Firearms are dangerous, we all know it and most everyone only seems to be worried about being accosted by someone with a firearm. After all, firearms are the biggest and baddest tool to disable or kill humans but don’t be lulled into the falsehood that they’re the only weapon you need to be concerned about. On the contrary. There is a weapon that everyone has access to and in 2012, according to FBI stats, humans wielding them, killed 1,589 people. They’re knives.
I grew up in a martial arts family and instead of football and baseball it was self-defense related athletics mostly for me. As a young adult, I became a police officer and spent the next twenty something years in that field. Recently, I have been studying forensics in regards to major crimes and was surprised to find out that a vast amount of assaults and murders are committed with knives.
Knives are extremely dangerous and most people, I believe, do not realize how dangerous they truly are. As an example, a sharp knife that is lightly pushed and then pulled against a humans skin can open a gaping wound similar to that of a fish being filleted. And when a person has bad intentions and is thrusting a knife with power, repeatedly at another, the damage done is absolutely phenomenal.
A concern I have is that there are so many poor ways that have been taught and are still being taught on how to defend against knife attacks. Some traditional teachings have come down from the days of old when battling Asian soldiers wore some levels of armor and knife attacks against these people had to be strong thrusts to get through their protection. Thus, defenses against them needed to be standard blocks from strong, generally single forward related thrusts.
However, today, in our realty, most knife attacks are a myriad of one after another shorter forward jab type stabbings—very hard to defend against. When studying murder cases where knives have been used what is quite often found are defensive wounds on the victim’s fingers, hands, and forearms. These wounds are from when the victim is doing everything they can to stop a knife wielding attacker. They’re trying to stop multiple jabs, thrusts and slices. It is disheartening to see this on people. They tried everything they could to survive but it didn’t work.
In my opinion the majority of fancy and traditionally taught knife defense techniques only work on cooperative and non-aggressive training partners. Knowing the harsh reality of knives and the almost insurmountable challenge it is to successfully defend against them, I feel it is paramount that teachers who instruct self-defense make sure they’re doling out information that works.
In observing hundreds of teachers and advanced students doing defenses against knives throughout the years the best one I have ever seen was many years ago during an advanced black belt test. A former Army Ranger and accomplished martial artist was going for his second degree black belt and when it came to doing techniques against a knife wielding man; he did a fantastic job and showed what really works.
As the attacker came at him with a knife (plastic knife for training purposes) he removed his gi (martial art top/jacket) and wrapped it around his weak arm. He took it off in a matter of a few short seconds as he was backing up. This way, he had a few inches of cloth around his weak arm that he could defend against the knife with but more so, he used a good six or eight inches of flapping material to fling into the attackers face. Then, he picked up a relatively light metal chair that happened to be nearby and held it out in front of him and thrust it at the attacker who was doing his damnedest to stab him. The attacker tried his best to get him. He went after him in any way he could. He tried rushing him, going under and to the left and to the right of him. But he couldn’t get close because when he tried, he got hit with the metal legs of the chair. He fended off the attacker for a few minutes until the testers called off the attacker.
What was good about his defense was threefold. First, he used what he had at his disposal and exploded in speed to utilize his “jacket’ and the nearby chair. Second, a chair, if available and used with training and a correct mindset is a viable defense against a knife. Lastly, the wrapping of his weak arm in addition to using the flapping material to distract the attacker was effective.
Of course there won’t always be chairs or jackets available or for that matter, the time to take a jacket off. However, it is always good to remember to utilize our immediate environment if at all possible to help protect ourselves.
It goes without saying that a firearm is the best weapon to defend against a knife and as the old saying, “never bring a knife to a gun fight” holds true, when firearms are not available and survival is at stake, there are other options. One of the most realistic options or techniques is to get control of the attacker’s limb with both hands as fast as you can. This can be done by first blocking a thrust or half thrust and immediately grabbing the knife wielding limb. Or this can be done without a block depending on circumstances by just grabbing that limb and holding on and controlling it. The closer to the knife the better but the main goal is controlling the limb. All people, but weaker people more so, have a better chance of controlling someone’s single limb using two hands. In addition, while controlling that limb, attempt to keep it close to your body. This makes the potential severity of damage much less if the knife does come into contact with you as opposed to it being farther out with momentum coming at you. Once you’ve got two-handed control, you can use knee strikes, head butts, biting, grappling/jiujitsu moves, or slamming of the hand into a hard surface.
There are other techniques that can be effective such as immediately blocking the knife attacking arm and striking simultaneously to the throat, nose or even chin with great power but the reality of being attacked with a knife is that it is a deceivingly devastating weapon that needs simple, straightforward and realistic ways to defend against.
Steve's a three-time survivor of violence in his youth and was an award winning police officer.
For several years, Steve also did radio political and current event commentary and taught college Criminal Justice. He is the former host of the long running 'The Kovacs Perspective' Internet radio talk show.
Presently, Steve is the owner and Managing Director of one of the oldest martial art schools in Ohio, 'The Mayfield Academy of Self-Defense'.
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