Fighting Against Multiple Opponents

Copyright 2002 – by Gerald Love

Fighting multiple attackers is a situation every rational martial artist fears, and with good reason. As artists we train with a few basic ideas that make this particularly terrifying. In this article I will attempt to explain, in relatively generic terms, the assumptions we must make, and methods we must use to survive the multiple-attacker scenario.

Let’s start with the assumptions made in general of martial situations and the ones we need to make in regards to this situation. The first assumption is in regards to the opponent’s skill and ability. There is an old axiom in fighting to never assume that your opponent is inferior to yourself in fighting ability. This is typically a very good perspective, as it prevents you from acting from a position of overconfidence. The problem appears when you attempt to apply this logic to a multiple-attacker situation. As the old “could you defeat two of yourself” argument goes, the chance of prevailing against two or more opponents under that assumption is so low that many martial arts have chose to ignore that line of training all-together.

That said, let’s make some new paradigms. We don’t know how good our opponent or opponents are; we shall assume from a tactic standpoint that they are as good or better as we are; this encourages us to only fight in situations where we would fight even if we knew we were going to loose. Since I think this is a good acid test for “should I fight or run”, this works well. Though we have decided to train with that mentality, we recognize none-the-less that we, as martial artists, have devoted our time and sweat to becoming better fighters, and the reality is that our opponents on the street are likely to be less-capable fighters than we are. Therefore, it is quite possible to win the multiple-opponent situation. Further, since the fight has been forced, we have no real option but to try to win, so let’s move on.
The Setup

So how do we accomplish it? Well, all situations and artists are unique. Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Don’t be there. That is, attempt escape or de-escalation from the moment you realize the danger. Start trying to position yourself near the exit, near the wall, near the bouncer, whatever from the beginning, even as you are trying to end the situation. I’ll start with the assumption that this has failed and combat has started with you surrounded; if you start already at the outside, then you will have accomplished the first few steps anyway.

Rule one of all fights, especially multiple-attacker fights, is “keep moving”. Be in motion before the fight starts and don’t stand still. When you stand still, that allows your opponents to choose to hit you on their terms and all at once, you will go down and you will loose.

Rule two, you want to be able to see all of them. This means that you don’t want to be in the “middle of the circle”. You want to move to the outside of your opponents so that all of your opponents are in the smallest arc in-front of you that you can manage (a 360 degree circle is bad, all lined up in a 5 degree arc is good). How you will move from the inside to the outside will vary based on your art and situation. The first, easiest, way, is if there is an opening in their group that you can run through. If there is a wall (or better, an exit) there wonderful. A wall makes sure that they cannot get behind you again. Be wary, however of corners for they are mixed blessings, you limit your opponents to a 90 degree arc, but you are also immobile. (remember rule one)
The Fight

there is not a hole already there for you, you are going to have to make one. There are a couple ways to do so, and your training will determine which you can use. Our first choice is available on video (tape 1s24), you may be able to charge through someone close, or grapple and reverse position; the details of how any individual should best accomplish this is beyond the scope of this article.

Once you have some sort of tenable position the fighting begins. You usually want to fight the most aggressive opponent; one good reason for this is he will be the closest to you (being the most aggressive) and therefore the most convenient target. It’s important to keep moving (rule 1) and to make sure they don’t get behind you again. I find that baiting attacks is useful for this; offer a target and withdraw it in order to lure your closest opponent into committing to an attack at your prompting.

If someone gets in real close, beat them around and use them as a shield against the others; but if they manage to make a good-effort escape or someone gets past them, let go and move to the next guy; you don’t want to let yourself get tied up with one person when another has moved into position (remember you need to remain mobile).

Keep looking for that escape position, while you may exhaust all of your opponents, that’s unlikely enough that you should be really using this as a tactic to escape. If that’s really not possible, look to clutter the battlefield as much as possible, make them work to get to you, so you can have less to deal with at a single time.

If there is no way to maneuver to escape, then you should look at relatively quick methods of removing opponents from the fight. What that is will vary based on available weapons and your skills and tactics. Mechanical disables (hyperextensions of knees and ankles), rendering unconscious or dead, and virtual disables (blinding) are all effective methods of removing someone from pursuit and effectively fighting you. If you disable one attacker then move, you are fighting that many less; disable enough and the fight is over.