Surviving A Multi-Opponent Attack
Maneuvering For Advantage:
by Christopher Caile
Editor's note: This is the fifth
of a series of articles exploring principles, tactics
and techniques that can be used when confronted with
4 - The Noose
There are times when three or more attackers are
up close as in an elevator, hallway or entrance area.
This example is similar to one in the last article,
"The Loose Half Circle," but here there
is virtually no room to move.
If the attackers start the action, an attack could
come from any direction or all directions at once.
Thus, here more than ever, taking the initiative is
necessary to give you a slight edge. Of course, be
sure those burly friends who are getting up close
and friendly are really there to attack you. An unprovoked
assault against a group of visiting Russian wrestlers
wouldn't be greeted in a friendly fashion, and law
enforcement wouldn't be friendly either. So check
your signals. Be sure before you act.
The closer the attackers are to you, and the more
people there are, the more you have to condense your
techniques and movement to be successful. This means
doing two, three or more things at once, as part of
the same movement. This cuts time and technically
gives you a small edge. And,
even if the space is tight you can often still move
a little to create room to launch techniques, or to
create a small distance between you and at least one
This scenario begins just as the action is starting
when you have a little time to take the offensive.
Being grabbed and jumped on will be covered later.
Here, you, the defender, are confronted in a very
tight space, an elevator. There are three men around
you and the man facing you in the middle reaches out
to push your chest.
seen in the second photo you move against the man
who reached out to push you. Your technique is not
a hard strike, but a lightening fast finger flick
to the eyes (known as Splashing Hands in many Kung
Fu systems). The particular technique is not important.
It could be a technique to the testicles, a finger
jab to the throat, a fast knuckle strike to the side
of the noise, or even pocket change thrown into the
person's face. You are trying at minimum to cause
a defensive reflex or distraction that will momentarily
freeze the person in front.
In this instance you use the fingers of your right
hand to flick the eyes. While not bringing permanent
injury, this technique can shock, disorientate, and
cause pain and eye watering.
But, this is not your only technique. If you do just
this and just stand there waiting, or turn to face
another attacker, someone else will attack you in
an instant, and it may be from behind. So turn a technique
into two or more actions -- the eye flick turning
into an elbow strike which turns into another technique
in the opposite direction -- all performed together.
The idea is to condense movement so you can accomplish
in one move what normally would take two, three or
four moves. This drastically speeds things up and
allows you to address multiple attackers almost simultaneously.
Let's look at this in more detail. Here, as you withdraw
your arm from the finger flick you turn to the left
to face the man on your left. As you do so, sink backward
and down (cat stance) to attack the man on your right.
movement would normally be exceptionally dangerous
since your back is now facing an attacker, but your
right elbow from the same arm that did the flick can
now be used as a weapon striking backwards (into the
ribs or face) to hit the man to your right (now behind
you). You can also add a simultaneous backwards head
butt (into the nose or side of the head) and a foot
stomp onto the toes of this same person. -- an quick,
In one continuous motion you have dealt with two
opponents and are facing the third. The same arm that
had elbowed could also now proceed forward into a
punch or virtually any technique. This is often referred
to as the "Principle of Continuous Motion,"
or the "Principle of Economy of Motion."
moving backward to attack one opponent and sinking
into a stance with the hips pushed backward you have
also created a small, momentary space to your front.
In the scenario presented here the next technique
is not done by the arm or hand (thus breaking the
continuous motion of the right arm), but is a front
kick into the groin of the third attacker. (2)
You now move in on this attacker, who has bent over
in pain, and control/spin his body into the person
who was first in the middle (who you initially eye
flicked). That person is momentarily blocked. You
have now dealt with him twice in a fraction of a second.
In the final photo you have completely turned again
to address the man who had just before elbowed, head
butted and stomped on -- his second visit too. In
this illustration the man is still reeling in pain,
so he is easily pulled forward on top of the man already
turned and bent over. One
attacker is now bent over the second and both are
momentarily out of action. The two block the path
of the man who was originally in the middle - his
third visit. You now wait for any further action.
