I would like to know which (if any at all) contemporary system base their tactics in deciding who to attack first in order to create a escaping route.


Cornered in a place where 4 aggressors are clearly escalating their intentions of attacking me. From my left to my right, the first one is the smallest and quietest of all, but it is always looking around for people passing by (call him Aggressor1 - Quiet [A1Q]); the second, to A1’s left is the leader, not too built/strong, but definitely the loudest and the one that seems to control who does what, call him A2L (L for Leader). The third one, to the left of A2L is the strongest and the one nearest my face. He smells of alcohol, though, so you can tell he is a bit drunk, which can be both an advantage and a disadvantage for me, call him A3S, ‘S’ for ‘Stronger’. The fourth one is the most ordinary of all, but is keeping his hand hidden under the front of his loose jumper: this is common where I am from, where lots of people have guns, but keep it hidden until the last moment. I would assume he has a gun or at least a knife (if you were in my country, you would definitely assume that) so I call him A4G, ‘G’ for ‘Gun’.

At that moment, I know that I am screwed. The more one complies, the more one is made a victim of. So my way is always attacking first, no matter what, as the attack on me is imminent and if I comply I will certainly suffer even more.


Is there any contemporary system that studies this type of different case scenarios? What is the process for choosing your first, and perhaps second target in order to open a gap to escape.

NOTE: I am not suggesting staying there fighting against them all. That would be stupid. What I am picturing is a sudden deceiving attack against one, potentially two, just so that they, shocked by the surprise, would allow me to run away.

  • I am unhappy with your statement of attacking first. This might put you on the wrong side of the law. This post might even constitute evidence that you intended to be corned to fight thus diminishing any self defence argument in court. I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV so I would strongly advise you seek local legal advise. Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 10:41
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    If this situation is common where you live, consider moving somewhere else?... ^_~ Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 10:42
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    I did. I left my country some time ago <^_^>. Regarding the law aspect, there is a good book, Geoff Thompson - Dead or Alive: The Choice is Yours. He addresses the preemptive defense. Often in the eyes of the law (for this kind of situation), you get done not so much by what you do, but by what you say. If you can present irrefutable argument that you preemptively acted first because you were really scared for you life you will get away with it (in UK at least where I am now). Intending to get yourself cornered is a ludicrous idea that could not be argued against you.
    – Lex
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 11:39
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    From a legal standpoint, you're always in a gray area with self-defense. Self-defense is an affirmative defense; you're acknowledging that you committed the act for which you're charged, but stating that exigent circumstances made the action necessary. First strike does not necessarily negate self-defense; it does make it harder to prove. Being surrounded, however, gives you a good defense.
    – stslavik
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 16:52
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    Let's keep legal discussions off the site; they are very localized. @Sardathrion's caution is legitimate - when considering an attack, ponder the legal implications IN YOUR LOCALITY. Anything beyond that is not martial arts, it is legal advice.
    – MCW
    Commented May 2, 2013 at 12:23

11 Answers 11


If your goal is to make a run for it, and not to fight the multiple aggressors, karate, at least the style I practice, teaches you to strike at the strongest of the opponents that you feel are capable of downing/incapacitating in one strike (or at least doing so very fast).

If they are four against you, they probably believe they won't get hurt so much (compared to you, anyways) and will most likely underestimate you. Use this opportunity to strike at one, opening a path for your escape. By choosing a target that is on the stronger side (but still feel confident about disabling quickly), you might gain a psychological advantage that will make them hesitate for an instant, which you can use to put some distance between you and them.


People have suggested to go for the closest attacker if one of them is more aggressive. This is indeed the correct choice. My answer assumes that you are cornered or surrounded but still have a fraction of a second to actually chose a target.

That being said, I now realize I should have said "strike the one presenting the biggest threat that you feel are capable of downing/incapacitating in one strike". In the context of formal karate training, "strength" is a decent approximation of threat, since we assume unarmed attackers. But in the context provided by your question, things might be different.

Formal systems, even contemporary ones, can only prepare you to such scenarios up to a certain extent. You must decide for yourself wether you wish to fight or flee, and this objective will determine your next move. If you wish to flee, attack the opponent you feel will give you the best (safest?) opportunity to do so, favoring either psychological advantage or advantageous positionning. If you wish to fight, you definitely want to disable the biggest threats first, in the safest possible order. They are many, you are one, and you will tire faster than them for sure, this is why you need to be swift and efficient.

In the situation you describe, I would personally go for the closest one first, then try to disarm/disable the armed one if I feel like it is safe for me to do so. If not, I would try to use the first one I disabled (or a new one if they try to jump me before the armed one can react) as a hostage.

If there is a crowded area nearby, though, the one you describe as the silent one will probably serve as the lookout for the other thugs. This means is attention is not 100% directed on you. I'd use this to my advantage by blindsiding him and joining the crowd as fast as I can, as most thugs wouldn't fire blindly into a crowded area.

The general idea, though, is to eliminate threats in the order you feel is the safest in accomplishing your objective. But, truthfully, I have never been put into a situation such as this, and hope to never have to make these kinds of decisions.

  • So Karate does address this issue? What style of Karate is it that you train? +1 for a strong argument. Still, the question I posted on the comment below remains: "What if I attack the strong guy (A3S) because he is in a favorable position, but then the A4G pulls a gun or a knife? Would it be better to have neutralized him first?"
    – Lex
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 12:40
  • I practice Shorinji-ryu Karatedo, a close cousin of Shotokan. Some of our katas include very explosive beginings, which we interpret the same way (i.e. go for the biggest threat you can manage quickly first). But I must say we do not practice against gun-wielding opponents, which can probably show in my answer.
    – Dungarth
    Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 6:45
  • I can't find a single hole in your arguments above. So I am 'forced' to agree with all your points, especially the "strike the one presenting the biggest threat that you feel are capable of downing/incapacitating in one strike" part, which is why I am choosing your answer as the preferred one. Thank you. I guess the whole is about, as usual, psychological preparation and conscious decision on whether to fight or comply.
    – Lex
    Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 13:14
  • @Lex Thanks for the vote! In the other answers, I really liked the case made for positioning myself, and I must say that positioning- and opponent-based defense are not mutually exclusive, as in you can use positioning to gain an advantage on key opponents, maximizing your opportunities to flee/fight. Basically, use whatever means you deem necessay to achieve a safe conclusion to the encounter. In the end, it's all that matters.
    – Dungarth
    Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 3:44
  • Wait...most situations like this does not happen beside a crowd, so should you attack A4G first, given that he is likely to shoot you when you escape? A fast kick would do if he is a bit far from you, and his gun serves as a ticket back to the crowd. Does that make sense (I'm only theorizing, so do tell me if I'm wrong ^__^)?
    – user11733
    Commented Feb 19, 2022 at 11:02

Interesting. There are a lot of assumptions here. Let's cover the assumptions that you're making about the attackers first:

A1Q - You seem to be indicating he's the lookout, as well as a fill in. His position would indicate that, if you're cornered, he's also closest to a wall.

A2L - Being loud, barking orders, etc. is not indicative of a leader necessarily. If they seem to be taking direction from him, this may be different.

A3S - Drunk, belligerent, and strong are a bad combination. Alcohol slows reaction times, but also makes the body looser, and more likely to withstand an impact.

A4G - Your description makes him a wild card. The others, we're assuming, clearly are unarmed. The potential for him to be armed (demonstrated by the absence of proof to the contrary) makes him a priority.

We'll assume, since you give us no detail of the location, that we're in a controlled scenario – that is, we'll consider the location to be no different than a white room with logical exits at two equal extreme distances at the furthest point from the current location, and whether you move left or right, you are equally likely to escape. Further, we will assume they are at an equal radius. We can make use of this "room" in that we know there are at least two walls, along a 45° angle from you to your left and right (this is the definition of "cornered").

I will assume my own training to propose an approach; there is no one complete art that is necessarily more capable of extracting you from this situation than any other, but training makes it so. Good instruction and good practice are necessary.

Since we assume our target A4G is armed, his effective distance (that is, the distance at which his capability of inflicting trauma) is greater. If he has a knife, it is between 1 and 10 inches greater than the next greatest threat. If he has a firearm, his effective range prohibits your safe escape. Fortunately, your scenario also puts him at the wall, a position that increases his utility as an effective target.

Now, having a target in mind, and based upon seeing his hand in his jacket (per your description), and given the likelihood that he is a right hand (per the 90% of humans who are right-hand dominant), I would choose him as primary, moving between he and A3S, attacking A3S's knee as I moved in to buy time. This would put me in position to control A4G's right arm, and use the wall as an additional point of control, and hopefully striking at A3S's knee will possibly damage the kneecap, or at least take him down while I control A4G. This, at the same time, will allow me to stack A4G in the struggle, putting he and A3S between me and A1Q and A2L. Before escaping, removing the weapon will increase the probability of survival.

All of this said, consider something far more important – any training can provide you with tools to get out of this situation; it's a much higher quality of instruction that prevents you from getting into these situations in the first place. This is that highest level of training that puts you in a position to avoid confrontation, and not simply extract yourself from it.

Edit: In re-reading some of my old answers, I came across this one, which I feel may be relevant to the issue at hand, and I feel these two answers complement each other nicely. Here you're talking about choosing a target, which is a vital component to escaping from a dangerous situation. There are also some issues covered regarding being responsible for loved ones, etc.

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    Welcome back :)
    – slugster
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 21:59
  • @stslavik. Flawless. Thanks so much. +1
    – Lex
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 9:29
  • Never really left; just been inactive until the site adopted a more hopeful tone.
    – stslavik
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 16:50

I'd rather not pick the opponent based on their characteristics but on position.

Try to move yourself in a position where you only face 1 opponent and keep that one between you and the other ones. And provide yourself an opening whenever their position moves.

This will cause you to change the opponent your faces whenever you're required to.

The benefits of this system is that you will not be in a situation where you attack an opponent and immediatly you will be attacked by all others.

Key is positioning and not choosing the right opponent.

As soon as you find an opening to run away, just run. Even if you didn't have to attack any of them.

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    I think I can see where you are coming from with the 'position' argument. I have always thought the same. However the reason why I asked this question now is because someone made me think that sometimes position alone is not enough to assess your preemptive attack, as in the above case scenario. What if I attack the strong guy because he is in a favorable position, but then the A4G pulls a gun or a knife? Would it be better to have neutralized him first? Or what if you hit the leader and the other back-off? Surely there must be a triage process.
    – Lex
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 12:36
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    The only thing you can control yourself is the advantage of your position. All other factors are basically unknown. You won't know who has a knife or gun, or who is actually capable of fighting or has the guts. Keeping your position give you are way of controlling your environment.
    – JMan
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 13:06
  • Good point. I see it now. Though, I think I got your point so much that it made me think that in actuality, not even our position is something that we have absolute control of; but you are right.
    – Lex
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 13:26
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    Absolute control never exists in real life danger situations :) We can at best try to gain an advantage.
    – JMan
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 14:33
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    Position-based defense is what we teach as well - the advantage of it is that if you are able to dictate position (which is a bit easier against aggressors who want to press forward), you can essentially use the attackers themselves as shields (which tends to create confusion and frustration for the attackers). Easier said than done (which is why we practice it and actually test it as part of senior-level belt testings), but immensely useful in giving yourself a chance to escape.
    – rjstreet
    Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 13:14

In Choy Li Fut when faced with multiple opponents we are taught to take out the biggest threat first. There are a number of factors that we can use to determine who this might be:

  1. Do they have weapons? Weapon > No Weapon
  2. What type of weapon? Gun > Knife
  3. Have they had martial arts training? Training > No Training (probably hard to know)
  4. How big are they? Bigger > Smaller (usually)
  5. Proximity? Close > Farther away
  6. Are they impaired in some way? Sober > Drunk/Drugged (usually)

and so on...

In the cases where it is not possible to determine who the biggest threat is (i.e. same size, same distance) then we pick one and move towards them hence making them the biggest threat.

These are obviously just a guide but in most situations proximity, size and the presence of weapons are probably going to make it clear very quickly who the biggest threat is.

I'll also add that it is my understanding (and we teach this at my school) that once there is more than one opponent involved you are justified in using lethal force to protect yourself.

  • +1 too. Very close to what we are looking for. I think this systematic approach is ideal for analyzing the situation around. It is by rehearsing it (even if mentally only) that we start getting used to the idea of are thus better prepared to face this situation with a bit more awareness. Spot on. Thanks for that @AdamJones.
    – Lex
    Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 13:32

Somewhere in my attic I have course notes from a CQB course run by an SAS instructor for bodyguards. As I recall his advice was hit fast, hit hard, accept you'll be hit. You need to hit one hard enough that he's stopped for enough time for you to hit or incapacitate the next guy. As I recall there were one or two 3-1 scenarios but not 4-1. If you think about it the probabilities of you being able to land enough effective-enough blows on enough guys diminishes rapidly as the number of attackers increases.
You'll want a martial art that includes rough sparring where you get used to getting hit. My money would be on boxing or something similar. BTW I wasn't on the course. A friend who worked close protection.

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    +1 for the "hit fast, hit hard, accept you'll be hit". Though I disagree that boxing as it is taught at the gyms would ideal. I think it would have to be a different school with this sort of situation as their focus, with special attention at the psychology of accepting 'you'll be hit', while giving good instruction on what happens inside of us at a physiological level. By that I mean, getting people to understand the difference between Fear and Adrenaline and how we feel them in our bodies and how to use this to our advantage (being more resistant to pain, etc.) Thank you.
    – Lex
    Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 13:30
  • Fair comment - I was primarily thinking of learning to take a punch and move fast.
    – Wudang
    Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 17:09

here are few tips which could be useful:

  • try to use your peripheral vision (this takes some time to master, but it will give you a lot, trust me); try some sticky hands drills - they do develop an ability to fight without looking
  • if this this a street fight - use those dirty techniques (if you just punch a guy in the nose he might fight back; if you poke his eye, his fight is over and you can run away)
  • try to mix fighting with grappling; spare against an opponent whose goal would be to grapple and hold you and your goal is NOT to grapple at all but fight
  • Thank you @Steve V. But this does not really address the question. The point I am trying to learn is which of those agreessors would you attack first, and why; not so much on how to attack them.
    – Lex
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 19:10
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    @Lex - imho, the right answer would be "it depends" - on situation, on your training and style, etc.
    – Steve V
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 19:42
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    Still, +1 for the 'your goal is NOT to grapple'. I agree 100% even though I am a BJJ student.
    – Lex
    Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 13:15

You attack the closest one (who is also, at that moment, the most aggressive).

If your concern is multiple attackers with firearms: it's almost a moot point. You can run or try for a hostage.

Attacking anyone other than the closest person is invariably turning your back to an attacker.

  • Definitely agree with the last setence. +1
    – Lex
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 19:07

Aikido does have X-nin ni randori where X is either 3, 4, or 5 -- generally pronounced in Japanese. Youtube should have some examples of demo. The basic idea is throw one attacker into the others or pin one so that their body offers you some cover. Ideally, you go to the edge of the attach, thus making sure that all your attackers are in an arc in front of you.

Within some styles, randori is done with cooperation and harmony in mind rather than in a competitive way. The effectiveness of multiple opponent training does depend on the level of resistance uke gives tori. What it will teach whatever the resistance is that long and flowing techniques are less effective than straight ones.

Also, knowing how to break fall on a tatami mat is a lot different to falling on concrete. Fundamentally, randori is a tool that helps not magic that solves.

  • True, I am a big fan of Aikido. Love it; for its art, not its combat efficiency. Trained Aikido from Oct/95 until Apr/2002, when I left my country. Randori in Aikikai's Aikido can best be described as multi-person Jiyu-Waza. With 7 years experience in Aikido I can tell you with good confidence that what is taught in Aikido alone will not suffice in this situation. In order to really make an escape route you would need to stunt one or two, and simply shifting their weight around does not do the trick, though it is indeed useful for after you launched your actual attack.
    – Lex
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 11:44
  • You are absolutely right. I do not disagree with you. I'm just saying that what you mention, only by itself is not enough. The issue with the Uke's resistance is troublesome because it depends on Uke to actually commit to his resistance and continue applying it, which can be useful when the Uke has gotten hold of you. When Uke is only punching or trying to stab you, they will not over-commit as in a Tsuki or Shomen-Uchi. They will try to launch a slash and quickly swing the arm back, rather than leaving it out-stretched for you to Sankyo ou Shiro-Nague them.
    – Lex
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 12:52
  • You are very kind. Thanks. Thinking better, if you manage to get someone to land on their head or their back on the pavement as you suggested via a Kokyu-Nague, then this is a pretty good way out too. +1. Thank you.
    – Lex
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 13:27

For penjak silat, we assume multiple attackers, usually with knives.

With the style I study, the general strategy is to try to take one of the enemies on the edge - A1 or A4 because then you can use them as a shield against the others and shove them into another to delay them.

Obviously, if one person rushes you first, deal with them first. Otherwise, try to rush one of the edge folks first. This rush doesn't need to be a direct attack - in fact if your body language is "I'm going past you" some people's brains can't catch up in time before you're already on top of them.

Aside from the physical advantage of using someone as a shield against their friends, there's a psychological one as well - the friends pause while they try to figure out how to get around them... which buys you time to either rush another or get the hell out.

If forced to go between two enemies try to snatch one around to be in the way of another.


From the "Book of Five Rings", by Miyamoto Musashi, a Ronin Samurai in the 17th century. Some of his comments on standing against many opponents are:

"Discerning the order in which opponents attack, deal with those who press forward first; keeping an eye on the whole picture, determining the stands from which opponents launch their attacks, swinging both swords at the same time without mutual interference, it is wrong to wait."

"Intent on herding opponents into a line, when they seem to be doubling up, sweep right powerfully, not allowing a moments gap. It will be hard to make headway if you only chase opponents around en masse. Then again, if you think about getting them one after another as they come fourth, you will have a sense of waiting and so will also have a hard time making headway. The thing is to win by sensing the opponents rhythms and knowing where they break down."

He also recommends:

"If you get a group of practitioners together from time to time and learn how to corner them, it is possible to take on one opponent, or ten, or even twenty opponents, with peace of mind. It requires thorough practice and examination."

Some assumptions are made here, where one) you are wielding 2 katanas, a sword in each hand. Which I highly doubt you have on your person when being cornered. Two) There is an assumption you have enough expertise to take down an attacker in a single move. Giving you the opportunity to move onto the next one without hesitation.

Swords aside, I think some principals you can take away from this are the idea of herding your opponents into a line, understanding the groups rhythm and avoiding hesitation.

The reality of the situation will most likely be that you do not have enough expertise to sequentially take down targets one after another. If that is the case, I would look at breaking the line (line of opponents blocking your escape, or if circled) without a moments hesitation. You may need to trust your gut on this one, which is where your training comes in. What move to apply, and who to apply it too. What opponents stance or position is the weakest? Freezing, and letting them move in one you is a mistake. If you are successful in breaking the line, RUN!

Track and Field, the most effective martial arts in my opinion. If they can't run a mile in 7 minutes then you've got them.


This is a good question. Unfortunately it is impossible to answer that defenately you should do, as it depends of what is around, what is the flooring, obstruction, light, wetter, distances, exits, ... There are lots of variations that have influence, so my answer is one of possibilities. First I do agree with you to attack first and the law will stay with you as long you will be able to justified your actions at the court. In terms I did this as I noticed indicators of coming violence such as..... (Reading " Scalling force" by Rory Miller) And my target would be the opponent one. Explanation. This situation is extremely dangerous and the time in that conflict must be minimum. Option of struggling with a leader. I as the strong one will defend him Option strong one . No as he is front one. Option three gun. No as he has a weapon. Option one as you acting violently and rapidly had the most chances to get yourself window for RUN... But if we add a environment into play and for example the stron one would be just beside the kerb and could trip esly hmm that could change the target. All is about situation reading I do known it is not easy under stress. Good luck.

  • Thanks @RafalBurchard. I believe it would be beneficial doing this kind of mental rehearsing. Cheers for that.
    – Lex
    Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 13:34

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