Story and Photos by Michael Janich
If you become the victim of a violent crime, the longer you allow an attacker to continue his assault, the more likely you are to be seriously injured or killed. As blatantly obvious as that statement may seem, many people still do not grasp the importance of “stopping power” in self-defense – especially when it comes to using a knife as a defensive weapon.
In simple terms, stopping power is the ability to disable – or at least, debilitate – an assailant so he is physically unable to continue his attack. This must be a physical reaction, not a decision-based one, and is not the same as lethality or “killing power.” While a head shot with a firearm may kill and stop simultaneously, this is rarely the case with knives – especially the small, legal, easy-to-carry knife you’ll probably have in your pocket when you’re attacked.
Probably the biggest misconception about defensive knife tactics is the widely held belief that “bleeding someone out” is a rapid process and therefore an effective means of stopping an attacker.
While it is very true that inflicting severe bleeding wounds can ultimately take an attacker out of the fight, it takes far longer for someone to bleed to unconsciousness than most people think. And every second that an armed attacker is upright, mobile, and dangerous, your chances of surviving the incident diminish.
Much of the misinformation concerning exsanguination (the technical term for blood loss) in knife fighting can be traced back to the work of British close-combat legend W.E. Fairbairn. A veteran of service with the Shanghai Municipal Police and co-designer of the iconic Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Dagger, Fairbairn taught close combat to the super-secret operatives of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) and its British counterpart the SOE (Special Operations Executive) during WWII.
His 1942 book All-In Fighting, later republished in 1944 as Get Tough, is still regarded as one of the all-time classic manuals on combatives and up-close killing. However, just because the book is a classic and Fairbairn is a revered icon doesn’t mean he was always right.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Fairbairn’s book was his “Timetable of Death.” It consisted of a diagram of the human body, identifying all the major arteries, and a companion table that provided the depths beneath the skin of the various arterial targets and the heart.
The table also listed in specific detail exactly how long it supposedly took for a person to bleed to unconsciousness and bleed to death when each of these targets was severed or punctured.
Fairbairn never revealed how he arrived at the precise times cited in the table, and his methodology – as well as the accuracy of his data – have long been the subject of speculation. Nevertheless, for decades after WWII, the timetable was a standard reference for knife tacticians and was widely quoted by many instructors. It was even used as a reference in a major law enforcement defensive tactics/knife defense program.
The problem is one of “expectations” and how those expectations shape your tactics. For example, Fairbairn claimed that severing the carotid artery in the neck would produce unconsciousness in five seconds and death in 12.
If you believe that five seconds after you cut an attacker’s neck, he’ll fall unconscious and stop trying to kill you, you’ll consider that a valid approach to stopping power. If, however, the rapid incapacitation Fairbairn claimed was exaggerated, your attacker would have much more time – not to mention, motivation – to continue his efforts to kill you.
In 2004, Christopher Grosz, a law enforcement officer and defensive tactics instructor in Littleton, Colorado, questioned the accuracy of Fairbairn’s timetable and decided to try to validate it with modern medical data.
In addition to extensive independent research into the medical effects of various types of edged weapon wounds, Grosz worked very closely with Colorado’s Arapahoe County Medical Examiner, Dr. Michael Doberson. He also enlisted the aid of acknowledged edged-weapons instructors, including yours truly.
In simple terms, the extremely fast onset of unconsciousness claimed in Fairbairn’s table didn’t correlate to many actual incidents in which victims of accidents and soldiers on the battlefield suffered serious bleeding wounds or even severed limbs, yet still managed to survive.
Also, Fairbairn made no mention of the effect of heart rate on blood loss. Logically, a faster heart rate causes more rapid blood loss and consequently quicker onset of unconsciousness and death.
With Doberson’s guidance, Grosz developed a simple, scientifically sound method to calculate time to unconsciousness and death, based on blood loss.
First, he determined that blood volume and body size are a linear relationship, and that the effects of blood loss are based on the percentage of overall blood volume lost. At 20% blood loss, hypovolemic shock ensues. Unconsciousness occurs with a 30% blood loss and death occurs when 40% of your total blood volume is lost.
Based on modern medical knowledge, Grosz then determined the percentage of total blood volume that flows through the major arteries of the body, as well as the “stroke volume” – the amount of blood pumped out by the heart with every beat.
By multiplying the stroke volume times the heart rate (in beats per minute), you can determine how much blood is pumped into the vascular system in one minute. Then, by determining the percentage of that volume that passes through a particular artery and comparing that to the total blood volume, we can determine the percentage of blood loss that would occur, if that vessel were severed.
So how did Grosz’ results compare to Fairbairn’s? As noted earlier, according to Fairbairn, a severed carotid artery would supposedly cause unconsciousness in 5 seconds and death in 12. In reality, even at a maximum heart rate of 220 beats per minute, Grosz’ calculations indicated that unconsciousness occurs after 68 seconds and death 91 seconds—a tremendous difference that could drastically affect the outcome of a defensive encounter.
With that in mind, what is the real learning point of Grosz’ research? To put it bluntly, bleeding people out is not an efficient way of stopping them in a defensive encounter. Although they may die from their wounds later, they’ll have ample opportunity to try to kill you before they do.
At best, you’ll be in for a long, bloody rodeo trying to control them while they bleed out. A smarter solution is to develop a more realistic understanding of human anatomy and focus on more effective methods of achieving stopping power. K&G
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Martial Blade Conceptswww.MartialBladeConcepts.com
Chris Grosz’ groundbreaking research formed the basis of the book Contemporary Knife Targeting, published by Paladin Press in 2006. Tragically, Chris passed away before the book could be completed, so I finished it in his honor and signed over all royalties to his surviving wife and children.
Unfortunately, with the death of Paladin owner Peder Lund and the closure of the business, copies are now much more difficult – and expensive – to find.
Nine-year veteran of the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, Michael Janich also served a 3-year tour at the National Security Agency. Highly decorated, Michael is a two-time graduate of the Defense Language Institute and served around the world in intelligence and investigative capacities for many years. Utilizing his extensive training in various martial arts and military/LE combatives, he established Paladin Press’ Video Production Department in 1994, running all aspects of video production for 10 years – personally recruiting some of Paladin’s most popular authors and being selected to work with the late Col. Rex Applegate as the producer of his landmark instructional videos on handgun point shooting. Published book and magazine author, Michael has been featured on various television programs and designed knives for many different knife companies throughout the industry. Michael is the founder and lead instructor of his signature knife defense program, Martial Blade Concepts.
Chris Grosz was an Arnis and JuJutsu student of mine in the late 90’s and early to mid-2000’s. While he was a student, he was in many ways one of my best teachers too. His dedication to improving the tactics used by his fellow law enforcement officers is commendable. I’m glad his efforts continue to be referenced many years since his tragic passing. He was a great person. Thank you Michael Janich for continuing his legacy with your own!
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