T Nation

Knife Self Defense


Hello everyone i am new to the forum and i would like to ask your opinion on some things.As the title suggest i am interested in your opinions in knife self defense and how someone can deal with knifes.

For starters i believe as i think you believe as well that the best defense against a knife is situational awareness(not getting into that kind of situation) and the 400m run.But i am specificly refering in situations where your back is against the wall(you cant escape ) and you need to fight knowing of course that there is a knife in play.Lastly i would like to ask how can someone effectivelly deal with the adrenalin surge in that situation(with deal i mean minimize).

I am only 16 years old but from the two experiences i had i can say that that is your worst enemy because while the guys who pulled a knife on me were pretty weak looking i was scared shitless.I acted the second time and was incredibly lucky but that was just that, luck.Opinions?


Well you're talking about a couple different things here.

First, realize that you've had two knife experiences and you've lived through both. So you clearly did something right, even if it doesn't seem like that. Secondly, you have two more knife incidents than I do, so if what I'm saying doesn't jive with what you've experienced, discard it.

But my thoughts can be simplified to a few basic points:

  1. Seeing the threat and removing yourself from it is far more important than anything else. Avoiding that situation is the only way to guarantee that you're not confronted with that knife, because when you are, all bets are off ... you might do everything perfectly, and still get killed. (You know that, but I'm saying it again cause it's true).

  2. Most disarms are garbage, and will get you cut, stabbed, and maybe killed. They're shit. Like ... almost all of them.

  3. When the knife comes out, it's combat. Literal, kill-or-be-killed, combat. You must respond accordingly.

To expound a little on the second point: I don't care what any gi-wearing Grandmaster Flash tells you, all of the disarms you see in Karate and other TMAs will get you killed. Flat out. And quickly. Why? Because many rely on the guy stabbing at you from the perfect range, and leaving his arm outstretched so you can do whatever you want in repsonse. But that's not how it's going to happen - in reality, you probably won't see the knife until it's sticking you (a lot of guys who get cut think they got punched at first), and so because their foundation is wrong, the rest of their "moves" are irrelevant.

So you move to the third point - if you can't do any crazy karate disarms, and you can't escape, you've got to engage. Do so fiercely. As I said, it's combat, straight up. You've got to fuck that guy up, and give yourself enough room to get the fuck out of there. He's pulled a deadly weapon, and you need to act as such. Don't stick around - find an opening and book it.

I'm an adherent to Kelly McCann's theories on this. Other guys have their things, but what he's taught works for me and I dig it. This is the basic gist of it, even though it gets more in-depth as you go. And, of course, learning to and knowing how to fight back are the crux of it all - but I don't know what your experience is with that.


I agree with pretty much everything you said.I remember when i was training hapkido there was a huge amount of people that actually believed that their non-resistant knife defense training will actually work.The best thing i have found working through training scenarios is trapping the front hand(supposing the knife is in the back hand in an orthodox stance) than pushing him sideways so he doesnt face you directly ,kicking somewhere(best is at his side ) and then trapping the attacking knife hand at the forearm and going for the neck takedown.

Well i know it sounds extremely far fetched but i have tried it after a tough workout so i can be as tired as possible with full speed and there have been some pretty good results.But in a real life situation i think the adrenalin surge just fucks everything up and if you arent calm nothing really works.


Obviously I don't know anything about you, where you live, or whatever. Knives are pretty popular amongst the underclass where I come from, and I know more than a few people who've been stabbed. You're a kid though, and the very first thing you do should be to make sure your parents/responsible adult knows the danger you're facing, because they are in the best position to move your home, or change you school, to take you away from the danger.

  1. You say you know about situational awareness, but a big part of situational awareness is avoiding places where you know this might happen. You're a bit young to go to bars (maybe), but if you're hanging out with people that are getting you into trouble, or in places where you know you're likely to find trouble, then really you're just living on borrowed time. Be smart, stay in on a Friday night if that's where you're getting into these scrapes, and take the opportunity to move to a better area when you start work in a few years. Seems like a rough ride, but it's better than being dead. when I was 16, a mate I used to box with, tough kid and a quality fighter, got his lung collapsed with a screw driver by a couple of guys he went to school with. Never boxed again, and it's messed up his life so far too.

  2. If this is happening in an environment you absolutely cannot avoid, like a school, then it's more complicated. You don't want to be found with a weapon, because you don't want to end up in the nick for carrying when you might go years without getting a knife pulled on you again. There isn't a lot of detail in your post, but you're young, and kids your age may be using it as a scare tactic, rather than legitimately looking to cut you. Only you can really weigh up just how serious things are.

