By Tony Torres and Blauer Tactical Systems Staff
One of the most dangerous scenarios faced by police officers is when they are clearly outnumbered. Officers typically patrol by themselves or with a partner, yet routinely find themselves interviewing, patting down, and detaining groups of four or more subjects. These scenarios usually play out peacefully, and for that reason, become an easy way to develop the potentially bad habits known as Presumed Compliance and Complacency.
If a group of subjects decides to assault the solo (or a team of tandem officers), things can quickly escalate to deadly force, much like in the infamous Lunsford incident.
For years, the LEO defensive tactics and civilian self defense communities have debated whether or not it is feasible for a single person to defeat multiple opponents in an attack. The argument, most of the time, is “academic” — various proponents of differing opinions offering their versions of why or why not a particular method or system is capable of defeating multiple opponents.
However, there have also been some displays from both sides of the debate that are, at best, funny; and at worst, very dangerous to a person actually facing such a serious threat.
On one end we have some trainers that put on demonstrations by having several role-players attack them with or without weapons while they perform self-defense techniques against them; sometimes even with music in the background. Although these demonstrations look impressive, the untrained eye may miss the cooperation of the “opponents” and the choreography. This may lead some to believe that the answer to the “multiple assailant problem” is another multitude of techniques.
On the opposite end of the spectrum we have seen some self-defense proponents of very effective “one-on-one” combat sports, actually gang up and attack a single person at a seminar to prove that there is no hope in training to defend yourself against multiple opponents — because if you are attacked by more than one person you will lose. Again, the untrained eye may fail to see that when two or more well trained athletes gang up on a respectful, curious student at their own seminar — where they control most of the environment and participants, under their rules — it doesn’t prove the ineffectiveness of any tactics against multiple opponents. It only proves that they are bullies.
The saddest part is that the average person who may one day need the skills to survive a multiple-assailant attack is now emotionally and psychologically defeated before the first blow is delivered in a real attack. They have been pre-programmed for failure. Me and my team at Blauer Tactical Systems (BTS) teach the principle of The Three Fights. The first fight that must be won is you vs. you. Allowing trainers to gang up on students to prove a point creates a defeatist mentality and places the trainee at a psychological disadvantage when the real situation arises.
The truth is that multiple attacker scenarios are very survivable. Human beings without any training whatsoever have efficiently dealt with multiple human and animal attackers for millions of years. For the great majority of those years, there were no organized martial arts or systems of self defense in existence.
The Not So Hard Facts
Although facing multiple opponents is certainly not an easy nor desirable task, the truth is there is a lot you can do to prepare for such a scenario. The reality of the multiple assailant situation lies somewhere in the balance of the lone warrior facing a throng of bad guys and leaving them all dead or unconscious on the floor, like Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon” — and the futility of not trying to fight because more than one opponent will overwhelm you.
One of the first reframes needed is that you don’t win an assault by multiple opponents, you survive one. This reframe allows you to expand your tactical choices to include avoidance and escape. Having the freedom to use strategy to prevent the attack in the first place and find opportunities to escape when they present themselves during the assault, immediately makes the problem appear more survivable. While this may seem a civilian ‘choice’ solely, LEOs should also keep this tactical ‘choice’ in their strategic arsenal as well.
Solving a Math Problem
One BTS maxim is: “Don’t let the math beat you.” Let’s take this one step further and use simple math to solve our problem.
We will assume for the purposes of this article that there are only one or two officers at the scene and three or more bad guys. We will also assume that back up is on the way but because of call volume, and other circumstances, it will take more than 10 minutes and the assault will occur early in the interaction.
Before the physical part of this multiple assailant situation starts, geometry is the branch of mathematics that is most helpful. Geometry is the study of the properties and relationships between points, lines, angles, surfaces, and solids.
Upon arriving on the scene, try to position yourself in a place where you can observe every person involved but only one of them can reach you at any given time.
Use non-violent postures (stances that are natural and congruent to the scenario, but keep the arms and hands engaged and provide a mental and physical barrier between you and the bad guy) that limit the closest bad guy’s choices of attack while using choice speech and develop rapport with the subjects. You also want to be able to observe your partner’s actions if there is one present. Ideally, you would position yourself where you can see your partner and he can see you.
If, in spite of your best efforts to use your intuition, choice speech, and other psychological strategies to achieve your mission — the assault commences, you should continue to use zoning and angles to limit the amount of bad guy limbs that can come in contact with you.
