Fighting Multiple Opponents – Some Training Components

As I have little expertise at fighting multiple opponents when devising training drills for fighting multiple attackers I draw from footage of real life situations. Akin to the Morris Method approach of  ‘watch the fight‘ this can provide some rich information.

In the last post I embedded the clip  of a victim surviving a multiple attacker situation. The clip from Turkey, looks like a road rage argument that escalates into violence. Three blokes attack one in the middle of a busy street and it’s all on cctv. To say that the bloke attacked does well is an understatement, and the clip provides an excellent example of some of the attributes required in a multiple attacker situation where there is plenty of space.

He is a continual flurry of movement, attack and defence. He moves and strikes while going back,  defends and strikes while cutting angles to fight his way out of trouble. He repeatedly knocks down his attackers even managing to knock one out cold! Admittedly, he was a better fighter than the opposition, but was nevertheless outnumbered. He successfully takes the skills he has, probably from boxing, and applies them to fighting multiple opponents. As a boxer he may never have trained specifically to fight multiple attackers but the movement, striking and defence skills he had accumulated were transferred to the street fight.

These skills, while not straightforward, can be covered in regular training and with a little imagination drills that tackle these issues can be expanded upon to become more appropriate to fighting multiple opponents. A number of further movement tactics can be adopted to use against multiple attackers.

Three of these I gleaned from an old internet article, the source of which I lost but have recovered at a different location. The Author, Darren Laur, grouped three tactics together and called them the “principle of S.C.A.R. (Screening, Cracking, And Re-directing)”.

  • Screening – get a human shield! Position yourself so the attackers get in each others way, thereby being obstacles to others reaching you.
  • Cracking – splitting the opponents. When possible move between the attackers, striking as you move. You can ‘bounce’ off them turning as you move into a better position.
  • Redirecting – use the attackers momentum and direction against them by redirecting them into inanimate objects or other attackers

These in conjunction with two skills in addition to those from the clip but common in combat sports, namely clinching and feinting,  can be used within the context of the continual movement required for fighting multiple opponents.

  • Clinching – not a boxing/mma clinch as such, rather using skills from clinch fighting to redirect or screen or set up a cracking movement
  • Feinting – probably more like dropping a shoulder to feint in Association Football rather than feinting to throw a punch can be used to set up or in conjunction with the three tactics above

Clearly, these training components do NOT cover everything required to cover ALL multiple attacker possibilities. These are only useful where there is space to move, it does not cover the skills necessary to get back off the floor, for instance. But if successful continual movement could prevent the fight going to the floor, which is very dangerous when fighting multiple opponents.


Training to fight multiple attackers

Training to fight multiple opponents is an aspect of martial arts that is covered in many styles with varying degrees of validity. A trade off between safety and ‘reality’ or validity is required to train for multiple attackers. Too little validity/reality and the training has minimal transferable value to a real life situation. If safety is completely compromised for the sake of making the training directly transferable the outcome would result in the loss of training partners to injury.

There clearly is a market for ‘keeping it real’ and judging by the price of the equipment it’s making someone a decent wedge! There will always be arguments over the veracity of using protective equipment such as Tony Blauer’s High Gear. Because although full force, or at least near full force strikes can be absorbed the use of any safety equipment skews the training away from ‘reality’ to some degree. Put simply, there has to be some form of trade off.

In contrast, an overly safe approach to multiple attacker training can have close to zero or even negative transfer to the real world scenario. If multiples training were to simply comprise of three man Ippon Kumite, similar to what you can still see at demonstrations it would have negligible real world use. That’s a bit daft but there you go. In fact, that sort of training could be counterproductive as the practitioner might even decide to fight several attackers instead of running due to overconfidence in his/her ability.

I intend to cover the way in which we train for fighting against multiple attackers. We manage this without specifically running a multiples program as such. This means we cover the skills required to fight multiple attackers through a mixture of drills gleaned from internet articles and clips, taking stuff from training with Steve Morris (who has never specifically covered multiples with me) and others and adapting regular training drills but without bringing in a self defence expert and buying expensive protective equipment. There’s a huge amount of information available on multiples training but to get value requires sorting the wheat from the chaff.

My favourite clip of successful defence against multiple attackers is the one of an altercation in the middle of a busy road in Turkey. It’s been around for a few years now and shows an argument leading to one bloke fighting multiple opponents amongst parked cars and traffic. The bloke on his own has clearly trained, probably boxing, and deals with the three attackers pretty comfortably. He’s a flurry of continual movement, striking and defending on the move. It’s an excellent example of how to defend against several opponents.

