Bring on the Chaos - Confronting Multiple Assailants

The popularity of grappling styles has inadvertently created a mythical fighting premise: one cannot defeat multiple opponents.Many well-known grapplers and even some stand up martial artists have supported this argument with sensible points.After discussing this argument with Phil Messina, the President of Modern Warrior® Defensive Tactics Institute, and an experienced authority on multiple assailant confrontations, I asked him if he would be rebutt anyone who made such a claim. "No," Messina said very seriously, "they're right".

Messina's answer nearly bowled me over. Messina had been fighting multiple assailants as a New York City police officer and developing training methods for such confrontations since the 70's.Phil was highly decorated in both uniform and plainclothes assignments and even after 13 years of retirement, cops still talk about his fighting abilities, especially against multiples.He was often attacked while on the ground pretending to be drunk or sick.Even from this position he had won all the confrontations against the "wolf pack." A former partner of Messina's was asked what it looked like when Phil would fight."Phil would walk into the group of thugs, they would fall and Phil would walk out on the other side of them."

"The first rule for defeating multiple assailants is believing that you can.If you don't believe you can win, then no amount of training is going to help.You will self-fulfill your prophecy.Whoever does not believe they can beat multiple assailants is absolutely correct," Messina explained.

This is not a case of Striking vs. Grappling.For real self-defense you need both in your arsenal.Martial artists who focus their training or their system on one opponent and one opponent only will have to make modifications.

Defining Defeat
Defeat in a survival situation is very different than defeat in the ring, mat, cage or octagon.If three gang members attack a lone individual and that individual is able to hurt one very badly, the second slightly and the third one not at all, but the gang members retreat, then the lone individual has won that confrontation. The goal during a multiple confrontation is not to go for the knockout, pin or submission but to walk away with as little damage as possible. Avoiding a confrontation through awareness, your environment as well as of human behavior is the best way to remain safe.When the only option is to fight, then causing as much damage as possible to as many assailants as necessary to get them to not want to continue their attack is the objective.

This may require injuring many attackers or it may require injuring one.Defeating multiples does not require dominating people-it requires dominating a situation.

"If the Great Fighter Can't Beat Multiples, What Makes You Think You Can?" A favorite argument of the non-believers is to claim that the top sport fighters cannot beat multiples so how can anyone else?Good question.First of all any high caliber "combat athlete" who thinks he cannot win a multiple assailant confrontation feels this way for two reasons: 1) he has never trained for this type of fight and 2) he has always been told it's impossible and he believes it.

To the best of my knowledge no competitors of any NHB tournaments, boxing matches, or other "combat sports" have been shot, stabbed, stomped to the point that requires titanium screws to hold the face together, or had the tip of the nose bitten off.These are the things that occur during real fights.This is not an attempt to trivialize these sports or the athletes, but once any rules are introduced it may be rough, but it is a sport.It's not a life and death fight!The mind-set for survival is different.The martial athlete who claims he cannot beat opponents who outnumber him is thinking in terms of sporting conditions and rules.There is a vast difference between a trophy up for grabs and your life being on the line.Training for a real assault means training for an absolutely no rules fight that may occur with hardly any notice, on poor terrain littered with garbage and broken glass, when you are not feeling well, while you have other things on your mind, when you are facing a weapon and/or while outnumbered.Nothing sporting here!

Grappling Skills
Possessing grappling skills is important for a number of reasons.Being "comfortable" on the ground is the most important since you may end up there. Other reasons include learning how to manipulate opponents at close contact distances, how to escape the mount, and to overcome fear of various chokes and holds. For law enforcement application ground control techniques are good for a resistive suspect when the officers outnumber the suspect. The controlling officers need someone to watch for the suspect's accomplices and/or hidden weapons.

A few years back a police officer was shot and killed while applying a neck restraint (that's police parlance for a Rear Naked Choke) on a suspect he had chased on foot and captured.While in the restraint position the suspect reached into his pocket and pulled out a gun, firing over his shoulder causing the officer to release the grip and fall.Once down, the suspect fired several more shots into the officer's head.

Grappling skills are good to have, but one must realize their limitations in the street.Boxers have good hand technique, Thai kick boxers have good elbowing and kneeing skill and they both have excellent training methods, many of which are applicable to self-defense.However all the training for boxing, kickboxing, wrestling and jujitsu have one thing in common - their focus is on one opponent.

If You Can't Beat One Good Fighter, How Can You Beat Two?
How many people practice fighting with a partner against one opponent? It isn't common at all. Not only do attackers have to consider what their potential victims may do, they have to consider what their partner is going to do. The bad guys could have a general plan but in multiples there are too many variables to plan precisely or far in advance.What martial artists often overlook is the CHAOS FACTOR. The more bodies thrown in the mix the more chaos there will be.

