Knives. A few hours prior to starting to write this, 14 people were stabbed on a college campus in Texas. Knives are going to be in the media, on the internet and on your social media page for the next week or longer. But very few people will understand what they are talking about when the talking heads start rolling out experts and giving their opinions. So, as an “Expert” on self defense, I’d like to offer my thoughts on the subject….but I assure you what’s to follow is not mere opinion….it’s observation. We take an opinion or theory and put it into live testing, as real as it can safely get, and braving the bumps, bruises, cuts and concussions to sort out opinion from reality. And what follows is why when you hear anyone utter (or write) the phrase “it was only a knife” you should…well…stab them. (metaphorically speaking of course). (Update: after only a few days, the story has all but vanished from the main stream media and social media)

FACT: No one WANTS to get stabbed or slashed with a knife. Just like no one wants to get shot, or burned, or crushed. The Psychology of it all I’ll leave to the professionals, but this much is true; many people will run into a burning house to save another. Many people will rush into an unstable structure to save a co-worker. If the situation were somehow naturally occurring, I’m sure many people would run into a labyrinth of blades to save another. Part of it is because in all those situations, we feel we are somewhat in control of the situation and in full control of the decision making process and the odds against us are more calculable because no other person is effecting the possible outcomes.
Now, if there were someone holding a Molotov Cocktail lit and ready to throw at you, you would hesitate. Just like if someone were standing in front of you with a knife. You see, put an inanimate object, that’s capable of doing great harm to you, in the hand of a willing assailant and you HAVE to have second thoughts about your actions. That part is no different than someone pointing a gun at you. Though there are some differences between the two, the threat itself is the same…threat of injury or death.

The firearm has a reach advantage over the knife, that much is obvious. But in personal range, the only advantage the firearm has is the POSSIBILITY of greater damage per strike. The knife has far more advantages over the firearm in close range;
1. unlimited use, never have to reload.
2. doesn’t require aiming
3. can cause damage at ANY angle of attack
4. it is far more difficult to gain leverage and control a knife as the defender
5. can be used stealthily, often without even the victim knowing it’s in use

I’m going to focus on #3 and #4.
First, angle of attack: It’s obvious there are an infinite number of angles someone can attack you with when using a knife. And it’s fast. As a defender, you CANNOT begin to make a viable defense against a knife attack until you know roughly what angle it’s coming from! Which means in very simple terms, you are going to be going 2nd. You are going to be late. You must RE-act to the attackers ACT. Add to that the fact that the attacker can change the angle of attack at a moments notice or even during the motion, well you get the picture (I hope).
In our “Live” training sessions with expert level students and instructors we put everything to the test. Multiple stabs coming at different and changing angles and at a high rate of speed. Just about the only thing you can be sure of is that you MUST MUST MUST hit the attacker VERY HARD at the earliest moment possible. That is about the only thing that disrupts the on-going attack. Most attempts at a defense and an attempt to control the attackers arm/hand/knife end up with the defender getting stabbed or cut at least once, usually more like 4 to 6 times. Sometimes you get lucky and can control the limb right away without getting cut or stabbed…then it turns into a FIGHT (see advantage #4 and explanation below). Remember these are very highly trained self defense students and expert instructors we’re talking about, not the average Joe off the street or part time martial arts student. These guys and gals train on this stuff almost DAILY for YEARS. We’ve seen many many videos of actual stabbings where injuries to the victim end up being in the dozens in only 3 to 15 seconds of attack, so we’re already ahead of the curve with only being stabbed 6 times!

These odds change DRAMATICALLY when we begin to be successful with full power strikes in conjunction with a defense (simultaneously). At that point you begin to see the defender gain the upper hand momentarily. This is where it gets critical…in that moment you must decide if you can safely and securely control the attackers limb, or if you must disengage and create distance. It’s a tough decision to make in a half a second. If you choose to create distance, be prepared to have to make another defense, attack, find a shield, or arm yourself because chances are the attack is coming again. IF you are successful at controlling the attackers arm for the moment, you MUST NOT HESITATE to rain utter hellfire down upon the attacker! You have to literally try to shut them down, unconscious or unable to move, as quickly as possible. They are fighting for their lives to get the knife moving and working again. And if they do, you are in such close range, and often tangled up with the attacker, that you will likely take a lot of damage before you are able to disengage or make another defense. None of that is theory. We test it, and each other, often.

Now on to #4, about controlling a knife or the arm of the attacker.
Have you ever tried to hold onto someone’s wrist when they really didn’t want you too? It’s not as easy as it seems, especially in a fight and especially if they mean to kill you or do you great harm. The irony is that it’s relatively easy to hold on to, control, and gain leverage on a gun. There are no rotating or bendable joints on a gun and lot’s of handles and angles to grab onto. You cannot grab onto a knife (well, you can technically….), and if you do you won’t be able to hold onto it. It’s designed to slip in and out of tight spaces easily!

So you are left with having to control the arm that’s holding the knife. Again, a lot easier said than done. During our endless ‘Live’ testing of these things, we find that after a few failed or difficult attempts to GRAB the wrist or hand with your hand(s), we tend to revert to a ‘hugging’ or ‘wrapping’ position on the arm to stop it’s movement and therefor stop the knife from damaging us. While this, if done correctly, does obtain a desired effect, the overall problem is far from over.
Again during ‘Live’ testing we don’t allow the attacker to simply stop the attack because the knife/arm/hand has been controlled. Just as any person fighting for their life would do, the attacker desires to get their arm free or move the knife to the other hand in order to continue the attack with it. Another factor is that in a small but significant percentage of the time we see the attacker use their free hand to strike, pull, gouge, and otherwise attack the defender while the defender is occupied trying to isolate the hand/arm that has the knife!
That presents a whole host of problems for the defender to guard against while also concentrating on keeping the weapon hand isolated and controlled. This is another reason why we want people to be really, really good at striking with different parts of their body. The defender is most successful when they can control the weapon arm AND simultaneously and continuously deliver devastating and effective strikes on the attacker working towards immobilizing them, making them unconscious, or otherwise completely stopping the ongoing attempt to attack or re-obtain the use of the knife.

Believe me; although a firearm can do much more damage to you faster, defending against a knife attack is exponentially more difficult (when the ranges are similar). And THAT is why in group of young adults getting stabbed, a cohesive group will NOT spontaneously form to overcome and subdue the attacker. No one WANTS to get stabbed. Eventually people will form a working partnership and overcome the attacker (we hope), but don’t expect it to happen too soon.

So:
-The next time someone with a knife get’s shot, don’t judge the shooter until you’ve been standing in front of that knife.
-The next time someone says ‘bring a gun to a knife fight’, nod your head knowingly because we’ve proven and tested it for you.
-The next time a person or group of people get stabbed and no one steps in to stop it right away, don’t tsk tsk tsk them…you likely would also have hesitated or ran, hero.
-And the next time you think about training in Krav Maga to learn to defend yourself, follow through with that thought and do it. It can save your or someone else’s life. But train LIVE and test everything!

James Hiromasa
Colorado Krav Maga
Tactical Krav Maga
6470 w. 120th Ave Suite D3
Broomfield, CO  80020