Surviving A Multi-Opponent Attack
Maneuvering For Advantage:
Putting It Together
by Christopher Caile
Editor's note: This is the fourth
of a series of articles exploring principles, tactics
and techniques that can be used when confronted with
It has been said elsewhere in this series of articles,
but let me state it again:
Proper movement against multiple opponents is a critical
element, one that can help even the odds and help
you survive. But it is also the least understood.
It is the strategy underlying the principles and tactics
discussed in Part 2 and the basics of stances and
movement in Part 3. This and the following segment
ties it all together.
Basic Strategy Of Movement
When facing multiple attackers never let them take
up an attack formation, and if they do, disrupt it,
distance yourself, move to the side or break out from
it -- move so the attackers block or trip over each
other, move so space separates you from as many of
them as possible, or move to line them up so you can
deal with them one at a time. If you can't go around
someone, go under him, or push him into another. If
an attacker gets behind don't let him get close, and
if he is close either move away quickly or attack
him. In short, always move to a position of advantage
and don't let them have one. In each case the space
between you and your attackers, as well as their positions,
and movement define how you should move.
A number of examples discussed below illustrate how
this strategy is put to use. Remember, however, there
are no fixed rules, just guidelines. You might do
everything right and not succeed, or do everything
wrong and escape. But these guidelines will increase
your odds of success. In many of these instances your
initial movement may enable you to break free and
escape, but the defender in the illustrations below
continues to fight.
In his 1933 book, Aikido's founder, Morihei Usehiba,
discussed the principle of movement -- to use distance
and spacing as if it were water, like a moat around
a castle. "When the enemy attacks you with fire
you defend with water ... when the enemy comes to
strike you, open up (as) with water so you cannot
be struck." Elsewhere he says, "Defeat your
enemy by securing a safe and undefeatable position."
There is an old Japanese expression that puts this
very succinctly: "Be water, not the rock."
Some of the principles demonstrated are also illustrated
in several karate Pinan kata as discussed in the footnotes
to this article.
Plays In Your Game
Here we will discuss several basic formations, but
remember that attackers are often moving, so any position
may be just momentary. Any attack can be understood
as a flow of energy, something constantly changing
and adjusting. Here, however, we have frozen the action
to analyze relative positions in terms of movement,
distance and time.
Of course if in any of these situations you are indoors
where there is furniture, as you move you can use
anything moveable, such as a chair, stool, bench,
or table -- as a shield or barrier or as an obstacle
in path of your attackers. If outdoors there are often
things that can be picked up, shoved, or tipped over
to be used in the same way. You can also move around
a fixed object that momentary blocks a path to you.
Useful is any large object, such as cars, trees, crates,
and large bushes.
1 - Surrounded
This is the scenario often depicted in books and
videos, but in reality it is a very dangerous position
(to fight from the middle). You could win, but you
are doing it the hard way. And you have to be very
By staying in the middle of attackers you put yourself
at a needless disadvantage because you give up both
initiative, time and spatial position. You can be
attacked from any direction and at any time and the
attackers make the decisions. For the most part you
just react. And while you might keep people away with
kicks, punches and other techniques, they can also
easily close in around you. This doesn't mean you
can't ever fight from a fixed position, but it does
suggest that you shouldn't make it a career. If you
do, you may be doomed to involuntary early retirement.
The strategy when surrounded is to move to break
out between two attackers or stretch the formation.
If there are three opponents around you, for example,
and they are not too close, you can usually step quickly
between two of them and get to the outside.
If, however, when you move to get outside and the
opponents react by retreating to keep you enclosed,
you still have a modest victory. You have still stretched
their formation and created room to your backside,
if only for a moment.
Now you will most often have only two people near
you. You can then move towards one of them. This may
be a half step or several. The idea is to isolate
one attacker by moving into him. You also and create
a little space or time between you and the second.
You have begun to dictate the terms.
Here, however, you want to do something more. You
want to get to the other side of the attacker you
are approaching, so he becomes a physical barrier.
Thus, you combine two of the movement patterns discussed
in the last segment: the "quick advance"
and the "slide or angle past." If the two
attackers were at any distance, you would approach
one very quickly using the striding steps discussed
in the last segment. (1)
If you are close you can also pivot around an attacker,
something helpful if the attacker's blows are beginning
There are three advantages gained by moving to the
side or behind and opponent in this situation. First
it sets you up to throw, push or so control the attacker
(see "Use Your New Friends" in Part
1), to the ground, out of the way or
to be used as a barrier or a weapon. Secondly, even
if you are still trading techniques with this attacker
you can maneuver from side to side or circle to keep
him between you and another (a moving barrier) opponent.
Finally, you avoid exposing your back to another assailant
who might quickly move in on you.
In these situations advantage is only momentary.
Other attackers may be moving in fast. So, you want
to deal with or control attackers quickly, and I mean
very quickly. If you just dance around eventually
someone will get to you. Also keep 360 degree awareness.
If others are approaching it may be time to zig zag,
change direction, pivot and be unpredictable. If the
formation is back to three around you again, you may
just have to start over.
