The reality of most self-defense techniques against a knife or other edged weapon in martial arts systems is that they’re not effective against when confronted with real world violence. In general, the defenses against blades are overly complicated, not instinctual, and static. This criticism can be levied at much of the techniques for self-defense in martial arts, however for today we’re going to focus on self-defense against knives and other edge weapons. Let’s take a look at a few of the myths about knife attacks and see what we can do to overcome them. These are based on an awesome video that’s making the rounds on YouTube. You can see it here if you like, complete with real footage of what they’re describing.
Myth #1 “I’ll just shoot them.”
This is a common response from most people with a concealed carry firearm. The reality is, you might miss. Under stress you probably will. That is, if you are even able to get your gun out and fire a round at all.
In the law enforcement and defensive handgun community, the Tueller Drill is pointed to over and over again as the example that you can’t rely solely on your holstered handgun when in close proximity to a knife wielding madman. The Tueller drill postulated that a defender with a gun has a dilemma. If he shoots too early, he risks being charged with murder. If he or she waits until the attacker is definitely within striking range so there is no question about motives, he risks injury and even death. The Tueller experiments quantified a “danger zone” where an attacker presented a clear threat. In the experiments it’s been determined that at 21 feet, an attacker with a knife “wins” more than half the time. It wasn’t until the range was extended to beyond 30 feet that the trained law enforcement officers began to win most of the time.
The video below demonstrates some of the problems with distance when using a gun against a knife wielding attacker. Time and distance work in favor of the knife user and against the gun user. As the video points out, drawing from a concealed holster is even slower, and sometimes a two handed affair.
Even if you were able to get your gun out, there are videos all over the internet where an attacker takes ten or more shots to the chest and still manages to reach the defender and deliver life threatening blows. The reality of real world violence is that most knife attacks are from much, much closer than 30 feet. In fact, usually they start within less than 10 feet. The likelihood of you being able to draw your weapon and fire a shot in time to keep from getting stabbed or cut is almost zero.
That’s not to say that a gun isn’t useful and that it can’t be a component of defending yourself against a knife wielding madman. I would certainly rather have a gun, than not have one, but in most cases it’s not going to be the first line of self-defense. There will have to be something done first to negate the immediate threat (like the knife stabbing or slashing at you) and then transition to my firearm. However, those things have to be trained.
Myth #2 “I’ll pull my own knife and fight them.”
In the same vein as pulling your gun and shooting them, you’re not likely to be able to pull your knife and fight them initially either. Why? Because the majority of knife attacks aren’t fights, they’re ambushes. In the moments after you realize someone is stabbing or trying to stab, you can be stabbed ten or more times if you focus first on trying to pull your own knife to fight back rather than engaging the threat. Just like in the last situation, there has to be something that’s instinctual and can be done under stress to stop the initial threat before you can transition to any weapons that you might be carrying.
Myth #3 “I’ll just run away.”
“If they try to attack me with a knife, I’ll just run away.” So far, that’s probably the smartest move of the three we’ve covered. If you’ve got the opportunity, definitely get out of there. The reality is, you can’t always run away. Or they’re faster than you. Or you turn a corner or are trapped. Maybe you make the mistake of trying to get into your house or your car. What then?
If you can run and be able to get out of the way, run. However, if it’s time to fight, be ready with something that is reactionary, instinctual and goes off like a bomb.
Myth #4 “Only idiots attack with the icepick grip.”
There’s a lot of idiots out there. People get stabbed by their attacker using the icepick grip more often than you think. It’s a natural motion of your arm and you can do it many times, very fast. You know what’s worse than getting stabbed once? Getting stabbed 17 times.
Don’t ignore the icepick grip as part of your self-defense. It may be more satisfying to practice a martial artsy style defense from a slash or a straight stab, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore one of the quickest and most effective ways to cause massive damage to your victim.
Myth #5 “Only idiots grab you while they stab you.”
Again, there are more idiots than you think. What better way to make sure you get your target than by grabbing them and stabbing them repeatedly at close range? Certainly keeps them from getting away from you. This hockey punch style is very quick and very effective because it’s coming quick, many shots, and on a high and low level.
Keeping your response simple, but going fast and hard at the scumbag is going to go a long way to mitigating the amount of times you get stabbed. One thing is for certain, there will be blood.
Myth #6 “You can’t catch a stab.”
Most knife attacks are at close range and are a surprise. Knifers don’t feint. They come right at you. Your chances go up if you can isolate the attackers arm holding the knife. You may still get cut, but at this point your goal is to just survive and stop this person from killing you. Isolating that arm, even after being stabbed, and delivering blow after blow with any free limbs you have might be your only chances of survival. Everything under the sun in how to attack someone with a knife has been around for hundreds of years, including defending against them. In many cases, isolating that arm and not allowing the attacker to continue stabbing or at least slowing them down might be the difference between life and death.
Beware of someone that claims to have a foolproof method of defending against the knife, because the likelihood is that they’re making it up and have no experience with knife fighting or the study of realistic self-defense. Grab their arm, stop them from stabbing you. It could save your life.
Myth #7 “Knife Attacks are One and Done.”
This one just doesn’t fit with what we know of the facts. Most knife attacks are stabbings where the attacker from whichever grip they choose hit their target repeatedly. None of this one stab and let them bleed out. It resembles a sewing needle quickly puncturing their victim as many times as they can. In those cases, being most of the cases, a technique that’s only practiced in a static fashion with the belief that they’re going to stab one time and you’ll be able to stop them, isn’t going to work.
Defenses against any weapon have to be done at as close to full speed as you can do it and in the manner that they are most likely to attack. In the case of a knife they’re going to surprise you and they’re going to very quickly stab many times. Which brings me to…
Myth #8 “You can get away with out a scratch.”
That’s a load of baloney. There’s going to be blood. It’s probably a miracle of timing, ferocity, training, and luck if even the most skilled warriors don’t get cut. You have to be fast and accurate, but more importantly accept that getting stabbed will probably happen, but mitigating the number of times or severity is sometimes the best outcome you will see.
And speaking of blood. Blood is pretty slippery, so those moves that rely on precision gripping to do locks or other fancy moves, probably won’t work as well, if at all, like you see on TV or in karate class. Again, going forward with a realistic understanding of knife defenses will help you overcome a variety of situations when they occur. Chances are your attacker hasn’t trained for the blood issue, if you do then there’s an advantage in your favor. Although, it can seem like a small one when they often have suprise, timing, and speed on theirs.
Here in FishHawk at my martial arts school, we train as realistic as we can for self-defense with both our adults and our kids programs. If you live in the Brandon, Riverview, FishHawk, Valrico, Lithia area and are interested in attending one of our self-defense seminars against edged weapons– check out our events page for days and times.