3 Things You Must Know to Defend Against Multiple Attackers

The other night, some of my students and I ran through a high-stress sparring drill in which the defender had to defend against multiple attackers. There are a number of different tactics a person can use in a multiple attackers situation depending on their body type and how the situation unfolds, but there are two overarching concepts that are common to everyone are as follows: awareness,positional strategy and heart/aggressiveness.

Awareness. You must stay aware of your surroundings by constantly scanning around you to make up for the effects of adrenaline that can cause you to experience tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, etc, when you’re under the stress of an attack. Read Conditioning the Mind to Look Out for Multiple Attackers for more details.

Positional Strategy. The most important tactical aspect of defending against multiple attackers is to position yourself so that only one person can effectively attack you at a time. Basically, you want to avoid being “monkey in the middle.” You want to avoid moving between your two attackers if it can be avoided.

Heart/Aggressiveness. Being on the receiving end of a multiple person attack, you are at a severe disadvantage. You have to make up for it by engaging the attackers aggressively in the hopes of keeping the fight on your terms. By being aggressive, you might also cause your attackers to hesitate, which can give you an opportunity to exploit them in a weak moment. But it’s not just about being aggressive. It’s about having an abundance of heart, a never-give-up attitude that keeps on fighting in the face of insurmountable odds. You want to have the mindset that no matter how many times you get hit, how hard you get hit, or how disadvantaged things may seem, that you WILL keep fighting and use any and every opportunity you get. Anyone out there a Star Trek fan? Captain Kirk has this idea down.

Beyond the two overarching concepts, there are lots of different types of tactics you can use to survive a multiple person attack: throwing/tripping attackers to the ground, pushing them into each other, holding one while kicking another, attacking unexpected targets, using reach advantage strategically, etc. And this list doesn’t even take weapons attacks into account. But no matter what you do have to, if you should try to be aware of your surroudnings and defend yourself with heart and sound positional strategy,

Comments (11)

11 thoughts on “3 Things You Must Know to Defend Against Multiple Attackers

  1. I had to defend against two armed attackers at a Krav Maga seminar a month or so ago. Before this, I thought defending against multiple opponents would be hard, I just hadn’t realised how hard…

    We all took turns doing this, and in one minute, I was stabbed something like 20 times, and hit with a stick 8 times…

    This was in a semi-open drill, where the attackers were only allowed to use their weapons, if they had been allowed to use their hands and feet as well it would have been even worse.

    What you say about aggression is absolutely true, and the fact is that even in a best case scenario, the only thing one can really do is delay a severe amount of bodily harm for long enough to disengage and escape.

  2. Good points. One of the bad things someone can do in a multiple attack situation is let the fight come to them. One must attack first and hard. I have been meaning to write an article about your first point.

    Well put.

  3. Hi Lori,

    Interesting article, as always. However, being the cocky bastard that I am, I do have a few comments. As it happens just sunday we (meaning my sensei and me) went to what we call a federal training. Basically it means the federation we belong to organises a nationwide-monthly training where every member ranking above green belt is invited. teaching-duty is based on a rotational-system meaning the higher-ranking members (at least first dan, preferably higher) take turns teaching their area of expertise. This month we were taught by an instructor in krav-maga (also a second dan in ju-jutsu) and I must say it was quite interesting: I’m already somewhat familiar with krav-maga (mostly through watching instructional videos) and it is a very, very direct, simple (it can be taught in a months, not years like in JJ) and brutally effective system. The instructor focused mostly on weapon-defence (knife, gun, club/stick) which made for very fun training and a welcome break from the complexities of joint-locking.

    At the end of the lesson we were made to spar: we were divided into groups of 7, 3 weapons per Group and 1 guy in the middle. The rule was one attacker at a time, attacks being random and going on continously for 2 minutes each. This has taught me two things: 1) since I got exhausted after the first minute I really do need to work on my endurance (after the exams I’m planning on going swimming and/or running regularly) and 2) I can actually handle myself pretty well (never got hit, managed to subdue my attackers fairly quickly). All the guys in my Group were either black belt or brown and they didn’t go easy on me (neither of us did) so it was a serious test of ability and not mere horse-play. Of course I’m quite aware it’s still not the real thing (they weren’t actually trying to kill me, the weapons were replica’s) but I still think my training paid off.

