Inasmuch as anyone with absolutely no experience can be deadly with a knife; training how to use one offensively is the best way to know how to defend against one. The goal for those teaching knife defense, is to train people to win the encounter and walk away with their lives.
The most accessible edged weapons training available these days are FMAs (Filipino Martial arts), the schools and programs are ubiquitous. Combatives is also a consideration but they vary in quality and are more difficult to find. Combative knife as well as other esoteric knife systems will be the focus of a future article.
Some FMA knife training programs are excellent. However there are also a few that are woefully inadequate, teaching a macho approach and over complicated techniques that many students will never master. In addition many schools in Asia, and their offshoots in the West have modified their programs to be more aligned with either the sports side or Hollywood movies. This of course is to draw in more students.
Despite the fact that Western fencing is a sport, it does teach five essential lessons better than than any other edged weapon systems (including Japanese styles) they are: measure, timing, footwork, stance and dealing with opponents that are vastly different in size. Fencing concepts can be adapted to the knife, and If you have extra time, I suggest studying it as an adjunct to your knife training.
Most FMA instructors introduce students to the knife after they have studied the stick for a while, however some individuals need knife skills NOW and neither have the time nor interest in learning the stick. I don’t go along with the story that sword and knife techniques are interchangeable. There are specific differences to each weapon.
Some students of the knife are not interested in martial arts, budo or the way of the warrior. Many of them are involved with private security, bodyguard work or tied to government agencies. They seek knife skills to protect themselves from potentially dangerous situations – and guns are not a viable option.
Qualified Instructors need to be sensitive to these issues and focus the student training on: 1. Unarmed defense against a knife and, 2. knife-to-knife defenses. Why unarmed against the knife? In many cases knife attacks are quick and sudden ambushes and the victim won’t have the opportunity to get to his weapon. However if he does, then the knife skills are needed for stopping the attack.
Be Wary of Knife Cults
There are some questionable SE Asian styles that occupy the fringe areas of the knife world. They advocate violence and are always looking for an excuse to use their knives. They often train with live blades and carry multiple knives. Warning: If you are caught with several knives on your person in a large city, you will certainly be arrested and put into a mental institution.
In general, never allow students to train with live blades, it’s dangerous and stupid. Suggest eye protection when possible. Monitor drills slowly, many students race through the movements.
Sparring is a great way to develop distance and timing however beginning students should always be monitored. When they make a mistake, it’s important to stop them and point out the errors immediately, don’t let them continue on with the mistakes, they will internalize them. Use safety equipment for sparring, i.e. protective head and face gear, hand protection and rubber or foam knives.
I’ve found that many people can make significant progress practicing 3-4 times a week, more than that won’t necessarily advance their skills. For seminars I prefer to teach two 3-hour sessions with a break in between, and never more than 6-hours per day. It’s been shown that the brain can’t functionally absorb more information.
There are several strategic approaches I use to teaching physical skills, these include: the Pareto Principal, Reconsolidation, Interleaving, Scenario-Based-Training and Visualization. I have also found that Adrenaline-Stress-Training is an important component. These training methodologies with examples will be detailed in a future article.
Except for robberies, many knife attacks occur between 3-4 feet. As with all self-defense a keen awareness of your situation and environment can play a vital role in not being targeted. Many criminals have openly admitted that they prefer not to target someone who seems to be aware of their surroundings.
Can you Disarm an Knife Attack?
Yes – if you are prepared and the attacker comes at you with a committed strike. However if he comes in quickly jabbing in-and- out, I wouldn’t suggest it. I find the best defense for any knife attack is a shield, albeit a modern one. That could be a soft attache case, wrapping your arm with a jacket, or blocking the weapon using a bandana or plastic bag. I prefer to use a short stick (14” or so), you can also place an object between you and the attacker.
How Can you Recognize an Attack?
The only way to recognize an attack is to maintain constant vigilance and awareness and keep measure (distance). Never allow a stranger to come uncomfortably close to you given the circumstances and environment you are in. In NYC many streets are extremely crowed, however when strangers approach each other there is always the unspoken 30” rule. If a stranger approaches me too closely I usually step back at an angle, opposite his shoulder that is pulled slightly back – he will attack with that side.
Reading body language is essential, as is understanding criminal behavior. Sudden arm/hand movements usually indicate a knife attack. Most victims state that they never saw the knife before it was too late. Never follow the hands, they move too quickly. I prefer to watch the shoulders, they will tell you what’s coming in and how.
