Story and Photos by Michael Janich
Carrying a weapon—any weapon—on a regular basis is a serious commitment. During the hot summer months, the challenge of “going armed” gets even tougher, because we tend to wear shorts, and other types of lightweight clothing, that don’t make ideal carry platforms for weapons. Light clothes also don’t conceal dangerous things as effectively as heavier clothing does.
For folks who carry knives as defensive weapons, one potential solution to this problem is the neck knife. These small sheath knives are designed to be worn handle down on a cord or chain hung around your neck—like a necklace. Since they don’t rely on belts, waistbands, or pockets for support, their style of carry remains completely consistent, regardless of the clothing you wear. As long as your head is attached, neck carry works.
Neck knives can also be an excellent “full-time” knife choice for females, since ladies’ pants pockets are often too shallow to carry anything substantial and some of their other clothing options, like skirts, often have no pockets at all.
With all that said, neck knives are far from perfect defensive weapons. Their small size makes them less potent than larger knives and, to be honest, many neck knife designs are simply not capable of inflicting the kind of damage necessary to stop a determined attacker. Before you trust your life to any neck knife, you owe it to yourself to do some homework.
The first thing you need to consider, before you hang a knife around your neck, is the legality of doing so in your area and wherever you may travel. Neck knives are fixed blades and may be prohibited in some jurisdictions. Some neck knife designs are double edged and, despite their small size, could still be considered a type of dirk or dagger.
Like any other defensive weapon, it’s up to you to research all the applicable laws where you live or travel.
People wear a lot of things around their necks for good luck and to ward off evil spirits, but a neck knife is not a rabbit’s foot and should not be considered in that category. If you actually need to defend yourself with it, it must be able to perform well as a weapon.
In simple terms, neck knives typically fall into one of two categories: those that cut well and those that don’t. Many neck knife designs are only suitable for thrusting tactics. And while nobody in his right mind would volunteer to get stabbed, a puncture wound with a short-bladed knife is not a decisive fight stopper.
Neck knives with broader blades, wide bevels, and good edge geometry are much more versatile than narrower, “stabbier” designs. Because these knives can actually cut, they can be used with the same basic tactics as larger knives and, very importantly, have enough destructive capacity to target the parts of your attacker’s body that allow him to be dangerous to you.
A sharp two-inch blade is fully capable of severing the flexor tendons of the forearm, the muscles of the upper arm, and even the quadriceps muscle just above the knee, to destroy your attacker’s physical mobility and increase your chances of escaping safely.
In addition to the blade size and configuration, you also want to consider the shape, texture, thickness, and size of the handle. Ideally, you want something that will conceal well, even under a light shirt, yet provide enough grip area and traction that you can use the knife with power. Many neck knife designs sacrifice grip comfort for concealment and leave precious little real estate to hang onto.
When choosing a handle style for your neck knife, your preferred tactics and training should have a significant influence on your decision. If you practice a cut-focused skill set, the handle will need to be long enough to provide leverage to apply pressure into a cut. A “ramp” on the back of the blade allows you to extend your thumb and apply pressure, making the knife a natural extension of your hand and providing greater control.
Although some neck knives have textured scales of G-10 and other materials, many are solid or skeletonized steel, to reduce thickness and weight. For these knives, jimping (textured grooves) on the edges of the tang/handle help provide better control during hard impact. A finger groove or grooves are often even better, offering a more solid stop to keep your hand from sliding onto the blade.
One brilliant approach to providing an ultra-secure handle on a small knife is to include a large hole in the blade just behind the cutting edge. Pioneered and popularized by French custom knifemaker and tactical trainer Fred Perrin, this index-finger hole anchors the knife firmly to the hand, prevents it from sliding forward, and even allows you to grasp things with that hand without having to drop the knife.
A good neck knife is worthless unless it is paired with a proper sheath. Since it is designed to be carried upside down, positive retention is critical. Until you’ve had a sharp knife bouncing around freely inside your shirt, you won’t fully appreciate this, but take my word for it.
