If you do not train for every type of combat, your training time isn’t rich, it’s impoverished. The majority of defensive actions do not involve firearms. Some are verbal, some require the open hand, and some involve edged weapons. Blunt trauma is a common injury during an attack and so are knife wounds. We wish to be able to meet the problem head-on and prevail whatever the threat may be. An important part of the whole picture is understanding edged weapons and edged weapon attacks. We must understand the consequence of a criminal assault with these weapons and also understand how to deploy such weapons ourselves. We need to train to correctly use the edged weapon in close-quarters battle. As an example, if you are unable to access your sidearm during an attack and the battle becomes a struggle for your holstered sidearm, the edged weapon is an excellent force multiplier and handgun retention aid. Knives never jam or run out of ammunition. There are many advantages in carrying an efficient edged weapon even for those of us that are normally armed with firearms.
Why Carry a Knife for Defense?
Let’s consider all of the angles. If you draw your handgun on a person that is attacking with only his hands, you are in a debatable legal position. The attacker may even gain control of the handgun if it’s drawn too soon. A wrestling match may ensue and the firearm may discharge. On the other hand, an attacker armed with a knife is presenting a potentially lethal weapon and you are justified in firing on them. The edged weapon is also a superior weapon in the hands of a determined defender compared to the open hand, and may even trump a firearm. A terrible case that stuck in my mind involved a nurse who was assaulted in the hospital parking lot. During the course of the attack, she pressed a .380 semi-auto pistol against the assailant’s body and pulled the trigger. The pistol fired once and jammed. The assailant was wounded, but simply stepped up his attack. An edged weapon will not jam and there is some merit in the old saying ‘show them their own blood.’ True knife-on-knife fights are uncommon, but not rare. As an acquaintance of mine, Belcher, recently told me, ‘A dude tried to strong-arm me as I came out of the (convenience store). He cut me, I cut him, and he left.’ He lives in a different world than some of us and handles it better than most.
Strength training is an asset, and so is a knowledge of open-hand techniques. The greatest predictor of survival is always prior training. In the compressed time frame available in most classes, I can only stress that if you can box, you have a beginning in using the knife well. An important advantage of the knife is that an attacker cannot easily grasp the knife. If they do, you need only jerk the blade and produce a cut. While I do not like to rely upon anything but actual damage to end a fight, there is some evidence of the psychological effect of drawing a knife. Gunshot wounds are less predictable, but far more potentially deadly than a knife wound. A knife may produce a degree of deterrent. As I often tell my female students, a felon intent upon profit will seldom wish to venture into a slashing defensive circle. A true psychopath or those blinded by hate will demand all in fighting to the finish.
By their nature, most defensive knives are relatively short. Few of us will carry a Ka-Bar or Ek Commando knife. After all, the reach of a bayonet isn’t something we will use in street defense. The bayonet was designed to reach the vitals of men and horses, with the latter goal current until about 1930. The common concealed carry knife is capable, but seldom immediately deadly. It’s more of a deterrent and a tool for retention of the handgun. Edged weapons may be deadly and even a short blade to the neck may inflict death, but they are not as potentially deadly as the large choppers. As a reference, my own scars add character I am told, but not charisma. All edged weapons are not knives. An increasingly common instrument used in edged weapon attacks is the machete. When answering a domestic call some years ago, I spotted a machete leaning against a tree and secured it quickly. A well-made machete such as the Linder is very effective in clearing a path in the brush and also in an attack. The machete was once carried on the belt, crossdraw, by Cuban police as one example. When they drew the machete and advanced with the machete swinging in an arc, an unruly crowd would disperse. They sometimes inflicted blunt blows with the flat of the machete.
The table below was developed in the days of Sykes and Fairbairn for the illumination of British commandos. The idea was to teach the calculation of time to death by the result of a knife wound. The goal was to take out sentries, and the commandos certainly utilized these techniques in action. The penetration of the knife from different angles and areas of impact was calculated. These men were trained with large knives and bayonets. The table shows the time to death if you are hit with a knife with sufficient penetration. This table’s validity may be debated, but it was efficient enough to gain the respect of the commandos and Colonel Rex Applegate among others. I present it for your education.
|Wound Location||Time from Stabbing to Death|
|Carotid Artery||1.2 Seconds|
|Subclavian Artery||3.5 Seconds|
|Brachial Artery||1.5 Minutes|
|Radial Artery||1.5 Minutes|
Edged Weapon Potential
We need to understand the potential of an edged weapon. By the same token, we need to understand their defensive value. As an example, the knife is a perfect retention aid when an attacker attempts to gain control of your weapon. If you carry a handgun, you should carry a knife. There are several angles of attack that are common in gun grab attempts. Both forward and rearward originating attacks are common. No one is too smart to be caught unaware, but we should be smart enough to have a plan of defense and counterattack available. The attacker that springs from the rear is often practiced in prison. Members of our protein-fed, ex-con criminal class practice these attacks in that school for criminals, the penitentiary. The attacker will wrap his left arm around your neck and attempt to bring you off of the ground while the right hand reaches for the holstered sidearm. A peace officer or armed civilian is vulnerable to this form of attack. If you open carry — depending upon the strength of the attacker — you will have a second or two to respond before you lose your pistol, and precious little more time before you lose consciousness from the chokehold. The first impulse is to grapple with the choking arm or to attempt to dislodge the hand that is on the gun, but this may not work, as your brain is quickly deprived of oxygen. If the adversary is strong enough, you will be lifted off of the ground or at least forced onto your tiptoes, taking away your leverage and balance. The proper response is to draw the defensive knife and strike either the gun hand or the arm that is around the neck. I cannot imagine anyone taking a slash the length of the forearm from a sharp edged weapon and maintaining their chokehold. They will move and you will pivot and strike the other hand that is on the gun or pivot and control the attacker. I have seen a combination elbow strike to the hand that is on the gun and slash to the attacker’s arm that is brilliantly fast, but which requires hours of practice — it may be worthwhile. With all due respect, those of us that are trainers and instructors spend many hours training. Others may relentlessly train in the dojo. But the best we are able to transfer to the students is some tactic that is useful with the time they are willing to spend on the drills. That’s all we may reasonably expect. The closer you are to trouble, the more you need to train.
