FOLDING KNIVES ARE A LETHAL FORCE OPTION
Police & Security NewsJan/Feb 2001
By Frank Borelli
Consulting Incorporated (BCI)
I spent two days in a fantastic class learning the
less than sophisticated art of using a “tactical” folding
knife in a potentially lethal manner in defense of myself or others.
Yes, I said, “less than sophisticated art.” Knife
fighting, like all other martial art disciplines, is a fine art and takes years
of training and practice before one even comes close to mastering it. What I
learned in two days was enough knowledge and skill that now I consider myself
adequately versed in the art of using a folding knife for defense purposes.
I walked into the class as a certified defensive tactics and officer survival
convinced that I knew something about knife fighting. In reality, what I knew
was how I’d been taught to defend against an edged weapon attack, and how
I’d taught other officers to defend themselves from the same type of attack.
I went into the class ignorant of knife fighting as an art and sure that I was
going to learn all about it. I came out of the class, two days later, able to
deploy the folding knife in my pocket as a potential lethal force tool and aware
that I was ignorant of knife fighting as an art.
The reason I have this awareness of my lack of knowledge is because a boisterous
instructor, named Michael deBethencourt, spent the two days ranting like a
lunatic about knives, knife fighters (or “knifers” as he refers
to them) and deploying knives for defense.
To give you a rough idea of Mr. deBethencourt’s knowledge and experience
base: He has over ten years of experience working as a knife/counterknife specialist;
has enjoyed more than 23 years of martial arts training/practice; has been
a police defensive tactics instructor for more than thirteen years; and has
been a published author on the topic of edged weapon usage for a ten year span.
Teaching an average of at least eight classes each month, and taking every
class he can find each year, he continuously increases his knowledge of edged
weapons, all of the arts that are built around them, and how segments of these
arts can be applied to police defensive tactics.
During the first morning of the class, Mr. deBethencourt reviewed the requirements
which must exist in circumstances surrounding the deployment of lethal force.
Just to be sure, Michael required each student instructor to SAY the requirements,WRITE
the requirements, and READ the requirements out loud to the rest of the class.
That completed, he started our education on knives by teaching us the correct
nomenclature and explained why he felt the folding knife was more desirable
than a straight or fixed blade.
All explanations completed, deBethencourt then began with basic skills, such
as drawing and opening the knife to secure it in the three grips he supports
in his training. Bearing in mind that most police officers rarely practice
what they are taught, deBethencourt keeps his training simple to the extreme.
There are only three grips taught in the class and only three targets taught
in the class. Throughout the two days of training, the large majority of which
is spent on practical exercise, my fellow student instructors and I repeatedly
attacked each other and defended ourselves from the attack (deploying training
knives in that defense). All of us strongly agreed, as we fulfilled the “attacker” role,
that the defense used would surely have stopped us and was a quick way of ending
our aggressive actions.
With the basic skills of drawing the knife, securing it in the proper grip,
and deploying it as a defensive tool practiced to comfort (though not to perfection),
deBethencourt expanded on the training to demonstrate how smoothly his techniques
blend into our other defensive tactics techniques. DeBethencourt displayed
how easy it was to use the knife as a weapon retention and disarming tool.
He showed us ways in which it could be deployed silently, without that nice
audible “click” most folding knives make when they open. He gave
us examples of how to use the knife to de-escalate situati ons under some circumstances.
As one of the more interesting parts of the class, deBethencourt talked honestly
with us about department politics and what types of arguments we could expect
to face when approaching our administrators with the idea of authorizing a
folding knife as a lethal force option.
On an equally serious note, some of the most important education I’ve
received about lethal force was the direct result of this class. For years,
I believed that the knife could be deployed, in a justified manner, to wound
so meone as a weapon retention technique. DeBethencourt is very clear about
this: The kni fe is a lethal force tool. “Cutting someone a little” is
akin to “shooting someone a little”. When you pull out that knife
as a lethal force option, the same requirements and restrictions that pertain
to the use of your firearm also apply. Don’t misunderstand me: while
the knife can certainly be used as a rescue tool, to spread peanut butter,
or to cut that barricade tape at the length you need, when you deploy it in
a conflict, it represents deadly force and you have to make sure you are acting
within your department’s guidelines for use of deadly force.
As to which knife, or knives, deBethencourt prefers, he is very articulate
about his preference for Spyderco knives – especially the pink handled
Delica model. Michael was detailed in his explanation about why police officers
don’t need a folding knife with a blade longer than 2 ½”.
Further, he explained why he preferred a straight edge over a serrated one.This
came down to ease of maintenance, cutting performance and community/court perception.
Let’s be honest: Which of the two blades would a jury find more menacing –the
pink handled 2.5” straight edge Spyderco Michael advocates, or the 3
7/8” half serrated, half straight, recurved edge of the black handled
Emerson Commander? Does this mean the Emerson Commander is a bad knife? Absolutely
not. I happen to love mine and it is in my pocket every day. Can I take it
with me into a courthouse or on a plane? Absolutely not. However, those are
two places that Michael habitually takes his nonoffensive, pink handled, “girly” looking
As a final knife carrying point, Michael was adamant about not carrying our
knives clipped to our pockets like most of us do. To be honest, it’s
damned uncomfortable to carry my Commander IN my pocket as opposed to clipped
my pocket. It’s just too big and this would defeat the entire purpose
of the handy auto opening feature that is activated as you pull the clipped
knife from your pocket. The other side of that is this: Michael’s pink
Spyderco Delica is not uncomfortable at all in his pocket, or pockets (when
he carries more than one), and if he sees a situation escalating to a point
where he might need that knife, it is an innocuous movement that clips the
blade to a more easily accessible position on his pocket. If the situation
de-escalates after that, the reverse move, just as unnoticeably, puts the knife
back into hiding.
As with all good training courses, this one made the necessary legal statements
about not carrying knives unless you know the laws of the area in which you
intend to carry. We were also given sound advice about carefully checking legal
definitions of such things as “concealed deadly weapon” and “pocketknife”.
Knowing that the class is about using a deadly weapon to deploy lethal force,
and being aware that even the training knives are made from plastic, aluminum
or steel, we were exceptionally careful during the course of instruction.
I look forward to the day when Michael comes back to my area for another class
because one of his policies is that you only pay for training once. He leaves
an open invitation to all students to reattend training, free of charge, and
that is truly unique. If you get the chance, take this class. If you don’t,
ask your department to send someone else. If you carry a knife, on or off duty,
make sure you can document some type of
training in its use. This was some of the best and I highly recommend it.
For more information on deBethencourt’s tactical folding knife programs,
you can call CQC Services at (978)667-5591, or you can find out about this
same training, as offered through the SIG Arms Academy, by calling them at
About the Author: Francis (Frank) Borelli is a seventeen year
veteran of law enforcement, having started as a military policeman in 1982.
Outside of his military service, Frank has fourteen years of experience as
a municipal officer, working the Washington, DC, Metropolitan area. With ten
years of experience as a law enforcement instructor, having taught firearms,
officer survival, defensive tactics and use-of-force issues, Frank continues
to research and develop training programs that promote contemporary service
oriented performance while maintaining strict adherence to officer survival
concerns. Frank enjoys comments and can be reached via E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org