Although this is a simplified scenario it illustrates
important principles of movement that are useful in
5 - The Wedge
In this situation the lead attacker approaches first
and is out front of other attackers. The attacker
can also be standing in front of you but positioned
directly in front of two or three others. While
this is still not a great scenario in the midst of
a very bad situation, at least it gives the defender
some advantage up front. In either case the leader
is the only person within reach of you and his position
is also blocking the others.
If the first attacker is in front and separated from
the others, this is an ideal time to try to deal with
him quickly (see Part 2, "Severing The Head Of
The Serpent"). If you are successful you might
persuade the others to opt out of the conflict. You
can also use his body as a shield, a barrier or knock
him into others to disperse them just like racked
pool balls at the start of a game (Part
2, "Use Your New Friends").
If the attacker is standing directly in front of
others, if you don't immediately defeat him at least
push him backwards into the others (see
Part 3, the movement principle of "Bump and Run").
In either case, the disrupted formation of attackers
can then be dealt with. However they are dispersed,
use movement to stay on the outside and to align one
in front of another, and move in order to minimize
the number close to you. Limit your exposure. Don't
get between them. If you do break out using the movement
strategies illustrated above.
6 - Runners and Chargers
For analysis purposes we first examined a series
of possible fixed static formations and how to use
movement to address them. In this sixth section we
"turn the tables" so to speak and discuss
various movement strategies in situations where the
opponents are rapidly moving -- towards you.
A runner is someone who is actually running, but
since he is running his attack is more likely to be
a tackle or take down. A charger, however, is someone
who was once lingering outside your reach but who
suddenly moves (charges) towards you and attacks.
A runner can turn into a charger.
Discussed below are various strategies to be used
in these type of attacks and how to get past or through
them (if there are several persons) so you aren't
overpowered, tackled or taken to the ground. If you
are successful the attacker or attackers will slow,
stop, turn and move back towards you at a slower pace.
At this point the situation reverts to the various
strategies discussed above. Here, however, we focus
just on the initial aspect of how not to be overwhelmed
by a running or charging attack.
Let's start with a single attacker. The faster someone
is approaching, the more momentum and often the less
stability he has. This can be used to your advantage,
but you can't just stand your ground. The strategy
is to wait until the last moment and then quickly
move out of the way, outflank the attackers, pivot
and don't be there. The same strategy can be used
against several attackers if they are bunched close
together and is similar to "The Wall" or
"Loose Half Circle" discussed earlier.
Another alternative against a fast approaching attacker,
and one often used in aikido, is simply to wait until
the last moment and then drop to the ground at the
feet of your attacker so he will trip over your body.
When I was teaching karate in Peoria Illinois in
the late 1960's, I once had a student who had played
football in college and then was a semi-professional.
In freefighting he was especially adept at one technique
similar to this. He would suddenly explode into your
feet, a quick roll that would totally upend you. It
was so fast and so powerful that unless you knew it
was coming, you were totally surprised.
Another strategy against someone running toward you
is to move quickly towards him at a wide looping angle.
This cuts the time and distance he has to react, and
forces him to slow down as he tries to change the
direction of his momentum. But don't move too soon.
Wait until he is eight or ten feet away. If you move
sooner it is considerably easier for the attacker
If two or three people are all running at you from
a distance and they are a little spread out, you can
also react as you would in the "The Wall"
or "Loose Half Circle" examples -- again
go to the outside to outflank the group. Often a pivot
added at the end is just enough to let the outside
person's momentum take him past.
If the group is staggered or further spread out so
you can't outflank them to the side, you have to become
especially evasive. Don't let them know what you are
doing by moving in a straight line. The strategy is
to work like a punt returner in football, move between
a gap in their formation, or zig one way towards one
person out front and zag toward the gap behind him.
If the attackers rushing you are spread out behind
one another, there is another strategy available.
Mike Hawley was asked this question by a relative
of his who worked as a prison guard after he had experienced
this very situation. In aikido class Mike demonstrated
how your don't try to stop the first or second attacker.
You stand relaxed and as each closes in, you open
your body and pivot around to let him pass (often
using your outstretched arms to help) and then deal
with the next. Only when you get to the last man do
you deal with him.
The reason is simple. The first one has a lot of
momentum and energy with him and can knock you over
or tie you up easily. The others will just jump on.