    One of the other groups was made up of 8 and we had the opportunity of watching the last guy in action. He was a brown belt, middle-aged and obviously hailing from a BJJ-background. It seemed he just couldn’t keep to his feet: at one point he managed to take the knife away, actually threw it away(!) and proceeded to a takedown and a submission. The result: he got strangled from the back with a belt by a second attacker. This experience, aswell as others, has taught me a few things in relation to combat with multiple attackers:

    1.Endurance is extremely important in such matters: if you get exhausted quickly your defences get sloppy, you’ll get slow (both physically and mentally) and you won’t be quick enough on your feet to deal with other attackers.
    2. Kill the first guy as soon as possible: use the absolute maximum amount of force and destroy him quickly and efficiently, preferably in such a manner that his buddies will hear a loud ‘pop’ (a limb breaking) along with his whimpering or will witness alot of blood pouring from his mouth and/or nose. Knocking someone out cold is also an a good option.
    3. If you manage to take a weapon away retain it at all cost (throwing it away just provides the others with an extra means of hurting you) and be prepared to use it. If you ever face multiple attackers with weapons you’re basically fighting for your life and if you aren’t prepared to kill or maim you’ll lose your life. A good advice would be to cock a gun after you manage to take it away from someone, making sure it’s not jammed should you be forced to use it. It might be a good idea to fire into the air: this draws attention from bystanders (who’ll hopefully call the police) and will most likely frighten your opponents.
    4. Never, ever go to the ground if you can avoid it. You’d think this would be obvious but apparantly not to anyone. If you’re willing go to the ground with someone in a multiple-attacker scenario you will lose and the consequences will be dire. For this reason BJJ is not very effective as a means of self-defence, at least not as a primary art.
    5. In most cases it’s better to box or kick against multiple opponents than to attempt a lock, choke or throw. That is unless you break immediately, you can use one attacker as a shield against the others (ude-garami from the back would be a great tool) or you manage to throw one guy into the others. Most grappling-techniques are just too slow to be used effectively in that type of situation and what you want is not control but damage: as much of it as possible in the least amount of time.
    6. It’s quite necessary to have at least some experience with weapons: both for reasons of defence and offense. If you do not know how a knife can be used – from all possible angles, regardless of grip – all you have is hearsay and unrealistic attacks lead to unrealistic defences which usually lead to death or disability. While I presume you’ll never want to use a weapon against another human-being if you can help it in extreme cases you won’t have a choice. At the very least learn how to keep someone off you using a knife or a stick.

    On the way home we discussed the training and we both agreed we should include more sparring in our training (beginning with one-on-one and empty-handed for the lower belts progressing to multiple attackers and weapons later on) and especially more weapon-drills. The only way you’ll be able to succesfully fend off someone with a knife, a stick, a gun or another type of weapon is drill defences constantly. In the Japanese martial-arts it is said to truly master a technique you must practice it at least a thousand times and while it is true I think it’s also an understatement. Most of all practice first-reaction drills: if you cannot react fluidly and appropriately in unexpected situations (instinctively and without thinking) all your training and exercise will be for nought and you’ll lose perspective. We do not train to become killing-machines (at least most of us don’t) but we should at least train for real and with real intent: this is not soccer or ballet after all.

    As you said: be agressive, train hard and smart and develop the heart and mindset of a true warrior…



    PS: I do have one question. Part of your advice was to hold on to one attacker while kicking the other, why do you say this? In my opinion the danger here would be balance: if you attempt to kick one person and at that exact moment the other-one pulls your technique will be nullified and you’ll lose your balance (even risk being thrown or tripped).

  4. Sounds like an interesting training experience, Zara! As for your question about kicking, I can’t describe each and every situation in which it is practical or impractical to do kicks. It very much depends on the situation and not every type of kick is necessarily useful. Obviously, if one person has control of your body and is pushing you around, this would be a bad time to kick. But if you have one person well under control, a quick kick to another oncoming attacker can be a practical way of handling him while you dispatch the other. Again, it’s hard to explain all the details of when this is the case though.

