Sure, it’s entertaining to see movies and television shows where the hero defeats multiple attackers, often with entertaining moves and running comedic dialog.
However, this is no joking matter when you are faced with multiple opponents. Studies show that assaults are more likely to escalate into homicides when there are multiple attackers, particularly when the attackers are juveniles.
Whether this is because the victim is absorbing multiple trauma or because the wolf pack mentality of the group causes the fight to go far beyond the limits that a single attacker would go, I cannot say.
But if you are faced with multiple attackers you are in deep, deep, trouble.
Multiple attackers mean angles, weapons and levels of attack increase exponentially, not just by the sum of the number of attackers. Four attackers don’t just mean you have to worry about four times the trouble, now you have 16 times as many weapons to contend with.
Yet, it is possible for a single person to defeat multiple attackers.
I have seen a video of Royler Gracie avoiding and evading two of the largest L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputies present in a seminar. These two officers could not control Gracie and it was obvious that they would not have been able to keep him in one place long enough to assault him.
Conversely, I have a video tape of a single suspect virtually destroying two Texas State Troopers. To make matters worse, the two officers are both hitting the suspect with expandable batons and the suspect ends up flooring both officers with punches.
Evidently, in these situations, the two combatants were not equal in the skill or strength of the single combatant.
So how do you train to become so skillful that you can reasonably expect to defeat multiple opponents? Is there a style that most advantageous to study? What are the best strategies and techniques?
“A mass attack can happen in a variety of situations and so quickly and unexpectedly that you have little or no time to think about it,” says Loren Christensen, a former police officer, defensive tactics instructor and now author on self-defense. “It’s important to think about it now and experiment with it in your training.”
He gives these tips:
1. You must think quickly and anticipate the attackers’ moves.
2. Think in terms of striking targets that either stun or are potentially lethal. Consider striking the temple, throat, mastoid, spine, solar plexus, kidneys, groin, and knees. These targets maximize the effectiveness of your blows, thus conserving your strength and energy.
3. You must control your breathing to keep your anxiety in check and your energy level high.
4. Move fluidly with grace and balance.
5. Power can be increased by adding leverage, speed of delivery, and mass.
6. If you are fighting with your hands, be careful not to injure them.
Christensen has a substantial background in karate with seven black belts. He also has two black belts in jujitsu and one in arnis.
Marc MacYoung, an ex-bouncer and a prolific self-defense writer, goes for the “single out the mouth” concept. He confronts the leader of the group and tells him, basically, that no matter what happens; Mr. Mouth is going to pay severely for the fight.
MacYoung advocates maneuvering opponents into a single line so they cannot all reach you at the same time. “Triangles are bad” he says. “Stay moving” and try to breech their line so you can get to a more advantageous position.
But however you do it; MacYoung says keep it simple and get it over with quickly.
“I always planned my violence for both the shortest time possible as well as the simplest, most bulletproof moves I could find, “he says. “When I streamlined it down to the bare basics, all I was doing was keeping it so simple that things were less likely to go wrong.”
To world-famous bouncer Geoff Thompson, it’s all about offense.
“I have probably been involved in more than 100 fights where the numbers were against me,” he says. “I won because I was first to initiate the physical attack.”
Thompson also fears getting flanked by opponents. “Part of the attacker’s ritual is the pincer movement. One attacker, usually the one facing and threatening you, will deploy your attention while the others attack from your blind side.”
Thompson’s training is traditional karate, boxing and judo. He usually advocates knock out blows.
“If you feel an attack is imminent, attack first. This is the most critical factor in such a scenario,” he says.
“My own preemptive strike would be a right cross/hook to the jaw preceded by some kind of mentally disarming verbal communication, hopefully neutralizing the first person,” says Thompson. “Then I would attack with headbutts, punches, or kicks to the remaining antagonists, depending upon my distance from them.”
Thompson’s tactics would be supported by the writings of the ancient Japanese swordmaster Miyomoto Musashi, who said, “When facing multiple opponents, you must attack first and keep attacking until the danger subsides.”
