Surviving A Multi-Opponent Attack
Part I: Interfering With And Avoiding An Impending
by Christopher Caile
Editor's note: This is the first
in a series of articles exploring principles, approaches
and techniques that can be used when confronted with
It's your worst nightmare. You find yourself surrounded
by intense, tough looking hoods on the street that
aren't there to talk. Or, maybe the group is approaching.
The scenarios are endless, but the bottom line is
that you could get hurt, or even killed.
Most people, even martial artists, are not prepared
for this type of situation simply because they never
prepare or train for it. And don't think just because
you are a good free fighter that against a group you
are prepared. You aren't. In fact, the basics of dealing
with a group assault are the very opposite of what
you learn against a single opponent.
So, can you survive or escape this type of attack?
Maybe? That doesn't sound very optimistic, but so
much can go wrong. If weapons are involved your trouble
has doubled. But with proper training, your odds of
survival or not getting seriously hurt are greatly
Of course, several cardinal rules or options have
already been breached if you are about to be attacked.
Rule one is don't be there. Rule two is run, evade
or escape. There is also the option of talking your
way out of the situation. But these are subjects of
other articles. Here we assume there is no way out.
You have a wife, husband, child or other person to
protect, or you are trapped in an enclosed space,
hallway, or worse, someone has already grabbed you.
If this article or the thought of dealing with multiple
attackers is ever going to be more than an abstract
concept, you have to practice and drill. The situations
are endless -- against three or more people who have
surrounded you, who are walking towards you, or when
one or more has grabbed you. You can create all kinds
of scenarios that can be practiced in class and you
will find they can create a lot of fun for students.
When you practice there are a couple of factors to
keep in mind. The first is space and the environment.
If you are in the open, in a field, parking lot, or
a large open room, you can much more easily escape
if you are alone, or help someone else to escape with
you. But, if the space is enclosed, as in a narrow
hallway, building entrance, elevator or other area,
running has little potential.
Second is barriers. These include trees, shrubs,
walls, even cars if you are outside, and inside they
include tables, chairs, bar stools and other furniture,
even doors. These can be used in your favor, if they
are used as a barrier between yourself and others,
but they can also block your movement too. It depends
how you deal with them.
A third factor is timing. If you see it coming and
have a few seconds before an attack, there is a lot
that you can do. But, if it comes as a sudden surprise,
things are different.
One of the old karate maxims, often said by Gichin
Funakoshi and repeated by many others is, "There
is no first strike in Karate." Many take this
to mean that in karate, you never take the initiative
and that you must wait for the first physical assault
before you can defend yourself and strike back. Richard
Kim, the well-known writer and author on karate and
the martial arts, often points out that this viewpoint
is too narrow. In Japan, he notes, many have always
held that an attack is actually initiated by intent.
If someone has raised his hands to hit you, the fight
has already been initiated, even though a punch has
not yet been thrown. So, if an attack is imminent
and it is clear that you are being attacked, you can
respond pro actively for advantage, especially in
dangerous group situations. But, here some caution
is required. Street sense and experience is necessary.
If you suddenly strike out at a leader of potential
attackers and he turns out to be a father of a family
touring New York City who is only asking for directions...
There are also times when intent to hurt or rob you
is clear, but the victim is so afraid of the situation
that perception become confused. The person keeps
thinking that he has misinterpreted the situation
as he builds hope upon hope that he is wrong and that
the group isn't going to attack him -- until it becomes
too late to take proactive action.
To properly read intent you need some experience,
combined with alertness, intuition and the ability
to sense body language - things that can be learned
on the street or in class when you repeatedly practice
group attack situations.
There are psychological tools that you can use to
diffuse the situation. If you have a little time you
can move, cross the street, or even run. If the attackers
are close you can do a loud shout (kiah) or yell,
"STOP." This can momentarily freeze action
to give you a window of time to react. As an example,
I remember many years ago as a student in Peoria,
Illinois, I was in a particularly rowdy part of town
late one night at an infamous bar known for its many
fights and scuffles. I watched as the owner stepped
in front of two drunken men pushing and punching a
smaller one around. His psychological ploy was masterful.
He jumped in between them, turned to the two larger
men and said, "Hold it there." Motioning
to the smaller man, he asked the two aggressors, "Is
he bothering you?" Then he handed him a glass
of beer to the smaller of the two attackers saying,
"Hold this for a second." The man did and
held the glass carefully, so not to spill it. It gave
just enough time for the owner and a bouncer to control
the two roughs and 'escort' them to the door.
You can also react physically. My own personal favorite
is scooping a handful of coins from your pocket and
hurling them into someone's face. You can do the same
thing with a jacket, books or newspapers you are carrying,
or gravel, dirt from the ground, beer nuts, an ashtray,
your drinking class, the plate from which you are
eating, etc. Furniture can also be tipped over, picked
up and used as a shield, or used as a weapon.
Back in 1961 I lived in Tokyo, Japan while studying
karate under Kyokushin's Mas Oyama. One night after
dinner at his house we began talking on this subject.
He rolled up his left sleeve to show be a couple of
scars on his arm and demonstrated how to roll your
jacket around the arm to defend against blade attacks.
He said, "You will get cut, but this will make
it less." He also demonstrated how to throw a
glass ashtray like a "ninja" throwing star.
He advocated using whatever weapons you could from
the environment -- things that could also be used
as shields - even pocketbooks and briefcases if a
weapon is involved. He walked me around his house
showing me things that could be used: pens, pencils,
chopsticks, keys, coins, pillows -- almost anything.
So, when practicing in the dojo, it is useful also
to practice psychological and material interruptions
and how to use what natural weapons you have, the
space and furniture, etc. to your advantage. If you
think it out ahead and practice with these implements,
you will be much more prepared to use them if you
have to. In Part 2 of this article, while we will
not go into detail on the many specific techniques
against an opponent that can be used, what will be
discussed are the principles of movement and strategy
used in encounters with multiple opponents. What the
student will find is that many of these are contained
in the same kata that are practiced on a daily basis.
2 Principles & Tactics
3 Maneuvering For Advantage: Basics
4 Maneuvering For Advantage: Putting it all together
5:Maneuvering For Advantage: More Scenarios
Us Know Your Comments & Opinions On This Article
About the Author:
Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief
of FightingArts.com. He has been a student of the
martial arts for over 40 years and holds a 6th degree
black belt in Seido Karate and has experience in judo,
aikido, diato-ryu, boxing and several Chinese fighting
arts. He is also a long-term student of one branch
of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong. He is a personal
disciple of the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture
Dr. Zaiwan Shen (M.D., Ph.D.) and is Vice-President
of the DS International Chi Medicine Association.
In Buffalo, NY, he founded the Qi gong Healing Institute
and The Qi Medicine Association at the State University
of New York at Buffalo. He has also written on Qi
gong and other health topics in a national magazine,
the Holistic Health Journal and had been filmed for
a prospective PBS presentation on Alternative Medicine.
Recently he contributed a chapter on the subject to
an award winning book on alternative medicine, "Resources
Guide To Alternative Health" produced by
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