This article originally appeared on VICE Greece
A few years ago, I was out with three friends in a club in Athens and got chatting to a couple of girls who were sitting next to us. Out of nowhere, a guy came up and got aggressive – one of my friends had been talking to his ex-girlfriend, and he wasn't pleased with that at all. Things escalated quickly, and soon my friend had pushed this man through a table full of glass bottles. In a split second, the guy was up again, slashing my mate across the face with the base of a broken bottle he had in his hand. In the end, the result of the night out was my friend needing plastic surgery to repair the damage to his face, and the other guy being charged with attempted murder and GBH.
When I recounted this story in the days after the fight, I realised just how many of my friends had been through something similar on a night out – albeit with less dramatic consequences. It seems that a measure of alcohol mixed with a crowded bar and topped with some Greek temperament is the perfect recipe for an all-out brawl.
This is what I was thinking about when I walked into the Boiler Room nightclub in Athens on a recent Sunday afternoon, to join 40 others in a so-called bar fight seminar. We weren't training to actively start trouble – the focus of the workshop was on basic self-defence.
Our instructor was Panos Zacharias, an 11-year martial arts veteran who has worked as a bouncer at several clubs and bars in Athens, and is the founder of the Guerrilla Tactical Strength company, which hosts a range of physical training programmes.
In his introduction, Panos explained that the seminar would teach us the basic principles of Krav Maga. "You will learn techniques to protect yourself that involve as little physical violence as possible," he said, adding, "In a bar, you can use these both on ordinary drunks and on professional fighters."
In the five years that he's worked security in bars and clubs, Panos said he has seen around 20 fights in which someone used a weapon. And he's been threatened himself – he's had a drunk girl smash a bottle over his head after he asked her to stop spilling water on people, and an equally drunk guy dig a smashed bottle into his ribs.
But he explained that if you find yourself under attack in a bar, you shouldn't count on security to take your side. "All any bouncer will care about is throwing the both of you out, which means the fight could carry on in the street," he told us. "So it's important you know how to protect yourself."
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After we were done practicing our moves, and using anything and everything you might find in a club to fight off the enemy – from our bare hands to bottles and cups – we were given the chance to show off our new skills under proper clubbing conditions. The disco lights went on, loud music began to blare and we were made to change into the sort of clothes you'd wear on a night out. "When you're out, you won't be wearing shorts that allow you to move easily, so it's important we recreate the right environment," Panos reminded us.
Photographer Panos Kefalos came to the seminar with me and didn't learn to fight, but did document the afternoon.
Scroll down to see more photos of the bar fight seminar.