”after initial contact all plans go to hell” G. Patton
“No matter how enmeshed a commander becomes in his plans, it is occasionally necessary to consider the enemy” W. Churchill
“Everybody’s got a plan until they get smacked in the face” M. Tyson

There are some really pretty knife defenses out there. Pretty enough to get you hurt! In Krav Maga we only have one guaranteed to keep you safe, never fail, best defense for a knife and that is to RUN. I don’t care if our local newspaper has me on the front page with headlines blaring “Self Defense Expert Runs From Attacker”. I would be a living self defense expert running from danger! Knives are scarey. I would much rather have someone with a handgun on me than a knife.
The dangers of knives include 1) They are very concealable. The majority of victims who are slashed or cut thought they were being punched and never saw the knife. 2) Small angle changes on attack need large angle changes with our defense. 3) Everyone has one! It is estimated that 70% of the males in this country carry. The next time you are in a large group look around at all the pocket clips. 4) Any idiot can kill you with one. It takes no skill to use one. 5) The mind set of the attacker. A gun is used at a distance. An attacker with a knife wants to get close, to slash, to see you bleed. I would rather face a technical fighter than a crazy with no skill who wants to kill. So really, RUN. There are exceptions…you can’t run if you have your children with you or didn’t see it until it was too late.

How to train/what to train: All martial arts have knife defenses. Unfortunately most are geared for an attack that they see coming from 10 feet away with an attacker doing a big swing single stab and then freezing (Youtube Jim Carry’s Karate instructor…funny). We must prepare for and have answers for the “shank” attack. If you’ve seen prison videos an attacker who wants to kill someone doesn’t announce it. They get close without showing a weapon and then start a “sewing machine needle” attack (the blade being pumped in and out). In classes we’ve had people see how many times they can stab with this pumping action in ten seconds. I think the record is 79. We have to have a defense for when we’ve already been stabbed 4 or 5 times and just then realize that we are being attacked. Those pretty joint manipulations just aren’t the answer in that scenario. The other realistic attack scenario to work on is when someone gets close and grabs your wrist on one side and then “hockey punches” you with stabs. This is when the attack isn’t in one spot but goes from torso to neck and back, over and under the arm they are clinging to. This is real and this is scarey!

When you train:
-Start out by running. Really. After that have the “attacker” hold a focus mitt. Have the student stand close, facing the attacker. When the attacker bends his elbow and goes to his pocket have the student punch the mitt as hard as they can and run. These are the best two defenses. They aren’t self defense, they are self protection. You are being proactive.

-Get rid of joint locks and restraints. Only law enforcement, bouncers and school teachers should ever be thinking restrain. If you end up on the ground trying these you are in trouble. A blade on the ground is never good. Restraints also are assuming you only have one attacker. When his buddy shows up you have to let go and then you are fighting two….or more. Look to inflict damage and escape. The biggest problem with joint lock/restraint type defenses is that they work well in a dry gym. If there is a knife involved there is blood. Blood is one slippery substance!

-When practicing the hockey punch and the shank (which, again, are how people get attacked in the real world) the first thing you have to worry about is blocking. Keep getting your arm our and meeting the attackers arm at a 90 degree angle. Attack his arm. Block, block, block! As you are blocking you are looking to attack. When you can get a punch in, a knee to the groin, a stomp on his foot you need to go for it. Hurt the Scumbag!! When you can you grab the arm/wrist that has the knife and beat the attacker until unconscious or until you can get away. Don’t think about a takeaway, think about escape and think about destroying the attacker.

-Put knife attacks into realistic scenarios. Don’t have the attacker always starting from a distance and lunging in. Yes, practice shank and last second defenses but also; -In the middle of sparring have one of the sparring opponents bring out a knife, or a third attacker jump in with a knife. –In the middle of choke defenses, etc. have the attacker access a knife. –While practicing bjj introduce a knife to the match. –Practice your defenses with a third person who is to act as your “loving but slightly clueless” significant other. Now you have to do a knife defense but also direct them to safety.

As an aside, when teaching law enforcement handgun defenses (or ccw permit holders) don’t let them put the attackers weapon in their arm pit or throw it down and draw their own. This will have them put both hands on their weapon as they’ve trained a thousand times. If the attacker then draws a knife the law enforcement officer will empty his weapon but take several stabs because that muscle memory won’t let him let go of his weapon with one hand to block. Keep the attacker’s handgun in your off hand and fire your weapon with one hand. You will be much more apt to block the knife this way. As a further aside the Tueller drill shows that the distance a knife attacker can cover before you get your handgun out and fire once is 21 to 30 feet. Again, a knife against a gun sounds easy to defeat but too often you don’t win if you haven’t trained that scenario, you tie. We don’t like ties!

Train hard, train smart, train real. BE SAFE!



  1. Awesome advice with regards to what happens in the real world and with how to for this type of attack. Keep up the good work! Nick

  2. You hit it right on the head. I have worked the street for 7 years and have seen far more knives that guns. I would much rather face a gun any day. Knives are lighting fast and come out of nowhere. It’s not uncommon to be cut 3 or four times before you even realize what is happening. No TASER or firearm is going to stop it. You have to get distance. Thanks for you hard work in teaching guys like me to stay alive out there.

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