According to Phil Messina, chaos is one of the principles of Multiple Assailant training: "To make happen something that's not supposed to happen (like winning when outnumbered) there has to be disorder.Chaos."

Chaos always affects the larger number more than the smaller number.We create the chaos without becoming a part of it.Unpredictable variables are easier to control by a single person rather than a group. People will look at a successful multiple confrontation and say that the person got lucky.Luck is really just the right thing happening at the right time. The more things you can make happen at the right time the more you increase your "good" luck.Watch five cops trying to handcuff one resistive suspect and you will see a good example of chaos. If you understand that people will try to make order of chaos and that during a multiple assailant confrontation you create the chaos without becoming a part of it, then you will understand the essence of fighting more than one person at a time."

Messina, while a uniformed beat cop was set up by a group of twelve men.Phil was assigned to an area where two cops were viciously assaulted.One cop was killed. A cop familiar with Messina's post described it as "a piece of the precinct loaded with muggers, thieves, extortionists, drug dealers and various thugs- no one wanted to walk there." The twelve men staged a fight when they saw Messina approaching. When Phil got close enough to try to make heads or tails of the skirmish they suddenly turned on him.

Legend has it that Phil battled and defeated all twelve men.In the truth lies the lesson." I actually redirected the first attacker and struck three maybe four guys, tops. About four guys whom I never touched threw themselves on the floor and the remaining men put themselves against the wall. Most, in effort not to look bad in front of each other claimed injuries and some started blaming each other for getting in the way not allowing them to get to me. I called for backup - no emergency - holding twelve! The responding officers saw this one cop with twelve bad guys up against the wall." The legend was born.

Messina used the chaos against the group, made productive use of the first few Timeframes and did not let the numbers overwhelm him. The whole incident was over in seconds and Messina only counter-attacked a third of the group yet that controlled all twelve. Messina was victorious on a psychological level yet it appeared to be on a physical one.Had Phil been consumed by the idea of having to fight twelve men or let the initial attack overcome him you can bet all twelve of those brawlers would have gotten actively involved. The "wolf pack" is only brave when things are going their way in the very beginning.

More is Not Better - Only Better is Better!
Fighting is not math!Messina states, "More is not better; only better is better, and sometimes that doesn't even hold up." Consider this: On May 2,1968, the 5'6" Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez, a Special Forces soldier and the last Medal Of Honor recipient from the Viet Nam era responded to a 12 man Reconnaissance team call for help.Seconds after Benavidez jumped from a helicopter a bullet tore into his leg.Benavidez rescued the wounded making three trips back and forth to the helicopter.

He was shot 5 times (3 in the leg, 2 in the back) while carrying and loading people on board.Benavidez called in air strikes, distributed ammo, water and morphine shots. He shot and killed two enemy soldiers who were trying to assault the helicopter. Benavidez was rifle butted to the back of the head and then the mouth.He was bayoneted to the arm, but killed the North Vietnamese soldier with a knife.350 NVA soldiers with 30 crew-operated machine guns surrounded the Americans.Benavidez received 37 puncture wounds between bullets, shrapnel and a bayonet. On his third trip to the helicopter he was holding his intestines in.MSgt. Roy Benavidez died on November 29, 1998. He was a true hero and he exemplified that being outnumbered does not mean certain defeat. He saved lives, recovered documents, killed enemy soldiers who attacked him, and got out alive.

Making proper use of chaos, positioning and the environment will cause the math not to add up.Messina explains the mind-set for multiple assailant combat: "You don't want the numbers to impress you.Most people, when faced with a violent group, think how can I fight this many people?With proper training your thoughts process changes from there are too many to I'm in a target-rich environment.

Exploring Why "You Can't"
The notion that multiple assailants cannot be defeated is usually based on the following reasons: (1) many instructors are taught this so they pass it on, (2) there is a natural tendency to place limitations on ourselves and on the people we train.You hear statements like, "I know I can handle myself in most confrontations but if the guy has a gun, a knife or friends with him no amount of training is going to help." (3) Training for multiple attackers is out of the realm of certain styles rules, conditioning and/or objectives.

There are other options to actually fighting Awareness- A bad feeling nags at you, trust your instincts and leave the area. Psychology- Through action and/or words convince the potential attackers that they have the wrong person. Running- Just before, or as the assault starts, you make like an Olympic sprinter and get out of Dodge. Avoid "unsafe" places and unsavory characters.

