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Subtle Traps: A Doorman's Double-Edged Weapon

By Martin Murphy

(From the original article with the same title, published in Martial Arts Illustrated (UK), July 2001, pp.63-64.)

(Reproduced with the permission of Martin Murphy 28 July 2001)

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In the early '80s I found myself 'on the doors' of various bars and clubs in the notorious Wan Chai 'Red Light' district of Hong Kong. Our main problem was dealing with visiting marines, sailors and S.E.A.L.'s. These men had been kept at sea for weeks at a time, when they landed it was the equivalent of opening a champagne bottle of testosterone, one that had been violently shaken.

At night the bars and clubs were overpopulated, space was non-existent. When punters had to be spoken to, it was done mouth to ear. As a doorman you were wary of sticking your ear out, in case it was bitten off. So conversations tended to be one sided and not too diplomatic; "Oi...You're out!" It invariably popped the cork. With the availability of weapons such as balisongs, bottles and glass fists you had to be in the best possible position as the situation became live. It was here that I learned that there is a place for 'trapping'.

My first experience of 'trapping' (in the martial arts context) was whilst studying Wing Chun in the late '70s under Master Simon Lau. Trapping, I was led to believe, was a physical tactic which enables you to attack the opponent whilst one or more of his weapons are immobilised. There is simply no easier way to ensure a victory than to know what position your opponent will be in ( better still, to place him in that position preemptively and subtly) before you strike. Hence I learned the art of subtle trapping. Other advantages of subtle trapping include:

Subtle traps can be either physical or psychological. Over the years it was the use of strategy and psychology that I found gave the edge in real combat. Even beating the more skilled or stronger opponents. By asking a question, you are 'engaging the brain'. If you develop this concept, it leads to the situation where you can move the adversary into a weaker position. How do we achieve this? 'Hide the sword with a smile'.

Two of the people I worked with were actually actors. One, Paulo Tocha moved his trade to Los Angeles, where he appeared in films with Van Damme. The other, Ken was working on a film with Jackie Chan at the time. Both were very capable doormen and excelled at approaching people without arousing suspicion. By the time the intended victims realised what was going on, they had been moved into a position either by physical or verbal means, which rendered them helpless. This is a double edged weapon in that I have witnessed doormen succumbing to these tactics. This is mainly due to a complacent attitude, and/or stance. The following examples can be utilised by you or an attacker, so stay switched on.

A word in y'ear, mate!...

Rest your hand on his lead hand/arm. This is a trap in itself, you are trying to talk into his ear, so you turn him slightly, as if to talk directly into his ear because of the noise. If you get the wrong reaction from your adversary, BANG, a punch from this angle is quite decisive, and leads to a strangle hold to finish.

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Watch yer back, mate!...

Basically you pretend that someone is trying to get past your combatant. Rest your hand on his left/right arm and ask him to move to one side or the other.

  1. The person that is asked, invariably looks behind, this is when you strike. The punch lands as their head is turning back towards you.
  2. They just don't see it coming.

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No 'ard feelings, mate!...

This is an old one, but it is surprising how often it works. Probably because, done on people who would rather not fight for example, they are looking for an 'out'. And they want to believe this is it. Wrong! One person holds out his hand to shake, if the other person accepts the proffered hand, he is trapped. This is specially so if the hand shaker grabs the arm with his left hand. He then has the lead hand trapped and can attack with his right or more commonly, pull the victim into a headbutt. Ouch!

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The long lost mate...

Have you ever seen Mafia films, where they greet each other with a big hug and a kiss on each cheek? Strange thing for hard men to do. Doormen are often seen standing with their arms crossed. I've seen them fall foul of this 'friendly greeting' approach. You approach with arms splayed, ask him a question with a big smile on your face. Grasp the elbows, this is the trap, then attack with the head.

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Lost yer bottle, mate!...

This is especially useful if as a doorman, the person you have spoken to because of their behavior tucks their chin down as you approach - whilst talking, you look like a pair of jousting rams. It is difficult to get a clean shot in this position, so try this. As you approach pick up a bottle with you left hand and hold it up at eye level. Ask the target if said bottle is his. His eyes will be drawn to the object momentarily, his head will be turned slightly away from you, attack as he turns back towards you. Again there is the question which engages the brain. You also lift the opponent's chin to match the height of the bottle, making acquisition of the target easier.

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Got a light, mate?...

If you know that your opponent smokes simply ask him for a light. He will either proffer his cigarette for you to get a light from, or better still he will stick his hand in his pocket or elsewhere for his lighter. Either way you will have him at a disadvantaged position.

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Not interested, mate!...

There is always someone, no matter how confident you are at knocking opponents out, who look as though they wouldn't flinch. They resemble neolithic man, and anyone who has done doorwork will have an image of such a person in their head. (probably accompanied with a shiver down the spine.) With a jaw like 'Desperate Dan' you know that you have to resort to your most potent of techniques or he or maybe she? is going to send you to meet your ancestors.

When confronted with 'neolithic man' I'd dig this out of my bag. With the back of your hand waving him away and shaking your head saying "I'm not interested mate, do I look daft?" You pretend to look as though you don't want an argument with man mountain, this bit shouldn't present a problem. Then suddenly change intention, back slap/chop him under the nose. By hitting the septum region you will raise the 'Gorilla's' head exposing the neck.

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Then punch the carotid region of the neck and hopefully send him to bo-bos. The backslap and punch are both done in the same movement. Showing a lack of interest is the trap, the sudden change in intention catches people by surprise.

As Sun Tzu remarked, 'Exhibit the coyness of a maiden, until the enemy loses his alertness and gives you an opening then move swiftly as a hare and the enemy will be unable to resist you.'


There are obvious dangers in these techniques so practise safely, and only use in extreme situations.

There are many other ways to dominate a situation by controlling the opponent subliminally. Invent your own favorites and practise them often, remember, you have to act casually to disarm the opponent. Mr. 'Angry' just wouldn't pull them off.

As Sun Tzu expounded:

'A skillful commander takes up position in which he cannot be defeated and seizes every opportunity to win over his enemy.'

If these tactics do not appeal to your sense of fair play, that's quite understandable and I empathise with you, but realise that these traps are used by others that do not share your sentiments. Guard your space and don't be gullible.


Martin Murphy spent his early career in specialist security work. In the Army he trained in the Special Forces, primarily in Long Range Reconnaissance work involving a high degree of fitness, mental self discipline and positive attitude. Since leaving the Army, Martin has been involved as an instructor in Airline Anti-Terrorism security, Close Protection and Surveillance duties. Martin also has 15 years working as a doorman, both in UK and the infamous Wan Chai district of Hong Kong.

He has changed direction and studied Sports Science at College, and more recently, Sports Psychology. Since 1996 has been passing on his knowledge in Fitness an Self Protection Training, with emphasis on the Mind and Body link and human potentiality. This knowledge, combined with a wealth of personal experience is aimed at improving all aspects of a client's life through progressive, focused, positive training.

Martin is an instructor within the British Combat Association and is available for seminars and personal training.

For more info ring Martin on (UK) 01625 525427


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© Martin Murphy, 2001
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Reproduced with permission July 2001