First of all, what I don't do and what I'm not talking about- sparring. If a bad guy puts his fists up and starts dancing around or extends both his arms and tucks his chin to his shoulder and his eyes go dead or he brandishes a knife, I don't play. Not unless I want to play that is, and that's a different thing. I've only failed to resist a few times. (Unprofessional, maybe, but validating.) If someone sends you signals that they "want to fight" the signals are a gift. Get distance. Or a force option. Or friends. As Howard Webb at the academy used to say, "No intelligent man has ever gotten his ass kicked by someone who said, 'I'm gonna kick your ass.'" You have to be stupid enough to let him choose the game before you can lose an announced fight.
Watching a martial arts movie the other night it hit me. The set-ups were pretty realistic, but the responses were based on sparring. It was interesting, but frustrating, too. Things lasted too long. The director had to artificially hold back people so that the multiple opponent scenarios could work. The weapons stuff was stupid...
Variations on a theme, but this is the template for how I move when bad shit happens.
1) First point of action. Something is coming at me. Foot, fist, blade... don't know, don't care. Drop into the threat, back or side of my lower forearm(s) targeted to the outside of the threat's lead elbow. Drop-step closing reliably neutralizes kicks. If the attack is high, my arms contacting his tend to deflect him in a circle. Low, they tend to pin the arm to his hip bone.
What this has going for it is that there are no fine motor skills, nothing to grip or coordinate. I don't need to know whether it is a weapon or not- I'm not dealing with a specific attack but with a direction of force. It doesn't even matter if the lead hand is the attacking hand. The back of the elbow is a leverage point: if the arm was high, I'm already behind him, if his arm was low, I will be behind him in the next motion.
2) Second action, and this is a continuation, there is no hesitation- the rear leg follows the drop step and I am either completely behind the threat if he gave me force high or at his rear flank if it was force low.
You understand that if someone is attacking, they are giving you force, right? Any other option I've experienced falls under 'brandishing'. Nothing described so far is more complicated, or any different, really, than stumbling and recovering- something monkeys are wired to do and very fast at. So far no thoughts, no decisions.
3) Decision point. You shouldn't stop and think here, but in some cases you probably could. Even a guy with two knives can't do something to someone who is behind him and has control of his elbows. Not until he changes the equation, at least. So you don't give him time to change the equation. Nowhere in this template do I stop to evaluate. Anyway, this is the decision point and will depend on your goal and your parameters. You can simply push and create space to possibly escape or draw a weapon, as Roger did. I prefer pushing into hard objects- a door jamb will break a clavicle far more efficiently than my best strike. With tall guys a hand slips up to the philtrum leverage point and the other stabilizes or blasts forward the base of the spine resulting in a harmless take down, neck sprain, severe concussion or spine fracture with a very slight change in body mechanics. Those are just example, trying to demonstrate very fast things from both extremes of the force continuum. Everything else is there, too. Half-nelson take downs, knee stomps, kidney shots, cervical spine or just holding them by the jacket and shaking the threat like a terrier shakes a rat. Or throwing him into his friends.
4) Follow up, which can include just leaving.
First of all, this is back-engineered. I'm not trying to come up with something that should work so much as finding the common thread in things that have worked a lot.
Weapons do change things and they don't. A knife vastly changes the stakes, but if you change your strategy for high stakes, it sounds to me like you are fighting stupid when the stakes are low. There's also a good chance you won't be able to tell if the fist coming at your stomach has a knife in it, so train so that it doesn't matter.
Again, though I feel like I've said this a million times: If the threat is good with a knife and plays at the right range and wants to whittle you into pieces, you're pretty much screwed UNLESS YOU LEAVE. Or use a weapon yourself. Or attack his mind directly. This template is for an ambush. The sucker-punch. "Buddy, you got the time?" And something flashes at your stomach or eyes.
You can tell that this is almost entirely positional. There is little more going on here than "Eeeeek! Get to my Safe Place!" My Safe Place just happens to be behind the threat.
The critical skills are the drop-step to close (including bringing the rear leg in, too many people leave it or their hips behind); learning to use the back of the arms (fewer tendons and vessels) to close and control; no-hands control of the leverage points; using leverage points and spine manipulation to control the whole body. Maybe some on goal setting.
Unless you want to draw it out (I usually have to finish with cuffing, which adds a lot of steps) this is almost as fast as a "block and strike" combination or a "defang and counter". The steps leading up to getting to the safe place are at least as fast, since the footwork is essentially the same.
This is body contact range. It seems that many, nearly all, people equate proximity with danger. That depends on who owns the space. But this is close range stuff. I know some very good Filipino and related stylists who consider what they do infighting. I fight closer. Shoulders and pelvis touching is good for me. That is what makes the safe place safe, I think. The threat has to step out of the bubble before he can turn to get his weapons into play. That gives you that much free time to do as you will.
In most environments, the damage potential is great. Driving someone into a wall head first with the combined body weight of two people has a tendency to do the trick. This makes the template a faster finish than a block and strike, strike, strike... it can take a lot of strikes to make someone quit playing.
Last thing- I haven't done a lot of multiple threat fighting, but most of my fights involved tens of potential threats. I was almost always able to perform this and face the potential threats immediately. Since it happened to fast for most to register why Billy-bob was suddenly face down on the floor, the thought of jumping in rarely made it all the way across their minds. Since this template can be done running through and away and takes so little time... but that's all theory until I do it. If I get involved in an ugly bad one with multiple threats I'll let you know how it worked out.