these cases there is no upside to giving your attackers any chances.


You will have to strike back (or first if the attack is imminent) fast and hard to try to gain a momentary advantage! Assuming you can surprise your attacker with your counter – you may have to option to get away if that is practical. If not – then you will have to turn the tables and defend yourself with overwhelming and maybe even deadly force (if you are in fear of your life).


So to address the title of this post – how long should the fight last? Well seconds is good – a minute is a real long time to fight just one opponent (unless you are wrestling around on the ground). About the only time I think a fight could (or should) go over a minute is if you are defending against multiple attackers.


Most people who have not ever really taken fighting training or tried it out – probably don’t understand how this is possible. I mean in most of the fights we see – the matches take 5 to 15 minutes easy. How come these fights last so long?


It is not because they are evenly matched. A few things could cause a fight to last over a minutes – mostly it is because most people (yes even bad guys/gals) don’t know how to fight – they know how to brawl.


Brawlers try to hit hard and fast and keep going until they run out of steam. Most guys that have what I call beer muscle can get aggressive when they have had a few drinks. Luckily these type of self defense fights are not going to be to the death but still qualify as self defense if one of these drunkards attack you.


Crooks and thieves are not much better than the drunkards at fighting. The advantage they might have is premeditation. They might have weapons if the robbery goes wrong (in their view). The good thing is the crook thinks he has an advantage but if you are a skilled fighter – you can turn the tables in a few seconds!


What about these MMA fighters that fight for 25 minutes? Ok – yes these are highly trained athletes that are for real. They can take a beating and keep on fighting but think about it – how often is a fighter of that calibre going to take up stick-ups for a side job?


So what you need to know:

  • Learn how to fight from some striking martial arts discipline first (karate, boxing, muay thai, or MMA)
  • Self defense is easy compared to sparring good opponents
  • My opinion is the tactician will always beat the brawler – learn fighting tactics
  • Learn to strike through your target – it does you no good to hit something if you cannot damage it
  • Optimally learn some grappling too – judo, jiu-jitsu, or wrestling (if the fight does go to the ground – these skills are invaluable)


By the way you will notice I did not include judo, jiu-jitsu, or wrestling first – I think those martial arts are great to have in your toolbox too but you should have some striking discipline at a minimum because one cannot easily fight multiple attackers on the ground. I have some wrestling experience that has helped me defend against wrestlers in self defense situations.


Now you may be wondering if you don’t know me – how long have my fights lasted. I will have to say under a minute except for one that lasted 10 minutes. The 10 minute fight was me fighting 6 guys that attacked me at the bar I used where I used to work.


Unfortunately for my opponents – I seldom had to defend myself against a guy that had any fighting training. That included bikers, street toughs, and all sorts of unsavory looking types. Looks and talk does not mean much in fighting – only what you can do.


Now for the $64,000 question and answer – why and how does winning a fight in less than a minute work in most cases? Because in real fights (assuming you know how to fight) you will be the best fighter if you are attacked. Just pick your shots and don’t take too much damage and you will win rapidly (the other guy/gal does not know what they are doing)!


Now go take some training and be ready to take on the one or two altercations most adults will have to deal with in their lifetime.


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14 Responses to “How Long Should a Real Fight Last?”

  1. Nick @ Indestructible Training Says:

    The reason I believe most competitive fights last so long is the consensual nature of these fights. Rules tend to prolong the fight because they restrict the level of violence. The more violent your response to an assault the more likely you are to finish the fight quickly.

  2. Dr. J Says:

    I was going to say, thanks to my speed reading course in college, about the time it took me to read your excellent article!

    Wrong! The read still took longer :-)

    Every real fight I’ve seen or been in (except for the 15 minutes that I held those pit bulls off me) has lasted, easily, much less than one minute!
    Dr. J recently posted..Lab Notes: Gerber Recalls Good Start Gentle Formula; Stress at Work Can Lead to Emotional EatingMy Profile

  3. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Good point Nick! Pulling out all of the stops would tend to speed up the fights as a self defense situation would. My point was more that most people don’t have any idea of what they are doing. They think because they are strong or bested the duke of the school – that they actually know a think or two. Most people would be easy fodder for a trained fighter. Thanks for commenting.

    Hey Dr. J! I always takes longer to evaluate when there is interest. Thanks for reading!

    As for the pesky mongrels – the goal seemed to be a draw (until they withdrew) – so those do take longer. :)

  4. Matt Klein Says:

    Like you John, most of the fights I’ve seen or been involved last less than a minute, usually only ten seconds. Most people are just not skilled enough to fend off a trained fighter in full attack mode, and are “shocked and awed”. I also have seen quite a few that were broken up by bystanders after the fight went to the ground (usually by bouncers).

    The few that I saw that dragged on are when both combatants were drunk or very unskilled and had no power behind their strikes. I agree that a good stand-up art like karate, kickboxing, or boxing will prepare one adequately for most trouble and the addition of grappling will make them an even harder target. Great post John!
    Matt Klein recently posted..How To Be a Great Martial Arts Training PartnerMy Profile

  5. Charles Says:

    I do not see myself winning or even surviving against a mob. I could make the first move and throw some hits yet I am sure that is it. Surviving a mob for many minutes would require stamina and skillful defense.
    Charles recently posted..DTS HomeMy Profile

  6. Zara Says:

    A few good, properly placed hits should be enough to stop most would-be attackers, or even one if he’s really bad at defense. What I’d try to do if things were really serious is to get to the inside (trapping range in JKD terminology) and let loose with elbows and knees. The few fights I’ve witnessed were rather poor shows: lots of name calling by people usually too drunk to stand on their feet properly, a few wild swings followed by alot of hugging and a dive to the floor.

