For a bouncer, who is already larger, fitter and stronger than average, which martial arts training would you recommend?

Which skills training, or other properties of the martial art, dojo and instructor should I keep an eye out for as I pick a place to train?

Some specifics which I know are relevant, and which may be taught in a martial arts classes (I'm uncertain if they typically are), include training towards:

  • skills required to properly control a hostile attacker, without excessive damage to him or myself (if the bar gets sued I'll get fired, no matter who wins the suit, and if I get hurt I'm out of an income until I recover)
  • self-control/ability to make clear headed decisions in tense, high-pressure situations
  • quick assessment/awareness of a situation, especially with multiple concurrent threats
  • a fairly wide range of skills, including striking, pulling punches, grappling and handling of people with weapons
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    Please review the faq about questions which solicit opinion and debate. I don't see a way that this question can be asked that will not solicit that kind of response.
    – stslavik
    Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 17:15
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    There is also a thread for discussing the topicality of recommendation questions. I think the question could be better phrased as "what do I need to keep in mind/look for when choosing a martial art as a bouncer?" Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 17:27
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    This could work, and it does change the question, but without losing too much of the original intent. Nicely done @DavidH.Clements
    – stslavik
    Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 18:03
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    You don't want a martial arts class, you want specific training. Bodyguard, LEO-oriented suspect control courses, etc. would be substantially more useful. Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 20:38

8 Answers 8


While bouncing I have used a single component of my skill set actively - clinch wrestling (or Greco-Roman if you will, but I only ever trained Freestyle). Every single altercation I handled by clinching, holding and talking to the trouble maker until they settled down.

I kept other things in mind, and adjusted specifically how I did it to account for strikes. I would take a grip that's sub-optimal for throwing but quite good for preventing knees or punches from being thrown, so I wouldn't suggest exclusively training wrestling, but it should definitely be a significant component of your training.

Based on observing other bouncers who used different strategies, and talking to more, some of which used the same or similar strategies, I'd say it's a very good path to take. The clinch isn't that threatening of a position, and if you're short staffed and working alone, you don't want your troublemaker's friends getting concerned about his well being and dogpiling you. If you're clinched and talking to him, telling him to calm down, his friends have a very good option in supporting you, telling him to calm down as well and taking him away.

Most of them when they're sober will also realise they were being assholes and appreciate that you handled it with the minimum amount of damage necessary. They're less likely to cause trouble in the future, and the next time something goes wrong, they're more likely to be among the clear heads who support you. I've found this a couple times, and that's been repeated by other bouncers I've talked to who used the same approach.

It's also very good for dealing with the police. You don't spill any blood, you didn't throw any strikes. There's really no reason for them not to take your side. You're doing your job and doing it well. You're not going to get criminal charges pressed for overuse of force (that could happen if you knock someone out and seriously injure them in the process), and there isn't much in the way of standing when it comes to civil suits either.

As far as passive skillset goes - boxing, or more importantly head movement and blocking. The most common type of attack you'll see that isn't some form of grab will be a punch to your head. You want to know how to not get hit. For that you need to practice a style that does full contact sparring, that includes punches to the head as a significant component and teaches good defense. Knowing how to clinch off someone else's attack is also very useful.

Boxing, Muay Thai, San Shou are all good options for this, as they have the requisite qualities. Something like Kyokushin Karate or WTF Tae Kwon Do unfortunately isn't, due to the absence of head punches in the competition rules, and therefore the very high likely hood of their absence in sparring as well.

Clinching and blocking/head movement will be the bread and butter skillsets for you as a bouncer, they're the first things you'll want to learn well.

Also, if you're not already big and strong. Correct that, at least the strong part. Lift heavy weights. I didn't focus on strength training much before starting bouncing, and I handled things OK anyway, but everything would have gone a lot better had I been stronger. When you're stronger, whatever you're trying to do, you can do faster and easier.

As far as supplemental skill sets go - throws, leg kicks and body punches are good to have in your arsenal. Head punches have problems - you can spill blood, cause concussions and break your hands. None of those are desirable for a variety of (I hope obvious) reasons. You could do some damage with a punch to the body, perhaps breaking some ribs, which could be a pain to deal with later, but there's plausibility in stating that you only did what was necessary, particularly if you refrained from attacking the head. Leg kicks you're a lot less likely to break anything, but you can cause a good Charlie horse, and making the guy limp for a bit when he's the aggressor isn't going to land you in as much hot water. Similarly, throwing while it can cause damage, there's plausibility that you were trying to handle the fight with minimum damage possible, and forcing an aggressor down to the ground to gain control over them is a well known an understood tactic.