Some macho cult programs teach fighting toe-to-toe which is the dumbest thing you can ever do. Unlike unarmed fighting where getting in close is often advantages, going in close in a knife attack will get both of you seriously injured or killed.
The most important part of knife defense as well as any type of fighting of course is measure. This is the distance between you and your opponent which is constantly changing. This skill is best exemplified in Western fencing and boxing, and is closely tied to stance and footwork. Always remember, a taller person has a longer reach – many people forget to take this into consideration.
I think most people have seen photos of early combative pioneers holding their non-weapon hand out in front to protect themselves from a frontal knife attack (and their weapon hand held back – Biddle for example) – well can’t you be more stupid? Unless you cover your arm with a jacket or heavy material you may be severely cut – and possibly go into SHOCK. In this situation your knife should be out in front to threaten any incoming attack.
Stances I teach (utilizing a right-handed approach)
1. Against a large dangerous opponent (with no knife)
Use the combatives approach, non-knife hand in front and knife in the rear, left foot in front. Thus you can push the aggressor back while jabbing at him. These are often the tactics used by prison inmates
2. Opponent with knife-hand out in front
Your right hand and foot in front, attacking his knife arm
3. Opponents knife-hand in the rear / non-knife hand in front Your right hand and foot in front, attacking his non-knife arm
4. Against an opponent (when you have a shield)
Your non-knife side with shield in front, left foot in front, jamming his attack, attack with your rear knife hand
I customarily teach fencing footwork if the attacker is within a few feet, especially while retreating, I can easily retreat and return forward to instantly riposte. However if the attacker is a bit further from me and is charging I use the angular footwork of FMAs.
Stab or Slash
I think we all know the answer to this. Stabbing in general is the most effective way to stop an attacker with any type of knife, this isn’t my opinion, but the opinion of ER doctors who deal with these things often. When a knife hits a major organ or artery it’s usually game over, and this happens much faster than with a slash (unless it’s on the throat). BTW: if you have seen cctv videos of knife attacks, many attackers with smaller knives stab instead of slash.
Note: just because you have cut someone in a lethal area doesn’t mean they will automatically drop or explode like they do in the cinema. Most often they won’t even know they have been injured, even if they are gushing blood (this also happens with gunshots).
The primary targets you want to protect are the same targets you should use to stop your attacker when defending yourself. There are two approaches to targeting: 1) Biometric Cutting, or 2) Targeting major organs and arteries. Biometric cutting is meant to disable an attacker’s ability to continue his assault on you by cutting across his muscles and tendons. However if the attacker is wearing heavy winter clothing, this is difficult to do.
If the attacker is extending his limbs by all means attack them however this won’t always stop him. Attack what is available – remember, the only reason you are using your knife at this point is because you have no other recourse but to save your life. Major targets are the heart, liver, throat, femoral artery and kidney.
Tips & Tricks
90% of violent attacks can be avoided if you exercise situational and environmental awareness, reading body language and understanding the pre-indicators of an attack.
Don’t rely on OC Spray to stop an attacker. OC Spray does not work on everyone and you don’t want to find this out after you have been perforated
Avoid taking a knife fight to the ground. You may be tactically proficient in an unarmed ground fight however you never know what can happen on the ground. However there is a method to defending yourself on the ground
Don’t kick or punch someone holding a knife, it looks great in the movies but is not reliable in real life (there are two exceptions to the rule). I always prefer to immobilize the delivery system (the whole weapon arm, from the shoulder to the hand) if I can.
Never block and punch someone attacking with a knife simultaneously, a favorite technique of Israeli’s. The problem is that you might hit him so hard that his knife hand jerks forward uncontrollably cutting you. I have heard of this directly from a few IDF members.
The only cliche that Hollywood gets right is the person running away at top speed from danger and suddenly falls down. There is a theory that when adrenalized some blood is directed away from the limbs to the torso – in a similar fashion when the body is exposed to extreme cold. Running away at top speed is not recommended, jog away instead.
If you can escape don’t run backwards looking at your attacker, you might trip and may incite him to chase you. Look in the direction you are running and don’t look back, and as you are running pick up something you can use as a shield in case he comes after you.
Don’t grab your attackers wrist (holding the knife) unless you can quickly followup with your other arm. Wrist grabs are so easily undone.
The most dangerous and underestimated knife attack IMO is a sudden low-line thrust – it’s just harder to see and respond to.
Avoid grabbing the knife hand of an attacker, it can easily slip and cut your hand wide open. Also, avoid using kote-gaeshi for the same reason
Who is Coming after You?
