Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Knife Defense for Dummies

While this Jim Carrey skit is a hilarious exaggeration, there are many martial arts schools that attempt to teach "realistic" knife defense. They teach specific maneuvres against very choreographed attacks, which bear little resemblance to what happens in a real situation.

If a dojo is going to teach knife defense, they first thing they should teach is the level of respect that should be attributed to knives. They are extremely dangerous. Many cops state they would rather face an assailant with a gun than one with a knife at close range. Against a knife, you're pretty much guaranteed that you'll get cut. This is because the nature of a knife attack is more fluid and changeable and therefore less easy to predict. This makes knives harder to take control of compared to guns at close range.

Because of the fluidity of the knife attack, instructors should never teach entirely choreographed techniques as their primary knife defense. Here are a few things that viable knife defense instruction should comprise of:

1) Blocking.
Should be based around a type of block that is so simple it can be done under extreme stress. The block should also keep arteries protected.
2) Controlling. A method of controlling a knife so you can immobilize your attacker with strikes to vulnerable areas.
3) Barriers. How to put barriers between you and the knife (i.e. using personal items like a bag or jacket or environmental barriers like cars, park benches, etc.)
4) First aid. How to treat cut wounds to prevent loss of blood long enough to get help.
5) Explanation of Risk. Explanation and re-explanation of how dangerous knives are and to avoid altercations involving them at all costs.

I understand the desire to teach more complicated maneuvres as they help students develop their overall martial art skills and awareness. I simply believe that knive defense is NOT the correct forum for this kind of development. It can give students false expectations about what a real knife attack entails leading to a dangerous lack of respect for the threat they pose. Just ask Jim. ;)


Anonymous said...

This was a truly hilarious sketch (seen it before but it still made me smile) and it’s true: the knife is the single most dangerous weapon on the street today. The reason is that it’s very fast (knife-work is generally faster than empty-hand striking), it doesn’t need space of velocity to do damage (hold a knife against someone’s skin and just twist the wrist and you’ll make a fairly deep cut, hold it against someone’s throat and do the same and you’ll kill him) and any type of block against the weapon itself will be damaging for the defender (of course this will never be intentional, unless in the form of a sacrifice-block, but you’re bound to get yourself cut while defending and this will cause bloodloss, shock, confusion… which will make your situation even more dire). I know a thing or two about knife-fighting (I’m by no means an expert but I had some training) and it’s quite simple: with alot of training and with absolute determination and killer-instinct there’s a reasonable chance of defence against an inexperienced/hesitant opponent, if the guy knows what he’s doing you’re dead, it’s as simple as that. An experienced/trained knife-fighter will be so fast and unpredictable there’s no chance in hell you’ll be able to disarm or neutralise him if you do not have a weapon yourself and even then it’s tricky.

In any case your best bet would be to run: create as much distance as possible between yourself and the attacker and run like hell! This is the only completely safe method of knife-defence (this is pure common-sense: if he cannot get to you he cannot harm you), unless he actually knows how to throw the damn thing in which case you’ll be just as helpless. In my opinion the only truly effective (at least as effective as humanly possible) unarmed vs knife-techniques come either from military-systems (krav-maga being the most well-known example) or from weapon-arts (e.g escrima). If you do not know what you can do with a given weapon, if you don’t have any experience with it and knowledge of the most common types of attacks, you will not be able to judge what might be effective and what not.

If you are forced to defend yourself against a knife simple techniques, performed with speed and absolute power, will give you the best chance of survival (and that’s what this is about: against someone with a knife you do not seek victory, your only goal should be to survive at all cost). Use your surroundings: throw things at him, create barriers between you and him (as lori pointed out) and if you can find anything even remotely resembling a weapon by all means use it. Even if it’s just an umbrella: even if it’s not very effective to hit with at least it’ll create some distance between the two of you (distance being your best friend at this point). If you only have your hands use proper footwork, block and hit or parry the attack (especially useful against a slashing attack: on the return the blade will not be pointing towards you anymore and this would be a great time to rush in and damage him). Shout at him, plead, spit… do whatever you can to distract him and if there is any opportunity to run (safely: do not turn your back on him while he’s within striking-distance) do so.

If you want to learn how to defend against a knife (a remote possibility as I explained but still better than nothing) look for arts and instructors that have been proven effective (a guy who has actually been in a knife-fight and survived is a great source of information and bound to be more reliable than any theoretical expert or sensei who never had a real knife pointed at him, no matter how good he may be in other area’s). The next best thing (besides personal experience in your instructor, which will most likely be very rare) is to look for arts that actually learn how to use weapons effectively and pragmatically (so no intricate and beautiful sword or tanto-kata but combination-drills, defensive flow-drills and lots of weapons-sparring like in escrima): if it’s been used in war and actual combat (now or hundreds of years ago, it doesn’t really matter since the characteristics of the weapon will always remain the same… of course the schools or style need to be authentic and true, not some hogwash of borrowed techniques and half-understood principles) it’s bound to be effective and useful.

A great way to test the effectiveness of your knife-defences is to strip to the waist, give your opponent a magic-marker and let him attack you full speed. Do this for a few minutes and you’ll see exactly how many times and where you got hit: if you got hit alot (especially in the vital-area’s: in reality one hit in the vitals is all it takes) it means you either have to practice more or your style completely sucks at this. Either way it’ll be a great warning and it’s infinitaly preferable to find this out now than in real combat (on the mat only your pride will get hurt, on the street it’ll cost you your life).

Most of all hope and pray you’ll never have to face a knife for real but do practice hard and realistically, just in case and because it’s great fun.



Lori O'Connell said...

Very true, Zara. I've always tried to emphasize how truly dangerous a knife is. The system we use is based on police/military tactics and is necessarily simplistic. But I agree with you on your most important point. Even with extensive training, the first line of defense should be to run away if the opportunity to do so safely is presented.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lori,

What exactly is this military/police-system you're using? Could you describe the most important characteristics/principles? I know this is pretty hard to explain without being able to show it but I'm just curious.


Lori O'Connell said...

It is similar to the system taught by Jim Wagner. The son of the head of my style of Jiu-jitsu oversees the training for the RCMP (Canada's national police force) in Chilliwack, so there is a lot of influence on what I've learned about knife defense from him.

beowulfShaffer said...

Hi, I hope you don't mind me posting on such an old topic.
Your knife defense ideas seem very practical overall, but one think I noticed is that as written( not necessarily as practiced), it seems to assume one knife. I would guess that this is a correct assumption more, but based on, among other things my brief experience with arnis I really don't think that it is something that can be counted on.

Lori O'Connell said...

Statistically speaking, the vast majority of knife attacks only use one knife. That being said, the knife defense we use could still be used if there are two knives. The key is not to try and control both knives at once. You wouldn't have enough control to do it effectively making it very easy for the attacker to cut you at will.

You would instead try to control one knife arm and limit the damage from the other knife to less dangerous areas. Once one arm is controlled, you deliver repeated knee strikes then, once weakened, take the attacker to the ground.

It's a little hard to describe. I hope it gives you a sense though.

beowulfShaffer said...

Ok, that makes sense. I'm a little surprised that most knife attacks don't use multiple knives given how much of an advantage it can be. But then again I guess most street attacks(in Canada at least) aren't from people with extensive training in dual wielding knife styles.