  5. I am aware of the difficulty in describing correct applications and I agree kicking is very useful, especially in one-against-many situations (it gives you longer reach, a quick kick to the kneecap can take someone out of the fight immediately) but I still do not see why you’d want to kick someone when holding someone else. Now if they grab you it’s another matter: if someone grabs you from behind (lets say a bearhug) and another approaches you with the intention of punching you in the face you’ll have no option but to kick forward before attempting a release but in other situations this does seem doubtful. Even in one-on-one fights it’s dangerous to kick someone unless there’s no physical contact between you and him or you control him with both hands. I do not know if this is what you had in mind but if you kick while only holding someone with one hand he’ll just pull you off balance and you’ll be toast. If this is dangerous in a fair fight (one on one) why should it make sense in a multiple-opponent scenario? Obviously this is not meant as cheap criticism or to cast doubts upon your ability (from your posts and videos it’s clear you’re quite knowledgeable and experienced), I’m just curious how this would play out.

    On another note: I reread the post and while your point about determination is correct I do think your phrasing of the matter is a bit vague and meek: while it’s obvious the attitude of continuing the fight no matter what is critical to winning and ultimately surviving it should manifest itself not in a desire to survive or to scare off your attackers but in the surrender of self (which does not exist anyway) and the absolute will to destroy those that want to destroy you. I know modern, semi-polite society is not feudal Japan but we should learn from their attitude: while we do not employ swords in confrontation the violence we experience in our society is no less real than it was in the old days and human psychology did not change in the meantime. Aslong as we still think about our precious self, our survival and ethical concerns in fighting we will experience fear and we’ll never be able to fully utilise our true power and abilities. While I admit I’m not an expert in street-fighting (I would be deeply ashamed if I was) and luckily never had to fight for my life (although I once had a knife pulled on me) I do know heart and courage is at the centre of the MA (without them you’re a mere technician or an artist), along with the lessening of attachment to self. Applied to a multiple attacker-scenario this means laying down your life in front of the attackers and acting without thought but with utmost concentration and agression. I think the words of admiral Halsey are quite applicable here: “hit first, hit hard, hit often”. Violence is the basis of all warfare (along with deception) and we should not forget it is also at the heart of the MA. In my opinion MA consist of nothing but practiced, studied and efficiently employed violence. If you do not accept that or try to sugarcoat it (perhaps transforming it in a so called ‘spiritual art’ or a “combat-sport”) you will lose. Ethics, control and self-development are all nice and admirable in themselves but the reality is oftentimes brutal and if your intention does not match those of your attacker(s) there will be hell to pay.

    Physical preparation and rehearsal of techniques is very necessary (without it there is no art) but without mental preparation they becomes meaningless and mechanical and this is not the true way. In essence you made a very valid point but imo you minced words a bit too much. In the words of Myamoto Musashi: “the art of strategy consists of cutting down the enemy”. As you know Musashi was one of the greatest warriors who ever lived and considering the fact he fought over 60 duels to the death (including many one-against-many scenario’s) it’s quite obvious his methods worked and will still work if properly applied.



  6. Zara, there are always different angles from which a person can approach a topic when writing. I chose one, an emphasis on the practical results of the never-give-up attitude. If I discussed every single mental and physical aspect involved in the use of martial arts for self-defense against multiple attackers, my post would have been book-sized. One topic at a time, my friend. As for choice of wording, my style has always had a police-oriented perspective, so please bear in mind that the idea is not to encourage people to “kill or be killed” but to “use as much force as is necessary as to nullify the situation.” And yes, certain situations, like ones with multiple attacker, one is allowed to use lethal force.

    Now as for the kicking situation, I’ll try to give one single example in which I have used kicks against one person while grabbing another. In this scenario I had managed to pull a larger person down, getting his head lower than my hips. With much of my weight holding his head down, his body was more or less under control, but I hadn’t yet had time to dispatch him before the next person came in around him. As the second attacker tried to move in, I kicked him 3 times, once for each time that he tried because he came in punching and I was able to reach him with my kicks, even though I had my hands tied up with the other guy as he struggled to pull away. It’s hard to describe without seeing what I mean, but all I can tell you is that it can work in some situations (not all of course).

