Knife Self Defense

At training this week we practiced self defenses against knife attacks. Knives are common implements, as they can be carried discretely, and are a great “force multiplier”. They also tend to get their carrier in less trouble than illegal firearms, which explains the popularity of knives among perpetrators.

It can be very unnerving to be threatened by a knife. Having a perpetrator place a knife on your throat can be so overwhelming as to paralyze the untrained victim. The good news is that, with some training and preparation, such a situation can be quite manageable.

Threatening a victim with a knife is a common way for an attacker to submit the victim into compliance. For example, an attacker may “pull a knife” to get you to go into his vehicle, to be relocated to a place more convenient for the attacker. As we have discussed previously, it is never a good idea to let a perpetrator transport you to a secondary crime scene.

Defenses Against Knife Attacks

First, a disclaimer: If only property is at stake (your wallet, money, cell phone, whatever), I would, any day, hand over the property to the criminal. It is not worth the chance that things go wrong and you get seriously hurt. However, if you believe that your life, or the life of your loved ones, are in danger, you must fight.

The second disclaimer is about mindset. When you are unarmed, and you are fighting an attacker armed with a knife, there is a good chance that you will get cut. The objective is that, if you are cut, such cuts be suffered by non life threatening body parts, such as arms, as opposed to neck, abdomen, or major arteries. You must cultivate a mindset that it is OK to get cut, and that, even if you are cut, you will continue to fight!

Training knives for practicing knife self defense

Above you can see two common types of fighting knives. These are training version of the real thing, and we use them in the dojo to safely train. The bottom blade is a tactical combat knife, and the top blade is a folding knife. The benefit of the folding knife is that it is easy to carry and conceal.

Action is Faster than Reaction

Although you may not initially believe it, when you are threatened with a knife you have a tremendous advantage. This is because action is faster than reaction. In other words, you can move to control the knife faster than the attacker can perceive what is happening, have his brain issue the command to his muscles to cut you, and get his arm to move and cut you.

The key is staying relaxed. If you move from a relaxed position, and with no telegraphing, the attacker will not be able to react fast enough. See the photos below. With a little training, you can learn how to move explosively, and with no telegraphing. In martial arts class, it literally takes only about five minutes of training to get students to be reasonably good at this skill.

knife on throat

Knife self defense in San Diego

Other Principals in Knife Self Defense

There are two other principals that come into play in knife defenses. The first is obvious – you must control the blade. That means that you have to be aware of the blade, and place yourself, or the blade, in a position where the blade cannot cut you. For example, moving to the side or behind the attacker are good options. Another good option (as in empty hand fighting) is to immediately control the attacker’s center, so that he is busy keeping himself on his feet, and is unable to initiate any attacks.

The second principal may be less obvious initially. With weapons at hand (knife, gun, broken bottle), everyone’s attention – attacker and attacked – usually focus exclusively on the weapon. This is a mistake. Remember that you still have all your weapons available to you – hands, elbows, knees, feet – and that your attacker still has all of his targets – groin, throat, knees, instep, pressure points, etc. Attack those points with your weapon!

In a self defense situation, the goal is to create enough of an opening to safely escape. Especially with an armed attacker, do not attempt to subdue, pin, or punish the attacker. Do what you need to do, and get out of there as quickly as you can!

Happy training!

Brian is a life-long martial artist, athlete, and serial entrepreneur. He teaches martial arts and self defense to adult and teen students in San Diego, at the Full Potential Martial Arts dojo in Carmel Valley.

2 comments on “Knife Self Defense
  1. Ken D. says:

    Another interesting article, which can definitely save your life one day; if one ever finds themselves in a life-threatening situation.

    During the training as the victim, I personally experienced how relaxing and then quickly controlling and disarming my attacker; without telegraphing actually works.

    As the attacker, I also couldn’t tell when the victim was ready to control and disarm me; unless they telegraphed first.

    I found the Knife training to be beneficial, along with all the other Martial Arts training (i.e., self-defense, forms, body conditioning, yoga, bag work, partner drills, meditation, qiqong, tai chi, karate, jiu-jitsu, CQC (closed quarter-combat) philosophy, etc…)

    Thanks again for sharing your experience and making me feel safer and more confident in my abilities.

  2. Sam C says:

    Self defense is a topic that’s close to my heart… excellent article!

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