  3. I don't want to go as far over the internet as to recommend you arm yourself, because you are still just a kid, and you should look to the adults in your live to protect you, or offer you a way of avoiding the trouble. They are in a position to do something more positive and constructive than you are, and trying to be a tough guy yourself is the worst thing you can do. A lot of big tough guys have ended up on life support from a pissed off kid with a penknife.

  4. In a hypothetical scenario where I found myself with my back to the wall with a knife being pulled, by the kind of amateur who doesn't know how to hide the first stab, by which time you're dependent on his mercy anyway, I would be looking for a more offensive weapon of my own - a chair, a pen, an ashtray, a table, or a weapon I was carrying - anything I could put between us or use as a projectile/weapon. But it's a piss poor option anyway you slice it, and I'd do (and have done) almost anything to avoid finding myself in that position.


Knife defense, and all others: In my senior year of High School I and a friend went to visit all the armed forces recruiters. The Navy had what my friend wanted, the US Air Force said they would send me to Air Police School. The smartest thing I ever did. At 71, I am still doing swell, work in a high threat arena and my skill and confidence is higher than most policeman will ever have. Being a Veteran gives you more than the non vet will ever know exists.


As far as the technique side of things, the video that Irish posted most clearly reflects my training/thoughts on the nuts and bolts "how-to" in that worst case scenario.You cannot learn this from a video or an Internet forum. You need to train, practice and pressure test this sort of thing in as real an environment as possible if you expect to have any real chance of executing when it counts.

This type of stress inoculation is the best way I know of to learn to manage the adrenaline dump and take effective action. Unfortunately, quality training of this type is hard to find. TMA's do a piss poor job of this as do the vast majority of so called "RMA's".

As far as general sentiment, I think LB's post bears reading and re-reading. You shouldn't find yourself in these situations with any degree of regularity, if at all. If you do, certain "lifestyle factors" need to be considered. I am more concerned that you are 16 and have had 2 knife experiences than I am with how you train to deal with the hypothetical next one.


"As far as general sentiment, I think LB's post bears reading and re-reading. You shouldn't find yourself in these situations with any degree of regularity, if at all. If you do, certain "lifestyle factors" need to be considered. I am more concerned that you are 16 and have had 2 knife experiences than I am with how you train to deal with the hypothetical next one"


Without a doubt, you should follow the advise given by everyone on doing everything you can to improve your environment. After first securing your safety as best as possibvle, consider starting qualified training. A good place to start is here:



As someone who does Krav Maga, I have spent a bit of time on knife attack scenarios but, thankfully, have never faced any in real life and don't want to no matter how good I think my skills are. The reason for this is obvious (if you have an honest instructor they will admit it too), you should expect to be stabbed (see below). As has been said elsewhere on this thread, the chances of doing a bona fide disarm will depend, IMO, more on the proficiency of the attacker rather than how good you are. The idea is really about minimising the damage and escaping the situation. Basically, it's better to get slashed on the forearms defending yourself before running off rather than getting slashed on the neck/face and shipped to the morgue.

I've trained under an instructor who used to emphasise the importance of simple distraction techniques, e.g. garble in a foreign language, or make one up; Oscar-style weeping, motioning to you trouser pocket (assuming it's a roberry), anything to buy a second or two to allow a strike. That seems to work well regarding the 'back to the wall' scenario, IMO this is one of the scenarios you have a better chance of escaping. Getting your neck out of harms way while simultaneously effecting a blow, e.g. short finger stab to the windpipe, is a typical defence.

As I mentioned above, expect to be stabbed. For example, on Tuesday evening we spent the best part of an hour reacting to an unseen ice pick style stab to the upper back and shoulder. This involved dummy knives (obviously)and stabbings where you reacted following the first stab. The continual practice helps, and the scores of tiny abrasions left on you body for a few days is a reminder!


Good advice so far on avoidance, awareness, and the fallacy of most disarms. I am glad to hear that you survived those two knife attacks, and glad that you are seeking out more training and information on the subject in case, God forbid, it should ever happen again.

I like McCann's advice in the above video about the necessity of taking out the attacker and not chasing the blade, but..... there are serious liabilities in the actual physical defensive skills he is demonstrating in that video. If everything goes right (attacker is unskilled with/unknowledgeable about edged weapons, they make one telegraphed extended attack, they are not all that physically strong, not very fast, and you have plenty of distance to see the attack coming, aka a "best case scenario close range knife attack) that technique can work beautifully. If however the attacker is skilled with/knowledgeable about edged weapons, "swarms" you with the blade, is fast, strong, and athletic, then that technique may get you killed.