  7. I do not advocate using excessive violence (e.g breaking someone’s nose when he’s being a pain in the ass): I am a fairly decent, reasonable individual and do not endorse a violent mentality or an eye-for-an-eye attitude. My point was simply this: when confronted with violence you do not have time to think things over and you must act and act decisively. To be able to this you must be ruthless in your training and prepare yourself mentally to go all the way if necessary. The reason why trained and seasoned martial-artists are getting their asses handed to them by untrained or semi-trained thugs is a) because these men are streetfighers and they have no qualms with hurting you badly and using excessive force and b) most MA-schools treat training as mere physical exercise, sports or an artform and not reality-based self-defence. MA-training is not a game and trying to rationalise a very irrational subject (fighting) is not a good idea in my opinion. Fighting is dirty, unreasonable, agressive and being a trained individual (physically speaking) will not save you in a serious situation. That is why I say it would be wise to think these things over beforehand, recognising the dangers involved and applying this in your training. When there is less danger involved there is no need to go full out and it would b e better not to cause too much damage (both legally and morally), however in truly serious situations you do not have that luxury and you must adopt a ‘kill or be killed’-attitude. If someone approaches you with a knife in his hands and a clear intention to use it your life is on the line and if you are not willing or prepared to go all the way you’ll be morally superior corpse. Morality, while in itself a beautiful thing and one of the grandest achievements of mankind, has no place in fighting (people who are willing to iniate force are by definition immoral and the defender has the right to do what is necessary to avert physical or mental damage) and it’s still better to be judged by 12 people than to be carried to your grave by 6.

    I fully recognise most so called ‘street-fights’ are fairly harmless and do not warrant serious use of force (in most cases it’s best to just walk away and not give in to foolish threats or silly insults), however I do not train for such trivial instances. I train to be able to defend my safety (including my very life if need be) and that of others when necessary and since I am not a street-brawler and am disgusted by the prospect of picking fights just to test my skill nor to do the same in a sports-enviroment all I can do to develop my skills as highly as I possibly can is to a) train hard and exercise my body to endure fatigue, stress and pain, b) train my mind to ignore fear and accept the possibility of pain and serious injury and c) learn from those that came before me. One of the things I’ve learned from the ancients is that sentiment has no place in fighting, nor theoretical schemes nor high moral principles that only apply before and after the fight. As Clausewitz stated most battle-plans do not survive even first contact with the enemy and the whole idea of winning battles (this is a very broad category, ranging from one-one-combat to two opposing armies consisting of millions of soldiers) is the absolute will to prevail (having heart as you called it) and both the ability and the will to go all out. There will always be factors that limit the practical application and consequences of this principle but it is a fact that if your opponent is willing to go all out and you’re not you’re dead meat. It’s as simple as that really. Streetfighting is not war but in a number of ways it’s quite similar to it. In a real situation the law will not protect you and my comments concerning the maximum use of force were clearly made in a context of multiple attackers, combined with the very real possibility of weapons being involved.

  8. For years I’ve trained in a traditional Japanese martial-art in a very friendly, relaxed club with alot of focus on technical expertise but very little actual reality-based training. Now that I’ve been exposed to different MA (kali for example) and different training methods I clearly see the deficiencies of that particular approach. If you’re a black-belt and you cannot subdue an agressive individual who does not give a crap about tradition, etiquette or honour and who doesn’t want to play by your rules you’re not a true martial-artist (the proof of the pudding is in the eating) and you do not deserve that belt nor the recognition that goes along with it.

    My point is simply this: train for real and train yourself both mentally and physically. That is what I try to teach the lower belts I train with: have fun but do your best to become technically proficient and for god’s sake attack and defend with intention. A front choke is not simply putting your hands around someone’s throat and just standing there like a dummy: it’s grabbing, squeezing and shoving with enough forward momentum to push someone to the ground if they do not drop into an appropriate stance. If your idea of punching is aiming beside my face or whipping out your arm making for a weak punch that I’d even be willing to block with my face training with you is going be useless. If my training-partner does not defend properly or keeps making the same mistakes over and over (not correcting himself) I will tell him exactly that and show him what may very well happen in a real situation. This is not meant to be disrespectful or bullying or me showing off. On the contrary: if I did not do these things it would be disrespectful since it would imply I simply wouldn’t care. You’ll always learn the most from just criticism and better to suffer a bruise to your ego than a concussion or a broken jaw on the street. This is my opinion and my trainer’s and I do think this is a proper attitude towards self-defence and MA-training and I am very grateful to my sensei for sending me down the right path and providing me with continuing assistence and friendship. MA-training should be about having fun and building yourself both physically and mentally but it’s also about practical skills and the ability to apply what you’ve learned for real against resisting opponents and this (in my opinion) gets left out or diminished far too much.

