How To Not Die: The Sharp Truth About Knife Violence

Anyone that has spent much time with me knows that I find knife attacks and threats the most frightening to deal with, and that we spend a lot of time looking to avoid them at all costs. However, if avoidance is not an option, there are a few things we believe everyone should know, about the weapon, the user, and the response.

The Weapon

Edged-weapons rarely fail. Blades do not run out of ammunition. Blades do not have a “line of fire”, as most of what is exposed is dangerous, and blades, once presented, are always live. Edged-weapons, unlike firearms, are often weapons of convenience, gleaned from the environment during a violent encounter, and are therefore more prevalent: knife, screwdriver, scissors, pen, and more. Further, FBI statistics show us that stabs/slashes are reliably more deadly than gunshots.


The User

Here’s the dirty little secret: you do not need to be skilled with a knife to do massive damage. What you need, is intent. EVERYONE with a knife has the potential to be deadly. The mentality of someone willing to use a knife versus a gun, for example, is pretty stark. A firearm is a distance weapon. The user is not required to touch the victim/target. With a knife, the user must be willing to run a piece of steel through skin and muscle and tendon and whatever else might be in the way. This is someone comfortable (at least with the idea of) with getting bloody, and feeling the life leave another human. This is an incredibly important thing to remember when dealing with a knife attack or threat. It also turns out that most people have handled edged-weapons, in one form or another, the majority of their lives, so it is familiar to them.

The Response

  1. Be first: at the first sign of imminent violence, act first, either by striking or controlling the attacker.
  2. Disengage ASAP: as soon as you can create an opportunity to safely leave, do so. The more time that passes, the more variables increase.
  3. Use force multipliers when possible: if you carry a weapon, train with it. Know when to use it, and when it is more of a liability than an advantage. Learn to use your environment to enhance your survivability, also.
  4. Learn to fight: if you cannot fight someone that is unarmed, then there are no special techniques designed to make you a super secret ninja SEAL knife fighter (not even for a special one time price of $49.99, if you act today). You need to wrestle, box, kickbox, do jiu-jitsu or judo or both…you need to learn to fight.
  5. Get control: if you took the “learn to fight” advice, then you will understand that “two on one” is the only control that really matters. Fights are about winning moments in time, and control might be a fleeting moment, but to have it and win it, you need two hands/arms on the one holding the knife. Anything else and you are a wrist release away from being gutted. 
  6. Use your striking to set up your wrestling and your wrestling to set up your striking: you might hit them in order to gain your two on one control, then use that control to deliver counterattacks, or you might get control in order to counterattack, but these delivery systems should not be mutually exclusive. You need to learn how to use one to assist the other.
  7. Forget about disarms: any disarms or takeaways should be incidental. They should happen as a result of your counterattacks, not because you attempt to strip the knife from the attacker. First, these techniques are almost always very fine motor oriented, and second, they ignore the real problem: if the attacker is still upright and holding the knife, he is still fighting, and you are busy trying to take a knife instead of fighting back.

So, if at all possible, avoid bad places and situations, and certainly do not engage someone with a knife unless you have no other viable options. However, since this is not always possible, keep in mind that the variable you ultimately control is you. The time and energy that you put into learning to deal with such encounters is your responsibility, and it might be the only thing that keeps you alive should things get bad. (Good) Training matters.