Here is an excerpt from Richard Ryan's "Unarmed against the blade" DVD. Rich is IMO the very best RMA person out there today when it comes to knife defense material. In it he mentions some of the problems with McCann's technique. He has also detailed in the past why "clamping" like McCann is advocating can be dangerous, even has a true story of a very skilled knife defense instructor who refused to listen to him about its dangers and wound up dead as a consequences:


That's interesting Sento. The "clamp" was essentially how I was taught and it seemed like as good an answer to a really crappy problem as any I'd seen, so I never looked too much further into it. I begin from the premise that any defence short of putting a rifle round into the attacker's CNS from outside knife range "may get you killed", but I take your point.

I have always had concerns about how effective it would be against a big, strong, athletic committed attacker even if they execute a relatively unskilled "prison rush" style attack. I'll definitely check out Ryan's stuff. Thanks for posting. Thought provoking as always.



Fyi - that's not McCann's only advice for knife defense - it's just one to defend against that specific looping-overhead attack. And if you train it, it'll work (As does his shit about fending and getting inside the guard).

But I particularly liked the part about taking out the guy with the knife as opposed to trying to "defang the snake" or any of that other happy horseshit.


Yeah, there was a bit more to the training I had on the topic as well. Still, the idea of taking on a person with comparable physical abilities and aggression levels to myself, when he has a knife and I don't sucks to me, however you slice it (pun intended).

McCann's a guy who commands respect, for sure. I've seen a few of his videos and have been generally impressed. He's on the list of people I'd definitely take a seminar with, time and money permitting. I seem to remember a post of yours where you had done just that, am I right?

The effectiveness if any technique is dependent on its appropriateness to the situation. There is no magic bullet (unless it's that rifle round to the CNS I mentioned).

Fully agree with the take out the guy with the knife vs defang/disarm etc strategy. Disarms are best accomplished after you have knocked someone the f out.


Well, here's the thing, "clamping" can work provided you get a solid clamp above the elbow and are able to maintain it until the attacker is unconscious or drops the knife. But, if you miss getting a solid clamp, the attacker is strong enough, slippery enough, fast enough, etc...to get your clamp below their elbow the blade is now on the inside of the upper arm in great position to cut your Brachial Artery (which is what happened to that knife defense instructor that I mentioned) and if that gets severed you had better be right at the door of the ER or your chances of survival are not good.

If you are going to clamp, attempt a disarm (and honestly some can work given enough training and/or talent if you use them at the right time), or attempt any offensive technique that is not directly shutting down the opponent's vital functions, you had better do it after you have already sent some shock waves into their brain; at that point there won't be the motor signals going to the arm to make it elusive and difficult to control. But, even if you have the opportunity to do so I would ask yourself "why am I doing this?" Is there some strategic objective that can be gained via the clamp or disarm that could not be gained by simply continuing to smash the opponent's bio computer? If there is, then cool. You still need to be aware of the dangers, but at least you are acting purposefully and not just executing the techniques without really understanding when or why they would be the most efficient option(s).


Great points and I don't necessarily disagree, but for the sake of discussion, the rationale behind the "clamp" ( not the terminology we use) in our training is that the highest lethality in a knife attack generally results from multiple penetrating thrusts to the torso and/or neck (of course arterial cuts to the extremities are also highly lethal). If I am striking you and you (rhetorical "you") are stabbing me, I am coming out on the wrong side of that exchange.

However, if I create an opportunity to immobilize the delivery system (i.e. your arm) and continue to engage viciously with headbutts, knees, foot stomps, bites etc while your primary weapon system is effectively out of play, the field begins to level, especially if you are fixated on trying to free your knife arm and I have a single minded focus on f-ing you up with my remaining tools, perhaps managing a stun or at least a serious disruption of your aggression thus creating an opportunity for me to access a superior weapon system of my own, bring you Into a position of control or make good my escape.

I fully appreciate your comment about the vulnerability of the brachial artery should the assailant be able to wrench his arm free and can definitely foresee circstances where I would be inclined to simply continue to smash the opponents bio-computer without concerning myself with wrapping/clamping the arm at all.

Either way, I'd still prefer the rifle round.


I liked the video and the idea of the clamp. However, I disagree with the notion in the video that in "other martial arts" the attacker hangs his arm out there (at the fully extended point) to enable the defender to conveniently grab the wrist, disarm, etc, for the purpose of a nice clean, and highly unrealistic, disarm. At risk of blowing my Krav Maga trumpet, effecting the double forearm block, as demonstrated, can then be followed up, at pace, with the side of right fist arcing down to the attacker's jaw.

