SP Archives: Multiple Attackers/Dissimilar Training

Here’s another example of a question asked by Brian S which brought out some interesting information and discussion, but we don’t have a record of Brian’s input because he deleted his posts.  The question was about dealing with multiple opponents.

Steve wrote: I don’t have any special tactics or techniques and I don’t advocate a particular approach. I’ll do what I need to do at the time. But even if I did, I would be wary of passing on specific advice. What works for me may well not work for you and vice versa, so I want to keep my approach as objective as possible.

The key to fighting is spontaneous adaptability to what you need to do. The better your grounding in the fundamentals of fighting, the better you are able to adapt, and this is particularly applicable when fighting multiples.

I think there’s a certain truth in this: if you can’t fight one guy effectively, how are you going to fight several? For those who rely on pre-emptive strikes, well you’re not going to be able to deal with all of them that way, so at some stage, you’re going to find yourself in the fight, whether it’s one by one or all at once (and naturally, one by one is better).

The thing for a majority of martial artists is that they’ve never been in a situation where they’re on the front line on a regular basis. Security/doormen are one exception. But for the majority, the problem becomes how do you train the average guy who ain’t had that kind of experience?

Here’s one reason why I don’t have favourite moves or tactics, or even particular advice for dealing with multiples. Simply put, no two scenarios, situations, opponents, or even your own responses (what you can remember of them) are going to be the same. And when you have more than one opponent, the mix becomes even more complicated. It’s a very unpredictable situation. So your grounding in the fundamentals is vital to your success. Everything’s going to be happening at a reflex level, and you need to train on that basis.

Now how do you find out what your fundamentals are?

The best way for me has been to look at all types of fights (knife incidents, street fights, gang fights, bar fights) and even in professional fights, to look at those moments that I call the ‘dogfight’ because these are representative of what could happen in a street fight. Look, and try to discover what are the patterns of response that keep recurring. And you also look at the type of attitudes and approaches which were successful.

I’ve referred to this Turkish clip before in another context, but it remains valuable.


Watching the fights will give you a rough guess. What you get out of this process will become the basis of your training, your reference for the drills, the conditional fights, and even exercises that you will initiate. As your experience, observation and analysis of fights increases, then your understanding naturally changes and this will be reflected in the drills and in the things you’re focusing on.

The main thing is, whatever your basis for training is, it has to be tested. And this is true even if you’re on the front line. It has to be tested in a realistic way that is relatively safe. This means, the test has to reflect the intensity, the violence and the chaos of the fight you envisage you may have to fight. Without anybody getting seriously injured.

This reality check doesn’t come by way of sparring (although that helps to develop certain attributes of the fighter) or by creating a choreographed scene where A does this and B does that and C does something else. Instead, you need to create a condition where you’ll concentrate on a moment of the fight or a scenario or situation as if it had been extracted as an impression.

You can take this snapshot impression from a fight you’ve actually experienced or one you’ve seen. And then you re-create the conditions that you saw in the snapshot with your training partner. This is what I mean by conditional fighting.

You work these conditional fights in ‘snapshots’ or very short, intense periods. You don’t want it to dilute into a sparring match. When you watch a fight, the dynamics are always changing. The fight tends to flow, with bursts of intense exchange followed by lulls, and then another burst of activity. So all your training, at whatever level (technical, tactical, psychological, physical) must reflect that ebb and flow.

Let’s say that you’ve got a certain drill you practice as a way of dealing with, say, a knife thrust. OK, let’s see if you can make it work. You can put on your protective gear and use a suitable training knife, and you nominate one guy to take on the role of attacker and the other to defend with that particular method of defence, which might include a counter or might include a knife restraint or disarm. On the command ‘start’ one guy has got ten seconds to kill the other guy with a stab to the abdomen. He keeps doing that again and again for the full duration, going for the kill. And the other guy has got to show that he can make that defensive or counter move work under pressure. They both have missions and ten seconds to fulfill them.

You can do that with single or multiple attackers. The equipment can be adapted to the conditions. And you can do that for any scenario or situation. ANYTHING.

If you train enough in that way, you’ll develop a mindset and responses that are more representative of the mindset and responses that you’ll need in a fight than you would if you simply practiced the drill taken on faith. Or if you engaged in some kind of loose play fight where nothing’s really at stake—that’s too experimental. Or a competitive bout in which the period of time is stretched out too long—that won’t represent the rate of a real fight. You have to concentrate your response into a very short time frame, one which is representative of what’s going to go down on the street. And keep repeating that process in the same way or different ways, depending on whether you succeed or fail.