I'd suggest using chokes and joint locks as a last resort. If you don't cause any damage, it's not so much of a problem, but if you do, that really won't look good if you have to defend your actions in court. Particularly since chokes are banned for police officers in a lot of jurisdictions - if they're not allowed to use chokes but are allowed to use guns, you really don't want to be frivolously doing that.


A full blown martial art takes too long to master to help you for that specific situation. Also, in most traditional martial arts, the actual self-defense or "streetfight" part is small, if it exists at all. For example, the self-defense / streetfight classes in my Kung Fu school teach us the following options, to be considered in that order:

  • avoid confrontation
  • walk away
  • run away
  • push the guy out of the way and run away
  • punch in the stomach, then run away (but this is already quite risky)
  • incapacitate the attacker as quickly and thouroughly as possible, this almost certainly means serious harm to the attacker, common results include broken elbows or knees, which is no fun

This strategy, obviously, is not very practical for your job. I would suggest that you put a very strong focus on your deescalation skills, and your psychological skills. You need to stay on top of the situation, you have to prevent becoming angry or frightened.

You might want to think of, and prepare for, a portfolio of unconventional measures. For instance, it might help to be aware of larger deposits of (preferrably cold) liquid nearby, a bucket full of ice water from the bar and a quick grapple might be just as effective as any special forces training. With all sincerity, I can recommend watching a lot of old Kung Fu B-Movies, they are often quite creative when it comes to using bowls of rice to defeat the bad guys.

The one-line summary for deescalation is to act firm and confident, but polite and non-threatening. As a man, this means you have to be aware of, and in control of, your biological tendency to beat your chest and show your teeth and stare down your opponent. Testosterone really gets in your way here.

To protect yourself and others from harm, you probably want the type of techniques (civilized) police forces use on unarmed citizens. A close-combat style with little frills might be a good idea too, examples include Systema, Wing-Tsun or Krav Maga. However, those are often designed for and / or by military personnel and might encourage techniques that would be considered undue force in a civilian context.

Fights "in the wild" are dirty and dangerous, and it's very hard to handle them gracefully. Don't get into one. Especially if you're the one hired to prevent trouble.

For further reading, and pointers to even more reading, I recommend "The Truth about Violence" by Sam Harris and "How to Survive a Street Fight" on the "Post Masculine" blog. The latter article is aimed at an audience with a general interest in the meaning of "manliness", so you might find the tone slightly weird. It's still good advice, imo, especially if you also read it as advice to the guests at your venue.


This is going to be less about the specific martial art, and more about the instructor. The answers to this question are going to be relevant.

Some of the big things to keep in mind when selecting a dojang for this sort of application:

  • Do they emphasize operant conditioning?
  • Does it train you to miss through light contact sparring? Probably not ideal.
  • Do the techniques need to be substantially modified based around whether the attacker has a knife? If so, then I'd argue it is not going to be appropriate.
  • Do the techniques emphasize keeping your feet but account for that you may end up on the ground? Situations in bars tend to be filled with obstacles and in a fight things like broke glass and you may have multiple attackers, so keeping your feet tends to be important. Or, to quote the Marines: "The last place to be in a close combat situation is on the ground."
  • Do they combine strikes with locks and throws?

Then, most importantly: Can you learn from the instructor? Talk to the instructor about your specific concerns and situation and see if they can work with you in those regards and, if not in class, then they still might be able to recommend things you can do on your own that might help.

As I mentioned in the linked-to question: You'll probably want to look at Rory Miller's work, particularly Drills, since a lot of the things you'll specifically need to work on can be generalized and practiced outside of the context of any specific martial art. His other books also talk social violence dynamics, which will probably be useful.

Ultimately, there's not going to be any martial art that will get you where you want/need to be, as you have concerns that aren't really covered at the level of the art itself, and a lot of what you are looking for is not specific to any martial art, and nothing is going to provide a complete solution. So I cannot emphasize enough the need to talk to the instructor: figure out what the individual instructor can help you with as part of the class, outside of the class, and then fill the gaps on your own with supplemental training (self-drills, other programs, etc).

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    What about being able to control a hostile attacker without damaging him? A significant portion of a bouncers' work has to do with keeping drunk people from hurting themselves, and others, without hurting them (or getting hurt) in the process. Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 17:33
  • Sure, but from my perspective that doesn't significantly impact the art you choose. Good conditioning, knowledge of locks and strikes, etc and then you make a decision in the situation the degree of force that is warranted. Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 17:38
  • Do most/all martial arts train their students in the self control required in order to, for example, be able to pull punches as warranted, or be able to think clearly in the heat of the moment? Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 17:40
  • If you know of additional criteria, then feel free to list the things you already know you are looking for in your question. You should also always talk to the instructor of any art you are taking to see if that individual instructor can help you in those aspects. Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 17:42

Aikido is all about controlling someone without harming them. Aikido is basically ju-jitsu without strikes or kicks. The practice includes defense against bladed weapons and multiple attackers.