In fact, if you are pretty strong, you might get away with a 360 defence, i.e. block with left arm while simultaneously punch/palm strike with the right. Going back to the double arm block, you may, or may not, be able to grab the wrist at this point and effect further attacks. The main point is you've survived the initial slash, effected the first blow, which is hopefully enough to swing the balance of power back to the defender. I personally would be shit scared to attempt the clamp in most scenarios for fear of what has been described earlier in the thread. That said, I would be happy to drill it and get more confident doing it because it has its place.


Yes, absolutely spot on about taking out the attacker. Defanging the snake can be a viable option in a weapon on weapon encounter, especially if your weapon has superior range and you are using a "cut/hit and run" type of strategy; but unarmed good luck.

Again, that blocking maneuver is problematic as it extends the body too much thus opening up major flanking options and makes you too big of a target. Due to a knife's nearly unlimited multi-directional capabilities and therefore the unpredictable lines of attack that the blade can come at, reaching out to "block" (which requires considerable timing and line recognition) is very dangerous. Again, it can work in a best case scenario, but can get you killed in a worst case scenario; betting your life on the fact that it will be a best case is not a great idea. What Rich is teaching will work in both a worst case "swarming" type of attack, and a best case single commited attack.

And again, the clamp is actually both unnecessary and dangerous unless you have already hit and stunned the attacker.


Avoidance and escape are the two concepts to focus on. You are unlikely to encounter a situation in which you'll have to engage.

If you get caught in a situation where avoidance and escape failed for whatever reason, you need some training beyond what can be provided on a forum or via YouTube (good for illustrations but not for uninitiated instruction). Take a gander at some reality based self-defense instruction. Groups/instructors such as Southern Narc (Shivworks), Steve Tarani, Michael Janich (martial blade craft) and Tony Blauer are good starting points. I'll defer to Sentoguy's experience and depth for additional suggestions. Quality krav maga and Filipino/Indonesian martial arts are useful as well.

The adrenalin surge (fight or flight reaction) can be adapted to but it requires multiple exposures to recognize, understand and work with your reaction. Since it's not recommended to seek out unsupervised lethal confrontations, any controlled stress event will help. Combat sports and training are good for this. Sure...you aren't going to die but the stress of possible pain (punched or kicked) changes the equation. This is the same reason entry teams will practice with Sims and/or seconds after a few minutes of PT. Dealing with high levels of stress has carry over from activity to activity. For example, if you've been in multiple uses of force; the stress felt when providing critical trauma first aid is more easily managed.


Yes, never getting within reach of the blade is of course a better option than engaging if you can do it.

The concept of immobilizing the opponent's delivery system is great, but it should be a secondary goal to disrupting the neural signals telling the delivery system to use the knife against you. The person utilizing the knife is the real weapon, the knife is just an inanimate object if it isn't being wielded against you. So any defense system that is built around pursuing the arm rather than first disrupting the brain is going to be iffy at best when dealing with an athletic, committed, uncooperative opponent.

Once the brain has been shocked/disrupted, then you may have a legitimate opportunity for a clamp, disarm, or other controlling option. But IMO unless there is a specific strategic goal behind doing so, you are usually better off just continuing to blast the biocomputer.


I watched that video and I saw the exact same concept that McCann says - hands close, give him the outside of the arms where none of the crucial shit is, vault in, and try to fuck the guy up first before he can cut you up.

Kelly grabs the guy's tricep, this guy doesn't. I dunno. My honest opinion - total over-analyzation of this. Shit will happen so fast and so suddenly that maybe you can get a hold, maybe you can't. But the end goal is the same - hurt the guy before he hurts you and book it.

So ... I just think you're getting too much into the minutua.


sento the video you posted is really interesting and i agree with a lot of the things you said.But imagine an opponent which can really control the fighting distance(nothing really difficult to do particularly with a knife).That for me would almost certainly mean that what richard ryan demonstrates which from what i understand is closing the distance (while i cover my important parts) and striking on his vulnerable parts becomes really difficult if not impossible. Now even with anything of importance covered none can guarantee that he even by luck wont hit something important since his hand is free to just stab me.

I believe its a bit more important for me to control what presents the biggest danger(the attacking hand) prefferably by grabbing and holding so i can then freely hit and do some real damage.Now to do that of course i propably need to be a bit stronger and propably luckier but well after all he has a knife.Lastly i believe that to grab-control his attacking hand you cant just wait for an attack i believe you must first in some way grab and control his forward hand(provided the attacking hand is the back one) so you can in some way manipulate his angle.if i didnt made any sense just tell me. haha