Some like to carry a knife for self-defense. As with any other weapon, to be useful in a self-defense situation, the knife must be with you, readily available, and be useable under the circumstances. You must have the knife with you and readily available when you are at work, at church, at a birthday party, etc. You must be able to draw the knife while wearing a heavy coat or gloves, and you must be able to hold the knife with wet or cold hands.

In a fight, no matter your skill level or the skill level of your opponent, if the opponent has a knife, you will get cut! So be prepared to get cut and to not let a cut interfere with your resolve to win the fight.

It has been said, “proximity negates skill” that even a skilled person may be killed in close combat by accident. Most self-defense situations are at close range; an attacker is not going to stand back and duel with you. So, if you want to rely on a knife for self-defense, you had better know how to use it at close range.


Any type of knife can be dangerous in a fight, but some types are as dangerous to the user as they are to the attacker, such as a cheap folding knifes with a weak blade lock that allow the blade to close on your fingers. Some points to remember when choosing a fighting knife are:


Fixed blade is stronger than a folding blade.

Double edge blade better than a single edge blade, since both sides may cut.

Point should not be so sharply tapered that it may easily be broken off.

Slightly oval handle is better than a round one, so you may know by feel which ways the edges are facing.

Handle should not be slippery when wet, too soft when hot, or too hard when cold.

Handle should be slightly longer the width of your hand so the butt may be used for striking. Some knifes have a metal pommel on the butt to make striking more effective. If handle is too long, it may snag on clothing or be grabbed by the opponent.

Blade with a shiny surface is intimidating, while a blade with a matte finish is more easily hidden.
* Should have a guard to protect the hand from opponent's blade. Guard that angles upward helps trap an opponent's blade and makes the knife easier for you to grip.


To use a knife, you must grip it. Not only is a proper grip important to you when using the knife, seeing the grip used by an attacker may give you some indication of the skill level of the attacker. There are four methods of gripping a knife. As with any fighting technique, each has its advantages and disadvantages.


Fencer's Grip. In this grip, the knife handle is gripped firmly between the thumb and forefinger, with the other fingers wrapped loosely around the handle, such as the way a fencer grips a foil. Single edge knife is held with the edge facing downward, double edge knife is held with the edges facing horizontally. Blade is pointed toward the attacker. While this grip may be suitable for knives with small handles, it is unsuitable for knives with large grips. This grip allows the wrist to move the blade in many directions, provides maximum reach for the blade, and presents the weapon in a more threatening manner. However, the grasp is not firm. If your hand is struck while using the fencer's grip, you may lose your grasp on the knife. The thumb may be injured if it slips down the blade or if the knife is forced backward. This is the grip used by "flashy" knife fighters.

Ice-pick Grip. In this grip, the knife handle is held in a fist, with the blade pointing downward, similar to how you would hold an ice pick when using it to chip ice. Single edge knife is held with the edge facing outward, double edge knife is held with an edge facing outward. This grip enables deep blade penetration into soft body armor, heavy coats, or other protective clothing, however, when raising the knife for a downward strike, you telegraph your intentions, expose your chest area, and make it easy for your opponent to see the weapon. This grip does not provide for parrying or thrusting and it is easy to block a downward thrust. This is the grip used by many novices.

* Reverse Grip. In this grip, the knife is held upside down with the blade pointing downward and backward alongside the wrist. Single edge knife is held with the edge facing outward, double edge knife is held with an edge facing outward. This grip "hides" the knife, but it limits reach and available techniques. Since thrusts are primarily backward, your must be close to the attacker. This is the grip used by many knife fighters who watch knife fights in movies and think they are experts.

The pakal knife fighting method uses the reverse grip. pakal , in the Visayan dialect of the Philippines, means to rip. Similar to an animal’s claws, pakal movements are designed to pull in and tear apart flesh, not push it away. Most knife fighters want their edge facing the attacker so the attacker has to fight through the edge to get to them. They use knife thrusts to keep attackers away. While most pakal thrusts are a backward motion, forward thrust are also used. But, because the blade faces backward, the reach of forward thrusts and the depth of penetration is limited. In pakal , thrust are the primary attacking motion; any cutting, shearing, or tearing are considered secondary.

When you push an attacker away, he or she will probably attack again. This constant disengagement and reengagement creates to many opportunities for something to go wrong. When you thrust forward, the attacker will usually step back to avoid or diminish the power of the strike, and then step back in for another attack. In pakal , if the attacker pulls back, he or she will move into the power of the strike. If the attacker does not pull back, the strike will still pull forward into the attacker. When people are cut, they tend to jerk away quickly, so if a preliminary cut is made on the way in for a backward thrust, it will cause the person to jerk backward into your thrust.

