I first heard this phrase 'Street Creds' while teaching a Krav Maga seminar at U Penn. A student had asked me…one of those annoying "What if" questions about situations that might occur. What if a street thug with a knife was standing at some distance from me, he was not attacking – thus none of my knife defense techniques would be applicable, he was not close to me – so I could not grab his arm or knife, so what would I do, he asked.
My response: run away if I could. He is at a distance, there is no knife touching my skin and no knife moving towards me, just a stationary street thug at a distance talking trash. Why should I try to disarm him? I have too much respect for the damage a knife can do. Besides, the great Danny Inosanto, the top student of the great Bruce Lee, said, "Knife disarms are incidental, if not accidental." My goal is survival, not knife collecting. If I can get home unscathed, I have accomplished my goal. I have no need to become an urban legend in the process.
The student looked somewhat disappointed, as if he just found out that Superman was not real.
I relayed to him the message I heard from my friend Mark Hatmaker about the lion and the Zebra. The great brave lion, king of the jungle, never ever challenges an animal front on. He lurks in the tall grass, hiding and biding his time, waiting for the right moment. He looks for a Zebra or any grazing animal that is old, feeble, or distracted. He then launches a surprise attack. He is not looking to be a hero, he is looking for his dinner and nothing more interests him.
He asked, "But what about your street creds?" I did not know what he meant. He explained, "If you run away, they will think you are a coward and you will lose your street credibility." I answered, "Do I care about street thugs and criminals think of me? Am I trying to impress a drug dealer, prostitute or pimp?" These guys are here today but will be dead soon; they will kill each other in a gang fight or die of an overdose or be justifiably shot by the police. I have no need to impress them with my abilities.
I always say, ego will get you killed. When you start learning Krav Maga check your ego at the door, it can only get hurt you. Ego will draw you into fights you cannot win and into situations you can not get out of. Ego causes you to lose sight of what is important, it causes you to lose perspective and judgment.
Maybe you will beat up a street thug but suffer an injury that will plague you for the next 50 years. When you are a grandfather and you can't play catch with your grandkids you will say, "Sorry, but when I was young and stupid, I got into this bar fight and hurt my…". As Mr. Miyagi of the "Karate Kids' movies put it, "Best defense – not be there."
As I have grown older, I have learned from my seniors the wisdom of avoiding fights. Professor Arthur Cohen, the street wise professor, always warns me of the dangers of advancing in years and how careful we must be. Even fights among friends in the dojo should be taken seriously; one injury will mean no teaching for a long while, no travel and no seminars.
Yes, I admit, it is tough to keep our egos in check, and I too love a challenge and a good fight, but…we must learn to use our heads for more than just punching bags. We must think of the consequences.
I chose my fights, and I will never allow someone to draw me into a fight against my wishes. Streets creds? All one is proving is street foolishness. Just avoid the fight and get home safely. Someone is waiting for you.