    As to your example: I see your point. However I’d rather not end up in such a situation since it does pose considerable risks and I would certainly not make it a general rule to get tangled up with one opponent in such a situation.

    On another note: since sensei’s going on holiday next week I’m supposed to lead the next training-session. It’s still kyu-training, more or less a review of what you’re supposed to know for the next belt so I’m not expected to teach alot of new material but it’s still quite a responsibility (giri, the burden hardest to bear lol). I am looking forward to it though: it’ll be a great opportunity to learn what teaching is all about and hopefully both the students and sensei will be pleased with my performance. Hopefully they’ll not hate my guts afterwards, lol.



  9. As always I agree with the spirit of your comments, Zara. Getting tangled up in one’s attackers is not ideal, I agree, but if you do get there, it’s a tactic one can use to get out. Hope for the best, train for the worst. You can’t always control your circumstances enough to prevent being overwhelmed by multiple attackers.

    As for taking over class, good luck! (I’d say ‘Break a leg,’ but that wouldn’t bode well for your students 😉 Anyway, it’s a great opportunity for you to learn by teaching. Have a good time with it! 🙂

  10. Hi Lori,

    How are you? It`s been a while since I last checked your blog, this is mainly due to the fact my computer got infested with viruses and consequently my internet-connection went down (as far as I’m concerned people who spread viruses should be put to the wall and shot), aswell as that dreadful obligation called exams. As you`ll remember a few weeks back I was asked by my sensei to take over class from him and that went surprisingly well. To begin with I gave a moderately heavy warm-up (running, push-ups, sit-ups, squats…), a few rounds of forward-breakfalls and 5 1 minute rounds on the punching-bags. These consisted of both punches and open hand techniques, alternating between rounds. I gave them the choice of donning gloves or going at it bare-handed, they all chose bare-hand which resulted in a few bruises but then again it’s a good exercise for hardening the knuckles and what does not kill will only make you stronger. For women it’s probably better to use palmheel-strikes though… The two women in the class actually got blue knuckles but then again their technique needs work (quite a lot actually) and I did gave them the option of putting on gloves. It really is necessary to harden your weapons, otherwise you’ll never be able to use them confidently when the need arises. For the rest of the class I showed them the techniques they’re supposed to know for their yellow belt.

    Too bad correcting them took quite a lot of time so I didn’t manage to finish the whole program but then again I didn’t want to rush through it, skill is something that needs to be nurtured and mistakes once learned are quite difficult to unlearn or correct later on. I am quite proud of them though, they all worked hard and even the beginners performed adequately (taking into account their very limited experience). I think this is due to two factors, one being the skill of sensei (both in teaching and in general ability) and of course their motivation and willingness to learn. Overall the class was a success, I enjoyed it and I do hope they learned a thing or two. Locks especially are quite difficult to learn and explain and while sensei’s skill and knowledge greatly surpasses my own I do think it’s useful to hear two different explanations (his and mine) of the same technique, each individual has their own style of teaching and hearing a different version may increase understanding and knowledge. You were right btw, teaching is fun aswell as a great learning-experience. As far as I can tell the students were happy with the class (at least that’s what they told me but then again they might have been too scared to tell me to my face I stunk lol), this week I’m teaching again. Again just kyu-training but I will try to make it a little more personal and fun for everyone involved.

    I do have a question, what do you think about the organization of the class I described and how do you usually run your classes? Do you plan them in advance or do you decide on the spot what you’ll teach that evening?



  11. what do you think about the organization of the class I described and how do you usually run your classes? Do you plan them in advance or do you decide on the spot what you’ll teach that evening?


    The organization of your class sounded good to me. My lessons follow a similar pattern: warm-up, conditioning, striking, breakfalls, then hold escapes. I usually plan ahead of time just because I have such a variety of levels among my students, but sometimes I just wing it, particularly when it's a small class. Then sometimes, I just throw out the lesson plan and teaching something I feel like working on.

    Glad you enjoyed your teaching experience!

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