In a pakal knife fight, you do not square off with the attacker and have a lengthy duel; you use deception, feints, speed, ferocity, and controlling tactics to end the confrontation as soon as possible. Since pakal uses a lot of thrusting and ripping, a short blade held in a reverse grip is the best weapon.

You may pull against the edge of any blade with much more force than you may push against the edge. Attackers are not usually naked, they wear clothing, and depending on the situation and the time of year, there may be many layers of clothing or heavy clothing. It is difficult to cut skin through all this protection. In a forward thrust, the defender is usually moving backward away from the attack so it is difficult to penetrate the clothing, even with a large blade. However, when a small blade is pulled inward against the person's body, it is easier to penetrate clothing since the clothing is now backed by the firmer surface of the body.

Because of clothing and the flailing movements in a fight, the short knife has less a chance of getting snagged or trapped. In a thrust, only a small portion of the length of a large blade will penetrate, so it is difficult to get enough leverage on the handle to control knife. A short blade may penetrate to the hilt, but this gives the user tremendous leverage for pulling and ripping. If a large blade penetrates too far or strikes a bone, it may become lodged and difficult to remove. The added leverage of a small blade aids in its release from the same situation.
* Hammer Grip. This is the preferred grip of experts. In this grip, the knife handle is gripped in a fist such as you would hold a hammer. Blade is pointed upward. Single edge knife is held with the edge facing forward, double edge knife is held with an edge facing forward. The wrist is kept flexible but may be locked when needed. With this grip, the knife is less likely to be knocked from your grasp, and it it permits the hand to punch or deliver butt-end knife strikes. The grip provides for deep penetration and power so the blade may easily cut through heavy clothing. Also, there is less likelihood of injury to the thumb, and the knife may be used for chopping, slashing, and especially thrusting techniques.


Stand in your normal fighting stance with the knife in the leading hand. "Hide" behind the knife, letting it be all the opponent sees. Keep free hand close to the midsection to protect vital areas. In Filipino Escrima, the free hand is used as a shield and is sacrificed, if necessary. The creed is "You may cut my hand, but I will take your life!" The free hand may be used to parry, punch, fake a blow, throw objects, distract the opponent, assist balance in rough terrain, or even to grab opponent's blade. It may also be used to trap the opponent's hand as he or she attempts to draw a weapon.


As with empty hand fighting, to neutralize the opponent as quickly as possible, you must strike the best targets. This does not mean you always need attempt to strike vital points. Opponents will usually be defending their vital areas making these areas hard to hit. Since drawing the first blood has such a tremendous psychological advantage, the more you strike your opponent the better, regardless of where you hit. A primary target is the weapon-wielding hand. By disabling the hand that holds the weapon, you neutralize the weapon.

Unless you regularly train in knife fighting techniques, your best option is to fight in the same manner in which you normally train, except you will have a knife in your leading hand to add to your arsenal of weapons. Use the leading hand in the same manner you would if it did not have a knife in it. Use the knife to block, jab, hook, uppercut, etc. If opponent has a knife, always be aware of it and its location.

Contact fighters are used to getting hit. Many times they do not bother to block because they know they can take the attack and come back with an even more powerful attack of their own. When the opponent has a knife, this is not an option. Point fighters, especially ippon (one point) fighters, lose if the opponent scores one technique on them, so they are trained to avoid or block every attack. Theoretically, a point fighter would have a better chance than a contact fighter of surviving a knife attack (when neither is a trained knife fighter).

A deadly target used by Filipino knife fighters is to sever the sciatic nerve on the back of the opponent's thigh, high up where the it comes down through the pelvic bone. It the nerve is severed, the leg becomes useless.

The femoral artery on the outside of the leg is another good target. If it is cut, the person will bleed out quickly.

One Punch, One Kill

This saying is used in many styles of martial arts, but it seldom happens in the real world. In the world of firearms, they speak of "one shot, one kill" or of "one-shot stops" where an attacker is stopped or killed by one shot. Even with a firearm, this seldom occurs. Sometimes an attacker may take numerous shots and keep attacking, even while slowly dying. Are one-shot stops possible with knives?

There are three types of one-shot stops:


A physiological stop occurs when the central nervous system is shut down (such as bullet to the brain), or where either the heart or thoracic aorta is instantly and catastrophically damaged.

A psychological stop occurs when the person believes he or she is supposed to react a certain way to an injury.
* A surrender stop occurs when the person believes that any further hostilities may lead to more pain or injury or death, so the person gives up.

In self-defense, the primary concern is not killing the attacker, but stopping the attacker from continuing the attack. A cut or stab may cause a psychological or surrender stop. However, even a stab to the heart may not instantly kill or stop an attacker. For a knife attack to be fatal relatively quickly, the injury must be to the heart of a major artery or vein, and either:


the blood must not clot, or

pressure from surrounding tissues must not stop the flow of blood, or
* direct pressure is not applied to stop the flow of blood.

