Being attacked on the street by multiple assailants is probably most people’s worst nightmare. Indeed, being able to defend yourself is probably the reason why most people take up a martial art in the first place. There are dozens of martial arts in existence all of which all quick to highlight their their self defense credentials. Which ones are the most effective if you’re attacked by multiple assailants?
In summary, the following tactics will help you deal with multiple attackers:
- Remain alert, spot danger before it comes your way;
- Stay away from well known trouble spots;
- Stop looking like an easy target, walk tall;
- Running away should be your go to tactic;
- Grab an improvised weapon if you have to fight;
- Learn Krav Maga and Western Boxing to give yourself a fighting chance of survival.
I’ll talk through my reasoning below.
Traditional Martial Arts
Unfortunately, in the event of a group attack, most traditional martial arts are going to be of limited use.
Karate, for instance, has numerous kata which contain ‘bunkai’. These are techniques which supposedly can be applied in a fighting scenario. Many of these a quite intricate and technical.
If you’re suddenly set upon by a mob in the street, your body will instantly be flooded with adrenaline which will trigger your flight or fight response. To anyone not familiar with this sensation, it will be overwhelming and terrifying.
Such is the effect of adrenaline, the lizard reptilian part of your brain will take over, hijacking your body’s ability to perform fine motor skills, leaving you only with gross motor skills to flee , fight or freeze. You’ll simply be unable to carry out the intricate and highly controlled techniques you’ve learned in the dojo.
Most traditional martial arts focus on 1-2-1 sparring. This is a highly controlled environment: the ‘fight’ is quickly stopped and reset if the opponents clinch, fall over or move out of the designated area. This is just not realistic if you are attacked on the street.
But it’s actually worse than this. If you become competent at sparring within your martial art, it’s likely that if you’re confronted on the street, you might actually be over confident in your ability to defend yourself.
If this is the case, you’ll be in for a rude awakening if you’re ever confronted outside the dojo. There won’t be a referee to step in and stop the fight if it goes to the ground or if ‘illegal moves’ are used by your opponent. .
Why the kicking arts won’t work.
Many traditional martial arts such as Karate, Kung Fu and Taekwondo, focus too much on fancy kicking techniques. The moment you try any kick over knee height, your balance will be seriously compromised.
If you’re fighting a group of individuals, if you throw a high kick against one attacker, it’s likely their associate will move in to either grab you or push you over.
You have to remember that a real street fight is nothing like one of these martial art films we’ve all watched. In these films, the lone hero finds himself surrounded by a hoard of enemies, each of whom waits patients to attack so that the star only has to deal with one or two opponents at the same time. Needless to say such scenes are heavily choreographed and the moves are selected more for their cinematic artistry than their practical application.
In reality, any group attack is likely to involve multiple attackers swarming at you at the same time.
Grappling techniques won’t help you either
I’m a big fan of BJJ but I’m afraid if you’re faced with a group attack, this style will be of limited use.
If you’ve spent years practicing this type of fighting, your natural inclination will be to take any fight to the ground.
Try this in an attack by multiple opponents, and you may be able to take one attacker with you to the ground but you’ll be in serious danger as his fellow attackers then throw a maelstrom of kicks at your body and head.
So what would work against a multi-opponent attack?
Firstly, Be Alert
Group attacks rarely come out of the blue. You need to be consciously aware of your environment at all times. In martial arts, this is referred to ‘Zanshin’
If you’re focused, you will see most attacks before they even start. This might be by noticing a member of a group studying you from afar as you approach them. It could be seeing the same person walking passed you several times checking you out to see whether you might be a suitable target to mug. It may be hearing a drunk becoming progressively louder as he approaches you.
If you pay enough attention to the people around you and their body language you should be able to see where the danger lies.
You should pay close attention to your feelings. You brain and nervous system have evolved over millions of years to sense and avoid danger. On a rational, conscious level you may not be able to articulate your instincts but if you’re sensing danger, you should just get out of there as quickly as you can.
In order to be alert to danger, your senses need to remain clear. If you’re out on the town, you should remain relatively sober so that you can respond and react to danger. In addition, alcohol can give you a false sense of confidence making it more likely that you will engage in conflict.
Similarly, don’t walk around staring at your mobile phone. Doing this means your focus is on your the phone’s screen and not your surroundings. You may be walking into danger and not even realize it.
To avoid the rats, don’t walk in the sewers
You can almost predict where most violent confrontations will happen: in nightclubs and bars where large quantities of alcohol are consumed, dark and dingy alleyways, public parks at night, street corners frequented by groups of young men.
Your local police officer will be able to tell you the particular black spots in your neighbourhood.
If you want to stay safe, you must try to avoid these areas. To do otherwise means walking into the lion’s den.
