There are realities about knife attacks that you may not pick up from a dojo, training program, or martial arts “expert”. You may stumble upon some credible videos and instructional articles online, but nothing will ever accurately describe or predict what it’s like to face someone who has no qualms about stabbing or cutting you.  Though it’s true that experience is the best teacher, we don’t recommend you go out of your way to fight someone with a knife. It’s always best to avoid this, but it’s still worth knowing how to escape or defend against a knife attack if it ever happens. In this short guide, we start by debunking a few myths about knife attacks.

It’s never a duel

Picture this: a guy challenges you to a knife fight. You bring out your knife, he has his. You both try to cut each other, and the first to draw blood wins. Great. Now, forget that romantic notion of how a knife attack happens. And take note, it’s usually a knife attack and hardly ever a knife fight or duel.

In reality, you will rarely see a knife-wielding attacker coming. Knives are very easy to conceal, and some are even made of non-metallic materials (like reinforced plastic, ceramic, fiberglass or titanium) so as not to set off metal detectors. This is why you won’t see a knife or realize you’re a victim of a knife attack until the very last second. You may even get cut or stabbed before you realize what’s happening.

Knives are easily concealed. Oftentimes you don’t see them until it’s too late.

Never underestimate any knife attack

It doesn’t matter if someone flails wildly at you with a knife. Even an inexperienced and clumsy attacker can take you down with one lucky strike. Also, an attacker who’s drunk or on drugs can be just as deadly as a sober professional. Treat all attackers as serious threats.

It’s savage before it’s lethal

It takes a special kind of person to want to knife an innocent human being –the brutal kind. Unless they’re professionals who want to end the fight (and you) quickly, a knife-wielder may make several stabs or cuts on his victim, and then leave them to bleed to death. You can find graphic videos of knife attacks online, where the attacker employs the “sewing machine” style of repeatedly stabbing their victims from different angles, and on different parts of the body.

Another aspect of a “savage” knife attack is that you can be ganged up on by more than one attacker. Remember that your attacker(s) won’t fight fair.

It’s hardly ever one cut

A knife-wielding attacker rarely slashes or stabs their victims only once. For maximum lethal effect, they will aim to make several cuts or stabs, or combinations of either. Attackers may even punch or kick in combination to immobilize their victims.

Knife-wielders who have studied human anatomy will also know which body parts to target. The legs are targeted due to their size, and victims with leg wounds tend to bleed out faster. The abdominal area is another favorite, since it’s an easy and large target, with a good chance of puncturing organs like the intestines, stomach, liver and spleen. The neck/throat areas are also preferred targets. By cutting the neck or throat, the victim can quickly die of blood and/or oxygen loss, depending on the location and severity of the cut.

Knife attacks are nothing like in the movies where the guy with the knife slashes or stabs a victim once, then leaves. If you want to see a movie with a more realistic depiction of a “real” knife attack, grab a copy of American Me.

 They’ll take any cut

Anyone who comes at you with a knife will not hesitate to cut any part of you. They will gladly cut “targets of opportunity” like your face, hands, or arms. The more cuts you get, the more you bleed and the longer you hang around, the better their chances of killing you.

Cuts can seem worse than they are

Shallow cuts or punctures on your knuckles, arms, or fingers can result in a lot of bleeding. If you’re squeamish at the sight of blood (especially yours), then you’re more susceptible to going into shock after a few seconds. If you do get cut, do not panic. Dying from blood loss or infection takes time, and the cuts or stabs you sustain are only serious if they hit a major blood vessel.

How to defend yourself

Using or defending against a knife is messy, but not impossible. The first thing you need to know is that avoidance is the best defense. Here are a few tips:

  • Situational awareness is your first line of defense. When in an unfamiliar area, don’t walk in secluded areas especially if you’re alone.
Be aware of your surroundings. You never know what lurks around the corner.
  • If you even suspect you’re about to be attacked, run. Put as much distance and obstacles between you and your attacker.
  • If there are other people around, remember that there’s safety in numbers. Make noise to attract attention while simultaneously running from the attacker.

There are cases where running away isn’t an option. If you are cornered or forced to stand your ground:

  • Learn about “de-fanging the snake” or disarming your attacker, but don’t try to do so without some training (see sidebar)
  • You can use a jacket, belt or scarf to blunt or “cover” the blade – If you’re quick enough and your timing is right, you can trap the attacker’s knife, binding or wrapping it up with your jacket, belt or scarf. Practice this first with a sparring partner to learn how to avoid getting cut.
  • If you don’t have a weapon handy like a can of mace, a stun gun or Taser, tactical pen or a knife of your own, arm yourself with what you can find –a stick, broken bottle, metal pipe or rock will do, anything with enough heft and weight to fend off your opponent or at least make them hesitate.
  • Do your best not to panic. It’s natural for your body to freeze up or hyperventilate. Realize this is part of your body’s defense mechanism (the fight or flight response) and it can be controlled.
  • If you’re cornered and have nowhere to run, fight to survive, not to win. Be mindful that your goal is to get out alive. As soon as your opponent is incapacitated, take the opportunity to escape.
  • Attackers, especially criminals, prefer to fight anyone who wants to stay and fight, not anyone who wants to run; victims desperate to run are more unpredictable and dangerous than those who choose to stay and fight.
  • Accept the possibility that you will get cut. That way, if and when it happens, you don’t lose your wits about you or freeze up and go into shock.
  • Train and learn as much as you can about dealing with a knife-wielding attacker in a controlled environment like a dojo. It’s also worth listening to people who have experience in knife attacks like police officers, professional bodyguards or even club bouncers.

In Asian martial arts circles, you’ll come across the term “de-fanging the snake” or disarming a knife attacker. Just like a real snake, the best way to disarm a knife wielder is by keeping them at arm’s length and forcing them to drop their weapon. This can be accomplished using a stick of reasonable length, a knife of your own or any improvised weapon that can cause your attacker to drop his knife. Doing this takes practice, so get a sparring partner and a couple of training knives, or red markers to indicate “hits”.

Some tips:

  • Your top priority is to aim for the attacker’s knife hand with your weapon. Your attacker will usually aim for your face or gut; this can be used as an advantage as they won’t expect you to go for their knife-hand.
  • A stick, pipe, or broken bottle hitting the knife hand can disarm it, or “de-fang the snake”.
  • Keep your body behind the knife, stick or other weapon at all times. Don’t make the mistake of putting your off-hand or “checking hand” in front of you. You are only presenting your hand as a target of opportunity.
  • If you’re using a knife, hold it in the way that feels most natural to you. Using the reverse or “ice pick” grip severely limits your range.
Grip your knife in a way that’s natural for you. Don’t limit your range with the reverse-grip.
  • Move around; do not present yourself as a static target. Use footwork to evade your opponent’s knife even as you attempt to disarm him with your own.
  • Don’t even think of blocking a knife with one of your arms; one lucky cut to your blocking arm’s tendons and arteries will render it useless and likely end the fight, along with your life.
  • Once you’ve disarmed your attacker (“de-fanged the snake”) it’s better to leave and report the incident to the authorities. If you continue to attack a disarmed assailant, you might be charged with a crime.
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