Owing to the creativity of many knifemakers and designs from different knife-fighting arts and disciplines, there’s a ton of different kinds of blades to choose from when it comes to EDC and self-defense. A good number of these knife designs make them suitable for certain situations and for specific kinds of users. Just as we’ve covered other exotic blades like the Karambit and the Balisong, in this article we delve into whether the push knife or push dagger can be deemed a worthy weapon to add in your survival arsenal.
Short but Colorful, All-American History
Also known as the “push dagger” or “knuckle knife”, the push knife is thought to have “descended” from the Katar or “punching sword” of 16th-century India. This is unconfirmed, as while the operation of both weapons are very similar, the designs and sizes of the weapons are quite different.
It wasn’t until around 200 years later that the push knife became a popular and widely-used defensive weapon in America. All sorts of people carried and used the push knife, as it was small, easily concealed and quickly brought to bear when the situation warranted. Even politicians carried them as a protective weapon, going as far as having them on their persons as they conducted their affairs in the U.S. Capitol and Federal buildings. Most popular with residents of Missouri, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida who often concealed push knives, they were also common among riverboat gamblers, at least until something better and more potent like the Derringer pistol came along.
Of particular interest was the push knife used by gamblers from New Orleans; they carried what was called a “gimlet knife”, which had a short 2-inch blade with a “gimlet” or T-shaped handle. During the 1800s, the gimlet knife was a very common weapon in New Orleans and was typically carried in a user’s boot, inside a coat sleeve or hung on a waistcoat button with a strap attached to a leather sheath.
As seen in the images, the katar and push knife are quite different in their designs. The katar usually has two bars of metal placed inside a “reverse-hilt”, something like an upside-down “U”. Meanwhile, the push knife has more of a “reverse-T” design with the blade sitting on a short length of metal jutting out of the center of a handle or base. The katar also differs from the push knife in that the blade sits on a hilt that’s in front of the user’s fist, while the push knife’s blade sits atop a short length of metal that sticks out from between the user’s middle and index fingers.
As popular and concealable as it was, the gimlet knife also figured in a lot of riots, brawls and murders (particularly in New Orleans) during its heyday, prompting authorities to restrict its sale, offer or exhibition within city limits in 1879. To date, at least in Louisiana’s case, the gimlet knife or push knife is legal to carry in the state, but switchblades are deemed illegal in many jurisdictions. To find out which sorts of knives are illegal or allowed to use or carry in your area, check with local law enforcement agencies.
The Push Knife in Europe
From America, the push knife was introduced to Europe via Germany in the 1800s. Sailors from other countries (presumably American) brought the push knives with them, which caught the eye of German knifemakers. The result was a more robust knife they dubbed as either the Stoßdolch (“push-dagger”) or Faustmesser (“Fist-knife”).
These German versions of the American push knife were used as a self-defense weapon by travelers, traveling salesmen and other people who needed a compact, concealed weapon. Push knives made by these German knifemakers made their way to other European countries like the United Kingdom, where it enjoyed popularity until the late 19th century when it became more restricted and other specialized fighting knives became more popular, as did small cheap handguns.
The Push Knife in Both World Wars
Due to its simple design, compactness and ease of use, the push knife was a natural candidate for the soldier’s kit in both WW1 and WW2. Along with the trench knife and numerous other knives and stabbing weapons, the push knife was added to the arsenal of armies on either side of the war. In WW1, the push knife was more useful in the confined spaces of the trenches, and the knife (along with other melee weapons) was used to fill the “shortage” of other effective close-range weapons – pistols. While there wasn’t a shortage of pistols during WW2, push knives and other types of knives or daggers were still issued to British and American specialized raiding or commando troops; the push knife was still used by units who required a small, concealable weapon for sentry removal or close-quarters combat.
The Push Knife as a Personal Defense Weapon
With the push knife (or a version of it) being in use since the 16th century, seeing action in major conflicts and being a weapon of choice for WW2 Raiders and settlers of the Old West, is the push knife or push dagger a viable choice as a self-defense weapon? The answer leans toward “yes”, but with a few caveats. While it is a combat proven knife, consider the pros and cons of the push knife before adding it to your survival arsenal.
