Originally Posted by Martialist MagazinePlural Assailant Engagements Vol. 1
A Video Review by Phil Elmore
Not long before writing this, I completed a rather sweeping indictment of sportfighting systems in the course of arguing the issue with sportfighting proponent Matt Wallis. One of my main points of contention with sportfighting curricula is the overemphasis on groundfighting, which I believe puts the individual at great risk – especially in a multiple attacker scenario. Eager to explore the issue further, however, I turned to the authority I consider paramount in all matters concerning combat athleticism: Coach Scott Sonnon. Specifically, I turned to Plural Assailant Engagements, a 2001 video from RMAX Productions.
Dynamic Biomechanical Maneuvering Volume One: Ground Survival
After a video introduction depicting Scott moving and rolling to thwart several attackers while driven to the ground, against an unusual musical background that is more contemplative than combative, the tape transitions immediately to Coach Sonnon discussing the plural nature of most real-life combat. He speaks briefly of the ROSS training system with which he is so readily identified and explains that the entire ROSS methodology is based on improvisation. This is a principle-based, rather than technique-based, curricula, which longtime martial artists and fighters will understand rightly to be the "teach a man to fish" approach to self-defense.
Scott, applying his usual scientific and psychological approach to training, reduces the ROSS training methodology to this formula:
Technique = (biomechanics x strategy)/situation
He goes on to explain that the ground is where we have the most movement, though this is where many (including me) fear to go in a self-defense context. "We start on the ground and then we work the foundation upward so that we don't live on quicksand," he says, "so that our defense is solid and we understand the formula for all of combat."
Coach Sonnon then explains the two guiding strategies of all plural assailant engagements – bridging and layering. Bridging is aligning the attackers so you only have to address one threat at any particular time, by placing one of the attackers between you and the other(s). (This will be familiar to anyone who has contemplated multiple attacker scenarios and is, of course, sound.) Scott then demonstrates the same concept from the ground, by layering one attacker on another.
The segment that follows is a "physics workshop" on "parallel and concurrent force systems." These are the two ways to take a person to the ground. Concurrent force systems apply forces in different directions, not in unison, to produce a third force that puts someone on the ground. (This is pushing and pulling, for example.) Parallel force systems, by contrast, in "coupling," move the opponent efficiently without trying to muscle him down – a concept discussed in IOUF. You do not have the luxury of strength, speed, or surprise in a plural assailant engagement, Scott explains, so you must be efficient and you must rely on mechanics rather than brute force.
The next segment is on shock absorption. This is the ability to acclimate to impact. A hit or a blow, Scott explains, will not necessarily end the fight. Don't fight, Scott urges – move. He goes on to elaborate on the concept while providing demonstrations with his training partners. The "climate of combat," he explains, is impact. We must train our bodies to become accustomed to that climate. He shows the viewer how to move in concert with an attack to let the force of the attack flow into and over you as you continue to move with it. By absorbing blows, you avoid fighting force with force so you can address the threat.
For example, Scott explains that you should not stiffen your neck. Your head is the most mobile part of your body – allow it to move with the attack to absorb blows directed to it. "As long as you're moving, the force can't be transmitted. ...Because we have the mobility... the impact can't embed." Shock absorption is the means of creating bridges and layers in plural assailant engagements.
The next segment details the "three methods of creating a plane." A plane is a buffer parallel to the trajectory of an attack. The three methods involve using one, two, and three joints respectively. Scott demonstrates, using the arms and legs, how to create planes with the body to deflect and absorb an attack while moving with it. (For example, using your arm to deflect a kick while drawing it toward you to facilitate a takedown is the creation of a plane.)
This is scientific terminology and a refreshing physics (and physiology) -based approach applied to concepts that will be immediately familiar to martial artists and grapplers. This is one of Coach Sonnon's gifts, if you ask me. He has a knack for breaking down the unidentified, the obvious, the taken-for-granted, and even the not-so-apparent in ruthlessly analytical fashion. The discussion and applied demonstrations that accompany these concepts form the core of the tape, for these are the tools you will use to address plural assailant engagements according to Coach Sonnon's guidelines. Several exercises follow. (Kudos to Scott for remembering weebles, a toy I remember from my childhood that is surprisingly relevant to the discussion.)
These exercises and their demonstrations culminate in a spectacle I would previously have been reluctant to acknowledge: a single man, on the ground, moving and rolling to thwart several attackers at once, weaving his body in and through them while taking them down to drop them on each other and make their task more difficult.
A segment on "shielding" is next. This is a dynamic interpretation of layering, in which an assailant is manipulated to move with the defender (if he doesn't, his joints will suffer the consequences). This enables the defender to "bridge" without actually getting to his feet to address the new threat.
Production values are adequate. This is an older video, as evidenced by Scott's long hair and beard (the first indicator that you are watching "vintage Sonnon" as opposed to one of his more recently produced programs, in which he is clean-shaven and wears the form-fitting athletic gear that is among his trademarks). Graphic blocks with titles and the ROSS logo separate each segment of the video (a useful and, as far as I am concerned, necessary component of instructional design when learning from video). There is some variability in the audio when making the transition from segment to segment, but this generally dissipates quickly and I had little trouble hearing everything I needed to here. The picture is lighted well and the action is easy to make out.
The final portion of the tape is devoted to the psychology of attacks from the rear and the biomechanics of dealing with them. Scott closes with some thoughts on keeping your head in an altercation and on focusing on the formula for combat. "Take the concurrent and parallel force systems and improvise tactics," he tells the viewer. "Improvise and create techniques. This should be your sole goal."
I'll be honest with you: I take a dim view of deliberately groundfighting, particularly against multiple opponents, and came to this review with a heavy prejudice. In the course of watching the video, however, Coach Sonnon made me believe it was indeed possible to deal with multiple attackers through highly mobile, highly responsive application of biomechanical principles on and off the ground. This doesn't alter the environmental issues surrounding such activities, of course (glass-covered asphalt is not a surface on which you want to roll around if you have a choice), but it does make them logistically and biomechanically viable. Attacked by more than one person, you do what you have to do.
The hardest lessons are those we're reluctant to learn. If anyone could persuade me to change my position on groundfighting and multiple assailants, it is Coach Scott Sonnon. His Plural Assailant Engagements (PAE) is a must-have for those with our without grappling and groundfighting skill contemplating the dangers of gang assault.
Coach Sonnon's PAE is a vital addition to any multiple assailant material already in your video library.