Friday, March 11, 2011

Knife Survival Series - Part VI - Play-fighting / Realistic training

One of the most challenging parts to learning and delivering knife survival skills is the fact that no matter what you do, it’s still a form of play-fighting.  With no real inherent risk in the activity, it is difficult to mimic, or account for, the realities of true violence, both on the part of the one attacking and the one reacting.  One way to get a taste of reality is to use live blades in your training (carefully!!!).  

Unfortunately, this only makes it real for the person being attacked, not for the attacker, who remains in a safe environment.

I’ve already discussed that the most likely form of knife attacks from the most likely form of attackers are big slashing or big stabbing movements. (Part IV)

Some (often well meaning) folks will say that this is unrealistic, that knife attacks will be a flurry of multiple combinations of well executed cuts and slashes.  In some knife seminars that will be followed by a demonstration of all the fancy stuff that can be learned.

In this safe environment, it’s still a form of play fighting.  In reality, even these skilled individuals are likely to revert to the big slashing and stabbing movements under combat stress.

They important question is why?

There are several reasons:

1.  Stress itself.  The stress response covered in Part V plays a big part.

2.  Confidence.  For most people, no matter how much training they've done, they've never actually sliced somebody up.  For all the theory and practice, the techniques just haven't been battle tested.  Unless the attacker has repeatedly attacked people with knives and then assessed the results and adjusted to maximize the effectiveness, it remains a 'see what happens' type of scenario.  

What we all know, on a baser level, is that big power moves work.  We've learned this from childhood.  When you powerfully smash something, it usually has a degree of success.

And when the stakes are high- What if they fight back?  Pull their own knife? Or gun?  What if I get caught?  Then the natural process is to revert back to what you know.

3.  Commitment.  Most (and I say most) people have not consciously decided to straight up kill the other person.  Even knowing it's a possibility, usually it's not the end goal.  If someone's only goal is to end your life, it will be challenging to defend.  Most criminals have an ulterior motive of some sort that reduces their focus and commitment to the attack.  If it's a means to an end, you stand a better chance.

This doesn't only apply only to knife attacks.  

Question:  (Think about this, and answer honestly)  

If you were suddenly forced to go rob, knock out, stab or club another person randomly on the street, what approach would you take?  They could be bigger than you, smaller than you, trained, untrained, or armed.  You just don't know. Would you be confident and calm enough to approach, not hide your intentions, and engage them face to face, relying on your training to take care of anything they could dish out?  Or would you try for a sneaky or powerful one punch (hit, club, stab) knockout? 

I think you know what most people would do.

This is one of the major factors that make big slashing and stabbing movements the most likely form of attack from the most likely form of attacker. This must be addressed in knife survival training. Without this understanding or realization, it's likely that you'll spend the bulk of your time play fighting and practicing responses to attacks that probably would never happen.  (strategies for dealing with skilled knife attackers will be covered in future articles)

One of the next articles in this series will be on incorporating the 'flinch response' in spontaneous knife survival training and will discuss some of the more common misconceptions about the body's natural response to an unscripted attack.


  1. I belive that an attack with a knife is the most dangerous of all attacks in self defense.

    Martial Art Training

  2. I agree with you. This is based on a combination of factors, such as ease of concealment and the availability of edged weapons. Also, not everyone realizes how deadly they can be. Plus, they never fail in the sense that they don't jam, break, overheat etc.