My standard test for neck knife retention is to hook the chain or lanyard around my thumb while holding the sheathed knife in my fingers. From shoulder height, I toss the knife down and allow it to snap at the end of the chain. I don’t do this hard, but try to replicate the force that would be created if I had to jump a fence or similar object. I repeat this three times without re-seating the knife. If it doesn’t stay in the sheath, the sheath needs tuning or, if I like the knife, it needs a custom-made sheath that works properly.
The most widely used sheath material for neck knives is Kydex or a similar thermoplastic like Concealex and Boltaron. Since these materials are heat-moldable, they can be shaped to provide snap-fit retention of a knife, holding it securely in place while allowing it to be drawn with a reasonable tug.
Kydex is also lightweight, impervious to water and sweat, and available in a wide range of colors. Although black is by far the most common color for “tactical” knives, lighter colors—especially those that come close to your skin tone—conceal even better under a light-colored shirt.
Proper neck knife sheaths should be flat, as slim as possible, offer excellent retention of the knife without making it difficult to draw, and present enough of the knife’s handle to ensure that it can be drawn easily. They, along with the knives they carry, should also be light enough that the resulting package is not uncomfortable or inconvenient to carry.
To suspend the knife, I prefer a “ball chain” (the same type of chain used on military dog tags) over cord—especially parachute cord. Military parachute cord, or “550” cord, is so named because it has a break strength of 550 pounds. That’s well over twice my body weight, so I don’t really want a loop of it strung around my neck as a ready-made garrote.
Ball chains are designed to break at a specific tension. A 20-pound break strength will allow you draw your knife reliably, while eliminating the threat of being strangled with the chain.
One often-overlooked aspect of sheath design is the positioning of the hanging holes in the tip of the sheath. If the sheath is too narrow, it can easily spin. For symmetrical, double-edged knives, this isn’t a big deal. However, if your knife is single edged, it may result in a poor draw, with the edge facing the wrong way. Widely spaced holes allow the sheath to lay flat, preventing spinning and aiding concealment.
The exact positioning of your neck knife will depend on your height, physique and the knife/sheath combo you choose. Ideally, it will ride in front of the sternum, with the end of the handle just above the solar plexus. If it rides too low, the end of the handle will tend to print through your shirt, especially if you’re “well fed.”
Drawing a neck knife involves reaching under your shirt, securing a positive grip on the exposed handle, and drawing straight down while keeping the knife safely away from your torso. Since you’ll probably be doing this in response to a close-quarters threat, it also makes sense to guard your head and neck with your free hand as you draw.
My preferred method, which will even work with a tucked shirt, is as follows: First, grip your shirt with your non-weapon hand, just above your belt. Pull your shirt straight up and reach under it with the other hand, to establish a solid grip on the knife’s handle.
Once you’ve gripped the handle, move your free hand up and brace your palm to your forehead, just above your eyebrow. This creates a solid guard and protects your head and neck. Pull the knife straight down, keeping it away from your body, so you don’t cut yourself as it clears the sheath.
In training, this process should also be integrated with sound empty-hand skills that give you the time and distance to “earn your draw.”
Once your knife is out, you should apply the tactics and techniques of your preferred knife fighting skill set, adapting them as necessary to the limitations of your weapon. You should also do an honest assessment of the destructive power of your neck knife and determine whether it is a true fight stopper. If it’s not, train to back up your knife skills with potent unarmed tactics, like low-line kicks.
One excellent approach is to use your neck knife against the flexor tendons and muscles of your attacker’s weapon-wielding arm, and then immediately follow up by attacking his eyes. This tactic alone may be enough to create an opportunity to escape. If not, it should pave the way for crippling low-line kicks to the knees or ankles that will finish the job and keep you safe.
Like any other weapon, using a neck knife effectively requires a combination of proper tools and proper training. Make sure you have both. 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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