Thursday, October 6, 2011

The myth of multiple attackers

I love watching movies where the hero fights off dozens of adversaries at a time.  It's very entertaining.  It's very unrealistic too, of course.  Beware of anyone who says you can fight multiple attackers.

The bottom line is that you can only fight or deal with one attacker at a time. Yes, you can switch back and forth between attackers, but sooner or later you'll be overwhelmed, or succumb to fatigue and be overrun.

So, armed with this knowledge, how do you deal with being surrounded or swarmed but multiple assailants?

The answer lies in the problem.  You can only deal with one attacker at a time, so only deal with one attacker at a time.  Easy right?

Well, it's not easy, but it may not be quite as hard as you think.  The secret lies in keeping your 'one' attacker between you and the rest of the bunch.  The more attackers there are, the harder it is for them to get at you when their 'buddy' is in the way.  You may find that your 'one' attacker is getting shoved out of the way by his (or her) buddies.  Sometimes they may even trip over each other.

If one of the others gets to you, that person becomes your 'one'.  The key is to keep moving, circling around your attacker keeping their body between you and the rest.  The danger lies in someone else getting behind you.  The idea is to strike or attack your 'one' and then keep moving.  Stick and move.

You don't want to be the guy on the ground
Obviously, you should be looking for an opportunity to get away.  Eventually the odds will swing in their favor, but you can use this strategy to buy yourself time and maybe even take the drive and desire out of your attackers.

Luckily, this is a skill you can practice and improve on in the dojo.  Practice keeping the center of an area and start with one attacker.  Then add in a second, and a third and see how long you can last, keeping one between the rest, switching between attackers as needed.  You will move a lot, but envision wherever you are standing as the new center.  Or don't even worry about any center, just keep one attacker between you and the rest, the idea of the center is only a good idea if it helps you visualize what's needed.

A certain amount of space is helpful in utilizing this strategy, but tight quarters can also work in your favor, as long as you have a wall to your back.  The tighter the space, the harder it is for multiple attackers to get at you.  Tight quarters force a one on one dynamic.  It's just harder to escape when you're boxed it.

Gang violence and swarming are sadly becoming more commonplace.  Gone are the days of the one on one 'put up your dukes' style of conflict resolution. Most people who attack as a group are cowards on their own.  Disable or hurt one or two, and the rest may lose their motivation, giving you a chance to get away.

There are a lot of unrealistic videos out there on multiple attackers.  I found the following clip which demonstrates some of the concepts I've been discussion quite well.  It's not in English, but it's real footage.  Enjoy.

I wholeheartedly recommend adding multiple attacker drills into your training.

Train well.


  1. We do similar drills. Another one you may find interesting is a sort of chess. 2+ attackers move simultaneously, but only one "step" or frame in time, then the defender may take a step. So on, until the defender loses. It makes you realize the value of maai so much more. I noticed those with a koryu background (iaido) had an easier time than others.
    Great article Journeyman. I remember that video - the one knocking down his opponents is a quintessential striker - one strike, one down, keep going, adjust distance and move.

  2. Yamabushi,

    I haven't' heard of a drill like that. It's interesting about the Iaido practitioners, but it makes sense. There's another great video out there I saw a couple of years ago, but I can't seem to track it down. Thanks for the feedback and training idea.

  3. Very interesting. The film is intriguing, I've watched it now several times.

    Aren't there any martial art or fight films which show someone successfully using this technique? I'll ask around.

  4. Bbat50,

    If you find any, please let me know. Most films depict a somewhat less realistic version of multiple attackers. I still can't find some other footage that I once viewed. I'll keep looking. Glad you liked it and thanks for commenting.