But if you can get past the first runners, they will
take time to slow and then reverse direction. This
gives you time to deal with the last person first,
then the second to last, etc.
In group confrontations defenders also often have
to deal with attackers who charge in. The actual distance
moved might be short, but when combined with an attack
it is quite threatening. The strategy is the same
as against runners -- don't be there because if you
are, you can be overpowered, grabbed or taken down.
Again the strategy is to turn, move or pivot to the
side of the attacker.
A friend of mine, Sensei Paul Williams, is one of
the most powerful and accomplished freefighting (point
and semi-contact) competitors I have ever known. He
is a master at the use of angles, turns and spins.
I am often amused at competitions when I see how he
deals with a fast aggressive attack -- by spinning
to the outside or behind. The attacker often looks
stunned, confused at where his target has gone, until
notified a split second later from some angle that
Paul is definitely still around. Paul proves that
this type of movement strategy is as effective in
one-on-one situations as it is against multiple opponents.
A simple pivot or turn is easy to demonstrate. In
the first photo two opponents are facing each other.
The defender at right, has his right foot forward.
In the next photo, the defender has merely pivoted
to the side on this same foot. It doesn't matter what
the attack is, and the faster the attack is (the more
momentum it has) the easier it is to get to the outside.
A similar technique is to intercept an attack, such
as a stomach kick, with a block that guides the attack
past you and allows you to move to the side of the
attacker to counter. In Seido Karate there is a series
of techniques known as Seido Strategy that teaches
this movement strategy. For example, if you are standing
left foot forward with your hands in front of you
and an opponent does a left front snap kick, you respond
with a left down block (right hand up protecting your
face) as you step forward (right foot) at an angle
to the right. The kick is guided past and you end
up at the exposed side of the kicker, well within
range for counter punches and/or a take down.
If, however, the charging attacker is trying to hit
your head with something, a fast drop to the ground
under his feet would also work. But don't stay there,
for other attackers may be approaching.
The next and last article in this series will discuss
special situations, such as going to the ground, of
if attackers catch up with you and all grab you.
(1) Karate masters
have always talked about how students' techniques
progress over time. At first students learn to first
block and then counter (two counts). Later a technique
might first block and then continue on to become a
counter (One and one half counts). Finally, more mastery
can result of a single technique being a simultaneous
block and counter (one count). This is another example
of this principle.
(2) This sequence is
illustrated in Pinan Two and Four. The defender turns
left but sinks back and down into a cat stance. In
both kata the right elbow is pulled back in what the
casual observer assumes is preparation for the technique
to come. By using (and changing slightly) the initial
movement that ends up in the elbow being pulled back,
other possible techniques are disguised, such as an
initial technique to the front (here being an eye
flick) and an elbow backwards. The accompanying head
and foot technique are natural additions to the elbow
It is a movement strategy to be used when there is
otherwise little room to move as in Pinan #1. Thus,
everything is truncated. Two or three attacks and/or
counters are best linked into a single technique.
The stance used here (cat stance) will also create
additional space. The movement pattern is very simple.
In the kata you perform simple techniques starting
in the cat stance. In Pinan #2 there is additional
movement to the side. In Pinan #4, there is not. In
each case, however, the movements are closer in and
then the defender turns. And just like in other examples,
the attacker just dealt with can be used to block
or interfer with other attackers. The specific techniques
used depend on the situation or the attack involved.
In the scenario above a kick to the groin is shown.
A punch or other technique could be added.
Just as in other examples discussed above, the turning
motion has additional possibilities -- a spin, take
down or throw of the opponent --maybe into the feet
or body of the first person attacked, the man initially
(3) This is the same
pivot found in Pinan #1 (at the end of three steps
forward). In the kata the practitioner had been doing
upper blocks, but here we are only looking at patterns
of movement. At the end of the last step there is
a pivot and turn. In the kata the practitioner turn
to move in another direction, but the turn itself
allows the body to also face the other direction (that
of the attacker).
I: Interfering With And Avoiding An Impending Attack
Part 2 Principles & Tactics
3 Maneuvering For Advantage: Basics
4 Maneuvering For Advantage: Putting it all together
Part 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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