The success or failure of the move within the context of a live exchange will determine whether you keep it or whether you, at a personal level, have found your own, better way of dealing with that particular attack. Then you move on to another snapshot. And so on. The gym must become an experimental laboratory. It has to, because in the real world you’re not going to get a second chance. Make your mistakes in the gym rather than on the street.

It’s not a fixed process. You can’t systemize it. It’s a creative process. It’s always changing, but not because you want it to change, because the fight and the testing process are continually dictating that you change.

Naturally the replication of a combative scenario in all its dimensions is reliant upon the ability of the participants to be multi-dimensional in their execution of their roles. Whether you are simulating the attack of an experienced knife man, a homicidal maniac, or whatever—it’s no good claiming that you would use a certain particular defence against a vicious attack if the guy doing the attacking hasn’t got a clue, technically, tactically, psychologically, or physically. You’re not being tested.

That’s why I have a multidimensional approach to martial arts. You’re only going to get as good as the guys in your gym upon whom you’re relying to replicate specific attacks, defences or counters. For me that’s what the ‘mixed’ in mixed martial arts means. You’ve got to have a guy capable of throwing a killer right cross in order to get good at defending against it. And this is true for all skills.

So the answer to your question is that you have to have either experienced multiple opponents outside the gym, or you have to accurately simulate that experience inside. I’ve tried to give you a method by which to do the latter. That’s my method, and it’s free of personal bias.

And one more thing: no matter how many opponents you have, your mindset must be predator. You’re not prey; they are. They picked on the wrong guy.

Nick Hughes wrote:

For those who rely on pre-emptive strikes, well you’re not going to be able to deal with all of them that way, so at some stage, you’re going to find yourself in the fight, whether it’s one by one or all at once (and naturally, one by one is better).

Unless your pre-emptive strike is so fooking awesome it’s stops the others in their tracks due to the intimidation factor.  Am I going to count on it? No. Have I seen it work…oh yes…many times. Depends largely on the quality of the opposition.

Here’s one reason why I don’t have favourite moves or tactics, or even particular advice for dealing with multiples. Simply put, no two scenarios, situations, opponents, or even your own responses (what you can remember of them) are going to be the same. And when you have more than one opponent, the mix becomes even more complicated.

True…and yet Top Gun fighter school (the US Air Force’s world renowned dog fight training school) does exactly that i.e. teaches favorite moves, tactics and particular advice for dealing with multiple enemy aircraft in dog fights. The US Air Force has absolutely dominated aerial combat in any conflict they’ve ever been in…might be something in it.

Bob Wright wrote: In a nutshell, expect to get some form of injury and expect at least one of the attackers to have some sort of edged weapon as from what I understand is becoming more prevalent in society.

Just my thoughts

Steve wrote: My reference to not relying on pre-emptive strikes was directed at those who hard sell the pre-emptive strike as if it were the be-all and end-all of fighting. And what they advise to do next (should their pre-emptive strike fail due to some divine intervention) seems like an afterthought and doesn’t seem to be based on the reality of the fight as I know it to be.

My oblique reference was not directed at those such as Mick Coup, Dennis Jones or yourself who, should their set up or pre-mptive attack for any reason fail, could instantly escalate the violence to a level that their advesary/adversaries couldn’t deal with.

Sure, I’ve used pre-emptive strikes, attacks, set-ups and even ambushes successfully when it was opportunistic to do so, but I wouldn’t rely on them even though (in your words) I can kick and punch like a mule. I always train with the idea that any pre-emptive attack I make will fail. I train with the possibility in my mind that my adversary\adversaries may attack me before I attack them. And most important of all, I train with the idea that my adversary/adversaries may well be quite unlike any I have ever fought before, and that given half the chance they will kick the shit out of me, or even worse.

What one guy calls a fight and adds to his publicity chart, another wouldn’t. So I suppose a guy’s real credibility as a pre-emptive knock-out specialist or a fighter rather depends on the quality of the guys he’s knocked out or claims to have knocked out or fought. Me, I’m always trying to raise my game so as to be able to take on fighters of a calibre and type I have never met before.

And how do I go about doing that? Well, funny enough the answer lies in the type of training used by the Top Gun pilots you referred to.

Until you posted your comment about how American Air Force pilots train, I was unaware of their training methods. But after reading your comment I took a look at what they do, and what do you know? Without any previous knowledge of aggressor or dissimilar training, it turns out I have been using this same approach for many years, and now refer to it as the Morris Method. Any body who has closely followed my method from the Seventies to the present day will see many similarities; it’s almost spooky. Thanks for the ref, Nick.