So information from this and other sources will do a reasonable job in my mind. A series of posts will follow this that address the issue of training to fight multiple opponents without an actual program to train for multiple attackers as such. Does that make sense? Anyway watch this space.

Freeze, Fight, Flight and Martial Arts Training #2

The first post about the stress response described the physiological events triggered when threat or danger is perceived by humans. This post continues with the theme that the response is an essential part of evolutionary survival. We can think of the stress response as being responsible for surviving external threat, while the immune system counters internal threat.

In both cases the objective is to protect the system from threat by rearranging resources as appropriate. While an internal threat may trigger a withdrawal response when not feeling well, the external threat of a predator spied in the distance may evoke a freeze response, as movement is easier to detect in peripheral vision. Whatever, the desired outcome is survival of the system.

Omari Roberts

All charges against Omari Roberts dropped

In terms of self-defence the stress response plays a key role. If attacked it renders us better prepared to respond as intended by evolution, with enhanced strength, speed or power. Undoubtedly, for Omari Roberts, returning home for lunch only to find burglars in his mums house, the stress response kicked in, he fought for his life and managed to survive. He went with nature.

In society there can be a mismatch between the drive for survival and the Law, which only allows the rather ambiguous reasonable force. If Roberts had worried about the consequences of overstepping reasonable force he may not have survived the attack. As it was one of the bad guys died in the struggle and eventually, Roberts was arrested and charged with murder and assault. The case was withdrawn before the trial commenced.

In another recent case Munir Hussein and his brother ended up chasing and beating a burglar who had held the family hostage while ransacking their house. Clearly, evolution does not account for reasonable force, just survival. In anyone’s book the severe beating the brothers gave the burglar was NOT self-defence, nor simply survival for that matter. In this instance going with nature led to prison for Hussein as he went too primitive for societies liking, well the Judiciary ‘s liking anyway.

It seems that the whole thing can fall apart when a situation does not work out quite in line with evolution. If a person finds him/herself in a threatening situation it may not be appropriate to fight in the first instance, there are occasions whereby doing so would land the person in court, see above. Flight, although not always possible, would hopefully result in survival. This option might well achieve survival at the expense of the ego which is a small price to pay.  The consequences of an inappropriate freeze response could be much worse. There’s an almost limitless list of situations that could trigger an suboptimal freeze, fight or flight response, not least faulty appraisal of a dangerous or threatening situation or tactics from an experienced, ruthless attacker to name two.

Ground and Pound

Previous experience of surviving situations that cause the stress response to kick in is to the external survival system what surviving illness is to the internal survival (immune) system. For example, an experienced police officer is more likely to successfully deal with a violent confrontation than a receptionist, while a fireman is likely to deal with a fire disaster better than a librarian. If similar useful life experience has not been gleaned it is essential for a martial artist to build the equivalent into their training. Otherwise years of training could be rendered useless by the incompatibility of evolutions survival system with the foibles of modern society. The consequences of this could be dire.

Freeze, Fight, Flight and Martial Arts Training

This is the first of two posts that describe the wonders of the human response to stress. Many people in martial arts refer to the stress response (or freeze, fight or flight) in a pretty negative manner. ‘Adrenaline dump’ is a term used to highlight a detrimental natural phenomenon that needs to be overcome during a self-defence situation. In fact, the stress response involves a complex integration of the body’s systems involving a powerful mix of neural and hormonal factors, preparing the system for survival.

Originally coined by Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon “fight-or-flight” response, later extended to include freeze, describes the body’s automatic response to perceived threat or danger. A product of evolution this in-built safety mechanism is designed to protect not harm us. For the caveman, threats were best dealt with by freezing, when movement could alert the threat to his presence, by fighting if the odds were in his favour, but if not by fleeing.

For instance, when a caveman’s BBQ bison was on the go and a nearby monolithic bear smelt it, wanted it and came charging into the party uninvited, it’s a fair assumption that running away was the best option. If your survival mechanism wasn’t up to scratch you were bear food. Survival of the fittest ensured the stress response evolved to the marvel that it is. Unfortunately, in today’s society where bear threat is low, social stress and the freeze, fight or flight response are not compatible. Chronic social stress is a killer but acute stress in the form of danger from a potential attacker or impending disaster is not only valid but also highly valuable.