Okay.You are doing or are prepared to do all the above but the bad men bump into you anyway and you are with your wife and children.What are your choices? As an instructor how do you provide a solution for this scenario to a concerned student? What do you tell the members of the Law Enforcement community that you are teaching when they find themselves involved in a multiple confrontation?The answers to "high risk" scenarios are never easy, but they are only impossible to the limited mind.There are people, trained and untrained, that win "impossible" confrontations every day.

"Once you tell yourself, I can handle a one assailant attack, but I don't know about two or three assailants the outcome is already decided.You have done most of the work for the bad guys," Messina explains.

Webster's New World Dictionary defines defiance as, (1) the act of defying; open, bold resistance to opposition, (2) a challenge.

Defiance is an important tenet to confronting multiple assailants or accepting any challenge that you are "not supposed" to win.When the odds are against your defiance is the ingredient that carries you through.When a sociopath proclaims you are about to meet your maker defiance is the attitude that says, "Not today!" Defiance is looking at a grim situation as a challenge.

Phil Messina's principles of multiple assailant combat came about through his defiance."As a martial arts student and a Golden Gloves boxer I never accepted the premise that I had to lose because I was outnumbered.I just didn't know how to go about defeating more than one assailant in the early stages of my training, yet I didn't accept the fact that I was supposed to be defeated." It took actually being attacked by a gang for Messina to start to formulate his system. When Messina was nineteen years old he physically stopped a man from molesting a girl. Messina was threatened by friends of the molester and shortly thereafter was attacked by them, nineteen of them.

Placing his back against a tree, Messina fought for his life.What seemed like an eternity but was actually minutes later Messina was taken to the hospital along with six gang members. Messina fought diligently enough to cause some of the attackers to go to the hospital, but Phil came out on the worst end of it.Phil spent weeks in the hospital with a total of 21 broken bones. While he healed he analyzed the fight over and over.Phil began thinking of ways to adjust, modify, and strategize his training with his new "experience".Messina's system of battling more than one person at a time was born.Messina went on to say, "Before the fight and during the fight I never accepted the notion that I was supposed to lose.I did lose, but it wasn't because I thought I couldn't win."As a cop, Phil had numerous confrontations against single and multiple assailants including armed ones.While he did receive serious wounds Phil never lost a confrontation again.Defiance is the "I can" that overcomes the "I can't" when faced with a bad situation.

The Psychology of the Wolfpack
Multiple assailants have to be fought on a psychological level.Generally not everyone in the wolf pack will be of equal stature.There will be a leader, people who are capable of leading and the followers.If everyone in the wolf pack were courageous there probably would not be a wolf pack.Understanding this is important.One psychological strategy is to take the leader out of the fight (if he can be identified) quickly and dramatically.This will have a negative effect on the entire group.

"Thrusting your fingers into the eye of an assailant will usually cause that person to bring his hands to his face and yell, "my eye" It caused the assailant to reveal their injury whenever I struck them in the eyes.When the rest of the group sees and hears this they can't help but think, 'I don't want that to happen to me.When the wolf pack sees their leader being unable to protect himself it's often enough to take their 'heart' away." If there is no time or no telling who the leader is, then the strategy is to take the leadership from the leader by showing the group he is unable to protect them."You have to inflict damage to as many members of the group as possible within the first four Timeframes to show the group that the 'strong link' cannot help them.Usually if the group doesn't have you under control within the first few frames of time they will break down.The wolf pack will begin to retreat.They are looking for the easy prey not someone who is willing to and has the ability to hurt them," says Messina.

Two students trained by Messina were targeted for a robbery on two different occasions.Both incidents had similar endings.The students were bruised, most of the robbers were injured and both men kept their wallets as well as their lives.

Multiple Specific Training
The problem with most practitioners of"standup" styles is the belief that the same techniques and strategy of single assailant self-defense can be applied to multiples.The problem with most "grapplers" is their styles are designed for the single opponent match only.

Training specifically for multiples includes the same "weapons of the body" training as a one on one.This training is done on a variety of impact shields, heavy bags and training partners.Beyond this the training for multiples varies from slightly different compared to single attacker training to extremely different.Blocking, striking, kicking, stand up grappling, ground fighting, gun defense, and edged weapon defense are performed with multiple assailant modifications and options.From day one of training students are ingrained with the idea that every confrontation is a potential multiple assailant attack.Combat Sensory Conditioning is introduced early on.