You never know, you could be the person who breaks the camels back with the proverbial straw! In general its usually psychos, religious/racist zealots, robbers and anti-fa. Liberal judges seem to be releasing criminals by the dozen these days. They can get away with stabbing you but you will be arrested if you do the same
What Does a Knife Attack Really Look
There are many online videos showing what they claim to be a real knife attack. An actor demonstrates a 90-mile-per-hour furious non-stop knife attack ripping his victim to shreds. Do, these types of attacks really occur? Yes, however this is only one type of knife attack! There are many others.
I’m fully aware of the argument that defending yourself against a surprise attack from a determined knife wielding attacker may be useless. However I’m of the mind that dedicated and focused training will reward me with a keen sense of awareness, vigilance and preparedness. I refuse to be a pin-cushion.
There are many edged weapons attacks that happen all over the world. Here is a list of that I have experienced, seen, or heard from instructors and victims, in no particular order. Note: the majority of these attacks are sudden surprise ambushes.
1) Singular Committed Attack
This is when someone comes at you full blast and is determined to take you out with a single powerful slash or stab. If you can maintain presence of mind it’s quite possible to block and disarm this kind of attack.
2) Fast and Loud
Fast In-and-Out Repeated Stabs with distracting hand motions Used by individuals with extensive knife training such as Arnis and Silat. The non-knife hand flashes and pushes you to divert your attention as the knife hand jabs in-and-out stabbing you multiple times. IMO this is one of the most dangerous attacks.
3) Cleave & Hack
Often used in the Chinese community in Chinatowns around the world. These attacks have also been regularly reported in New York and San Francisco. The attackers generally use a cleaver, the same weapon used by the Tongs in the past.
Knife on body attacks are often used in robberies or Intimidation. These can be against a wall or in a open space, with the edged weapon on the neck or torso and from any angle. The weapons used for these attacks can include anything from razors to large folders. Years ago robbers would just take your valuables and leave, however these days they will sometimes stab you. It’s possible to fight back, I prefer to ask a question to interrupt their thought process first, then attempt the disarm – this really works.
Many years ago I was walking in Union Square in NYC after midnight and someone came up to me, distracted me and suddenly put a knife to my throat and asked for money. I spontaneously said “I know your sister” he stepped back and said “really?” I grabbed his sleeve holding the knife and politely but severely smashed his face in.
5) I was only Joking
Sometimes a stupid friend or an acquaintance might just joke around and playfully swing or poke a knife too close for comfort. This can end up as a serious accident. An acquaintance of mine from judo did this to me years ago, he started to jokingly poke his knife at my torso and ended up slicing my hand, I was gushing blood for over 20 minutes.
6) The Hidden Knife
You have gotten into an unarmed fight, your opponent is getting the worst of it, he suddenly pulls out a knife. A well known UFC champion told me his story; he was waiting in line at a Home Depot, when someone cut in front of him. After he paid his bill he went outside to confront him, they got into a fight and this rude person pulled out a knife. The fighter ran away as fast as he could – as he should have
7) The Magician
A tactic of misdirection and distraction. Someone comes up you and asks for directions or the time, and they suddenly pull out a
knife, either placing it on your body or stabbing you. This type of attack happens everywhere.
8) Racial & Religious Attacks
These types of attacks have become popular, most especially from immigrants in Europe targeting people wearing the wrong religious paraphernalia. In New York and other large U.S. cities, many racial attacks usually occur on the subway
9) Gypsy Kids
In Europe especially in Paris, groups of kids usually 10-12 years old surround tourists to ask for money. Sometimes, when they’re refused they will cut you and run. I saw this near Notre Dame years ago. A group of kids surrounded a couple, then I heard the man scream, later on in the news it was reported that he was stabbed by a kid because he refused to give them money
Random attacks out of nowhere. These are commonplace in many cities. It happened to the Mayor in Paris in the early 2000’s, he was stabbed in the leg while his bodyguard was standing next to him. In New Orleans several years ago, a normal looking woman was walking nonchalantly down a crowded street in the French quarter and randomly stabbed and slashed strangers and continued walking, this was caught on cctv? Every once in a while there are major random psycho knife attacks in China, and these aren’t small events, often targeting and killing dozens of people, usually with kitchen knives or cleavers
11) The Jeepney Hustle
A common robbery in the Philippines happens to riders sitting in Jeepneys. When traffic is stalled robbers come alongside and stick their hand/knife past the open windows to rob passengers – the victims have no choice, they can’t move
12) The Come-Along
You are walking along and a person comes close to you and wraps their arm around yours, at the same time placing the point of the knife on your torso, it’s difficult for others to see. While teaching in the Philippines one of my seminar attendees, a court officer, alerted me to these type of attacks. These are used to intimidate jurors, or in a discreet robberies.