The stress response gives us the strength, power and speed to avoid physical harm to ourselves or significant others when we perceive danger. The sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (the part responsible for subconscious body maintenance) initiates the fight-or-flight response, while the parasympathetic branch returns the body to homeostasis, calming us down and bringing everything back to normal in both emotional and physiological terms.

We perceive threat or danger, real or imagined and the sympathetic nervous system sets off a flood of emotional and physiological activity which enables us to increase power, speed and strength as required. The amygdala ,sounds the alarm’ and the hypothalamus notifies all the other systems in the body via the nervous system, while instructing the endocrine system to begin the secretion of powerful hormones, mainly adrenaline and cortisol. These flood into the bloodstream and activate cells to aid the preparation to freeze, fight or flight.

This internal activity results in many complex changes with the purpose to divert resources from unnecessary functions to systems vital in the process of increasing speed, power and strength. These changes include increased heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, brain activity and blood flow being redirected to the muscles (vascular shunt) while digestion, the immune system and the reproductive system for example are switched off. We are hardwired to resist threat and be able to protect ourselves from danger. This system is poetry in motion, the stress response is a powerful, useful process which kicks in as reliably as flicking a switch once danger is perceived.

Self defence assault, self defence murder or just self defence?

You pop home for a bite to eat and notice the patio window is smashed and there are burglars still ransacking the place. Not a good situation. But in essence this is what faced an apprentice builder, Omari Roberts, just over a year ago in Nottingham. Tragically it ended with one burglar being stabbed in an altercation, the wounds from which were sufficient to lead to his death. The question is was it self defence, assault or murder?

Omari Roberts

Omari Roberts

The other burglar, who also suffered injuries, told lies in his statement which resulted in the builder being charged with GBH and murder, seven months after the incident. Denying the charges the case took a year to go to trial but on the opening day the prosecution dropped the case because new evidence came to light. It seems that the police went to re-interview the accomplice/witness who then told them a completely different story as he was unable to remember the lies he’d told them in the first place.

On the face of it this case has similarities with that of the two Hussein brothers who were jailed for beating a burglar after a raid. The main difference is that the accused in this instance, Omari Roberts, did not chase the burglar down the road. Rather he was attacked in his mothers home and, as his lawyer said

He had no option but to defend himself. Everything happened in a split second. He’d just returned to his mum’s house for a little bit to eat and found himself in a terrible position


Omari was put in a position in which he was fighting for his life. He had no option but to defend himself – he was in a struggle for his life and this could happen to any one of us.

This case has again highlighted the issue of home owner’s right to defend their property and self defence in general. In this instance, in my opinion, the law of using ‘reasonable force’ has been adequate. While Roberts had to go through the hassle of being on restrictive bail and the ordeal of being charged with murder at least, eventually, the charges were dropped and he has been exonerated.

While the CPS do seem to have been overzealous in this instance, the real shame is that a 17 year old boy has lost his life while taking pert in a very stupid crime.That aside, the CPS took the word of the accomplice who was at best a dodgy witness and a well known criminal, it seems strange that they took his word against that of a young man who had enver been in trouble before. To charge him with murder and wounding with intent is a bit rich, seeing as it was after all nothing more than one word against another. I’m no legal expert but I can’t see that there was ever a case.

For me the Law worked, eventually, the problem is with the CPS which seems to have been erroneous in taking the case in the first place. If there needs to be any investigation it needs to involve this decision.

Self-Protection – diffusing the situation

Derren Brown

In his book ‘Tricks of the Mind’ the Illusionist/Magician/Hypnotist Derren Brown recounts a story of when he was accosted by a drunken thug. It’s pretty amusing as he manages to avoid a tricky situation by using a rather abstract distraction technique. Brown confuses the thug and puts him off track by asking “Is your garden wall four foot high?”. Bamboozled the thug ended up sitting down with Brown and telling his life story which, although annoying, was preferable to a beating.

Geoff Thompson recommends something similar as a ‘pre-cursory action trigger to pre-emption’ in his self-protection book, ‘Dead or Alive’. During the very early stages of the ‘attacker’s ritual’ he suggests asking a question to engage the brain, thereby distracting the (potential) attacker from their assault. This allows a window of opportunity for a pre-emptive strike or, if the question involves some kind of recognition (How’s your mum these days?), often results in the (potential) attacker leaving the scene. I’m not sure Thompson suggests anything as random as Brown’s approach but it’s similar in essence.

