Six Martial Arts Myths about Defending Against a Knife Attack

How to use this info: If you are interested in aquiring training in how to defeat a knife attack, take a look at the system you find and judge how it deals with these problems. There is a lot of stuff out there, some good, some bad. Don’t forget, you are betting your life on your choice…

One caveat here: most of this refers to a criminal knife attack in public somewhere. It does not reflect the realities of a domestic attack where a knife is used in a rage to kill a family member or friend. Daren Laur, who has my utmost respect for his research skill, his fighting ability and training system, suggests that the most common attack is such situations is a hammer style attack from straight down or at an angle. See his Fighting With a Knife.
defending from a knife attack
Myth 1: The criminal knifer will square off with you, giving you time to assess his style, plan your moves and just plain get ready.

Reality 1: An criminal knifer will not usually show his blade to you or anyone else before he tries to bury it in your gut. He is trying to murder you and will not advertise the fact. Most martial arts and military styles of knife work were developed in a lawless society or where the soldier was the law. Today’s reality is that cutting someone is illegal and the knife work that has come out of the North American prisons reflects that reality. The ambush and the sucker strike are here to stay.

The person who waves his knife in your face wants something from you: your fear, your money or for you to leave him alone. In this situation you will have a martial arts response available, but it will be incredably difficult compared to the ease he will have killing you. The martial arts attitude that they have a technique with a perfect chance of winning in such a situation is a myth. It might be better to avail yoursef of the Nike defence and boot it, or at least give him what he wants while you practice your de-escalation techniques for survival.

knife self defence If you like to wander on those parts of the map where it says "dragons be here" you’d better have a reflexive response ready for the ambush.

Myth 2: After he shows you his knife and his intent, the knifer will use the knife like a long-range weapon: i.e. he will hold it in his forward hand and lunge into a slash. Or, he will thrust with full body movement, extending his knife hand as he moves with a major body part (read: a killing blow to heart, lungs or neck) as his target.

Reality 2: Let alone the fact that it is pretty hard for a knifer to keep his intentions to kill you a secret with a full driving lunge attack, none of the Oriental martial arts knife work I’ve been involved with have taught this approach to killing; they are notorious for slicing and dicing before they finish (this includes Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Filipino styles). Even the military styles are taught to cut their way in and to cut their way back out–taking all targets of opportunity on their way.

American prison style of shanking with only the point (no edge) does not usually drive in this way

either. See the review:

cover of Put 'Em Down, Take 'Em Out: Knife fighting techniques from Folsom Prison


Put ’Em Down, Take ’Em Out!: Knife Fighting Techniques From Folsom Prison 



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Surviving A Street Knife Fight: Realistic Defensive Techniques by Marc "Animal" MacYoung.



The full body, lunging style of attack seems to be afighting knives movie style that was developed to be able to show clearly what was happening on the screen to the best advantage, and has been pictured a thousand times in the "Do it this way (and die)" martial arts rags, I mean mags.

Where you may see a lunge attack is in the ambush or surprise attack, where the extra distance is seen by the attacker as a safety zone. This may be used by someone who is feeling secure that he is not going to be seen or who is too enraged to care. When the knifer combines the ambush with a lunge attack, using strongest-weapon-to-major-target principle, the victim (you) is surprised, caught off balance, not in fight mode and very vulnerable.

Therefore, your training must include defences from surprise lunge attacks. But, due to the fact that other types of attacks are more probable, especially if you are being confronted with a knifer who wants to hide his stuff, training against the other types of attacks must be learned and drilled.

Myth 3: The myth of the frozen hand. This is actually two myths because it can apply to both the knife hand and to the attacker’s free hand. It means that once you have blocked his knife hand, he either leaves it out there for you to ju jitsu all over, or he does not involve his free hand at all.

Reality 3: The knife you block can cut its way back out of your reach as fast as it came in, it can twirl and cut up your hand, it can "tip-rip" your forearm. His other hand can tear out an eye or give you a thought provoking shot in the throat.

I was taught three principles of Oriental knife work:

* hypnotise with the blade, kill with the free hand
* flash the knife to get a defensive block into place, then cut it
* starting with the closest target, cut your way in, then cut your way back out, wait for blood loss and shock to give you a chance to make a finish.

As for the prison style attacks, it is much more direct with less flash and slash without the disadvantages of the lunge attack. It depends upon the proper use of the free hand to catch and pull the victim in close where the knife can be used "discretely." (Various youtube vids perport to show such knifings but they look staged to me.)