During the high stress of an actual life and death fight people experience certain physiological phenomenon, which include Tunnel vision, Auditory Exclusion (reduced hearing) and Tachypsychia (distortion of time during an event).There are specific drills to reduce the negative effects of this combat stress.They are a must for learning to deal with more than one attacker.

Training a person's natural "startle" or flinch response into a "combat mode" response starts on day one.After a little training, a sudden loud noise, lights going out or sudden limb motion (strike, kick or grab attempt) will make a trainee's startle response productive as well as protective.

Heavy bag drills are done with up to eleven bags of varying size and weight.The emphasis is on physical conditioning as well as moving smoothly yet erratically while "taking in the whole room" as opposed to focusing on one bag at a time.Ideally you want to strike or kick the bags but not look directly at them and not have a swinging bag hit you.

Training also includes Physio-kinetics (the science of influencing a person's power, mobility and balance), Time framing (maximizing each segment of time positively for you and negatively for the assailants); Impact Relaxation (reducing the effects of impact from strikes, kicks, and takedowns when you don't see what's coming), and Confrontational Simulations against Multiple Attackers.(Simulations are done at full speed and power while using protective gear).Simulations include ground fighting against more than one attacker.

What if I'm Not Sure I'm in a Multiple?
A common question is what if during a single assailant attack you catch a glimpse of other people moving toward you or just standing there?

"Every confrontation should be considered a multiple.If one person commits an attack assume that his co-defendants didn't arrive yet or are waiting for the right moment to jump in.If the people standing in close proximity when the assault started are not leaving the area, then consider them to be in the fight," advises Messina.

On one occasion three thugs set upon Messina.During the assault on Phil a fourth attacker emerged from the crowd swinging a short machete from the overhead position.

"I caught the machete coming down through my peripheral vision and just had time to get my head but not my body out of its path.The blade sliced into the top of my left shoulder/collar bone area and stuck there.I lifted my shoulder to help keep the blade lodged between my shoulder and jaw, concerned that it's owner would try to rip it out of me and swing it again.I realized I had to perform something that would stop him immediately and I had to do it with one hand only."Messina did just that and ended the confrontation."I found out when calm returned that Mr. Machete wasn't with the original three attackers.In fact it turned out they had never seen him before.He was just some disturbed individual who saw the commotion and decided to get involved," Messina explained.

The Most Dangerous Multiple
Two attackers can possibly be the most dangerous group.

"There is less of the chaos factor working for you and it's dangerous because the attackers can stay at either side of you forcing you to look and fight from one side to the other.Psychologically more than two is worse if you let the numbers impress you," says Messina.

The defender should keep the strategy "goal oriented;" that is think about what you want your opponent's body to do, how you want it to move, and where you want it to go, rather than thinking about what you want your body to do.Use physiokinetics to create negative time frames while you counter-attack the assailant's vision, wind and limbs (the assailant's ability to breathe, see, strike, grab, kick and move).

Messina explains the details of the toughest two on one he has ever experienced. While on loan to the Manhattan District Attorney's Squad I was assisting on a case involving Asian Organized Crime. Two of the more feared gang members had, as I later learned, planned to assault me. These guys were both street fighters and martial artists.Part of their crimes included extortion.One way these individuals coerced restaurant owners in Chinatown to pay protection money was to shoot innocent customers in the leg while they were eating. So besides being sociopathic, experienced fighters they had the opportunity to work out a strategy to deal with me. That strategy was to constantly stay opposite of each other during the attack.It was very effective.In the end it came down to who made the more telling errors and who had the better exchange of strikes during "trade-offs".I was left standing, though badly injured. The gang members were seriously injured and unable to stand."

Performance during a life and death encounter will be determined by one's beliefs, conditioning, experience and training.The situation you do not train for may be out of the realm of what you can handle.The situation you do not believe you can win definitely cannot be won.

Students of self-defense should explore the martial science of Confronting Multiple Assailants regardless of what the "experts" claim is possible or impossible.After all, the "experts" probably will not be there with you if the wolf pack crosses your path.

About the Authors
George Demetriou is a Detective with the NYPD and the Police Training Supervisor for Modern Warrior Defensive Tactics Institute in Lindenhurst, NY. Lisa Demetriou is a Police Officer with the NYPD and a student at Modern Warrior.George and Lisa have 3 children, the oldest of which had a gun put to his head while his grandmother was being robbed several years ago! George and Lisa presented Child Protection Options at the 1999 American Women's Self-Defense Association (AWSDA) seminar.Modern Warrior specializes in real world self-defense. AWSDA's motto is "You have an absolute right to defend yourself". George and Lisa welcome your comments or questions. They can be reached at Modern Warrior. 631-226-838 or by email:

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