Defending Against a Knife Attack-Devastation, Occurrence and Reality


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 Kovacs
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Steve Kovacs

Steve is a bestselling author with his latest book being, 'Protect Your Kids! The Simple Keys to Children's Safety and Survival'. Steve has also written hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics.

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'.
Steve Kovacs
Follow Steve
Steve Kovacs

About Steve Kovacs

Steve is a bestselling author with his latest book being, 'Protect Your Kids! The Simple Keys to Children's Safety and Survival'. Steve has also written hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics. 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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3 Responses to Defending Against a Knife Attack-Devastation, Occurrence and Reality

  1. Patricia JohnsonPatricia Johnson says:


    Nice article! Your timing on this piece coincides nicely with the devastation that recently took place in China with knives.

    Twenty-nine people were killed and 130 were injured Saturday night when 10 men armed with long knives stormed the station in the southwest Chinese city of Kunming, the state news agency Xinhua reported.

    Pasted from

    Seems to me that unless a person is trained in self-defense they would be just as fearful of a person wielding a knife as they would a person standing in front of them with a firearm, and probably wouldn’t do anything out of fear. At least I think that would be my position, just stand there shivering in my boots!

    There is so much violence all over the world I wonder if there is ever going to be any relief from it.

    Have a good day,


  2. Steve KovacsSteve Kovacs says:

    I was aware of what happened in China–it didn’t have anything to do with me writing the article but it sure hits it home on what devastation can be done with knives.

    In almost every mass shooting and killing some people freeze–they just stop and allow themselves to be slaughtered. I have written about it and how to break from that phenomenon. So, you are quite astute to say that you and others might do just that.

    In my view, in a way, but a very real way, knives are worse than guns. When disarming someone with a gun you have one barrel to control but with a knife you have two edges and a tip. Of course firearms are the much better weapon etc but on a close one on one defense; knives, to me, are just as frightening if not more so.

    Even trained people should be quite concerned defending against a knife. In reality it is very difficult.

    You’d think with civilization touching the four corners of the world now that off the charts violence would be different from the days of being drawn and quartered and other crazy violent acts–but not much has changed, has it!

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Patricia JohnsonPatricia Johnson says:

    Oh, I was thinking the China situation happened after you wrote the article Steve.

    I don’t think there’s anything civilized about the way people treat one another. Maybe it’s because the news is so accessible and bad news is gets spread quicker than good news, but it seems as if the violence is increasing daily. Doesn’t seem to me there’s any hope of stopping the violence.

    We need more stories with nice endings like the one in Georgia where a man received a traffic citation and walked 29 miles, in the freezing cold to appear in court. His vehicle had been totaled so he had no transportation. When he arrived in court his public defender didn’t show up and one of the policemen offered to give him the $80 so he could take a cab back home. The man didn’t want to accept the money, but when a bunch of the police each donated a smaller amount, he accepted their generosity and was able to take a taxi home.

    I can’t imagine someone walking 29 miles on what I think was called the coldest day in history, in that particular area. That just boggles the mind, but thank goodness there were some kind officers at the court to help him out.

    Have a nice evening,


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