Bystanders: the critical aspect of self defense and policing we don’t talk enough about

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Bystanders, brawls, and the court of public opinion

The narrative surrounding an event can often be as influential as the event itself. Public opinion and the perceptions of bystanders can significantly shape the narrative, even if they do not have full context or understanding of the situation.

This is particularly true for police, who in recent years have seen worsening results in the public discourse.

The “court of public opinion” is now increasingly magnified, where social media and online platforms can amplify and distort narratives. Our actions, especially in public situations, can have far-reaching consequences beyond the immediate confrontation; despite millions of interactions where nothing noteworthy happens, a single bad police interaction can even lead to protests and unrest in other countries.

My message here is ultimately simple – give some consideration to how you might appear to bystanders in any given situation. Facts are subservient to emotion.

How to fight multiple opponents

How effective groups operate vs single opponents

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It is essential to first understand how to effectively take on a single opponent from the other side – as a group – before considering the best approach as a single defender.

There are two core roles:

  1. Primary – Engages / draws attention
  2. Secondary – Performs flanking movement / blindside attack
One engages while the other attacks from a second angle – just like the raptors in Jurassic Park

Engagement could mean anything from a physical attack to body language and verbal engagement.

As we can only face one direction and effectively fight one person at a time, we are vulnerable to any secondary attack from whoever we are not focused on.

When you are operating in a group against a single opponent, divide yourselves between these roles. One takes their focus, allowing the other the other to attack without repercussion.

Engage simultaneously, give them two problems at once and find opportunities to hit them when they aren’t looking at you.

Method as single defender

Now we have an understanding of basic group tactics, how do we address it?

The often-repeated advice is to “line them up”. Although this is not a bad idea in principle, it can be difficult to achieve maintain as your opponent will counter this movement. Any improvements to position are temporary and will result in a back-and-forth struggle.

As a result, we will often need to capitalise on more subtle positional shifts.

Position (Angles + Distance)

ANGLE: Use movement to keep opponents within a 90 degree angle to front, as much as possible.

DISTANCE: Maintain a staggered distance. They may never perfectly “line up” for you – however, if one is within striking range and the other is not, we have achieved at least a fleeting moment where we can address a single opponent, without being attacked by the other.

Angle and distance management require constant movement.


Target switching

The ability to target switch is more important than positioning. Good position can be difficult or impossible to attain for more than a fleeting moment.

We must identify, prioritise and engage with the secondary. Failure to do so means you will suffer a blindside attack.

Identify the secondary opponent. Maintain awareness of opponents moving in your peripheral vision; they will be positioning to attack while you are focused on their friend.

Prioritise the secondary. Even if you are physically fighting with one, when you sense the secondary is committing to their movement, prioritise and address them.

Rapidly disengage from your primary, engage the secondary.

This could mean nothing more than eye contact, or a physical attack.

Check their movement, stop the attack, do not allow them to take the initiative.

Do your best to maintain good position (angle and staggered distance). This may not always be possible, but do your best.

It is paramount that you rapidly switch targets to check their movement, stop the secondary attack, and take back the initiative.


Another method they might use is stalling. It will shut down your movement and ability to target switch.

This involves one opponent simply holding on and not doing much while their friend does the real harm. This can often happen on the ground, but is a problem whether standing or ground.

To combat this, you need to learn how to grapple – clinch, sprawl, break grips, break contact, wrestle, defend and stand up.

If you don’t know how to clinch, wrestle and fight on the ground, you are defenseless against being taken down and held on the ground.

Crossing the line

The two opponents can work to set up the their blindside attack, but we also have to be cautious not to put ourselves in that position.


Do not press forward to pursue a retreating opponent if it will expose your flank.

Final note

Above all, you need to be better at fighting than all of your opponents combined, because that is literally what you are up against. All the tactics and knowledge in the world won’t matter unless the size, skill, strength, speed, experience etc. disparity between you and the other party is large enough to overcome them.

Man defends himself in 3 vs 1 home invasion

Luckily they were not armed and were dissuaded by some punches to the face. Poor planning on the criminal’s behalf.

