Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Knife Survival Series - Part IV - Q&A, Goals and Background

Sue C at My Journey to Black Belt made a comment on my last post and asked an interesting question.  To paraphrase, she mentioned that her Jiu Jitsu Sensei had told her about how some knife fighters will try to cut your forehead, so the blood that runs down you face gets in your eyes.  She also inquired about the most common type of knife attack.

To the first comment, yes, this is one of the strategies that some knife fighters employ.  It can work but takes quite a bit of timing and skill.  Sue also speculated that most knife attackers are not professional knife fighters.  Sue is correct.

Expert knife fighters employ lots and lots of nasty stuff.  Their blades are only part of their attack strategies and knife retention is always on their minds. Many will distract, fillet, use multiple cuts to overwhelm you and lot of other techniques to win a battle.  

That's why I'd never knife fight with a knife fighter.  Simple as that.  I'd run away, search for an improvised weapon of another type of barrier to create time and space.  Knife fighters do the bulk of their training engaged in combat with another opponent, usually face to face.  While still deadly, most knife fighters are not practiced in chasing after an opponent.  This forces a level of commitment to the attack, which may offer an opportunity to respond, survive, and get away.  

Bottom line, it is unlikely that you will get attacked with a knife by an expert knife fighter.  The same is true that it is unlikely you will be attacked by any master of a martial discipline.    

This series is not aimed at training people to deal with expert knife fighters, nor is it aimed at assisting expert knife fighters.  Some of the material can definitely be used by either, but that is not the focus.

What's the most common type of knife attack?  Opinions vary greatly.      

The material, theories, strategies and conclusions in this series, and this blog, are my opinions.  Any reader is free to disagree or question any of the material found here.  On a topic as important as knife survival, my hope is that everyone evaluates and examines whatever training they do to make sure it would realistically work for them.  If this series accomplishes nothing more than that, I'll be very happy.  

I have, and will, make some strong statements.  To understand how I've come to arrive at my conclusions, and where my opinions and strategies come from, I'll share the following:

I've been lucky enough to have cross-trained with a true master of Kali, and with several other high level knife fighters.  I've learned a great deal from them, and some of my content on knife survival has definitely been influenced by this training.

While this has proved invaluable, the bulk of my material is as a result of real world application or observation, mostly from my work experience.  I am also part of a larger group which analyses any use of force by law enforcement agencies.  I am privy to the nature of violence towards police and the public and measure and evaluate the effectiveness of the response to it.  As such, I am involved in the ongoing process of developing training methods and methodologies to respond to the realities of policing in major urban centers. The remainder of my opinions stem from ongoing research - from books, blogs, training, experimentation, interviews and seminars.

Realistic knife survival training must accurately reflect and respond to not only the most likely form of attack, but the most likely kind of attacker (more on this part in a later piece).  This series is aimed at the majority of martial artists, or anyone that wants realistic, effective strategies to survive real world knife attacks.

So, to respond to Sue's question, I will break down the most likely, or common, forms of knife attacks into 4 broad categories:

1.  Big slashing movements -  More common when the attacker is unsure of what effect it will have on his/her intended victim.  Up, down, or diagonal, stomach, chest, or face.

2.  Big stabbing movements - Also common with those less sure of effect. Usually straight in to your torso as a power move or a downwards stab towards your head or neck.

3.  Rapid short stabbing movement - This type of attack is characterized by multiple in-close stabbing motions.  I also refer to this as similar in style to the 'shanking' you seen in prison movies.

4.  Static knife holds - This is when the attacker holds the knife against some part of your body or close to it.  Normally accompanied by some sort of threat of demand.  (Think, give me your wallet...)

Future installments will delve into each category.  Topics covered will be why they are the most common, the traits associated to the attacker and the attacks, the mental aspect and strategies and techniques for dealing with each type.

Train with a critical eye.


  1. Very informative series of articles!

    Are there any statistic based on gender? Which type of attack is more likely to be against a man/woman?

    When we teach self-defense, we ask the group what scenarios they are concerned about. Often female participants expess concern about the static knife hold.

