Surviving A Multi-Opponent Attack
Maneuvering For Advantage: Basics
by Christopher Caile
Editor's note: This is the third
of a series of articles exploring principles, tactics
and techniques that can be used when confronted with
I believe that proper movement is the most critical
element of defense against multiple attackers. It
is also the least understood.
I see many martial arts books and videos of experts
demonstrating their defenses against multiple attackers.
The master stands in the center, turning this way
and that to defeat each successive attacker. It's
inspiring. It makes you think if you just study his
art and learn his knowledge you might someday become
Don't believe it. It usually doesn't work. On the
street attackers aren't respectful, they don't wait
their turn, and they don't keep their distance. They
close in from all sides like a garbage compactor -
I'm not sure if it is a lack of understanding, the
difficulty of explanation, or the limitations of video,
but the most important element is missing in these
books and videos -- that of getting out of positions
of maximum danger and moving to a position of advantage.
The first part of proper movement is a basic vocabulary
of stances and movement patterns that enable your
action. These are the building blocks that enable
you to take back some control in a multi-opponent
attack that has gotten out of control.
Yin & Yang Of Action
Central to the stance and movement patterns discussed
below are two counterbalancing concepts.
1 - Do Unto Others
A logical outgrowth of the two principles discussed
2 of this article (Indomitable Spirit
and Total Commitment) is not to be defensive, but
to be offensive. That means to take the initiative
whenever possible (discussed briefly in Part
When you react defensively you cede timing and initiative
to your attackers. If you wait to react, this gives
time to your opponents to circle or close in on you.
A good friend, Oscar Ratti (co-author of "Aikido
and The Dynamic Sphere" and "Secrets of
the Samurai"), said it well when he observed:
"In combat against others, always be on the offensive.
Take the initiative. Don't even think about defense.
Even thinking about it slows you down. Instead, create
chaos and havoc in them first. Do unto others before
they do it to you."
However, just being aggressive and attacking is not
enough. You should move to maximize your position
(the subject of the following article). Equally, your
attacks and moves should not be so wild or foolish
as to endanger you.
2 - Don't Do It To Yourself
The flip side of attacking or taking the initiative
is not to endanger yourself needlessly - the yin to
temper the yang.
While there are no fixed rules in facing multi-attackers,
playing the percentages always has advantage. You
may get away with something that also momentarily
makes you vulnerable or exposed, but too often the
odds catch up with you. If you gamble and throw the
dice, you may win big sometimes, but most often you
lose. On the street the consequences can be more severe.
So avoid rolling the dice. Here are a few cautions.
Be careful with kicks. Any kick momentarily
freezes you on one leg and can slow forward movement.
are also less stable. If pushed or grabbed you can
be unbalanced or thrown to the ground, so keep kicks
fast and pull them back quickly. Also combine them
with other techniques. High and spinning kicks are
especially dangerous. You can sometimes get away with
them but don't make them your habit. You expose your
groin and the kicking leg can be caught. The kicker
also leans backward. This moves his body backward
and exposes it to potential attack from behind. This
is the reason that in most old karate kata the kicks
were kept low (at least in the original kata versions).
Before being attacked don't assume a defensive
preparatory stance with raised arms and wait for the
action to begin. Boxers or karate practitioners do
this at the start of a match to be fair and let the
opponent be prepared. This isn't your goal. It wastes
time and signals defense. If an attack hasn't started,
attack first and/or move to a better position.
Don't fight from wide horse stance (or a modified
one). This can be a dangerous fighting position against
multiple attackers since you are standing sideways
with the legs spread. This needlessly exposes the
groin to attacks not only from the front but the sides,
while also exposing the back. Quick movement to the
sides is also more difficult. It is also a defensive
position. Your opponents see it and your own psyche
knows too -- two negatives when your actions have
to be totally offensive. You are also not positioned
for total commitment or aggressive initiative. The
stance is useful in some situations, however. These
will be discussed below. But keep the stance limited
to special situations.
Minimize weighting or standing on one foot.
This can limit mobility and reduce stability. In multi-attacker
confrontations mobility and stability are prime, thus
any position that roots you on one foot should be
minimized since it reduces these factors.
(a) Cat stances can be momentarily useful in some
situations, but don't stay there. You can use them
as transitions, to create momentary space in one direction
or a platform to kick from, but don't linger -- they
are defensive and they inhibit movement.
(b) Likewise lifting the knee to block a kick is
sometimes useful but it can also be dangerous. This
is a favorite response of grapplers who fakes a low
kick to your legs and then charge in low to take you
off your feet. My housemate in Buffalo was a full-contact
Ultimate Fighter and grappler who used this move to
perfection against me -- bang. At first, I couldn't
figure out what was happening. He would kick, I would
lift my leg and there I would be flat on my back with
him all over me.
Eventually I found that, against a grappler (percentage
wise), it was more effective to pivot out of the way
of a low roundhouse kick, pull back the front foot
out of the way, or shift to the side or backward at
an angle with a simultaneous down block.
(c) While punching try not to plant your forward
foot. While this can be useful in delivering maximum
power forward, it also roots you and shifts weight
on to your forward foot. As a result, you lose mobility.