If surrounded by four or more attackers, getting
outside their ring is a little more difficult. So,
you have to be a little more creative. Again, here
we are assuming you have a little room and not in
an enclosed area.
One tactic is initially to move into one of the attackers.
This creates a little space at your backside from
others across the ring, and from the next closest
to you on the outside. If you can overcome him with
your initial assault, great, but don't linger. At
minimum advance and attack (zig) and then change direction
(zag) into an available gap in the ring to get outside.
When you are close to one person you can also pivot
to the outside. Again you are back to the first illustration
of handling two men at a time. The others are too
far away for the moment to get to you.
2 - The Wall
In this scenario multiple attackers (here three)
are lined up in front of you or walking towards you.
The formation resembles a wall.
Odds three to one aren't bad at the track, but in
the street if you lose it's not your paycheck. Again,
the movement strategy is to move to the outside. Outflank
them. It's like an end run in football, but it's you
alone and you don't have blockers. So get to the outside
fast. Usually one long and fast step or several quick
steps will do it. In the process you might have to
do a quick offensive move against one or more attackers,
but we will leave this subject for a little later
in the article. We want to concentrate first on movement.
When you get to the outside, pivot to face the closest
attacker. You have again taken positional advantage.
Your opponents are lined up, the man on the outside
is in front of the man in the middle, who is in front
of the person at the far end. And if they aren't blocking
each other, at least they are all not on top of you
-- you have dispersed the troops. You can now concentrate
on the closest one. If they are standing very close
to each other, the bump and run is very effective
(discussed in the last segment). This entails pushing,
striking or kicking the closest opponent backward
into the others standing close behind. They begin
tripping and become unbalanced -- a little more time.
If in a hallway, when you move past attackers on
one side, both the walls and the attacker's bodies
can restrict movement of other attackers. If in a
stairwell, positioning yourself on a higher stair
gives you positional advantage. Room for movement
is limited and from above kicks can here be especially
useful, if your legs are not caught and pulled out
from under you. (2)
3 - The Loose Half Circle
In this example three attackers have closed around
you in a half circle, but are not crowding you. There
is one at your front and one at each side. They could
be just threatening you, or starting to take action.
If someone attacks, or course, you have lost the
initiative. But there are times when you just don't
know you are going to be attacked. Thus it is always
important to maintain a state of heightened awareness
when others are around because if you don't see an
attack coming you could be finished.
If an attack starts, your first reaction is to react,
But, while you are jamming, blocking or otherwise
defending, don't forget to move. You might also just
move to avoid the attack altogether. If you just stand
there, other attacks will probably come from the side
or behind. A favorite tactic of gang attacks is to
have one person hit, grab or otherwise occupy you
while the others jump on like a rabid wolf pack.
The best idea is to take the initiative, attacking
while moving too. Similar to the wall example above,
here too you want to get to the outside -- around
an attacker on the outside, or through him if you
have to. Again, by moving to the side you are creating
a momentary space to your back.
The other attackers can no longer get to you, and
just like "The Wall" example use above,
you have outflanked their formation and taken a positional
advantage. The attackers are spread out, lined up
and you are on the far end. By the time others can
move to the side and forward to engage you, hopefully
you have already dealt the attacker nearest you and
You might use the attacker on the end as a barrier
or shield while moving toward the third. Again, you
are back to dealing with a two person situation.
If there is a wall behind you things are more difficult.
You might fake a move in one direction and then move
in the other -- a mini zig zag. Just moving quickly
toward someone and attacking can create a reaction,
such as a defensive shift, or flinch (freezing his
movement) you can use to get to the outside.
If an opponent attacks, he is becomes momentarily
unbalanced. Deal with the attack but also move past
or if the space is tight, slip and slide -- that is,
get one foot and leg between him and the wall and
slide past him using your forward arm against his
shoulder to propel you past (also discussed in the
A Note On Attacking
When moving toward someone don't hesitate between
techniques, waist time, or stop your movement. Try
to do two or three things at once. Don't block then
counter. Do both together. Don't kick in such a way
as you have to recover your balance before you can
punch. Combine them. Combine movement with a fast
flurry of techniques that bridges all the ranges of
distance to, or past, your opponent.
If your opponent is beyond your reach of your hands
or feet you may use an improvised weapon (chair, barstool,
brief case, umbrella, etc.) if you have one, or throw
something. From this distance you can also attack
your opponent's punches or kicks.
Moving closer your opponent is in range of a fast
low kick, or kicks, combined with punches or fast
open hand techniques to the eyes, neck or groin.
Still closer these techniques can progress into elbows,
knees, leg sweeps, trips and shin kicks.
Finally (if you have not moved to the side) you can
head butt, foot stomp, use a hand attack to the groin,
or use your hip and/or shoulder to bump, or push --
a never ending series of technique that come so fast
that it overpowers the attacker.
If you have moved to the side of the opponent you
can spin, throw, trip, take down, unbalance or control
him, or just continue your attack from this position
Once practiced you should be able to execute 10-12
of these techniques in less than two seconds -- about
all the time you have in many situations.
