Story and Photos by Michael Janich
The longer you allow someone to try to kill you, the more likely he’ll be successful. For that reason, all good self-defense tactics must focus on stopping power – the ability to decisively stop your assailant so he is unable to continue his attack.
The term “stopping power” is most frequently used in the realm of shooting and is generally defined as the probability of a particular caliber or bullet configuration to quickly incapacitate an assailant. It is also closely related to proper shot placement and the predictable effects of targeting specific areas of the attacker’s body.
From a legal standpoint, “stopping” a threat is also a critically important concept, as it is the true goal of any act of self-defense. Once you stop the threat, you are no longer legally justified in continuing to deliver force. If you do, that force can be judged to be excessive and unreasonable and you could be held criminally liable. I know that’s not “fair,” but that’s the way it is.
With all of that in mind, using a knife to “stop” an attacker can be challenging. You not only have to efficiently and decisively disable him – to keep yourself safe from death or serious bodily injury – but you must also be able to establish your use of the knife as reasonable and justifiable.
Before we dig any deeper into this topic, let’s assume that, as a law-abiding citizen, you’re going to carry a knife that’s actually legal. Although the term “legal” varies significantly from place to place, and it makes sense to carry as much knife as you can, the norm in most jurisdictions is a folding knife with a 3-4-inch blade.
If you live in a place like Chicago or Boston, the legal blade length is even more restricted, at only 2.5 inches. The bottom line is you will fight with what you actually carry, so your tactics need to be based on the actual destructive capacity of that knife.
To make this discussion relevant to everyone, let’s assume the worst-case scenario – you must defend yourself against a lethal, contact-distance attack with a 2.5-inch blade. It doesn’t matter whether your attacker has a hammer, a tire iron, a brick, a baseball bat or any other weapon – he’s a lethal threat and you have to stop him with 2.5 inches of sharp steel.
Remember, the more times you let him swing or stab at you, the more likely he’ll succeed. So, your tactics have to produce instantaneous results. If he bleeds to death from your cuts and punctures, but still has enough time to beat you to death before he goes unconscious, you still lose.
Many people believe that if you stab someone in the torso, he will immediately drop and be incapacitated. If one stab doesn’t do the trick, the belief is that you repeat the process until you get the desired result. Interestingly, many proponents of this approach cite criminal use of knives (aka murder) as a success model that is worthy of emulating for self-defense.
In reality, most people who are stabbed don’t realize what’s really happening and rarely suffer immediate incapacitation. In fact, most survivors of stabbings typically report that they “thought they were being punched” and didn’t realize they’d been stabbed until they felt something warm and wet – their own blood.
If you don’t believe this, cruise over to YouTube, LiveLeak, or any similar online video site and do a search for “knife attack.” You’ll see countless examples of dramatic, often disturbing, footage of actual knife attacks from all over the world.
The videos typically show the knife being used as an offensive weapon, which is revealing in two ways.
First, they show in graphic detail that most people who are attacked with knives are stabbed – usually repeatedly – but are not quickly incapacitated. Even after suffering multiple stab wounds, they very often remain upright, mobile, and active. If they were attackers instead of victims, that means they would also remain very dangerous.
The second “learning point” of these videos is, they show what the victim of a felonious knife attack typically looks like – a person full of stab wounds. If your goal is to use a knife for personal defense, your “work product” should support your claim that you were the victim. If your “attacker” ends up looking like the victim of a felony, you’ll end up looking like – and being treated like – a felon.
So, what does it take to quickly and decisively stop an attacker with a small-bladed knife? One tactic that has been used effectively for centuries, is what the Filipino martial arts (FMA) call “defanging the snake.”
If you consider an attacker’s arm to be the “snake,” any weapon he holds in his hand is a “fang.” Cutting the inside of his wrist severs the flexor tendons that enable the muscles of his forearm to pull on the bones of his fingers, closing his hand into a fist. Physically disconnecting the muscles from the fingers they move, instantly destroys his grip on the weapon, “defanging the snake” and producing an immediate disarm.
In addition to the speed and effectiveness of this tactic, it also makes sense because the target is located less than an inch below the surface of the skin, which makes it vulnerable even to short-bladed knives, like our 2.5-inch worst-case blade. Best of all, your assailant literally “gives” you this high value target every time he reaches out to attack.
Traditional FMA systems, and many other martial arts, usually follow “defanging” with finishing counterattacks to lethal targets. On a battlefield, that’s appropriate. In self-defense, not so much.
Rather than training to kill an attacker we may have just disarmed, a more logical approach is to continue the process of disabling him by cutting key anatomical structures. If the cut to the wrist wasn’t enough to force him to drop his weapon, the next target priority I recommend is the bicep and or triceps – the muscles responsible for bending and flexing the elbow. Those mechanical actions are necessary to wield a weapon effectively. If you cut the muscles that power them, the effect is, again, instantaneous and has direct impact on his ability to continue to attack you.
The third target priority I teach, in my Martial Blade Concepts (MBC) system of knife tactics, is the quadriceps muscle at the front of the thigh; specifically the narrow portion just above the kneecap. The quadriceps is responsible for extending the knee joint and is the muscle that allows the attacker to support weight and achieve movement. Cutting it is functionally a “mobility kill,” which cripples his leg, drops him to the ground, and allows you to achieve distance and safety.
Cutting muscles and tendons, to disable specific anatomical functions, is often known as biomechanical cutting. The MBC approach to targeting, however, doesn’t stop there. By following the targeting system outlined above, it is also possible to achieve other “levels” of stopping power, that further enhance your odds of immediately incapacitating your attacker.
The proper targeting of muscles and tendons can also be used to simultaneously sever adjacent peripheral nerves. These nerves are the pathways that enable the brain to communicate with, and control the actions of, the limbs. They are also shallow enough to be easily accessible with a small knife and are often located right next to the muscles. Severing them instantly disables, or at least debilitates, that limb and can often cause an attacker to drop his weapon. Again, this type of stopping power is reliable, predictable and exactly what we want.
The third level of stopping power is what most people think knife tactics are all about – blood vessels. Peripheral nerves typically run parallel, and in close proximity to, the major arteries of the arms and legs. While exsanguination (bleeding people out) is not a quick stopping method, proper targeting can include it, offering a third “layer” of stopping power – albeit a delayed one.
The MBC system of targeting is based on in-depth analysis of human anatomy and is designed to “stack” structural, neurological, and arterial targets to maximize stopping power with a small knife.
I have taught this approach to many students who are medical professionals and to the cadre at the International School of Tactical Medicine. They have overwhelmingly endorsed the validity and predictive efficiency of MBC’s approach to stopping power. So, this approach isn’t just my theory; it’s sound medical science.
Knives can be amazingly powerful defensive weapons, but only when employed with good tactics, proper targeting, and a clear understanding of how to use them to achieve reliable stopping power. K&G
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Martial Blade Conceptswww.MartialBladeConcepts.com
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.
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