Tools of The Trade
Principles, tactics, and techniques are all good,
but you have to tie them in with a strategy that can
get your where you need to be and get you away from
the most dangerous situations. Here we discuss the
tools of the trade -- the basics of standing, moving
and turning. In the next section of this article we
show how to put them together so you can move to a
position of advantage.
Whatever happens or develops in a multiple attack
you will probably start from a normal standing or
walking position (sitting or lying positions are outside
the scope of this series of articles). If you are
walking and attacked everything is sudden and you
are into it before you can think. Standing can be
a little different. You have probably stopped walking
or you are standing as someone approaches, or is there
next to you.
A standing position has many advantages. While high,
and thus less than perfectly stable, this stance enables
you to move quickly in any direction and the legs
are close enough together to protect the groin from
many kicks, or knees. (2)
When action begins you always want to protect your
head, a favorite target of attackers. A common tactic
to avoid a surprise hit is to say something and talk
with your hands up front between you and the closest
attacker. This will not seem aggressive but will allow
a split second block or a quick offensive technique
since your hands should already be more than half
way to your opponent. This is not a defensive stance
Once things start, protect your face and head as
you move. You also want to keep low and have your
feet under you. This also protects your groin. You
can take long steps to move, but don't keep one once
you in close to an attacker. Here keep your stance
narrow. Some experts suggest keeping the rear leg
angled slightly outward so as to be able to quickly
shift to the side. (3)
I like to keep the front foot angled in slightly to
give a little extra groin protection.
There are also several patterns or principles of
movement you will find optimal in multi-attacker situation
-- the quick advance, the slide or angle past, the
bump and run, the zig zag movement, and the pivot.
Move forward quickly, not backward (just like
in most karate kata) so you can take a position of
advantage or achieve an objective. Often this means
moving into an attacker to attack, or to interrupt
an attack coming at you before it has fully developed
(jamming). Being close also can forestall a second
attack from an opponent's foot or other fist. In the
process of moving forward you also create space behind
you and thus avoid a sudden hit from behind. The diagram
below represents this situation. The three circles
at top represent a defender between two attackers.
Both attackers can reach him. Below, the defender
advances towards one attacker, thereby creating a
momentary barrier of space at his back.
This doesn't mean you can never back up -- retreating
can give you some momentary space, and thus protection.
But if you continue backing up, you put yourself at
serious risk since your attackers are probably advancing
too. This means you have given up the initiative to
them. In the process they might get closer, position
around you or you might be maneuvered into a place
that limits further retreat.
When you move forward for any distance, do so quickly.
Shuffling forward like a boxer (or most martial arts
competitors) is great for small adjustments, but too
slow over more than a few feet. So if you want to
move more than a single step take strides, one foot
in front of another similar to the way you move in
kata. And it helps to keep low and centered so you
can punch or block, grab or control. (5)
An important corollary of the quick advance
is to angle past an opponent, or if a tight place,
to slide around him.
Forward movement if angled can get you to the side
or behind the opponent -- a space where his weapons
can't get at you and from where you can more easily
control, throw or take down your opponent. This is
shown in the two drawings below. At left, an attacker
is preparing to club the defender. The blow is avoided,
however, by stepping forward and angling to the side
of the opponent (right drawing).
When is a tight place, such as in a corner with an
attacker close, it is useful to slide your forward
foot at an angle past your opponents front foot and
sink into a low stable position (horse stance) at
his side. My boxing coach often demonstrated this
type of quick slide around the edge of an opponent
who was trying to corner you in the ropes. As part
of this move he used his forward arm like a windshield
wiper (outside block fashion) against the rear of
an opponent's shoulder to help propel himself around
to the outside.
The bump and run is a second corollary of
the quick advance. This is when you move forward quickly
to freeze or make your opponent move backward.
Sometimes you don't actually have to make contact.
Just a quick threatening forward move can freeze someone
or force a quick retreat so you can get around them.
Another scenario is when one attacker is standing
close right in front of others. Here a quick forceful
push, bump, or kick forces the attacker backward.
Because others are standing right behind, there is
little or no room to step back. Legs will get tied
up. The front attacker will often stumble, or at least
take a second to regain balance. Other attackers standing
behind him will also be momentarily blocked. (6)
This can buy you room to maneuver as well as precious
Zig Zaging is like broken field running in
football. Moving one direction and then quickly veering
off in another to avoid opponents, or to make space.
Examples discussed in the next installment of this
article will illustrate this movement.
Pivoting and turning. Quick pivoting motions
can quickly get you out of the path of an attack or
away from an attacker. Think like a basketball player
who quickly pivots so he can shoot. In one-on-one
situations the defender often parries/deflects while:
(a) Pivoting back --Moving one leg back and to the
side while narrowing the body -- a sort of opening
the door to let an attack or an attacker pass by.
(b) Pivoting away - Pivoting 90 degrees or 180 degrees
on the forward foot to get to the side of an opponent
or an attack, or to move to position of advantage
to the side.
(c) Pivoting or turning in order to control and lead
an attack or attacker's body or to throw or take down
an opponent. Also to control the energy of multiple
(d) Pivoting to slide or move past an opponent who
is crowding you.