  2. Michele,

    Thanks for the compliment. The majority of knife attacks are committed by men, against men. The types of attack vary depending on motivation. The big slashing and stabbing movements are most common when the motivation is anger, such as after a night club empties, or rival gang members fighting it out.

    The static knife holds are more common when the perpetrator's intent is to rob or intimidate.

    Women are more likely to fact this type of attack, normally by men. This is because in addition to robbery as a motive, there can also be a sexual component. This type of criminal gets off on the power of the situation, whether or not a physical assault takes place. This can happen to men too, of course, but it's not nearly as common.

    Recently, the number of knife wielding females have been on the rise. Females are taking a more active role in the gang culture, either using blades or carrying them for the male members to avoid detection if they are stopped by the police.

    One of the advantages (if you can call it that) of a static knife hold is that normally the attacker wants something else. This can provide an opportunity to formulate a plan for escape. I'll discuss some strategies for this down the road.

    As for stats, information is captured differently from place to place. While I will be providing some hard numbers as time goes on, the most reliable data will likely reference trends in crime.

    Thanks for the comments and question.

  3. Another question....I have been told that if the attacker is holding out his knife to you i.e static knife hold, then he probably isn't going to use it but the person who conceals his knife is intending to stab you so really you need to be on your guard for signs that the guy is about to pull a knife on you. In other words, be wary of the guy without a visible knife rather than the one showing his knife. Any truth in this?

  4. Sue,

    I wouldn't go so far as to say that the attacker probably isn't going to use it, but it is true that if the sole motivation or intent was to use the knife, you are unlikely to subjected to a static knife hold. With the static hold, the attacker wants something else first, at the very least, and likely whatever that thing is, it's the most important in their mind at that time. This is not to say they won't change their mind or plan on using it later, but it buys a little bit of time.

    This provides a slight window of opportunity as there are a few different options on how you can react (not all of them physical).

    I will agree that the attacker whose sole purpose is to cause you serious harm will likely not reveal their weapon as the element of surprise benefits their nefarious intent. You are more likely to receive the rapid short staccato type bursts, or a cut or stab from behind.

    This, of course is the most dangerous scenario as it's the hardest to detect and defend/survive. Therefore, training should include some form of studying the characteristics or an armed attacker. Knowing the cues to look for greatly reduces the chances of being taken unaware.

    You bring up an interesting point since the person you need to watch out for may not be the most visible threat. A tactic sometimes utilized by criminals is to have one loud mouthed attacker distract you with threats, yelling and trying to intimidate while their partner in crime (often armed) sneaks up behind you. This is where awareness and using the environment to your benefit can come in (wall to your back, keeping loud mouth between you and the other guy etc...)

    Thanks for drawing out some more important topics related to this series.

  5. Just been reading some forensic medicine/pathology texts researching my book. Some of the readings related to your subject of interest here. One thing I read was that the most common area for knife wounds (in fatal cases) is on the left side of the torso. Why? Right handed attacker attacking in a straight line. Another thing I just read was that it is common for people with will to survive up to five minutes after fatal wounds have been inflicted. That is one of the reasons for continued assaults after a fatal wound has been inflicted. I haven't seen anything to support any gender bias in knife attacks, but, I have read that strangulations are predominently a male on female attack. This has implications for self defence courses. By the way, coincidentally, I've been attacked twice by knife wielding individuals. One was advancing with knife exposed and the other a 'static knife hold'. The first I defended with a technique I'd never advise (although I was quite pleased with myself the next day) and the second, well, that led me to consider certain things that resulted in this and another contemplated book.

  6. John,

    I wrote a post a while back that discussed why knives were a poor choice for self defense. In addition to the will to survive, often people don't even realize they've been seriously wounded until after the attack is over. Knives rarely have the immediate 'stopping power' of other weapons.

    I would agree that most strangulations are male on female. Choking or strangling is often an indicator of a deeply disturbed individual, and indicates a desire to cause serious injury or death. Some countries specifically add in sections to their criminal legislation referencing choking, which bumps up the severity when dealt with in court proceedings.

    Attack twice! Yikes. Happy to hear you're still with us. You many have selected a technique you'd never advise, but I guess if it worked, it was the right one. Do you anticipate sharing information on these attacks in your upcoming books?

    Thanks for the comments.