You might get your butt whipped for carrying a knife but it usually wouldn’t land you in jail. Consequently everyone on the streets carried some type of bladed weapon.

People study the martial arts for any number of reasons. The type of art you study probably reflects that reason. If you are sports oriented, you probably aren’t studying aikido or krav maga. While all martial arts serve a purpose all aren’t created equal. Some lend themselves better to self defense than others. Some are better for self discovery while others are better for competition. My emphasis in my study is combat, self defense and personal security. I had my martial arts foundations developed in a very combative system, more by coincidence than personal intent. That influence and the fact that I grew up in a violence ridden part of a very rough city shaped my philosophy concerning the martial arts. Having become a Christian and a pastor further shaped my thoughts involving self defense and personal protection

I grew up fighting and I was good at it. In the neighborhood I grew up in violence was a fact of life. No one questioned it. Every person dealt with it as best they could. I was gang related for a good portion of my life. Back in the day guns weren’t the weapon of choice on the streets. They weren’t as easy to come by for kids back then. We were more prone to make zip guns than to have a manufactured fire arm. Knives and other concealable weapons were preferred to guns. They were more readily available and they were more easily concealed.

Being black in the inner city of Chicago meant you could be stopped and searched at any time. More often than not knives were confiscated. You might get your butt whipped for carrying one but it usually wouldn’t land you in jail. Consequently everyone on the streets carried some type of bladed weapon. There were exceptions. Some guys carried brass knuckles, a sap (blackjack) or some other such weapon but knives were more common.

In my neighborhood you had to be able to do two things. You had to be able to throw hands (box) and you had to be able to use a knife. Lacking in either skill got you hurt or killed in the streets.

I began studying the martial arts formally at age twelve. I also boxed for the Chicago Park District. When I started jiu jitsu and later karate classes I went in knocking more advanced students on their rear ends. I was street tough and I knew how to fight. The only reason I was there was because my father enrolled me to curb my aggression level. The one thing I wanted to learn from those classes was how to disarm a person with a knife.

Unarmed Against a Bladed Weapon

I like to keep current with the trends in the martial arts. I like some of the reality fighting arts. I’m somewhat more dubious about Brazilian Jujitsu and especially MMA. By the way, MMA is nothing new. I did that when it was illegal and we fought for small purses and side bets. Of course the competition wasn’t as good but those really were no holds barred. The only rule was you couldn’t use a weapon. Other than that there were no rules. You fought until someone was incapacitated or rendered unconscious. There was no tapping out. You fought until one of the fighters couldn’t continue. As I think back on it I see how foolish that type of thing was. At the time I was young and thought I was invincible and I needed the money. The fights were brutal, bloody free for alls. Unfortunately, much of the MMA I’ve seen is too similar. Too often it seems to be brutality simply for the sake of brutality. By the way, that kind of thing would get you killed on the streets.

More often than not the average assailant will either be armed or he’ll have friends for backup. If you think that you’re going to stand toe to toe and trade blows with a street thug you’ll probably be sorely disappointed. Thugs don’t fight fair. If they didn’t think they had a distinct advantage chances are they wouldn’t be confronting you.

In a lot of the disclaimers accompanying reality training a student is warned that his chances aren’t good against a person with a knife. If the person is trained or skilled with his weapon that’s probably true. I have yet to find the trained martial artist that can take a weapon from me. So what does that mean? We obviously can’t curl up and die in the face of a knife attack. The best defense against a knife is foot techniques. Use those size twelves to get out of Dodge. Fighting should always be our last resort anyway. You fight only if you’re left with no choice. That’s especially true if your opponent is armed. Don’t fool yourself. An armed person is always more dangerous than an unarmed person even if that unarmed person is trained. Still, if you have no choice and there’s no way to make a quick exit your only alternative is to defend yourself. It isn’t the best case scenario but when it’s all you’re left with you have to deal with the issue.

Disarms are designed to deal with a lethal situation with as little harm to the assailant as possible. Life and death combat doesn’t include compassion for your opponent.

This article isn’t about a set of techniques to use against a knife wielding attacker. Hopefully, if you’re reading this you have some training to cover such a situation. In a knife fight, technique alone won’t help you win. Whatever skill you have has to be coupled with courage and a willingness to do whatever it is you have to do. Unless you are a police officer or work in some such similar vocation, forget knife disarms. Disarms are designed to deal with a lethal situation with as little harm to the assailant as possible. Life and death combat doesn’t include compassion for your opponent. When faced with an armed assailant your purpose has to be to destroy or totally disable your opponent. Anything less than that is going to get you seriously hurt or killed.

I have taught self defense and anti rape classes over the years. In many of those classes I have had women walk out because the techniques were too brutal. Combat isn’t ballet. Combat is brutal by nature. If you aren’t ready to try to kill or seriously injure an armed assailant, you’ve lost before the fight starts. Believe me, if he is trying to attack you with a knife, your safety and well being is not one of his primary concerns. His intent is to hurt, seriously injure or kill you. Anything less than total commitment on your part will help him in his efforts.