Use the environment and footwork to prevent more than one attacker to come in contact with you. Use walls, tables, chairs, and even the attackers themselves as obstacles, shields, or weapons. Remember that a multiple assault against a LEO quickly moves to the realm of deadly force, and one of your options is to quickly escalate to a weapon (intermediate or deadly force).
Weapon selection is important as well. Which weapon will be best for the scenario is a decision the officer must make based on the effectiveness of that weapon vs. multiple assailants. OC, batons, TASERS, and pistols all have pros and cons that must be carefully considered prior to the actual assault. Other options are to find an escape route and tactically withdraw, hold off the attackers until back-up arrives, or a combination of all of the above.
None of these options can be achieved, however, without effective counter-ambush tactics, personal defense skills, and achieving a point of domination.
The following reframes are all closely related and overlap each other, making our problem easier to face. That being, said let’s get the math working for us with the first reframe.
First Reframe: Addition
This starts as a psychological mobilizer. The additional opponents have now provided you with additional targets to hit!
That’s right, by using the BTS principle of Closest Weapon Closest Target (CWCT), the presence of more than one opponent just adds more targets for your tools to collide with. Capitalizing on this reframe will help you implement the next one.
Second Reframe: Subtraction
Once the attack starts, quickly reduce the number of attackers by one — as quickly as possible and as often as necessary —for your success. By using zoning and flanking strategies in conjunction with your tactics, you want to create a series of manageable one-on-one encounters instead of one large gang fight. Don’t be surprised or discouraged if you can’t reduce the number quickly. The next reframe will help you keep moving and stay in the fight.
Third Reframe: Multiplication
Very frequently when attacking, the multiplied amount of limbs are coming at us with multiple agendas and from multiple body-mind systems. This often results in multiple coordination problems (all puns and redundancy fully intended). More often than not, multiple attackers just get in each other’s way allowing for more opportunities to escape or use their own bodies as shields, obstacles or weapons. We can synergistically take advantage of this by applying our next reframe.
Final Reframe: Division
This principle is so important that we re-emphasize it here. By using efficient movement and zoning, we can also divide the group into smaller numbers. You must also try to divide their attention as they attempt to move around their numbers to get into position to strike.
Getting Good at Math
In the S.P.E.A.R. System, we learn basic drills that teach us how to apply this math in realistic scenarios.
Choice speech and other rapport-building strategies are practiced in conjunction with physical tactics.
First we make sure that we understand how to use physiology to our advantage and the principles of Point of Domination (POD) against one opponent.
Next we practice drills that allow us to achieve and maintain a POD quickly and use the same to manipulate an opponent.
Once we can do this effectively we also implement zoning and manipulation in order to use our opponents as obstacles, shields, or weapons. The next stage of training involves reaction time drills in which we face several opponents, but we don’t know which one will attack first. Once the attack is started we implement our strategies to avoid and escape.
We follow the principle of progressive resistance and start with just two opponents, then add one at a time until we have a number of partners that can safely replicate a gang attack. Space available and number of students will play a factor in how far you can expand this aspect of your training.
Finally, we create realistic scenarios with HIGH GEAR protective training equipment where we can apply all of the principles we learned in real time at real speed. We allow ourselves to apply all the different options so survival is the main focus. The stress inoculation inherent to this level of training is priceless, creating a more competent, confident officer.
Although kicking and punching all our adversaries into a bloody heap at our feet is the stuff of our macho fantasies, facing more than one aggressive attacker in the street is a very real possibility. By understanding all of the principles described in this article it is now a very survivable reality.
This article was a joint effort. On point was my lead trainer Tony Torres and he received valuable input from various trainers from our cadre. Thanks Tony.
— Tony Blauer
About Tony Torres
Tony Torres served in the U.S. Navy for nine years, where he served as a Search & Rescue Swimmer and on the Nuclear Weapons Security Team. He was part of Physical Security for Atlantic Fleet Headquarters as well as their DT Instructor. After the Navy, Mr. Torres served as a police officer for 12 years with the Virginia Beach Police Department. From 2002-2003 he was a lead instructor at Blackwater Training Center for the U.S. Navy's Anti-Terrorism Warfare Development Group teaching CQB and force-on-force. Mr. Torres has been involved with the S.P.E.A.R. SYSTEM since 1999 and has used S.P.E.A.R. tactics and research in both the street and in court. He is S.P.E.A.R. SYSTEM certified, a HIGH GEAR Simulation System Instructor and Ballistic Micro-Fight Certified. Mr. Torres now teaches full-time for Blauer Tactical Systems. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.