Using distraction to diffuse a situation does work, I know from personal experience. Probably as long as 12 years ago, I was on a bus with two friends, returning home from a football match. We’d had a couple of beers, to avoid the crowds and were quietly singing a couple of songs when a big thuggish bloke got on and took offence. He was a fan of our local rivals, drunk and had a big scar on the side of his rather ugly face.

From his demeanour and language, it was clear he wasn’t really open to discussion. He was aggressively ‘raring up’ on my mate, surprising, as there were three of us and only him. Ugly thug wasn’t bothered and continued pushing for a fight. This was circumvented and it ended up with him sat next to me talking about his holiday with his mum in the Isle of Man. I can’t remember what I said to him initially but my ’diffusion’ strategy was to get him talking about himself, everyone likes that topic, especially when drunk.

I just followed his prompts, asking how our rivals had fared, their promotion chances and the like. Eventually he moved onto his family and all was well with the world. That is until my mate piped up with a comment, although neutral it was sufficient for the thug to remember he was supposed to be fighting not chatting. It was only a blip and I soon had him discussing his holidays.

He eventually got up to get off the bus a couple of stops before us. He was dawdling, waffling on while a small group of teenager lads were trying to get past him to exit the bus. Amazingly, by the time he had got down the stairs and off the bus, he was fighting with the teenagers! He really had been up for a fight, the distraction was only sufficient to save us the bother of a scrap.

Thugs are thugs, but distraction can work, as the books say!

Assault/defence update

Lord Judge

A recent post concerned the imprisonment of the two Hussein brothers who beat a burglar in response to him being part of a gang that imprisoned Munir Hussain’s family and threatened them with death. Last week Munir was released on appeal, his sentence was reduced to a suspended sentence while his brother’s sentence was dropped to 24 months, meaning he will be released at the end of this year, dependent on good behaviour.

Sense has prevailed, it would seem. In this case there were no grounds for appeal, reports the Guardian, but as the case was heard by the Lord Chief Justice he was able to show clemency by ignoring the sentencing guidelines in section 142 of the 2003 Criminal Justice Act. Lucky fella! In a radio interview some further details of the crime appeared. It seems that the time from when Munir Hussains youngest son escaped and raised the alarm to when the police arrived was a matter of only a few minutes.

The 999 call was logged at something 59 (I missed the exact hour) with the police arriving at 03. Great response from the Police there and they were able to stop the assault on the burglar pretty soon after it started. The interview revealed that the Lord Chief Justice decided that Munir’s involvement in the assault resulted as a reaction to the extreme provocation of the original crime (obviously), rather than simple revenge. From the Times report on the release

Lord Judge, sitting with Mrs Justice Swift and Mr Justice Sweeney, described Munir Hussain’s case as one of “true exceptionality” and announced: “The plain, simple reality is that Munir Hussain was acting under the continuing influence of extreme provocation.

“Involvement in this serious violence can only be understood as a response to the dreadful and terrifying ordeal and the emotional anguish which he had undergone.”

His family had effectively been kidnapped in their own home: “He feared for their lives and the honour of his wife and daughter.”

In the original post I mentioned the potential problem with vigilantism, if Conservative changes to the law were introduced. That is if those using self-defence could do so at a level which is not “grossly disproportionate” to that inflicted on them. These concerns have been echoed by Paul Mendelle, QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association who said

You would have, in effect, sanctioned extrajudicial execution or capital punishment for an offence, burglary, that carries a maximum of 14 years

The “grossly disproportionate” level of force is no less ambiguous than the “reasonable force” level currently in effect. In the same article in the Times Mr Wolkind, QC, the defence barrister for Munir Hussain, is also sceptical

If I manage to tackle a criminal and get him to the ground, I kick him once and that’s reasonable, I kick him twice and that’s understandable, three times, forgivable; four times, debatable; five times, disproportionate; six times, it’s very disproportionate; seven times, extremely disproportionate — in comes the Tory test — eight times, and it’s grossly disproportionate. It is a horrible test. It sounds like state-sponsored revenge. I don’t understand why sentencing should take place in the home. Why can’t it go through the courts? Why can’t the jury, as they always do, decide what is reasonable?

The Law is not perfect, far from it, but it seems to work fairly well. The simple fact is if you beat a burglar to a pulp it’s not self-defence and neither is it reasonable force, except in extreme circumstances. Catching a teenager breaking in and then rendering him brain damaged will likely result in your imprisonment, as would over-responding to a similarly misbehaving teenager throwing a punch at you in the pub.