The Tueller Drill
Dennis Tueller’s work has been cited many times in professional journals and should be studied. His work was first published in SWAT magazine over 30 years ago. Tueller pioneered research in edged weapons defense and in the reactionary gap. At one time, police training was practically non-existent regarding edged weapons, but now the situation is different, at least in many agencies. Officers were cut and killed because trainers did not take the knife seriously enough. The Tueller research is an eye-opener. The Tueller Drill is built upon this research. Officers were trained to draw, fire, and get a hit on a man-sized target at 21 feet with 1.5 seconds considered good speed. The Tueller Drill begins with this speed and time as a baseline. With service-grade gear, this standard requires considerable effort in training to meet. Only the exceptional shot reaches 1.25 seconds. The draw, shoot, and hit in 1 second is competition-grade, with much, much time and practice in with a properly designed holster. Tueller set his drill up with the shooter at one end of 21 feet and an attacker armed with a knife at the other. (Use non-guns and rubber knives to demonstrate the drill.) Some shooters are faster than others and so are some attackers, but in the end, the average assailant could reach the gun-armed officer and stab him before he could draw and fire his weapon. Even overweight and out-of-shape assailants can move quickly over the 21-foot distance.
The Tueller Drill offers an excellent training reference. It also demonstrates and documents the danger zone. The drill should be practiced often and there are difficulties for even the most advanced shooter. While some of us may beat the drill on the range with reaction time figured in, on the street with the stress of a threat bearing down on you, your time to a first-shot hit — and the hope that it takes immediate effect — is not going to be as good as your range time. An addition to the drill I teach as a practical matter includes redirection of force. I practice drawing, firing, and taking a step to one side to move out of the danger zone. 22 feet isn’t out of the danger zone and 20 feet impossible to handle, but the 21-foot drill is a good start. The point is, this drill shows plainly that the only answer to an edged weapon attack is to quickly draw and engage the target even if they are out of contact range. There is much to be said for the person confronting a threat to draw and cover the assailant as they back away. If the threat proceeds to press the attack and close the distance, you must fire until they stop the attack.
When dealing with an edged weapon attack, always regard the knife in the same light as a cartridge weapon as far as lethality. There are advantages of the firearm. If you find cover and then cover the threat with your handgun, then the adversary armed with the edged weapon is at a great disadvantage. You are exposing yourself much more to the threat by covering an assailant who is armed with a firearm. Would you consider taking cover in the face of a threat from an edged weapon? If you are under attack, you will shoot, but if you’re able to quickly access cover, taking cover is a wise move.
The Reverse Grip
If the person threatening your health with an edged weapon is holding the knife in a reverse grip, blade edge forward, he may be a skilled martial artist, or he may have seen too many cool-looking photographs in ads for edged weapon classes. The reverse grip is an excellent slashing defensive grip. However, my son returned from Army training with a number of insights into the reverse grip. A skilled combatant may step into the assault and quickly lock both hands on the reverse grip wrist and force the knife edge back into the assailant’s thigh. This defense against the reverse grip works best against those who are not skilled. It’s less difficult to turn a reverse grip against, and into, the user’s body than the saber grip. This is something to consider when you decide how you will carry and deploy the defensive knife. For most users most of the time, the saber grip is the preferred choice.
When you consider all of the aspects of the defensive knife, it behooves each of us to deploy an effective edged tool we have learned to use well. While some like to downplay the offensive uses of an edged tool, you need only check the local news for examples of criminal mayhem with edged tools. Increasingly, I’m seeing citizens use the defensive knife, sometimes against animals. The oldest tool is an important part of your defensive arsenal that must be studied to be deployed effectively.
Choices in Defensive Knives
Bear Ops Swipe IV Rescue knife
The Bear Ops Swipe IV is a 3.25-inch blade folder with assisted opening. The knife features a glass breaker striker and a fold-out seat-belt cutting tool. This is a very well-done folder that, while light, has much utility as a rescue knife.
Kershaw CQC Emerson
Designed by Ernest Emerson, these formidable folders are well worth their modest price. This series features a special flipper-type opening device called the “wave”. This hooks on the edge of your pocket and allows the knife to open naturally as you draw it. The key is practice. The Kershaw CQC series comes in several shapes and sizes for you to choose from.
This is a T.J. Schwarz design. The DeadBolt lock is an important feature. Before using a folding knife for serious use, be certain to give the blade a hard rap on a desk or hard object. Rap the back of the blade — keep your fingers out of the way — and be certain the lock doesn’t fail. The Parascale passes this test. Paracord offers a unique gripping surface. This is a great pocket knife, light enough and sharp.
This is a heavy knife that few will carry on a daily basis. It’s also expensive. Just the same, if you need a formidable folder for emergency and survival use, this one stands alone in a production knife. The CSAR-T is a tank and will serve anyone well.
Many jurisdictions place a limit on blade length. Some also prohibit carrying a fixed-blade knife. Be certain before you carry. If you may carry a fixed blade, you have a much stronger design. When you eliminate the lock, you also have a knife that may be faster to get into action. The CRKT Siwi is among a very few purpose-designed defensive knives that is both affordable and formidable. Darren Sirois brings 25 years of military experience to this design.
Do you carry a knife for self-defense? Let us know in the comments.