No other critique of the effectiveness of BJJ is more common than that it is terrible against multiple opponents because going to the ground in this situation is suicide. I’ve been guilty of saying this more than once because I believe BJJ is not good vs. multiple opponents, but this doesn’t mean it’s useless. So, what’s the full scope of the argument?
Going to the ground with an opponent if there is more than one attacker is the worst thing you can do. But the truth is, no martial art will enable you to beat multiple attackers; the only real option is to escape as safely as possible. BJJ is great at teaching you how to break grips, get off the ground, and grapple with people, which can often be required to escape.
As always, arguments about self-defense are more theoretical than practical. However, by training extensively in different styles, being in a few real situations, and watching tons of content online, I have a well-informed opinion, so here it is.
The common criticism against BJJ is that it’s useless against multiple attackers because its expertise is in ground fighting, and going to the ground when there are people who can hit you is a death sentence. And I believe this criticism is entirely valid.
To mirror the words of Rener Gracie, the best tactic against multiple attackers is to run for your life.
The thing is that all other martial arts will yield similar results. Despite what action movies show, in real fights, opponents do not line up and attack you one by one or even in pairs.
They won’t just strike at you either; more than likely, they will try to grab and pin you down, and regardless of how good of a grappler you are, when two people are holding you down, chances are you won’t just shake them off unless you are massively bigger.
What makes jiu-jitsu good against multiple opponents is the mental preparation it gives you. Keeping a cool head and reacting adequately are usually the best things you can do in a real-life situation, and BJJ training and competitions will instill in you at least a certain level of confidence, sober judgment, and the ability to react.
And the proper reaction if you are faced with the overwhelming odds of fighting multiple guys is to exit the situation as quickly and safely as possible.
Knowing the ins and outs of close-range positions and grips can help you survive. This is knowledge and skills learned on the mats, and although you are not going to use them as you would against a single person, it could still save your life on the street.
So, the claims BJJ and grappling are useless in situations with many attackers are unfounded because you may do your best to avoid grappling altogether, but very often, it will be forced on you.
Here is how grappling can save you against multiple opponents:
Additionally, some fundamental chokes, like the guillotine and rear naked choke, can be applied standing, so there is no need to go on the ground and eliminate the chance to move. A quick arm drag into a rear naked choke, like shown in the video, can serve its purpose if more opponents are possibly attacking.
In this video, you can listen to an excellent overview of BJJ vs. multiple opponents by a man with a wealth of experience in pressure-testing different theories and situations.
Is BJJ Effective For Self-Defense And Street Fights?
While BJJ may have too many problems when faced with multiple attackers, its capabilities in one-on-one fights are unparalleled.
The martial art was created to defeat people in a single fight with no or limited rules and has been used significantly. Then, it became an integral part of MMA and further proved its effectiveness.
While it’s undoubtedly not the perfect be-all-end-all system, some claim jiu-jitsu is the best single style you can learn for self-defense and street fights. It’s also worth knowing the distinction between the two because there is a significant one.
In self-defense, the goal is to avoid harm and exit the situation as safely as possible. In the presence of loved ones or property that needs protection, neutralizing the attacker becomes the top priority.
A street fight is a willing fight between two people who aim to win, not run away. For this purpose, BJJ is king, at least if we consider separate martial arts styles. If that’s all they know, a grappler will always win against a striker.
BJJ is also excellent for controlling attackers, so it’s often preferred by security and law enforcement personnel who need to neutralize people with the least amount of damage possible.
With that said, if you want to build up a well-rounded skill set for most possible situations, you will need some striking and wrestling training.
This is why, despite some disputes, I firmly believe MMA is the best form of self-defense, which includes a healthy dose of BJJ.
But even with BJJ alone for self defense, you will be more than capable of dealing with most of the population in an unarmed real-life fight.
What Martial Arts Is Good For Multiple Opponents
No martial art on the planet will ensure you win against multiple opponents. Yes, I have seen some videos of people succeeding, but these are unicorn situations in which all the factors have aligned in favor of the one guy beating the others.
In most situations, the best you can do is run, and even hardcore BJJ guys will admit their art will not work in these situations. The best fighting skill that will help you escape is boxing.
Punching is the safest and quickest way to attack and disable someone. Boxing can be used to quickly knock someone out or at least stun him so you can flee.
Furthermore, distance management in these kinds of situations is critical, and striking martial arts are great at equipping people with this skill, with boxing having the best footwork.
Front and side kicks can also help keep a distance since they are the longest weapons at your disposal. In many situations, kickboxing and Muay Thai suck slightly less than BJJ when fighting multiple opponents.
The truth is different martial arts have different benefits for self-defense, and no system is perfect. Having a more diverse skillset increases your chances of success (meaning suffering fewer injuries in self-defense) exponentially.
A real-life encounter has infinitely more variables than sports. The situational nature of self-defense and street fights means different martial arts and skill sets will be required depending on the situation, and neither BJJ nor any other style will make you fully equipped to deal with everything. The more things you can do, the better.
But regardless of your skills, even 2 vs. 1 is a steep hill to climb. And if we talk about more bodies flinging at you, it’s safe to say you are screwed, even if you are the best martial artist out there.
Fighting against multiple opponents, especially more than two, is like fighting a giant sea wave. You may go out unscathed, but you are not going to win.
BJJ is often criticized for being ineffective against multiple opponents, and if you plan on using it as you would in the gym, it is. But the preparedness for conflict, the ability to react with a level head, and many grappling skills like breaking grips and standing up can be lifesavers.