(There were too many links so I’ve put them at the end of this post for your reference)

The expressions ‘know your enemy and know yourself’ and ‘train as you will need to fight and fight as you have trained’ need to be interpreted at a completely new level in aggressor and dissimilar type training. It’s not enough to have some superficial representation of him, or to class your enemies as all of the same type. You have to recognize their differences and be able to think, act and tactically manoeuvre as they do. And most of all you have to be able to replicate them in training within those scenarios and situations they favour, as well as those they don’t.

In this type of training you not only learn to avoid your enemy’s strengths or use them against him and exploit his weaknesses, or to know when he is setting a trap, but you also learn to adapt his game to your own. In the process you become a more all-round or multidimensional fighter who can take on anybody, rather than a one-dimensional fighter who can only take on certain types.

When most martial artists attempt to replicate their enemy, they often do so in the manner that they have been trained and not in the manner their enemy has been trained. So they might be great at fighting the same stylistic types to themselves, but often not great at fighting those who fight and train entirely differently. Of course there are always the exceptions; i.e., those individuals who don’t necessarily possess superior skills or training but whose violent mindsets coupled with natural cunning, persistence and destructive power, can make even the simplest move work, or for that matter make a simple tool work. But they are the exception, not the rule. (By the way, having such an individual as your trainer or aggressor training partner can considerably raise your game.)

The key to aggressor/dissimilar training (or the Morris Method for that matter) is being able to accurately replicate an envisaged enemy\adversary within those scenarios and situations you anticipate engaging him in. Many martial artists have never had a fight in their lives of any consequence and their image of their enemy\aggressor within those scenarios/situations they envisage is often an inaccurate one, and subsequently so is any response they develop. The problem is that in order to replicate a more global enemy and more effectively deal with him, you have to become more multidimensional in your approach to training, something which a lot of martial artists are reluctant to do because of their commitment to their traditions/systems or personal beliefs.

From 1971 to 1981 at 9 Earlham Street I was having to deal with a lot of unwelcome visitors and challenges, particularly from 1974 onwards when I initiated a full-contact anything-goes program. Because of the different mix of fighters I was quickly having to modify my game to a more multidimensional approach. I didn’t discover MMA in 1993, I was doing it in the early 70s. On the basis ‘you train as you will need to fight,’ in the Seventies I had to fight in a completely different way to how I had fought on the street. And that’s still true today, in that as a professional martial artist I don’t know when or who will challenge me, as when an MMA fighter and doorman challenged me in a class two years ago. Tomorrow it could be a guy with a knife.

That’s why I believe your potential enemy \adversary should be perceived and prepared for in a more multidimensional way than is typical in the martial arts. Aggressor/dissimilar type training within a controlled high-intensity environment allows you to experience the reality of combat of what ever dimension you decide is appropriate to you, without you having to worry about getting killed or seriously hurt if you make a mistake. Within such training you get another chance to learn from your mistakes; on the street. you may not.

Whilst the door and street are great places to learn the business of gaining experience of an adversary/adversaries, the experience can be costly in terms of serious injury, and for many people they are unrealistic places to learn how to deal with such an adversary. That’s why aggressor dissimilar type training makes sense, provided of course that you are able to accurately replicate an aggressor within anticipated scenarios situations. That means you have to have guys in your gym who are capable of playing the role of the different stylistic, physical, and psychological types that you anticipate you may have to deal with. This is where the multidimensionality of the training becomes critical. It’s no good learning to deal with an attacker armed with a knife if your training partner can’t replicate a skilled knife fighter as well as a maniac!

With regards to favoured moves and tactics, I have what I term fundamental movement patterns and skills which serve as a foundation for what are often termed key, high-percentage, or favoured moves. In other words, those moves within certain scenarios/situations and against single or multiple adversaries, that you have found to be personally effective, or have tested to be effective within aggressor-type training. Whilst there are proven moves and tactics within certain situations, and such moves can be dynamically and tactically adapted to many new situations, I have found that such moves (for whatever reasons) can not always be adapted to all situations. But by having a good foundation in the fundamentals and being innovative (which I encourage through various forms of fighting) you can adapt the fundamentals to new situations, thus establishing a new move or tactic. My method is also heavily principle-based, both in regards to the fundamentals of movement and their dynamic and tactical application with a specific strategy or game plan in mind. The key is being adaptive and having a principle and skill base by which to make those adaptations, and of course, the replication of an environment in which to determine at a personal level what works and what doesn’t. That’s what I do.

Oh, and one other thing, Nick. Here’s the link that says it all about me:


LINKS about aggressor/dissimilar training: