Under: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Self-defense
11 Dec 2010

Foreword – It is my pleasure to introduce Sensei Matt Klein, founder of Kenpo Freestyle Academy in Sydney, Australia. Matt also runs Australia’s Youth Self-Defence Karate (http://karate-kids.com.au) website and blog (http://karate-kids.com.au/blog/). – John W. Zimmer

I saw this video on YouTube and I laughed as it reminded me of a brawl on the street, where as the two combatants (cats) were engaged, people from the sides (crows) took pot shots as they saw opportunities.  The action takes about a minute to start, so be patient, as once it starts it is fast and furious.


Crows and cat triple team other cat


Street fighting is like war combat. You never know who is with you until the proverbial crap hits the fan. Some will run and some will stay and duke it out until the end. On this night, I found out which camp my mates lived in. It was me against three of them, as the sound of my mate’s running feet faded away. As the three squared up, I lined them up in a row as best I could, knowing it’s a heck of a lot easier to fight one at a time. I blasted the closest one with a jab to the nose, stunning him. The second wrapped his arms around me from behind and with the help of the third attacker slammed me into the pavement. As I wrestled free and looked up, the last thing I remember seeing was the top of someone’s foot….

This fictional fight is typical where a combatant is outnumbered. If they can overpower their single opponent and force him to the ground, a group of attackers can strike at will. While keeping upright and on the move, a single fighter can sometimes take on two, three, or maybe four attackers if he can fight, as this 2nd video illustrates.


Guy fights off multiple attackers


So the question here is, can grappling-based arts like wrestling and BJJ be useful against multiple attackers? Although going against popular opinion, I am going to say yes, it is. Here’s why.


First, it is not always your choice as to whether the fight goes to the ground or not. If it does, you better know what you are doing. This applies to any fight, no matter how many opponents you face.

If you can fight on the ground, you have a better chance.

Second, grapplers train in take-downs regularly, which makes them better able to defend against them. In high school I saw a wrestler on our team fight a guy at a party, knocking the guy out with a good old 1-2 jab and cross combo (his dad, an ex-Golden Gloves fighter taught him how to box). The guy’s friend jumped in with a low tackle, and the wrestler, using his trademark whizzer move, planted the second attacker head first to the pavement. This fight was not fictional. Grapplers train to defend against tackles using sprawls, whizzers, guillotines, etc. and can get up amazingly quick after a ground-and-pound.

Third, many chokes and joint locks can be applied standing up. If a grappler trains in these techniques on the ground everyday, you can bet they can do it standing up as well. I saw a guy in a pub in Paddington attack the bouncer, the bouncer quickly subduing him with a stand up behind-the-back wrist/shoulder lock. As the attackers mate came into the picture, I took my jacket off as I hate to see a guy outnumbered. Before I could get across the bar, the bouncer knocked the second attacker straight out the door, a snapping jab with his free hand. The bouncer then threw the first attacker smack into the second as he tried to get back in. The two landed in a heap and by then three bouncers were there and the tables had turned. Bouncers are experts at restraint and removal techniques, but you rarely see them go to the ground.

Fourth, most grapplers are expert throwers, which means the hard ground is their ally. A guy hitting the ground hard is as good as knocked out. My college football coach, who was a world class judo player, once took on a group of bikers and threw them about on the hard floor of a bar until they gave up.

Fifth, knowing BJJ, judo, or wrestling doesn’t mean you have to stay on the ground, it means you know what you’re doing once you are there. In fact, most systems teach how to get off the ground quickly if necessary. John Will, one of the most knowledgeable BJJ experts in Australia, and the world for that matter, teaches disengagements from just about every position. In his work “FIGHT GONE WRONG Disengagement Strategy: Getting back to our feet” he illustrates disengagements from mounted, mounted and striking, side-mounted, guard, and opponent standing while we are down. You can bet that the best BJJ schools practice these disengagements regularly.

Sixth, the grappling arts are strong arts because they train in a realistic way every training session. Grapplers become very comfortable using their techniques against resisting opponents, and since resisting opponents are what you find in a self-defense situation, grappling-based arts prepare people for it.

Seventh, and perhaps most importantly, grapplers train with control on the mat, but if they need to, they can snap your arm/wrist/ankle, etc. in a second, or choke you out within seconds, which means one less person to fight. After one guy is disabled, the others will likely lose courage, when they see what they are up against. Basically, people that fight in groups are cowards. If the bouncer in the above example fought these two guys on the street, he could have snapped the first attackers wrist or dislocated his shoulder immediately, and then fought the second or maybe a third attacker, but in the bar his options were limited due to the liability of his profession. As John Will states, “If there are many attackers,  problem for the ‘bad guys’ was one of ‘too many’ trying to do the same thing with the end result being that they just got in each others way. Also in several such scenario’s, I’ve been told that the grapplers were able to ‘choke out’ one or more of the aggressors by fighting from the ‘bottom position’; where they were to some degree protected from third party attack.”

I am not advocating going to the ground against multiple-attackers here, but I am suggesting a knowledge of grappling will give you a better chance than someone who is not comfortable on the ground. When you are outnumbered, sometimes it pays to take the offensive as this final video illustrates. This guy just took it to them, even the guy who didn’t smack the girl. As you may have also noticed, both guys in these videos were good boxers. I’ve always advocated boxing as a top stand up skill to have. Combine this with good grappling skills and you can survive a fight, outnumbered or not.


Boxer lays into two guys.


What do you think?

About the Author:

Matt Klein is a 5th Degree black belt and founder of Kenpo Freestyle Academy in Sydney, Australia. He is a 4th Degree Black Belt in American Kenpo, and a brown belt in Shinbudo Jujitsu. He has studied judo, wrestling, MMA, BJJ, Kali, boxing, and kick boxing since high school. The Kenpo Freestyle grappling syllabus includes over 150 techniques. The Kenpo Freestyle tournament team has been rated #1 in the state of NSW, Australia for six years straight (iska.com.au.rankings).

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21 Responses to “Grappling/BJJ Against Multiple Attackers; Is it Effective?”

  1. Tweets that mention My Self-Defense Blog » Blog Archive » Grappling/BJJ Against Multiple Attackers; Is it Effective? -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Matt Klein, Matt Klein. Matt Klein said: My guest post is now live at http://goo.gl/RZWvO. Can BJJ work against multiple attackers? […]

  2. Sensei Matt Klein on My Self-Defense Blog | Australia's Youth Self Defence Karate Says:

    […] about the effectiveness of grappling/BJJ against multiple attackers. The post is now live at Grappling/BJJ Against Multiple Attackers; Is it Effective?John’s blog is one of the best in the world in the area of self defense and martial arts. His […]

  3. radovan judoka Says:

    i agree with the mpst of thinks – maybe it should be a good idea to train at the BJJ/Wrestling/Judo trainings the multi-opponent attack :)

  4. Martial Arts News – 12.12.10 | Striking Thoughts Says:

    […] What happens when two of my favorite martial artists team up? Probably this! Foreword – It is my pleasure to introduce Sensei Matt Klein, founder of Kenpo Freestyle Academy […]

  5. Matt Klein Says:

    You bring up a good point Radovan, and thanks for your comment. Not sure how many schools drill against multiple attackers, but it is a great idea. Any BJJ/grappling schools have some good drills for this situation?
    Matt Klein recently posted..Sensei Matt Klein Asked to Write Guest Post on My Self-Defense BlogMy Profile

  6. SueC Says:

    Hi Matt, I thought this was a very useful article. Though I can’t dispute any of your logic about the usefulness of ground fighting/grappling would you still advocate trying to stay on your feet as the best form of defence against multiple attackers? The guy in the second video did pretty well by staying upright. I also noticed in this video that no-one even tried to get him to ground. He seemed to maintain his balance really well and kept everyone away using snappy almost karate style punches and moving around. I don’t know if you read Dan Djurdjevic’s blog, The way of least resistance, but he wrote a post touching the importance of punching in a way that doesn’t unbalance you: http://dandjurdjevic.blogspot.com/2010/10/stopping-strikes-at-pre-determined.html.

    So, is being taken to ground unusual in a multiple attack scenario or common? Is it more likely that people end up on the ground because they fall over due to overreaching or tripping themselves up with poor footwork? In my (limited) experience its very difficult to take someone to ground who doesn’t want to go. If you are pushed to the ground by a surging mob who then kick and trample you then I wouldn’t have thought that ground fighting skills would help you much.

    It seems to me that ground fighting skills would be extremely useful in a one-on-one attack that goes to ground but much less where there are multiple attackers. However, I admit my experience is limited to watching videos on YouTube and doing a few ground fighting techniques in class! I would appreciate your insights into my concerns/questions.

  7. Matt Klein Says:

    Hi Sue, glad to see you here, and thanks! In answer to your question, “would you still advocate trying to stay on your feet as the best form of defence against multiple attackers?” I say definitely, stay on your feet, stick and move. However, as I point out above, it is not always your choice as to whether the fight goes to the ground, and any grappler knows how to defend against a takedown. As the number of assailants increase, the ability to fend them off will decrease, but once on the ground, I would rather have some grappling skills than none.
    Matt Klein recently posted..Why Do You Study Martial ArtsMy Profile

  8. Cheryl from thatgirlisfunny Says:

    Note to Self: if a dude has already punched several people and is still swinging, do not join in – run in the opposite direction. Seriously, what were those people thinking in video number two? The thing about being attacked is that you have to react immediately. You can’t decide which skill set you use. You just get busy. The great thing about having more than one set of fighting skills is that you have a choice of weapons that will surface when you need them whether you’re on your ground or on your feet. The trick is to be level-headed and let your body respond.
    Cheryl from thatgirlisfunny recently posted..How To Stand Up For Yourself- Identify the ZingerMy Profile

  9. Matt Klein Says:

    Hi Cheryl, thanks for jumping in the fray. Yes, it is amazing what guys will do with a bit of testosterone, maybe a bit to drink, and a chip on their shoulder. They think they can take on anyone–sometimes a reality check is in order.

    Great point about the “business” of fighting. Many times you rely on instinct, but if you are trained on the ground, that instinct is more likely to kick in, especially as you say, if you are able to keep your cool.
    Matt Klein recently posted..Sensei Matt Klein Asked to Write Guest Post on My Self-Defense BlogMy Profile

  10. Dr. J Says:

    Other than when I had to face an attack by 3 Pit Bulls, I’ve never had to defend myself against multiple attackers. I’m just a student for this article. Thank you, John, I hope I never need to put this useful information into practice!

  11. Matt Klein Says:

    Wow! Three pit bulls, what did you do? Now there is one case you don’t go to the ground. How did you make out against them?

    Yes, Dr. J. we all hope to avoid this scenario. By using our best weapon, the one between our ears, most of these situations can be avoided. But fighting is like driving, you never know what the other guy/guys are going to do. Thanks for commenting on my post.
    Matt Klein recently posted..Top Seven Myths Children Believe About Martial ArtsMy Profile

  12. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hey Dr. J! I think I remember the dog story while you were out jogging… you managed to keep them off with kicks.

    I like you hope my multiple attacker days are over. :)

  13. Dr. J Says:

    I had faced dogs one at a time before and had always been able to back them off if I had to. Dogs have the obvious physical advantages of serious teeth, speed and strength, but humans do have some things that can work in our favor. We have a height advantage, but, most importantly, I believe, we have the ability to bluff.

    The attacking dogs did not know I didn’t have any real weapons. I think they felt that I was just as capable of hurting them as they were of hurting me! I had never faced an attack by a pack before. The dogs would attack one at a time, and as I backed the attacker off, the next would attack, and so forth!

    With my karate training, aggressive posture, and yelling, I was able to hold them off for over 10 minutes! At that point, I remembered hearing that making eye contact and being aggressive only caused a dog to feel threatened, and I decided to try something else. I averted my look away from the dogs and turned as if to walk away.

    Wrong! Just like that, one of them bit me on the left leg, around the knee! Being December, and even in Florida as the temperatures can be cold, I was wearing a running suit with long, loose-fitting pants. Although he was able to bite me, he was not able to maintain a grip and bring me down. At that moment, I reached a level of anger that I never knew I had! That, and continuing to do what I had done, and slowly backing off with each repelling of the dogs, caused them to finally give up trying to kill me!

  14. Matt Klein Says:

    Your comment reminds me of my paperboy days, Dr. J. Faced the dogs and bared my teeth and used the newspaper not flailing at them, but with thrusting jabs at their noses, which I found to be very sensitive. Faced some big dogs, and never got hurt with that method, but three pit bulls, most guys would freak out, end up on the ground, and get mauled big time. You kept your cool, which is when the training kicks in. Thanks for commenting, and for entertaining us with your story.
    Matt Klein recently posted..Karate for Kids- Is it SafeMy Profile

  15. bjj takedowns Says:

    He marcado como favorito un video de BJJ

  16. Matt Klein Says:

    Translation here, bjj takedowns? Or is it “never mind your conversation here, just visit my silly website”.
    Matt Klein recently posted..Why I Love Teaching Kids KarateMy Profile

  17. Zara Says:

    While BJJ is a good, practical fighting art one-on-one and trains attributes that are very useful and necessary in a fight it’s general strategy (move in for the takedown, maneuver for superior position and go for the submission) is not suited for multiple opponent situations. Competition matches are not the same as fighting for self preservation: the latter demands a system and training methods that focus on proven, gross motor skills aimed at the most vulnerable points of the human body (striking would seem most useful here), with effective anti-grappling skills (both trained and untrained, so called ‘stupid holds’ attacks) and weapons training (both with and against at least knife, stick and firearm). In my view this necessitates studying multiple styles to make use of strong suits while complementing the weak points… BJJ contains techniques and training methods that are very good building blocks for a SD system (defense against takedowns, escapes from ground holds) but it is by no means sufficient to ensure adequate protection against real, unregulated violence. Weapons are not an area of study in BJJ (a prime danger in any serious situation) which is a potentially fatal weakness and there is a a major difference in the way throws are trained as compared to other grappling styles: in Japanese JJ you are conditioned to avoid sacrifice techniques (going to the ground with him) as much as possible and to remain standing, BJJ seems to favour remaining in contact with the opponent since throws on the mat are usually not sufficient to cause a knockout and the rules do not favour throwing as a significant means of acquiring points. Throws are very good techniques when executed with speed and power but they should (at least for SD) end with the defender standing (it’s very easy to finish a downed opponent, especially when he’s dazed from the fall), even if you can get a quick lock or choke on the opponent after following him to the ground it still leaves you vulnerable and to me this is not something you’d want to do if you can help it and certainly not the way you want to condition yourself to act in high stress situations. Ground fighting truly is a last resort and a desperate situation in terms of the added danger of a hidden weapon (you can’t fight what you can’t see), the strenght and weight advantage that’s even more of a factor on the ground (presumably he’ll be bigger or stronger than you or he would have left you in peace, BJJ competitions still have weight classes so you won’t know if you’re going to be equally effective against a bigger, stronger guy) and the oft repeated danger of thuggish friends of his joining in is very real and this often ends in severe injury, paralyses or death. Ground skills for SD should foucus on disengagement and quick reversals followed by striking to injure and distract before getting back up (ground & pound works very well on the street, at least when it’s not overdone): locks are fine if you can get them but just remember you don’t have time to fish for an arm or maneuver for a choke. If certain BJJ schools teach this all the better but BJJ is essentially a sports art and the logic and training methods are usually geared towards victory on the mat, not the street.

    I don’t agree training locks on the ground exclusively means you can automatically do them standing, let alone with equal skill. If you don’t train a specific skill you’re not going to be any good at it and the dynamics of standing and ground locks and chokes are completely different, even if they’re basically the same techniques. As to the usefulness of grappling in fighting and SD we are in agreement but a true SD system should be comprehensive and teach grappling, striking and weapons, both standing and on the ground. Focussing too much on one category or range will translate into weaker performance in other areas and given the inherently chaotic nature of fighting this could cost you big time. People who only train in BJJ will be vulnerable due to weak striking and too much emphasis on the ground game, training solely in boxing will mean you’ll be almost helpless on the ground, training in a weapon system alone will lose it’s value when you don’t have a weapon handy or you lose it… The solution is clear: find out as much as you can about the various arts, pick the elements that are useful for your purpose and train a system that is simple, effective and comprehensive. This will be your best bet in physical confrontations, of course not getting oneself in bad situations is the superior option (not having to fight means 0% chance of getting hurt or killed) and hence a basic knowledge of human behaviour and common sense are a necessary complement to any fighting system, at least if your aim is to lead a safe and happy life.

    My answer to your question can be summed up as: yes but only when applied wisely and as a part of an overal strategy geared towards street survival. On its own it’s less than ideal and potentially quite dangerous but the same can be said about virtually any single minded/limited style.

  18. Matt Klein Says:

    Thanks for your insights Zara. I agree fully with your last paragraph. There is no substitute for ability to use stand-up striking methods, especially against multiple attackers. I still maintain grappling can be extremely useful, however, when the fight goes to the ground–and you never can predict when it will.
    Matt Klein recently posted..Eleven Ways to Build a Great Martial Arts AcademyMy Profile

  19. Jin@CombatSportsNews Says:

    One against 3 or 4 opponents hell bent on your destruction is asking too much of any martial artist. Best bet is to strike hard and fast and look for opportunity to escape. BJJ would only be useful if the “fight” goes to the ground. If that happens, you should be looking to escape back to your knees or back to standing in order to escape.

    Having a bladed weapon would probably be more useful.
    Jin@CombatSportsNews recently posted..10-Minute Fat Loss WorkoutsMy Profile

  20. Matt Klein Says:

    Thanks Jin for commenting. Yes, you are definitely better off on your feet, and looking for the escape is the best course of action against multiple attackers.

    A good grappling program, like John Will’s organization, teaches fast escapes from the ground. Having any kind of weapon, even improvised, evens the odds to some extent.
    Matt Klein recently posted..Kids Karate Parties- Why I Don’t Do ThemMy Profile

  21. Jack Says:

    This is a great site! I will add it to my site and bookmark it lot’s of great self defense information here great job!