The keys for victory from these professionals and others who have successfully defeated multiple opponents could tend to be generalized as:
1. Constant and effective movement;
2. Aggressive attitude;
3. Superior striking skills;
4. Use of weapons.
Style or Fighter?
But is it the style you train in or you as the fighter that makes or breaks your self-defense ability?
I think the answer is it’s the fighter. Evidence to support this can found in mixed martial arts tournaments and reality fighting matches where fighters of every conceivable style of martial art have won and lost. There have been dominant fighters, but there are no longer dominant styles.
I know of, and have seen, people of vastly different martial arts backgrounds who have successfully defeated multiple opponents.
I witnessed a highly-proficient Tae Kwon Do stylist knock down five opponents in a parking lot using classical TKD techniques. Three of the five opponents were dropped with head kicks! Many would say that these are impractical for self-defense, but they obviously worked well for this guy in this situation!
I also know of a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu student who successfully defended himself against two larger opponents in L.A. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is not usually held up as an example of a style made for fighting multiple opponents because practitioners usually take their opponents down to the ground to wear them out before punishing them with a submission hold. In this case, the BJJ stylist broke one attacker’s arm then put the other in a rear naked neck choke. Our good guy finally stopped and let go of the neck restraint after his wife was screaming “YOU’RE KILLING HIM!”
Obviously, there are a huge number of variables that come into play here like your skill vs. their skill and your physical attributes vs. their physical attributes.
You will need to have superior:
• Movement and evasion skills;
• Striking or kicking skills;
• Knockout skill or ability to render opponents unable to continue in the fight.
You’ll also need superior verbal judo or “woofing” skills.
Woofing is what Payton Quinn calls the smack talking that precedes a fight as the opponents “interview” each other. Quinn says instilling fear and doubt into an opponent through verbal means has allowed him to avoid a number of messy fights, potentially saving him from numerous nights spent in jail.
Royce Gracie of the famous Gracie family advocates a strategy similar to MacYoung. He told me that you can make the group choose a leader to fight. Tell the guy, “You want to fight? You and me one-on-one. You don’t need anyone to help you right? as you point to the crowd. Now his honor is at stake. He can’t very well admit that he needs help.” Royce explained, “If a guy came in here and said he wanted to fight me, do you think my brother Rickson would step in front of me and say, ‘‘Oh, Royce, I will fight him.’ Of course, not! Same with this guy, his friends will urge him to fight you.”
If there isn’t a leader, Royce says you can punch the first guy, turn to the second and say, “you want some?”, punch him and advance on the third. So even the world-famous Royce Gracie doesn’t advocate taking someone into your guard when faced with multiple opponents.
For public safety personnel it is often effective to ask, “You want to go to jail?”
Otherwise, don’t threaten. This only serves to give away your element of surprise. Don’t put your MagLight on your shoulder and strike a pose; you’ve given the group time to think about what their response will be and to fuel their group rage.
Remember here, running away is a very, very good option for the civilian. The LAPD has found that officers in foot pursuits were usually only successful in capturing the suspect in the first 200 yards of the chase. After 200 yards, the odds of catching the bad guy diminished rapidly. The same experience should also apply to you. If you can string the group out over a couple of hundred yards, then you can engage each opponent separately.
But for all this talk of verbal or physical responses to multiple opponents, the general rule for handling multiple opponents is to use a weapon.
Even a famous Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stylist who is noteworthy for his many victories concedes the tremendous disadvantages of facing multiple opponents. After a workout, we were in the locker room when I saw him putting a folding fighting knife in the waistband of his jeans, he said, “This is for two on ones.”
The disadvantages of facing multiple opponents are staggering. When we’ve run training drills with two, three and four opponents against one, it is literally a few seconds before the one defender is swamped by the group.
Sometimes you just have think pragmatically and heed the advice, “More than one, use a gun.”
This article has been revised from the original which appeared on the old Defend University self-defense blog.