There is no margin for error when you face an edged weapon.
People usually grossly underestimate the danger of a knife or any other edged weapon. Perhaps they’ve become desensitized by how easily TV and movie heroes beat the tar out of knife-wielding opponents.
But no matter what you think, I can assure you from a lifetime of experience: Knives can be every bit as lethal as guns.
In an empty-handed street fight, you might get away with taking a couple of punches to the face or body. There is plenty of room for error.
But when you face a knife, there is no room for error. Your tactics, techniques and procedures must be executed correctly. And remember, the only rule is to survive and get home safe.
If you have been following the news, you know that there have been a great many mass knife attacks by terrorists both abroad and in the United States. And knife-related crimes have also increased on our streets.
So I believe the chances that you will face a knife attack are growing every day. Which is why I want to take a closer look at edged-weapon attacks, especially the strategies to avoid them and the ways in which you can better protect yourself.
It is important to recognize that most edged-weapon attacks are crimes of opportunity. The attacker ambushes the target without any long, drawn-out surveillance or stalking.
These attacks usually occur swiftly to catch the target off guard. But there are still points during the attack cycle when you can detect the slasher and possibly avoid getting cut or killed.
As with most street attacks, the most obvious warning sign will be the attacker’s demeanor before striking. And like most other attacks, the perpetrator will normally exhibit behavior that is unusual or out of the ordinary.
Look for These Indicators
Look at people’s hands to see if there is a weapon in them. Look for bulges in clothing that may indicate they are carrying a weapon.
Be especially cautious of anyone who reaches into a pants pocket, either front or back. Look out for people who are carrying anything that could hide a weapon, including backpacks, satchels, or even shopping bags.
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Practice good situational awareness so you can spot physical hints that someone may be preparing to attack, including nervousness, a fixed gaze and a tensed body posture.
Always ask yourself: Is this person’s behavior consistent with our location, with the people around us, and with what’s happening around us? Your standards would be different for a Sunday church service than they would be for a heavy-metal rock concert.
There are many ways to attack with knives and edged weapons. We could not possibly cover all of them today or even in a long video. So I will focus on one of the more common street attacks we see, which is the rear knife-threat in a hostage-type position.
Take a look at Photo 1. You will see a perpetrator who has surprised a private citizen from behind. I am playing the part of the private citizen.
You will notice that my hands are up while the blade is on my neck. I am ready and willing to comply with his demands. But I also want my hands up and as close to the knife as I can get them just in case I sense that the attacker intends to cut me anyway.
In Photo 2, I have determined that the attacker intends to harm me and I start to defend myself.
First, I turn my head away from the knife to get the blade away from my vital carotid artery and jugular vein.
Next, my closest hand comes up to grab the hand that’s holding the knife. I then bring my other hand up to grab the arm so that I can use two hands to control the knife arm.
In some cases, if you’re wearing hard shoes or high heels, a well-placed heel stomp immediately prior to execution can assist in your efforts.
In Photo 3, I yank hard on the knife hand, pulling it down and away from my neck while I duck my head under the attacker’s weapon arm. I still maintain control over the attacker’s weapon hand, and you should do the same.
Given enough strength or leverage, now’s a good time to thrust the blade back into the attacker if you’re afraid he might still turn the tables on you.
In Photo 4, I have ducked under the arm and through to emerge almost perpendicular to the attacker. Take note, though not visible in the photo, I still have control over the knife hand and I am bringing it behind his back.
In Photo 5, I have escaped from under the attacker’s knife arm and emerged fully perpendicular to him while keeping my center of gravity low. I use my left hand to control my assailant’s knife hand and stretch his arm out behind him. And I have my right hand on the back of the attacker’s head. You should always stay very close to the attacker’s body for control purposes. In this case, I’m keeping my chest near the attacker’s side.
And I always tell my students to use their hand to repeatedly strike the attacker on the back of his neck with either a chopping blow or a hammer fist. But if your fight-or-flight response impairs your motor dexterity, then it will be easier for you to strike with your whole forearm.
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In Photo 6, I have knocked the attacker to the ground by striking him over and over.
And in Photo 7, I am extricating the knife from the attacker’s hand, after I twisted his knife arm behind his back and then placed one knee in his lower back and the other knee on his head or neck.
Please take note that once you have disarmed the attacker – either by striking him until he drops the knife or by striking him and then extricating the blade out of his hand – your main objective at that point is to escape to a safe area and call the police.
As I mentioned before, I can’t cover all the ways that a hostile might attack you with a knife and other edged weapons. But here are some basic, time-tested principles that have worked for me.
The Essential Components of Knife Defense
- Always move your body out of the knife’s way first.
- Deflect or redirect the knife and take control of the weapon hand or arm.
- Employ core hand-to-hand combat techniques to stop, disrupt or neutralize the attacker.
- Extricate the knife from the hand of the attacker or hostile.
- Once the attacker or hostile no longer poses a threat, break contact, create space, escape to a safe area and call the police.
Until next time, stay alert, check your six, put your back against the wall and stay safe!