    To me striking with good form, speed and power is the most important skill in self-defense so that is what is emphasized in our dojo: there’s no better way to develop knock-out power than frequently hitting the heavy bag, mitts or an opponent if he’s well protected.

    I very much agree with your point about training beating mere brawling but the problem here is that sometimes people who are trained lack true practical experience (dealing with adrenaline and a live, violent individual who actually wants to hurt you outside of the comfort of the dojo) and this can cause them to freeze up so to speak and take the first hit. The man who gets the first hit in usually wins, at least from what I’ve seen. The proper response should of course be to get even more agressive and regain the offense asap but that takes guts and alot of sparring-experience. Sparring is something anyone can do and learn but having heart and fighting spirit is an entirely different matter and I very much doubt this can be taught as such. What’s your opinion?

  7. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Matt – I always found it kind of funny that people in bars thought that increasing number of beers would improve fighting ability. Actually kind of sad. Any way – you said it well.

    Hi Charles, I know it sounds kind of like a saying but you truly win all fights in your mind first. When I was defending myself as a bouncer (I was not the kind looking for fights as I weight 175 pounds at the time) – I had the advantage of being young and hungry. I was competing at point karate and initially working up to my black belt. I was the definition of being a trained fighter at the time.

    I will say to fight a gang of overly exuberant youths would be challenging for me in my 50’s. I would still plan on winning but I would take some hits. Back in my 20’s – I was good at striking without getting hit back in real fights. Normally I did not fight anyone that could fight – only those that thought they could (sometimes influenced by what I called beer muscle).

    Hi Zara, I get your point and can only say the way I was trained – fighting in the bar seemed easy compared to fighting in the school. We used to have Tuesday and Thursday evening sparring class. Tuesday’s were the easier of the nights. At the time I had lost my job as a brown belt and I was living in my instructor’s studio. I was living and breathing karate.

    Thursday nights were the trying nights as I would spar with Lap Napolean, Terry Crook and John West. I weighed about 165-175 out of high-school. These guys were taller, heavier, experienced black belts at the top of their game.

    My normal method was to try to survive with my instructor’s watchful eye to give me pointers of how to mitigate some of my strategy the next day. After I kept sparring Thursday nights – the animals started to give me pointers too. After a couple of years I could hang with them and started coming into my own.

    So for me – real fights were nothing. I seldom even fought someone challenging for real. The hardest fights I had were not the mass attacks (I was in good shape so I could single them out and weed them out) but actually athletes of other disciplines. I fought a wrestler once that luckily I did not go to the ground. Another fight was for fun. A boxer and I talked fighting the whole night and after the bar let out – we fought in the parking lot for fun. He was challenging but I was able to through a couple of back-knuckles and on the third one – I faked the back-knuckle and pivoted into a shuffle rear kick and landed him on his butt! :)

    So to your point – I think one has to have a hunger to succeed and become good at fighting strategy to overcome inertia or fear.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment Zara.

  8. Zara Says:

    @John: fighting a trained fighter (whether it’d be in the dojo or elsewhere) is indeed no easy feat and most likely far more trouble than your average joe taking a swing at you or even some thug having a go at you. Sparring and live exercises are indeed the best preparation for a real fight and if you’re at that you probably won’t have a problem doing it for real. I’ll admit I still have alot to learn on that front but I know it takes time and practice to get really good and everytime you learn something more about fighting and yourself.

    What we’re working on now in the dojo is exercises leading up to sparring: one guy attacks using only straight punches, the other party defends. I don’t know how you were taugth exactly but for most people sparring is a trying exercise and should be worked up to through in stages. No one who’d learn to swim is thrown right into the deep end of the pool, at least I hope so ;).

  9. WingChunBear Says:

    An unexpected outburst of a fight tend to last 2 – 5 minutes. Should an aggressor use element of surprise for attacks it usually only a few seconds that either the prey fights back proficiently or the prey immediately surrenders over knife points.

    To me i believe to overcome the fear and willingness to hurt that other person would end fights in a few seconds with 1 or 2 solid hits. Even if its untrained people flailing their arms around. True intention to hurt the other person trumps in any situation…i believe atleast
    WingChunBear recently posted..Self Defense Tips – By Bas RuttenMy Profile

  10. Self defence Manchester Says:

    A fight tends to last longer due to the rules and regulations in place. It also depends on the abilities of the people fighting.
    Self defence Manchester recently posted..Martial Arts for Self Defence?My Profile

  11. Kenneth Says:

    Professional fighters last longer due to their physical conditioning. A fight would take longer if both fighters are equally matched as well. 5 minutes is already very long and it will leave even strong and skillful fighters exhausted.
    Kenneth recently posted..DTS HomeMy Profile

  12. Neal Martin Says:

    Most fights I’ve seen or been in have lasted just seconds. However I once spent over an hour involved in a fight with two other guys. I was trying to break them up and I got dragged into it. Because I knew them well, I refrained from striking them and used restraints instead. They just kept going at each other. When it was all over I wished I’d just choked one or both of them out. Lesson learned I suppose!

    Hi John, by the way. Been a while!
    Neal Martin recently posted..Combination TechniquesMy Profile

  13. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Thanks WingChunBear, Self-defence Manchester & Kenneth!

    Neal Martin! Long time no see. I remember you mentioning that fight between friends… always a tough situation to be in. :)

    I put in a link to your new blog. Cheers!

  14. Raymond Torres Says:

    a fantastic article thanks