Daily Mail article below with the full story, pasted in here so you don’t have to scroll through all the junk on their website.

Even if there were 100 of them, there is no one getting through me’: Hero tells how he fought off robbery gang single-handed when they raided his home while his cancer-hit wife slept upstairs

  • Asif Ali was at home with his wife Charlotte last week when men broke in 
  • Fought the men off  to protect his wife who is undergoing cancer treatment 
  • Charlotte said she never thought Asif would have to use his strength in that way 

PUBLISHED: 21:53 AEST, 30 September 2019

A hero husband has told how he fought off a gang single-handed when they raided his Greater Manchester home as his cancer-hit wife slept upstairs. 

Asif Ali confronted the men after they broke into his home in Rochdale on Tuesday 24 September.

Video footage showed the 35-year-old launching punches at the thugs until they fled the property.

Speaking on Good Morning Britain today, Mr Ali said his main priority was making sure his wife Charlotte, who is currently undergoing treatment for cancer, was kept safe.

Presenter Piers Morgan was astonished at the strength showed by Mr Asif and asked: ‘how many would it have taken to stop you, five, ten?’

Mr Ali, who has been hailed as a hero said: ‘If there was 100 as long as my wife is upstairs then no one is going to get through me.’

Aisif Ali: ‘They were never going to get through me and get my wife’

Asif Ali and his wife Charlotte appeared on Good Morning Britain today to talk about the incident at their home last week

In CCTV footage of his brave defence of his home, businessman Mr Ali is seen landing a flurry of blows on one thug. Another intruder then joins the fray and Mr Ali bravely confronts both

The reason Mr Ali may have been so protective, is due to the fact that wife Charlotte had been feeling unwell due to her cancer treatment. 

Also speaking on the programme today she said: ‘I’m undergoing operations to remove cancer at the moment and that was the reason I had said to Asif, ‘oh I’m just going to go upstairs watch a bit of Netflix’.

‘I’d fallen asleep but then woke up. Winnie the bulldog was the one that barks and she only barks if there is something going on and when I woke up hearing that I knew there was something going on.

Mr Ali has now put up a £5,000 reward in order to help police catch the criminals 

Heroic businessmen fights off four armed robbers at his home

‘I quickly got dressed and put a dressing gown on and by the time I got to the top of the stairs I could see what was going on and I just heard Asif shout phone the police and barricade yourself.’

She said all she could think when she was barricading herself in was ‘ any minute now they are going to come up here for me’.

Asked if he was amazed at this own strength having watch the CCTV back Asif said he was surprised, as ‘if it had been three men walking towards him in the street’ he would have run off.

‘I think my reason why was bigger than theirs and that was my wife and they were never going to get through me.’

Piers then hailed him ‘the husband of the century’ and asked Charlotte how she felt about his bravery.

It’s scary for me to watch the footage back I don’t really like watching it because it’s quite gut wrenching as I didn’t really know what was going on downstairs . 

‘I can’t thank him enough for what he did, he put his life at risk for me. Deep down I knew he had it in him but not to that extent, I never thought it would come to him having to use that sort of strength.’

Mr Ali released the CCTV footage as he wants to make sure they men that did this are held accountable. He said the police have been making enquiries but that it has been ‘difficult’ for them because they have said they are ‘career criminals’ know where the cameras are and what sort of clothes to wear.

The couple have had challenging times recently as Charlotte has been receiving cancer treatment 

‘But somebody out there surely knows who they are, if they have sons a wife, someone must know they are leaving at certain times and coming back.’

Mr Asif is now offering a reward of £5,000 as he says he doesn’t want anyone else to go through what he and his wife did.

He added that he wasn’t sure what had come over him and Piers quizzed him on the reaction he had from the rest of the public.

‘A mixed reaction to be fair, 90 per cent have been very supportive, people calling me a hero, I don’t class myself as a hero, I think anyone would have done that for their family.

‘But then there has been a small percentage saying that i’m stupid for going back at them and picking the knife up.’