(e) Spinning when attacked to deflect strikes or
In the next installment of this series we will discuss
putting your tools, strategy and tactics together
as part of various movement strategies.
(1) This can be a confusing
point. Many people would say, "but even in many
of the old kata people kick high." That is true,
but people now perform kata to look good, to demonstrate
their physical capability and to impress judges. This
wasn't always so. The kata has also been changed.
For example, let's look at Pinan #4 . This same technique
is also part of the much older kata Kanku (also known
as Kusanku in Okinawa). In Pinan #4 the practitioner
kicks to the side with the blade of his foot (side
kick) accompanied with a back fist that rises from
the waist level vertically and moves in a half circle
to strike with two knuckles (furi-uchi). This is done
to both sides. In the oldest versions of the kata,
this technique was different. Instead there was a
body pivot to the side and a simultaneous middle level
front kick and strike with the arm traveling from
the waist in a horizontal circular path and striking
with the little finger side of a clenched fist (tettsui).
When the Pinan kata was taken to Japan as part of
karate things changed (even the name Pinan was changed
in many styles to Heian). Sometime in the late 1930's
this technique also changed. When I first learned
the kata in the late 1950's in the United States (studying
a mixture of Kempo and Shotokan karate), the side
kick and back fist were done very quickly, the side
kick whipped out (to midsection or chest level) and
pulled back so the technique could progress into an
elbow smash (the next technique). Everything was done
very fast. It was done the same way in Japan in Kyokushin
karate in the early 1960's. Sometime by the late 1970's
or early 1980's the technique styles changed again
in some styles (I was then studying Seido Karate).
Now the side kick was no longer whipped out and retreated.
Instead the side kick was thrust out and held for
a moment. It looked great and competition judges loved
it. Some practitioners could kick high above their
head and hold the extended kick position. A lot of
kata competitions were won with this type of gymnastic
flexibility. This execution, however, is far cry from
the original technique and further divorced from functional
execution. It should be stated, however, that many
styles still practice versions of Pinan #4 and Kanku
(Kusanku) using the original technique with the front
kick aimed at a low target.
(2) This is the reason
that almost all karate kata start from this position,
a natural stance from which a defender can easily
move in any direction, pivot or turn to the side,
drop down or move using a variety of stances.
(3) In aikido, for
example the back foot it often angled 90 degrees to
the side. This way the body is able to quickly move
to the side. If the back foot is angled forward, movement
to the side can be slightly slowed because most people
will turn their foot slightly before moving and this
takes time. Interestingly, in some karate styles,
some stances also employ the back foot at 90 degrees
to the side, or even turned to the rear. This is related
to footnote #4 (directly below).
(4) I have not discussed
here a concept of movement that can reduce response
time and add speed (of movement) over short distances.
It was unique among the Samurai and was one distinct
element that provided his edge, and enabled almost
unbelievable feats -- that of dropping your weight
into steps instead of moving it forward as most everyone
does while stepping. But the topic was avoided here
because it is so foreign and difficult to master.
It requires a re-education of movement. It has also
been lost to most modern martial arts. You still see
it in a few old styles of karate and in such arts,
as daito-ryu aikijujutsu, and swordsmanship (kenjutsu).
Other arts, such as aikido, employ the same concepts
in some movement, but not in others.
(5) A karate practitioner
(as well as taekwondo and kung fu) here might think
of using front leaning stances, while aikido and jujutsu
practitioners might be a little higher, taking one
quick large step or two alternate steps forward just
like in practice. This is striding, not running. It
is more controlled and your arms are free to punch
or do other techniques. You can also change direction,
or pivot, or pull back one foot (cat stance) to create
a little space in front of you and/or to kick. The
body can be turned to the side (short horse stance)
to evade or move to the side.
One of the fastest forward movement over distance
(10-15 feet or more) I have ever seen is the stance
and movement seen in many kata, such as Pinan One,
where there are three explosive steps with punches.
Shotokan karate stylists often use this type of quick
stepping to close in on competitors. Likewise some
Chinese kung fu systems, especially pak mei (white
eyebrow), moves this way with incredible, almost overpowering
speed while punching.
(6) An good example
of this type tripping was seen in a demonstration.
In the early 1970's one day I accompanied Shihan Tadashi
Nakamura (then head of the Kyokushin's North American
Organization) to Madison Square Garden where he was
to give a demonstration of karate. Appearing just
after him was Bruce Lee, who demonstrated his one
inch punch. He lined up five or six people right in
front of each other and put a chair just behind the
last person in line. Standing in front, he then punched
the first man, who fell into the second, who fell
into the next until the last man fell into the chair
and tipped backward. It looked amazing but in reality
everyone was set up to easily trip over the next,
so it was difficult to really judge the amount of
power generated. In contrast, Nakamura demonstrated
breaking through four one inch boards (without spacers)
held by an associate using just his fingertips (nukite).
I: Interfering With And Avoiding An Impending Attack
Part 2 Principles & Tactics
Part 3 Maneuvering For Advantage:
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
us | magazine