Here knowledge of vital points and the body's natural
reflexive responses to pain are helpful (see
Additional scenarios will be discussed in Part 5
of this series.
(1) The Pinans also
illustrate breaking out of a circle of attackers by
using a quick step, or a straight multi-step movement
patterns, such as found in the middle of Pinan #1
(three quick steps) which in the above example is
used to move between attackers (3 man scenario). Pinan
#3 illustrates another pattern -- a step and pivot
plus another step which is similar to moving into
a person, then pivoting around him. This is one option
to use in the example of being faced with four or
more attackers. Of course, in Pinan #3, a knife hand
trust turns into a 360 degree pivot ending up in a
horse stance with a strike with the side of the fist.
Then there is a step forward with a punch. But, here
we are examining movement patterns only, not techniques.
In both of these pinans after a short sequence of
several steps the forward movement in the kata stops
and changes direction to the side -- just as if you
broke through a ring of defenders and then moved toward
one of them, only to turn the opposite way to move
toward another attacker.
It is as if after defeating one attacker you turn
and move to the next in the other direction. In each
pinan the pattern then moves back towards the starting
point, just as if the defender (having defeated the
attackers on one side of the circle) is moving to
confront those elsewhere (the ones originally moved
(2) Both "The
Wall," and "The Loose Half Circle"
scenarios discussed draw on strategies of movement
found in Pinan #1. In each, the defender's first move
is to the left, just like in the scenarios above.
But, you can also attack the person in front of you
as part of your movement to the left.
Many techniques could be used for this frontal attack.
It would be quickest, however, if the technique was
a quick and natural extension of whatever technique
was extended to the left with the step taken in that
direction. In Pinan #1 this is a left lower block.
It is within this initial movement that the front
strike appears. What looks like the preparation for
a downward block disguises the technique. Either hand
can be used for the attack, but combined they are
very powerful. Below, each hand is discussed separately.
First we will address just the right arm which is
held straight and down as part of the preparatory
movement to execute a left down block. Three possible
applications are discussed.
If your attacker is standing very close (nose to
nose), the back of your hand (your right arm is down
at your side and you are standing in a natural stance)
can be used to slap into the attacker's testicles
(if male). Here the fingers are used and the wrist
kept loose (a whipping slap, not a hit). Patrick McCarthy,
the well known karate writer and historian, once demonstrated
this to me, saying it was a favorite "in and
close" technique of many of the old Okinawan
Still talking about the right arm in what looks like
preparation for a down block, a more forceful approach
could be a short punch into the lower abdomen or right
hip of the person in front.
Another variation, and one Mas Oyama used to demonstrate
quite effectively on me, was to keep the right arm
straight and swing it forward with the hips behind
it. This way the arm would be used like a club, the
fist striking into any low target directly in front.
Any of these techniques using the right arm will
work over several ranges, from very close to almost
arms length -- to stun the opponent and cause pain.
Most likely the opponents head and chest will move
forward too -- a reflexive reaction to the blow.
Next, we will discuss the use of the left arm that
is positioned in preparation for a left down block.
The left hand starts at the side of the body. The
path used to bring it upward across the body (as part
of the block preparation) also can be used to attack
a person in front. Since the upper chest and head
of the opponent is also moving towards your technique,
it impact will be amplified.
If the head is close, the bent elbow of the block
can be used to strike the face or head. If the head
is a little more distant the rising arm can turn into
a rising hook-like strike into the chin, side of the
face or neck. If the distance to the head is even
further away, the palm of the rising arm (the elbow
is less bent) can hit the side of the face or chin,
or the fingers can be extended further still into
the eye of an opponent as a finger jab or splashing
here is one combination of options using both hand
together -- a right short punch with the right hand
into the opponent's right hip combined with an upper
left open hand strike into the side of the opponent's
Whatever the initial attack is to the front (if there
is one) the defender then continues to move to the
side. In an actual confrontation the hand/arm or kicking
technique would be tailored to the attack or defense
used. Here, however, we are talking about movement
pattern, and the pattern seen in Pinan #1 would be
used. Thus a long step is used (front leaning stance)
followed by another and then a 180 degree turn. The
steps move you into one opponent and away from another,
thus creating space at your back, just like in the
In the kata the turn is usually seen as little more
than a change of direction to face another attacker.
But the turn can also be used to use the body of the
first attacker (spun, pushed, tripped or thrown) to
stop or interrupt another attacker while you deal
with a third.
In this way the many turns, pivots and change in
directions found in the pinan and other kata can also
be understood to have other important uses. Those
who have studied the throwing, jujutsu or similar
arts, Japanese or Chinese, often see applications
jump out at them when they study karate kata. This
makes sense, since karate developed on Okinawa as
an amalgam of Chinese and indigenous fighting arts
with perhaps some Japanese influence.
I: Interfering With And Avoiding An Impending Attack
Part 2 Principles & Tactics
3 Maneuvering For Advantage: Basics
Part 4 Maneuvering For Advantage: Putting it all
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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