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    My concern with aikido is the amount of training time required to become proficient with it, otherwise, I'd consider it. Mind you, I disagree that it's all about controlling someone without harming them - it is also an art with very, very violent moves - they're just fairly gentle at the same time :-)
    – Anon
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 22:02
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    Aikido has strikes (atemi waza) within it. Most other techniques can easily have either a strike or kick added to them. Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 7:57
  • Aikido strikes are not intended as strikes but a method to get the uke to move in a way that aids the technique. There is no intent to actually strike the uke.
    – jacknad
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 12:29
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    If aikido is an art which is limited to the word 'uke', then it will become a very beautiful choreography, but it will not remain a martial art.
    – Anon
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 13:09
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    @jacknad: Depends on which style you do. Both yoshinkan and shodokan do use strikes as strikes to name but two. Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 14:22

Systema. It is absolutely no-nonsense, focuses on acting without aggression, naturally, without sudden movements, and is ALL about practical experience. It will more-or-less-naturally start teaching things like the locks and movements that a bouncer is most likely going to need.

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    I have to agree with @Trevoke, on Systema. I met some Russians who did it, and boy it was to the point and not unsophisticated. It is not too violent like MMA which can get you into legal problems if used. If the police come and see a bunch of bloody drunks, you can easily get locked up. If there was not so much of a history and heritage issue it should be more noted. It is natural as noted above. The moves are intuitive and become easily second nature-important.
    – Vass
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 12:36

"Verbal Judo" would be a good start, knowing how to talk down someone and de-escalte a situation is very helpful. After that I would tend to look towards something like JJ/Akido for joint locks and take downs. Add some striking art such as boxing or Krav Maga.

Watch some videos on YouTube of actual confrontations in a bar. See what happens, how things start and escalate, what attacks people come at a bouncer with, how weapons are deployed, etc. Then work with others on training for these scenarios.

Peyton Quinn has some books ("Bouncers Guide to Barroom Brawling" and "Real Fighting: Adrenaline Stress Conditioning Through Scenario-Based Training") that you may find helpful as a resource.


Having worked as a bouncer for almost 40 year off and on before finally retiring from it, I don't believe focusing on any one martial art is the correct course of action. Developing methods that pull aspects from multiple arts is a far better approach.

The most important part to being a good bouncer is learning emotional discipline, the ability to remain calm and maintain situational awareness is vital.

Focusing on and blending techniques from various arts allow the following:

  1. The ability to stay on your feet, while groundwork is not your friend in a bar environment, you should know basic techniques if it occurs.
  2. Adopting joint locks and pressure points that focus on only enough force to control, without intent to cause damage.
  3. If escalated by the subject and strikes become a last resort, only using soft tissue strikes that focus on "pain compliance" versus moderate to serious injury.
  4. Don't create a scene through use of flamboyant techniques that draw attention, as that can pull other people into the situation making it worse.

The importance of de-escalation techniques being the most important part of effective bouncing can never be ignored, our job is to reduce and remove the threat so that everyone else is safely able to enjoy their experience.

My experience is that there is a skill set learned by the most effective bouncers, that could almost be considered an art unto itself.


Might be of your interest: http://www.cracked.com/personal-experiences-1958-roadhouse-gets-lot-right-5-lessons-bouncer.html

Relevant quotes:

"The people who run the bars, they're not looking at your karate application; you can throw that right out," Cronk says. You might as well paint a big sign on your back that says "Potential Lawsuit," because those kinds of people are "more a liability than anything," he says. "The bar that does hire them, they're asking for trouble. They're gone within a week 99 percent of the time anyways. They think it's more like the stereotypical bouncer, like the guy who throws people out doors and yells at people, and it's not like that."

Also consider:

In A Fight, Women Are Way More Terrifying Than Men


You see, women are living in a world where it's increasingly dangerous just to be one. If they're attacked, there's a good chance they won't have a size advantage over their opponent, so they've come up with clever ways to even the playing field. [...] according to Cronk, is simple: "Women carry mace." Hooray for equality! "I've been maced eight times as an adult man," he says. "I wouldn't wish mace upon my worst enemy. ... It's worse than the Devil's piss. I hate mace."

As the others pointed is actually more about psychology confrontation than physical, at least that's the thing you try to avoid to happen.

  • @b-ja-a-a welcome to the site, and thank you for your answer! please review our guidelines for how to provide quality answers (martialarts.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-answer) - specifically, we would prefer if you provide context around the link - ie. "so your fellow users will have some idea what it is and why it’s there. Always quote the most relevant part of an important link, in case the target site is unreachable or goes permanently offline.". alternatively, you can include this as a comment on the original question, instead of a proposed answer. Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 20:51

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