There are several good reasons why you should consider using the push knife as your personal defense tool, or even make it a part of your EDC kit. Here are a few good reasons:
- Excellent concealability. The push knife is usually very small, with a blade sometimes no larger than 2 inches; some knifemakers like Cold Steel and Schrade make even smaller push knives for greater concealability. When coupled with a good sheath, you can pack a push knife in your EDC bag, conceal it in your boot, carry it in your pocket, hide it in the small of your back or even carry it around your neck. You can carry an effective, potentially deadly weapon and no one will be the wiser.
- Very forgiving. The push knife, much like an ordinary knife, is very easy to use. It can be effectively used to stab, punch or slash at your opponent without any specialized training. Simply stated, grip it firmly with the blade sticking out between your index and middle finger and you’re good to go.
- Can be used in small spaces. The push knife is designed for fighting in close quarters. If you find yourself in a struggle within a confined space like a narrow alley, hallway or elevator, you can use and maneuver the push knife to subdue an opponent with few or no problems.
- Easily deployed. There are no buttons to push, locks to disengage, parts to spin or flip to deploy the weapon. You can take the weapon out of its sheath and engage any opponent.
- Can be an effective escape and evasion tool. If you’re abducted and your abductors were unable to find the concealed push knife on you, you can use it to free yourself from some restraints (as long as you can cut through them) and you won’t be caught unarmed again.
- Low cost. You can have a reasonably well-made push knife for less than $30.
- Less-lethal options. Some manufacturers produce push knives that are made from lightweight “exotic” non-metallic materials like fiberglass or polymers, but the blades aren’t as sharp as their metal-bladed cousins. These are still effective stabbing tools but will not hurt your opponent as much since you typically won’t be able to slash efficiently with them.
- Like any bladed weapon, a well-placed slash or stab from a push knife can maim or kill opponents.
- Unassuming appearance. Because of its reduced size, the push knife doesn’t appear very intimidating, and this can be used to your advantage. Try not to let your opponent know you have a push knife until the very last second you need to use it, providing a certain “element of surprise.”
- The push knife has been in use in both World Wars, and by our forefathers; it’s a proven, battle-tested weapon.
Like all weapons, there are also downsides to using the push knife or making it part of your EDC. Here’s a list of cons to the push knife you should bear in mind when thinking about carrying it and using it as a self-defense weapon:
- It may not be “enough knife” for you. If you’re the sort of person with large hands, the push knife may not be a viable weapon for you. A small push knife in a large hand can be an unwieldy and less-than-effective weapon.
- Limited reach. The push knife is effective only as far as your arms can go. You’ll have to get within punching distance to effectively use it. Should you come up against one or more opponents in a large space or at distance, you’ll have to close the gap to engage them.
- Not an intimidating weapon. If you make the mistake of “showing your hand” too soon and show that you have “only” a push knife, your opponent may not be impressed nor frightened. With a push knife, you can’t really rely on it scaring off would-be muggers, thieves or killers, especially those armed with a firearm.
- In situations where concealability may not be an issue, the short and small blades may be less effective. If you’re facing an opponent with a bigger blade or longer weapon such as a staff or spear you will be at a disadvantage.
- Weapon retention. Unlike, for example, the karambit, the push knife can be relatively easy to disarm. A blow from a stick, bottle, thrown rock, baton or longer blade to your push knife-wielding hand can cause you to drop it.
- High cost. If you want a real, quality push knife you can look forward to shelling out as much as $200.
- May not be legal to carry or use in some states. Many areas have laws against knives with a double edge. Consider getting a single-edge model if that’s an issue where you live or plan to travel with the knife.
- You could be looking at jail time if you apply unnecessary deadly force. Be prudent in the use of your push knife; aim to defend yourself, not kill, unless it’s a real SHTF situation and all bets are off.
As with other blades we’ve talked about, the push knife can be just as good a combat/defense tool as you intend it to be, if you’re willing to invest the necessary time to research and practice getting suitably skilled enough at deploying it quickly from concealment and using it effectively.
Remember that you should intend to use the push knife as a means of self-defense, and not to use it to kill unless you are in a real life-and-death situation. You must also consider what size, style and shape of push knife is good for you, as well as the blade material that suits your intentions the best.
Think about how well you plan to conceal the push knife and how big you need it to be for you to effectively wield it. Push knives come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and prices and, apart from the legalities of carrying one, only you can decide which one is perfect for your needs.