Defending Against Multiple Attackers

Students who are preparing to go for their green belt in my dojo are introduced to the concept of defending against multiple attackers. These students have usually been training over a year and have become comfortable with the rigors of sparring in a one-on-one context. But it’s always amazing to me how differently they react when thrown into the ring with two attackers for the first time. It’s an entirely different experience.

A number of new factors enter the picture with the introduction of a second attacker due to the high stress nature of the attack. They are as follows:

Time Distortion.
If a defender has no experience dealing with combat stress, time appears to pass very quickly when under attack. If a defender has experience training under high stress conditions, however, time seems to pass very slowly. Since our students have already been exposed to one-on-one sparring for a number of months, they have some degree of experience with combat stress, but with two attackers the stress is ramped up and it’s like starting from scratch.

Tunnel Vision. When a person is under attack, she will focus on what she perceives as the principal threat. It is a zoom-lens like effect that is created by the mind, NOT the eyes. When the mind goes into tunnel vision, it’s very easy for multiple attackers to triangulate a victim, making it hard for her to defend. By training in high-stress sparring against multiple attackers, students can learn to keep a broad focus so they stay aware of all the threats that surround them.

Auditory Exclusion. When under the stress of an attack, a person’s hearing can become impaired to varying degrees depending on how much experience he has dealing with such conditions. This impairment can prevent him from hearing things that are happening around him, further impeding his ability to deal with multiple attackers.

All three of these factors can affect a person under attack, whether it’s against one attacker or multiple attackers. But when more than one person is attacking, these factors can make the situation particularly dangerous.

When we do high stress sparring against multiple attackers, we use a number of safety measures to protect both the attackers and defenders. The instructor leading the exercise is equipped with a whistle to ensure immediate halt when she sees a potential safety threat. Certain kinds of attacks are prohibited, including biting, eye gouging, attacks to the knees, back of the head and neck, as well as the spine and kidneys. Extra protective equipment is also used, including boxing helmets, 16-oz boxing gloves, mouth guards, shin guards, groin protectors, and chest protectors.

I was pleased with my students’ performance in their first exposure to two-on-one sparring. Each time they were a defender, they learned something different, whether it was employing pushing and pulling to keep one attacker between the other, trips and sweeps to take an attacker down, or simply using various punches, kicks and strikes as tools to incapacitate their attackers.

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