No one can simultaneously fight multiple opponents without getting hit or grabbed and possibly taken out. It only works in the movies. The key to fighting multiple opponents is to fight them one at a time. There are a couple of ways to do that, which I’ll describe below. But first…
Before you can successfully fight multiple opponents you need to be able to effectively fight or defend against a single opponent. You need to have effective techniques, realistic training methods, and a solid strategy. If you’re missing any one of those things, you may get lucky against a single individual, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll succeed against multiple opponents. So the first step is to have solid skills. If you haven’t already read it, read my web page on self defense training. All of that applies equally and even more so in multiple opponent scenarios.
So how do you fight multiple opponents one at a time?
Line Them Up
No matter what technique you attempt first, you need to use footwork that causes the opponent you’re currently dealing with to block the other opponent’s path to you. If you’re facing two opponents this isn’t that hard, however, it becomes harder and harder to maintain as time progresses and/if you get bogged down with one. You need to train this to get accustomed to it. A good drill to start is to face two training partners, tell one of them to try to touch you, and use the other one as a shield. Quickly move to put the “shield” between yourself and the man trying to touch you. You’ll see that this gets tiring very quickly, and becomes harder the more it goes on.
Progress to doing boxing style sparring against two partners, where you train to line them up so you only fight one at a time. Then add kicking, clinch, ground, etc.. Obviously you’ll want to avoid clinch and ground against multiple opponents, but your opponents need to be able to try to grab/clinch you, and you need to be able to defend against those attempts. My grappling defense works very well to stop a clinch/takedown attempt.
Using techniques that incorporate triangular footwork can work very well against multiple opponents, as the footwork allows you to attack and line up the opponents simultaneously. Here is an example of a single stick triangular footwork drill in pictures. You can see it in video on this page. Obviously using a weapon would be a great advantage against multiple opponents (more on that soon), but the same footwork can be used with a variety of techniques. In the pictures below I’m using triangular footwork with an eye strike and a groin slap, both great potential initial techniques to be used in a multiple opponent scenario:
Many techniques that aren’t typically done with triangular footwork can be, or you can strike and then quickly use such footwork to get you to the opponent’s outside.
Another way to line up opponents is to force them into having to line up for you. If you’re standing near a doorway or hallway for example, you can quickly sprint through it and stop, creating a situation where the opponents can only get to you one by one. Training to blast through a “line” of opponents, escaping to a strategic position, can also be a great training exercise.
Quickly Take One of Them Out
If you’re up against two opponents and you can quickly take one of them out, then you’ll effectively be fighting only one. If you’re up against three and you can quickly take one out, then you can line up the other two. This is a great strategy in theory, but unless you have the element of surprise on your side (and hopefully you set things up that way), it’s not easy to take someone out with one shot, particularly if they’re moving, defending, or attacking you at the same time. Of course you should try to eliminate each opponent as quickly as possible, but make sure to still attempt to “line them up” in case your take-out-move fails.
Use a Weapon
Using a weapon that you’ve trained to use well can vastly increase your odds in a multiple opponent scenario. See my weapons page for more on using weapons in self defense. A weapon will allow you to take out your opponent’s quicker, and depending on the weapon you may be able to extend your reach, allowing you to more easily line them up. Projectile weapons (pepper spray, a bright tactical light at night, or a gun) and long range weapons (stick, machete, etc.) are the best choices for multiple opponent scenarios.
When I first started training in traditional martial arts I had what I realize now was a misguided and silly idea, that weapons weren’t for real martial artists. Many people who write me want to be able to use their unarmed martial art in all situations. But that’s just not realistic. There are many situations that would be difficult if not impossible to survive without the use of a weapon. For that reason, I highly recommend learning to use them, and using them whenever you need to. If you’re attacked by multiple opponents, that would certainly qualify.
Don’t Fight Multiple Opponents!
The best option if you’re facing multiple opponents is not to fight them at all. If you can avoid fighting, then you’re guaranteed not to lose. Remember, we’re talking about self defense here, not sports or movies. If you follow the advice on my awareness and prevention page, 99.9% of the time you’ll never have a problem…you’ll be able to stop the fight before it even starts. But if it’s unavoidable, then you need to use the element of surprise, take each man out as quickly as possible, ideally using a weapon, and line the opponent’s up so you can deal with them one at a time.
Questions, comments, or thoughts? Let me know in the comments!