Is it possible to face an armed assailant and come away unscathed? It is highly unlikely, if he knows what he’s doing. It is possible  however, to defend yourself and discourage or even defeat such an attacker. Forget the odds against you. You aren’t playing the odds. You’re trying to survive. If you’ve trained realistically for something like this, you already have the tools. You have to be willing to use them brutally and viciously. You can’t win a fight by being defensive. You have to defend yourself but at some point you’re going to have to go on the attack. You’ll have to find a way to initiate an attack or counterattack your opponent’s attack. You can’t keep evading and blocking his attacks forever. If you don’t do something to discourage him or hurt him he’ll keep trying until he finally connects. You have to fight back.

You’re more dangerous with a weapon. Use whatever is available. Don’t fight him empty handed if you don’t have to. Use the element of surprise. Throw something at him. Spit in his face. Startle him with a loud unexpected noise.

If you’re forced to fight empty handed, fight smart. Forget about pressure points. Most of them are too small to access on an armed and moving assailant. In that type of fight there are three areas of attack. If he can’t see he can’t fight. Attack his eyes. Compromise his vision. If he can’t breath he can’t fight. Compromise his ability to breath. If given the opportunity, attack the throat or the solar plexus. If he can’t stand he can’t fight. Attack his foundation. That includes his insteps, toes, ankles, knees and shins. Often these areas can be accessed with minimum risk to you. If you can get access to a joint or a limb go for bone breaks or joint destructions rather than attempting a disarm. His personal safety ceases to be your concern when he threatened you with a weapon. Until he is incapacitated or subdued, err on the side of maximum damage.

Lastly, expect to be injured. If by some miracle you aren’t, well and good, but don’t go in expecting to walk away unscathed. If you are cut or stabbed your life depends on your willingness to keep fighting. He isn’t going to stop because you’re hurt. You have to fight back if you hope to survive such an encounter.

In an encounter of this kind your survival depends on your willingness to not only defend yourself but to hurt, injure or kill your assailant. I’m both a Christian and a minister. I don’t advocate unnecessary violence but you have a right to defend and preserve your life. It’s your duty to protect you family and loved ones. There’s no guarantee that you’ll win such a conflict even if you fight with all of your skill and courage but I guarantee you that you won’t live if you aren’t willing to fight back. If you’re willing to take a punch in the nose and turn the other cheek, that’s your choice. You may take a beating but you have a good chance of surviving that type of attack but when that same opponent is armed, turning the other cheek isn’t a viable option. If you choose such a course your death won’t be just murder. It’ll be suicide.

I’ve had the fortune or misfortune of being involved in several knife fights. I’ve also had occasion to face several such opponents unarmed. I’ve been both cut and stabbed and still managed to take down or get away from the assailant. On the other hand I have actually managed to defeat an armed opponent without being injured. Whether those instances were because of my high level of skill or my opponent’s ineptitude is open to argument, but I’m still here to tell the story. I have no illusions about my martial abilities. Surviving such an encounter has as much to do with God’s grace and mercy as with my skill or my opponent’s lack thereof. I would never willingly find myself in such a situation if given any choice. My solution for this is to go armed. Because of several surgeries I carry a cane (and I’m not afraid to use it) but I’d probably carry one even if I didn’t need it.

I would advise you to train realistically to develop usable skills. I’d further advise you to develop your killer instinct and develop a level of fighting aggression. Forget about fancy or complex techniques. They probably won’t work when you need them most. Keep your techniques strait forth and simple. If you have to defend yourself be willing to take it as far as you have to. Against an armed assailant you have to be willing to take it all the way if you have to. You aren’t fighting for a medal or a trophy. You’re fighting for your life. You have to fight like your very life depends on it. Forget about fighting fair. There’s no such thing as a fair fight. If you’re going to fight, then fight. Don’t half fight or kinda fight. Give it everything you’ve got with conviction and lethal intent. There are no runner ups in a knife encounter. If you win, the prize is your life. If you lose… well let me put it this way, I hope you’re right with God.

In conclusion let me say this. The best fight is the one you can avoid. Next to that the second best is the one you win. Not managing either of those the third best fight is the one you survive. In the end that’s what it’s all about. If you don’t survive the encounter you can’t take it back to the drawing board. All I can say is if you must die in such a situation sell your life dearly. Death is always a possibility. The ancient samurai went into every battle expecting to die. If death proved to be inevitable he sought to die well.

Train hard and train realistically, my brethren. Go with God!
Dr. Donald Miskel

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Donald Miskel
Donald Miskel started his training in 1959 at the Jiu Jitsu Institute in Chicago and trained with several well known and respected martial arts instructors in a number of disciplines. He has attained black belt ranking in six different martial art disciplines. Sensei Miskel taught at several locations in and around the Chicago area for many years. His focus was self defense instruction for civilians and specialized, individual, training for law enforcement personnel and security officers. He worked in several areas of law enforcement, mental health and personal security as well as performing Pastoral duties at several churches and ministries for a number of years. e helped to create the Black Lotus Combative System and he founded the Dante Ryu Gojute Kenpo karate/ Ju jitsu fighting system. Dr. Miskel is an original member of the Black Dragon Fighting Society.