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Surviving A Multi-Opponent Attack

Part 1: Interfering With And Avoiding An Impending Attack

by Christopher Caile

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles exploring principles, approaches and techniques that can be used when confronted with multiple attackers.

It's your worst nightmare. You find yourself surrounded by intense, tough looking hoods on the street that aren't there to talk. Or, maybe the group is approaching. The scenarios are endless, but the bottom line is that you could get hurt, or even killed.

Most people, even martial artists, are not prepared for this type of situation simply because they never prepare or train for it. And don't think just because you are a good free fighter that against a group you are prepared. You aren't. In fact, the basics of dealing with a group assault are the very opposite of what you learn against a single opponent.

So, can you survive or escape this type of attack? Maybe? That doesn't sound very optimistic, but so much can go wrong. If weapons are involved your trouble has doubled. But with proper training, your odds of survival or not getting seriously hurt are greatly increased.

Of course, several cardinal rules or options have already been breached if you are about to be attacked. Rule one is don't be there. Rule two is run, evade or escape. There is also the option of talking your way out of the situation. But these are subjects of other articles. Here we assume there is no way out. You have a wife, husband, child or other person to protect, or you are trapped in an enclosed space, hallway, or worse, someone has already grabbed you.

If this article or the thought of dealing with multiple attackers is ever going to be more than an abstract concept, you have to practice and drill. The situations are endless -- against three or more people who have surrounded you, who are walking towards you, or when one or more has grabbed you. You can create all kinds of scenarios that can be practiced in class and you will find they can create a lot of fun for students.

When you practice there are a couple of factors to keep in mind. The first is space and the environment. If you are in the open, in a field, parking lot, or a large open room, you can much more easily escape if you are alone, or help someone else to escape with you. But, if the space is enclosed, as in a narrow hallway, building entrance, elevator or other area, running has little potential.

Second is barriers. These include trees, shrubs, walls, even cars if you are outside, and inside they include tables, chairs, bar stools and other furniture, even doors. These can be used in your favor, if they are used as a barrier between yourself and others, but they can also block your movement too. It depends how you deal with them.

A third factor is timing. If you see it coming and have a few seconds before an attack, there is a lot that you can do. But, if it comes as a sudden surprise, things are different.

One of the old karate maxims, often said by Gichin Funakoshi and repeated by many others is, "There is no first strike in Karate." Many take this to mean that in karate, you never take the initiative and that you must wait for the first physical assault before you can defend yourself and strike back. Richard Kim, the well-known writer and author on karate and the martial arts, often points out that this viewpoint is too narrow. In Japan, he notes, many have always held that an attack is actually initiated by intent. If someone has raised his hands to hit you, the fight has already been initiated, even though a punch has not yet been thrown. So, if an attack is imminent and it is clear that you are being attacked, you can respond pro actively for advantage, especially in dangerous group situations. But, here some caution is required. Street sense and experience is necessary. If you suddenly strike out at a leader of potential attackers and he turns out to be a father of a family touring New York City who is only asking for directions...

There are also times when intent to hurt or rob you is clear, but the victim is so afraid of the situation that perception become confused. The person keeps thinking that he has misinterpreted the situation as he builds hope upon hope that he is wrong and that the group isn't going to attack him -- until it becomes too late to take proactive action.

To properly read intent you need some experience, combined with alertness, intuition and the ability to sense body language - things that can be learned on the street or in class when you repeatedly practice group attack situations.

There are psychological tools that you can use to diffuse the situation. If you have a little time you can move, cross the street, or even run. If the attackers are close you can do a loud shout (kiah) or yell, "STOP." This can momentarily freeze action to give you a window of time to react. As an example, I remember many years ago as a student in Peoria, Illinois, I was in a particularly rowdy part of town late one night at an infamous bar known for its many fights and scuffles. I watched as the owner stepped in front of two drunken men pushing and punching a smaller one around. His psychological ploy was masterful. He jumped in between them, turned to the two larger men and said, "Hold it there." Motioning to the smaller man, he asked the two aggressors, "Is he bothering you?" Then he handed him a glass of beer to the smaller of the two attackers saying, "Hold this for a second." The man did and held the glass carefully, so not to spill it. It gave just enough time for the owner and a bouncer to control the two roughs and 'escort' them to the door.

You can also react physically. My own personal favorite is scooping a handful of coins from your pocket and hurling them into someone's face. You can do the same thing with a jacket, books or newspapers you are carrying, or gravel, dirt from the ground, beer nuts, an ashtray, your drinking class, the plate from which you are eating, etc. Furniture can also be tipped over, picked up and used as a shield, or used as a weapon.

Back in 1961 I lived in Tokyo, Japan while studying karate under Kyokushin's Mas Oyama. One night after dinner at his house we began talking on this subject. He rolled up his left sleeve to show be a couple of scars on his arm and demonstrated how to roll your jacket around the arm to defend against blade attacks. He said, "You will get cut, but this will make it less." He also demonstrated how to throw a glass ashtray like a "ninja" throwing star. He advocated using whatever weapons you could from the environment -- things that could also be used as shields - even pocketbooks and briefcases if a weapon is involved. He walked me around his house showing me things that could be used: pens, pencils, chopsticks, keys, coins, pillows -- almost anything.

So, when practicing in the dojo, it is useful also to practice psychological and material interruptions and how to use what natural weapons you have, the space and furniture, etc. to your advantage. If you think it out ahead and practice with these implements, you will be much more prepared to use them if you have to. In Part 2 of this article, while we will not go into detail on the many specific techniques against an opponent that can be used, what will be discussed are the principles of movement and strategy used in encounters with multiple opponents. What the student will find is that many of these are contained in the same kata that are practiced on a daily basis.

Part 2 Principles & Tactics
Part 3 Maneuvering For Advantage: Basics
Part 4 Maneuvering For Advantage: Putting it all together
Part 5:Maneuvering For Advantage: More Scenarios

About the Author:

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of 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 Health Inform.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

self-defense, martial arts, street fighting, karate, multiple attackers, empty hand defense, kiai, Mas Oyama, knife attacks, self-defense strategy, fight, fighting

Read more articles by Christopher Caile

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