If these things do not occur, it may takes minutes before a person bleeds out (exsanguination). In most cases, it would take transection (complete severing) of the thoracic aorta to cause enough hemorrhage to cause unconsciousness in about 4 to 5 seconds. For an average 70 kg. (155 lb) male the cardiac output will be about 5.5 l. (1.4 gal.) per minute. His blood volume will be about 60 ml. per kg. (0.92 fl. oz. per lb.) or about 4200 ml. (1.1 gal.). Assuming his cardiac output may double under stress, his aortic blood flow can reach 11 liters (~2.8 gallons) per minute. If a wound totally severed the thoracic aorta, it would take about 4.6 seconds for him to lose 20% of his blood volume. This analysis does not account for oxygen contained in the blood already in the brain that will keep the brain functioning even longer. Of course hemorrhage is cumulative, so, over time, many small minor cuts may cause as much blood loss as one major cut. So, for someone to be quickly stopped as a result of bleeding, large arteries and veins must be cut, and even then it may take several seconds or minutes before the person is incapacitated.

Knowing this, about bleeding, some knife fighters advocate focusing knife attacks the structures of the body that allow hostile movements to continue. They seek to disable the attacker by targeting the muscle groups, tendons, etc. that control grip and arm movement. As with hemorrhage, structural damage is cumulative, but also, as with hemorrhage, it may take many cuts before any appreciable damage is done. Attackers do not stand around while you carve on them; they are trying to kill you, so you do not have a lot of time to mess around.

As discussed above, any of the three types of one-shot stops is difficult to achieve using a knife. However, if you combine blood cuts and muscle cuts, along with the pain they cause, you may succeed in quickly stopping an attacker.

Knife Defense

Unarmed defense against a weapon is always very risky. Fight only to prevent death or certain serious injury to yourself or others. If the opponent has a knife, even if you also have one, avoid the fight or flee, if possible. If you must fight, you may use deadly force since you attacker has a deadly weapon and intent on attacking you. If you have a knife and the opponent does not, use it judiciously, since you now have a deadly weapon and may be legally or civilly liable for its use even when you attacker continues to attack.


If the situation demands it, do as you are told, including giving up valuables.

Comply if ordered to put your hands up. It is easier to make an initial move when your hands are up. They are out of the attacker's line of vision and you do not look aggressive.

Divert attacker's attention away from your intentions by talking (pleading, crying, etc.). Practice starting your defense/attack while you are in the middle of a remark or phrase.

Focus on controlling the hand holding the knife.

Some may think that carrying a concealed firearm will protect them against a knife attacker. Tests have shown that a potential knife attacker that is under 21 feet away will be able to close the distance and slit the throat of an untrained shooter before he or she can draw and fire, every time.

Either stay outside arc of the blade or move inside the arc of attacker's forearm, while controlling the knife.

In a knife attack, be prepared to be cut or slashed. The secret is to avoid injury to vital areas or your hands.
* A knife attack is a very personal. A person may mean to threaten you with a gun and accidentally shoot you without trying, but to hurt you with a knife, a person has to make a purposeful action to harm you. You cannot accidentally attack someone with a knife. It is relatively easy to shoot someone from a distance, it is much more difficult to get close enough to a person to cut them, and then to purposefully use the knife to cut the person. A person who is trying to cut you is trying to kill you, not scare you. When you defend yourself against a knife, you must have the mindset that you are defending your life, and then act accordingly. Deadly force is authorized against a knife attacker.

Defenses Against a Right Hand Overhead Knife Attack


Defense #1. Step backward with left foot out of range of knife. Swing right arm counterclockwise in a large circle front of your body so you may grab or push the attacking arm just behind the knife. Redirect knife into opponent’s leg. Follow-up with a left downward elbow strike to the base of the attacker's neck.

Defense #2. Step forward, toward the left outside the arc of the attacking arm. Swing right arm clockwise and grab attacking arm behind the knife. Swing attacker's arm down, around, back upward, and then forward while also grabbing it with your left hand. Attacker will bend forward. Continue pushing the arm forward while twisting the attacker's wrist until the knife drops. Follow-up with a left downward elbow strike to the base of the attacker's neck.
* Defense #3. Step right foot forward inside the attacking arm with a high X block (left hand in front). Grab attacker's hand with your left hand (and then right hand) while turning left so your back is toward attacker and his elbow rests on your right shoulder, palm up. Apply a downward force on his hand until he releases the knife. Follow-up with a right elbow or turn right and sweep his legs.


* Newgard, K. (1992). The Physiological Effects of Handgun Bullets: The Mechanisms of Wounding and Incapacitation. Wound Ballistics Review, 1(3): 12-17; 1992.