This worst case scenario often happens in Asia. I’ve seen it several times on TV news in Japan, Thailand and Hong Kong . A bank robbery goes south and the criminal takes a hostage, usually a child or a woman. In most cases the police show up and the incidents are diffused.
14) Boxcutter Man
These types of attacks occur frequently by the homeless in NYC and San Francisco. The goal is to disfigure someones face, cause serious neck injuries, and is sometimes used for robberies.
15) Walk On By
Used by professionals to assassinate their marks. Most famous attack of this type was the ricin loaded pellet in the umbrella by a Bulgarian Agent working for the Russians. This is also one of the favorite tactics of the Italian Mafia – targeting the femoral artery in a walk-by
17) The Slighted
The attacker feels he has been slighted or shamed in some manner. Sometimes on the train, subway or bus a person will look at someone too many times and BAM, the perceived victim takes out his knife and slams him – also includes gang hits or initiations
18) Attacker Running Towards You
This is when an attacker is a distance away from you but has targeted you for a kill. I was teaching a former fighter pilot years ago and he told me that when he parachuted after being shot down over Afghanistan he noticed two enemy combatants running towards him. He shot one with his handgun, and stabbed the other in the heart.
19) Multiple Attackers
Several individuals, usually a gang, corral you into a small space and start stabbing you. Often occurs in gang initiations or a revenge hit. Sometimes a single gang member comes up to his victim and shouts directly at his face while stabbing him. This happens in major cities the world over.
20) The Bar Crawl
A drunken guy thinks you have been looking at his girlfriend and approaches you, sometimes with a knife, a broken bottle or an ashtray, this is exactly why you don’t go to a club at 2:00 AM
21) The Doorman Attack
In Switzerland a bouncer I met at one of my seminars was an accomplished muaythai practitioner. He was working at a local club and refused to let a rowdy Albanian get in. A fight ensued, he kicked the thug, however at the same time his leg was cut wide open from underneath. This could have ended badly, luckily he survived. My general rule is to never punch or kick any attacker holding a knife, first immobilize his delivery system (from the shoulder to the hand)
22) Grab-and-Go (Push-and-Stab: Jam-and-Stab)
This is sometimes called the sewing machine or bulldogging. An inmate approaches his victim and either grabs or pushes him while continually stabbing him multiple times. This is one of the most difficult attacks to deal with. Many victims get disoriented by the pushing hand and don’t know how to deal with the knife.
23) Falling Down
You are pushed or fall to the ground and the attacker intends to finish you off, what do you do? I Knew a judo player from Poland who told me about his experience. He was approached by two thugs in Sweden. During an engagement slipped and fell down onto the sidewalk. He was able to kick and sweep his attackers to the ground – got back up to his feet and ran away. There is a way to defend yourself from this type of attack, but takes lots of practice and athleticism
24) It’s in the Bag
As a teen studying martial arts in Japan I got a job in Asakusa as a bodyguard. Unbeknownst to me it was a Yakuza club, I didn’t know what they were at the time. Some of the clubs security befriended me and showed me one of their favorite assassination tactics. An innocent looking bag with a knife inside. The idea was that the bag would be jammed hard into the intended victim with the knife inside penetrating the bag and the victim.
25) Mini-Me (Razor)
Two girls attended my seminar in Jakarta. I learned later they were high class call girls. After the class they told me that sometimes clients would become uncontrollable and for their own safety they carried a razor blade in their mouth. The razor (from a box-cutter), was filed down on one end and part of the blade.It was kept in their mouth along side the check
Here is a list of where you can get great knife training. We will add to the list going forward
New York City, USA
Mix of Western fencing, FMAs, Combatives
Reality-Based-Training, Gray Area Defense
Text: 212 255 1040
Mix of Western fencing, FMAs, Chinese MAs
Silat, Firearms Training, Unarmed Defense http://www.jamesakeating.com
541 938 3451
FMA, Military Combatives
Knife maker, Riddle of Steel
253 678 7658
Mix of Western Fencing, FMAs, Kalis Illustrisimo
Bladed Weapons + Impact / Flexible Weapons
Senior Archivist Kalis Illustrisimo
Mix of Western Fencing, FMAs, Kalis Illustrisimo
Contact: through Facebook
FMAs – JKD Curriculum
808 864 1620