Myth 4:
"You get close to fight a knife so you must rush a knife."
“Keeping well away from a knife is your only advantage.”

The Contradiction: The get close myth only aplies to those with a choice who do not have a duty to engage nor a distance weapon of their own. If you are surprised and he is already in close then you must fight. If you have a duty to engage and must close in, long range solutions cannot be considered. The get close tactic is a myth when applied to the untrained who have no need to engage who might believe that they should rush at the knifer because they will die if they try to run away.

Reality 4: The knife is a short range weapon and if you choose to fight in its range the chances are you will lose. For sure you will get cut. Unless you must fight the knife, you should stay away and fight from long range with long-range weapons, like canes, chairs, garbage cans and thrown objects. It doesn’t matter if the bad guy is trained or not, he must get close to you to cut you, and once he is close, he can cut you.

There is no power needed for cutting - the knife has all the power. All the knifer provides is a delivery system and the knife can come in at incredibly high speed with erratic motions. Do you really want to walk into a blender?

I have never had the dubious pleasure of someone rtying to kill me with a knife, but three times I have faced an angry person who grabbed a knife and pointed it at me to keep me back. This was the nature of my work environment. Three times I held my ground and did not rush in, thankfully. Each time the person was not interested in cutting me as much as just leveling the playing field and showing me that he too, had some power. Each time I chose to talk to him, rather than rush in to disarm him. My message was that since he had escalated into life and death combat by grabbing the knife, I could not guarantee his safety or that he would not get hurt if he forced me to fight for my life. Each time they put the knife down and we went on with our negotiation.

Rushing in might have been the end of everything for me…

On the other hand: you do what you must.
If you must fight in close, then you must control the delivery system with a sharp strike to his wrist or a simple arm wrap, (cqc), grabs, (Peyton Quinn), or the Pat, Wrap and Attack system, (Darren Laur ), all followed up by a devastating barrage of strikes.

Myth 5: "You can take a cut while you kill him,"
or, "While he’s cutting me, I’ll be killing him."

Reality 5: The one-shot kill is so hard to pull off on a fresh and committed opponent that you can’t count on it, as the so called no holds barred fighting has proven. Of course it’s available but if it fails you are in deep doo-doo while you are inside his range, cut and in shock. This is not where you want to be.

It may be that your thoughts are: “He’ll get one cut but I will pound him to submission with a thousand blows.” But if you go into shock, your plan will not work.

The problem of shock relates to the body’s natural dismay at being invaded by a foreign object; it has nothing to do with how tough you are. A deep cut in a minor place like the forearm may stop you in your tracks due to physiological responses outside your control.

I have heard about a teacher who gets his students to relax, knocks the wind out of them and then forces them to defend themselves. That is a bit of what the shock will be like. The shock of the cut on your forearm may give him the opportunity to sink his putt in your gut.

Sacrificing an arm to avoid a kill shot to the throat is a smart move, but it is inherantly risky to intentionally take a cut just to set up your own shot, no matter how many others have successfully done it.

Myth 6: If you are good at sparring, you are ready for fighting.

Reality 6: Sparring is a game that is safe and no matter how good you get, it isn’t fighting. It will teach you balance, movement, range and openings, but it will not prepare you to face death, adrenaline dumps and the brutality of a violent desire to kill you.

A criminal who is seriously trying to kill you with a knife will not spar or look for openings nor joust with you; his psychology is totally different. He has no fear because he has made himself invincible with his weapon and previous successes. He also wants it over fast so he can escape the attention of the police. He charges in with no apparent regard for his own safety with the intent to overwhelm his victim.

If he starts waving his knife around and sparring, you are lucky. Now you have time to run to get a distance weapon, or just to get out of Dodge!

So there it is; my take on the topic. Until I change my mind that is. There is a lot of info available so don’t take the first expert who comes along as god. Do your homework, starting here: Knife Fighting Lies, by Animal.


Further Studies:


Pool Cues, Beer Bottles, and Baseball Bats: Animals Guide to Improvised Weapons for Self-Defense



Surviving A Street Knife Fight: Realistic Defensive Techniquesno image






Put ’Em Down, Take ’Em Out!: Knife Fighting Techniques From Folsom Prison

cover of Put 'Em Down, Take 'Em Out: Knife fighting techniques from Folsom Prison