I’m not a fighter or a lover but these happen to be two of the four methods used in handling at least 100 street fights over the years. 90% of them have occurred in third world countries, but the techniques are as effective on the Bombay waterfront as NY Harlem. These are the four primary reactions available to normal citizens who go about their days and are suddenly confronted.

FIGHT – The general reaction to fight requires knowing how to or, at least, facing a weaker opponent (unlikely). The first rule of street fights is to grab an equalizer, a stick, bottle or rock. Don’t bluff a fight without expecting to be called on it.

To illustrate, a month ago after a night snack a man stepped under a lamplight and began screaming obscenities at me. Normally I would walk away from this, especially since there was no robbery attempt, however there were children nearby and it would have set a poor example. So, I handed my ankle weights and backpack to the kids, and stalked the man out the light who backpedaled and stumbled into a heap. It was as if a wind blew. Two weeks later, I was assaulted with a ring-neck tackle by a stevedore and had to fight on the street of Iquitos. Luckily, he fell into a familiar wrestling move and was beaten.

FLEE – The best practice is to have the fleetest feet around the world, assuming no guns are involved. It doesn’t matter how many thugs there are, if you can sidestep or outrun them it’s usually the best practice. The other afternoon on exiting a house of soiled doves, I was then surrounded by four young men with theft on their mind. I pulled off the end of my thumb with sleight of hand, and walked out the astonished circle. A few nights ago on exiting the cinema, two dirty men popped out an alcove as if from a movie in heavy jackets with hands in their pockets on a 95F evening. I sidestepped them into the street where they didn’t follow. It’s always a good idea at night to walk away from sidewalk alcoves and into streetlights.

TALK – 80% of my confrontations end after a few words. Most solo thugs dread conversation with a grammarian.

Yesterday I was attacked by three youths brandishing sticks on the Rio Amazon beach, and simply growled at them, ‘You don’t want to do that,’ and they left. The night before, a man with a butter knife closed in as I entered my hostel, and I stuck my hand in my pocket and stood steadily at arm´s length and replied, ‘Are you ready?’ It was a gamble he didn’t risk knowing what, if anything, was in my pocket. (In this case, Mace.) A single question had prevailed.

HOPE – Most victims stand mute and shocked when accosted by a thug. This is what every mugger bets on, so if you can have mentally rehearsed and kick into one of the foregoing three methods –Fight, Flee, or Talk – your chances of escaping unscathed with your wallet are high.

I’ve acquiesced a few times when ‘outgunned and outnumbered’. In one instance in Venezuela two men thrust warning jabs with machetes in my ribs and legs, and I just asked them to leave me bus fare. Another time, in a boxcar I let two tattooed men rob me of little as they motioned toward the open boxcar door of the 40mph train that the option was to jump. After they took my billfold, I gave them cucumber & tomato sandwiches and we became more friendly. They gave back my shoes that had my bankroll under the insoles.

My personal methods in fights are the same as animal surgery, to begin with the most conservative and escalate to the most extreme. One knows in a sentence if talking is going to work, probably not. I never use hope. I flee 2 of 3 times even if I think I can overwhelm the opponent because fighting is dangerous in high numbers. However, on every third situation I hold ground and fend off or attack in order to maintain a mental and muscle memory for the struggle.

You don’t have to be Captain America to have a straight backbone. One of the best things you or your youngster can do is to take a martial art class to gain confidence. The best are wrestling and Aikido. In any case, the four fighting methods of Fight, Flee, Talk, or Hope are the same. And, as my old wrestling coach used to say, mentally rehearse the move a hundred times before you try it on the mat, and then a thousand times on the mat before you take it to a tournament. A fight is just another day at a tournament.