Jordan Peterson in his book, 12 Rules for Life, makes a very interesting observation. Within most (if not all) animal populations where there is competition for resources, there is a dominance hierarchy.
Think of a wolf pack: the alpha wolf has the first choice of meat of any kill; next the beta wolf takes his pick and so on throughout the entire pack, until the Omega wolf has whatever sinew is left. The position of each wolf in the hierarchy is displayed by the animal’s body language. Within the pack, the Omega wolf’s tail will be between its hind legs and it will try to make itself look as small as possible. In contrast, the Alpha Wolf’s posture will expand to the widest possible extent.
The same is true for humans. The high school bully will strut around, chest out and chin up, whilst the picked on nerd will typically round their shoulders forward, look down and, in short, do everything possible to shrink into the background.
Guess what, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, bullies pick up on this submissive body language.
Avoid being a target and work on your posture. Walk tall.
Run Forest, Run!
Despite taking the above precautions, you still cannot guarantee you will not encounter violence that is directed at you.
The first course of action when faced with any physical attack is to run. Any instinct or compulsion to fight is being driven by your Ego. Don’t let your own vanity be your downfall. The odds are stacked against you and it would be ludicrous to think you could pull off some Bruce Lee magic.
Your priority in training should therefore be to ensure you can run. It’s not learning a particular martial art, it’s to ensure you can run both quickly and for an extended period.
If you’re overweight, you need to lose the extra pounds. You need to start running, building up slowly at first. It sounds harsh, but if you don’t do this then you’re just waiting to be a victim.
When you run from your attackers, you should focus on putting as many turns between you and your pursuers as possible. Never simply run away in a straight line. You need to try and break your opponents line of sight, otherwise they will simply follow you. Putting in twist and turns will help your escape and evasion. You need to turn round every corner you come to in order to try to lose the gang chasing you. You should also try to find crowds of people to merge into as this is likely to put off your attackers as it makes it more likely they will be caught.
Use Your Environment
Sometimes you won’t be able to run. Perhaps you’ve been cornered or you’re with loved ones who cannot run.
In this scenario, you need to look to your immediate environment to find anything that could be used as an improvised weapon. Perhaps it’s a glass bottle lying about, a heavy stick, or a piece of piping; try to quickly find anything that will help even up the odds.
This great clip from Bas Rutten shows how you can use your environment.
If you wear a belt with a heavy buckle, you can quickly pull this off and use it as a whip or to swing the buckle at your adversaries.
If you have a bunch of coins in your pocket, these can be thrown at the eyes of your opponents to try to distract them perhaps just before you attack.
Even a newspaper can be quickly rolled up tight to form a baton.
There are also some items on the market which serve two purposes, one of which is to aid you in a self-defense situation. For example, some so called ‘tactical pens’ are made of strong metal and can used to jab and strike your opponent. They can also be used as ordinary writing implements (which is hopefully how you’ll spend the most of the time using them). These type of pen can spend their time in your pocket waiting to be called upon if needed.
A word of warning, in any self-defense situation you must only use reasonable force to thwart your attackers or you could find yourself in trouble with the police. I’m not here to provide legal advice but you should be aware that there are limits to the steps you’re able to take.
Recommended Fight Styles
At the top of the list, it has to be Krav Maga, provided the training is completed at a reputable school.
This style of combat was developed by Imi Lichtenfeld, who made use of his training in boxing and wrestling to defend the Jewish quarter in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia against attacks by far right wing groups during the late 1930s. After emigrating to Israel in the late 1940s he provided combat lessons to what would become the IDF.
The essence of Krav Maga is to take the simple and practical techniques of other martial arts and make them rapidly teachable. It can therefore be considered to be a hybrid martial art.
Israel is in a region of considerable conflict and the fact that this fighting style is still in existence is testament to its effectiveness.
It emphasizes aggression in any confrontation and typically combines simultaneous defensive and attacking techniques. It also stresses the need to run from your opponents as soon as it’s possible to do so.
I would also recommend, Western Boxing with its emphasis on footwork and mobility. This will help you to ‘line up’ your opponents so that they get in each other way. Naturally, with practice you’ll be able to deliver effective punches making escape more likely.
The only grappling I would recommend learning is how to ‘sprawl’ in order to prevent yourself being taken to the ground. As I’ve said previously, once you’re on the ground, it’s game over. Anything that can help prevent this scenario from happening has to be a good thing.
As I’ve mentioned previously, defending yourself from multiple assailants is not just about learning a martial art. The first skill is avoiding trouble in the first place: you need work on remaining alert, staying away from well known trouble spots and not looking like an easy target. Running from conflict should be your priority and if you’re forced to fight then you need to quickly find some form of improvised weapon. If it reaches this stage, a knowledge of Krav Maga and Western Boxing will give you fighting chance of survival.