How to Deal with Multiple Attackers

How to Deal with Multiple Attackers

By Brandon Clifford - Founder and Chief Instructor of Krav Maga Combatives
multiple attackers
Hollywood version of multiple attackers
Every martial arts system has its own strategies for dealing with multiple attackers. It is a topic that exponents feel that they should cover but it is in reality probably only a small part of their focus in regular training.
The question is, do most students feel that they could successfully handle a multiple attacker situation? If they do then they are probably somewhat delusional but that is a common occurrence in most traditional martial arts.
Hollywood feature films are the source of most peoples' perception of how they perceive a fight against multiple opponents. The good guy may look a bit worse for the wear by the end of the fight, but always survives to fight another day.
This, of course, is complete fantasy and is akin to believing in Hobbits just because Hollywood portrays them in movies.
A more realstic look at a multiple attacker situation
The reality is very different and requires an appreciation of realism.
The truth of the matter is that success in an incident involving multiple attackers has nothing to do with dominating the group or being a John Rambo style character and destroying everyone, in reality it is about escaping to safety while minimizing the damage inflicted upon you, in other words, your primary consideration is survival.
Of course your first response to an aggressive encounter should be firstly an attempt to de-escalate it using communication and conflict management skills. This should be part of everyone's self protection plan and equally should be part of the curriculum in any reputable self defense or combatives school.
When de-escalation fails there are indicators that the aggressor is not prepared to negotiate and is preparing to ramp it up, that is, preparing to attack. This is a separate topic and knowledge of these indicators should be taught.
In this article we will address the worst case scenario where all negotiation and attempts to de-escalate have failed. Please note that this list of recommendations is not exhaustible, there are many micro-components that contribute to combat in any given situation. This article is meant to explore some of what I would consider to be the more important considerations.
Keeping this basic instinctive  principle of survival in mind, here are a few other principles that should be considered.

Gain an understanding of group dynamics

A basic understanding of group dynamics is essential. People can act in a very different manner when part of a group during a fight. In essence there are two types of group:
1. The low functioning group
This is basically a group who fight as individuals. They have not developed a group strategy to intimidate, bully or physically assault others. Quite often some members of the group will be fence sitters, along for the ride so to speak. This group is far less dangerous and fortunately, is the most common type of group dynamic.
2. The high functioning group
Where the group of attackers consists of members that are activated, cohesive, and focused on the fight, they are considered to be high functioning groups. Their only aim is to pressure, dominate and destroy the individual. A well organised group of attackers like this is a life and death affair.

Do not hesitate

Hesitation is a fighters greatest enemy. Essentially this is a result of social programming or conditioning where our primal survival instinct of "fight" (adrenal response - Fight, Flight, Fright) has been suppressed. From the time we are very young we are repetitively told by adults not to fight, that  "fighting is bad" or "fighting never solves anything".
This conditioning in turn suppresses this vital element of our survival instinct. As the saying goes "you use it or lose it".
Hesitating to react to a threat to your personal safety is a recipe for disaster. Statistics show that in an enraged state, the average person can strike on average four times per second.
Therefore the longer the hesitation the higher the damage that will be inflicted.
This hesitation or "freeze" has no survival value. It will get you hurt, simple. However the two other main components of the adrenaline response in humans have tremendous survival value. These are "fight" and "flight".
Knowing that the fight is on or is inevitable gives you options, so do not underestimate the importance of being aware of the indicators or pre-cursors to violence. Then comes the requirement to make a quick evaluation of your options, can I escape or run away? Or if my exit is blocked do I fight my way out?
Your primary option in an encounter with a group who's intentions are to harm you should be to run away. Not heroic maybe, but smart.
Failing that, no clear exit route available to you, hit first and hit hard. Hit as many times and as many people as is necessary to open an exit and then run away to safety. Finding your way to safety in the shortest time possible is without doubt, the smartest option.
Your aim should not be directed to defeating anyone or to proving a point. Your aim is to surprise, ambush and open up an exit path pure and simple.
Remember do not lose your focus, many martial artists spend a lot of time and resources developing strategies for perceived problems. The results are become constructed paradigms that explain to the practitioner an imaginary process that fits into a self defense scenario. Using one or more of these strategies means that you want to damage or gain control of your opponent. This has a very negative effect because these processes take away focus and the practitioners attention becomes split between the strategy trained and randomness of the situation .
It is an imagined reality to assume that the situations or scenarios you have developed strategies for will unfold in a real situation. This becomes even more apparent when facing multiple attackers. The focus of your preparation should therefore be as much mental as physical making your aim to be to react in REAL TIME, not on some pre-constructed scenario you have created in your mind.

Maintain Acceleration

The most effective way of generating force during a fight is by accelerating your body in a continuous manner, this makes you a moving target and your attackers will have to constantly re-adjust in order to effectively strike. This is sometimes referred to as " relative position". The more you force your opponent to re-measure and change their position relative to yours,  the more they hesitate and let attack opportunities pass. This means your goal is to continually force the attacker to adjust and redefine their strategies.
Using acceleration to generate force which will help you to power your way through a group is a valuable aid to surviving such a situation. To have any hope against a serious group, you must have the intention to go straight through the nearest attacker, rather than go around an opponent to find the safest route. You always attack the closest opponent.

Do not grab

In a group attack you must never grab your opponent or be grabbed by them. Once you lock onto your opponent you are stuck. I cannot emphasis this enough, once you get stuck to your attacker by grabbing them or they grabbing you in multiple attack scenario, your chances of survival have diminished dramatically. Maintain your freedom at all times.

Do not spend too much time on individual attackers

There is not enough time to apply your intentions to any one person as you would in a two person fight. The best and most basic advice when facing a group of attackers is to keep moving. Wasting time to control one individual means the rest of the group has more time to grab you and take you down. This will be the price you pay if you spend too much time on one individual.

Ensure you are fit to fight

Many martial arts instructors, in particular those from a traditional background, may argue with this.
Being fit to fight is of immense importance due to the energy expenditure during a violent encounter. This is even more applicable in a multiple attacker situation. Do not be fooled into believing that technique or skill set alone will carry you through a group attack. Having a reasonable to high level of physical fitness will dramatically increase your chances of survival.  

Lets take combat sports as an example. There is a large emphasis on skill and technique to get the win, however every smart fighter knows that they have to be fit to outlast their opponent should their opponent by equally or more skilled that them. In mixed martial arts competition it is common place to see a highly skilled fighter loose a contest due to "gassing out". However in combat sports there is a safety mechanism in place, should one fighter become overpowered by their opponent, the referee will step in to end the fight or the "gassed" fighters corner can throw in the towel to prevent further damage, this is not an option on the street - there is no one to save you should you run out of steam.

About the Author:
Brandon Clifford is the founder and Chief  Instructor at Krav Maga Combatives.
Coming from a traditional martial arts background, Brandon began to train in Krav Maga in 2001 after a particularly violent encounter while working as a door man in Central London.
In 2005 he completed the 150 hour instructors program with the International Krav Maga Federation and began instructing Krav Maga in the greater London area.
Brandon has also trained in BJJ with Roger Gracie academy and in Mixed Martial Arts with London Shootfighters, competing at both amateur and professional levels.
Brandon has a long background in frontline security, having served as a team leader in the Rapid Response Riot Squad in the Prison service, 20 years experience as a doorman and 15 years working as a close protection operative working with many A list celebrities including Jay-Z and Will Smith.
Currently, Brandon resides in Northern Spain and runs a Specialist Security Training company, IST-Academy along with running  intensive Krav Maga boot camps in Spain and monthly seminars in the U.K.

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