Story and Photos by Michael Janich
The first rule of defending yourself with a knife is: Have a knife.
The second rule is: If your knife is a folder, have the ability to open it quickly and reliably, so it actually works as a knife when you need it to.
The third rule is: Know what to do with your knife once you’ve drawn it.
As obvious as these statements might seem, most people who claim to carry knives as defensive weapons don’t really understand what it really takes to get them into action, in response to a violent threat.
To make sure our understanding of this issue is sound, let’s do a little reality check.
First and foremost, we need to accept the fact that you are only legally justified in drawing a knife (or any other lethal weapon) when you are in fear for your life or in fear of suffering grievous bodily injury. Typically, the trigger for that belief is an attacker either brandishing, or actually attacking with, a lethal weapon of his own.
From a practical standpoint, your knife is only applicable if his weapon is a contact-distance one, like an impact weapon or an edged weapon, so he’ll try to be as close as possible to you before launching his attack.
For example, let’s consider an attacker armed with a tire iron, who wants to hit you in the head with it. Why? That doesn’t really matter because it won’t change the nature of your relationship, so don’t worry about it. Let the sociologists ponder that.
As he approaches you, you notice his right hand is hidden behind his thigh, he’s looking around a lot, and grooming his face with his left hand. These are all pre-incident indicators that are consistent with criminal behavior leading up to a violent attack, but you still haven’t seen a weapon. You raise both of your hands, palms out, and set a boundary by commanding him to stay back. He pauses about two arm’s lengths away, looks back over his shoulder, and then raises the tire iron as he lunges forward to swing at your head.
You are now clearly in fear for your life and justified in drawing and using your knife to defend yourself. But, is that really your highest priority right now? No. Not getting hit in the head with a tire iron is much more important than drawing a weapon. In fact, if you focus on the draw, as is typically done, you’re practically guaranteed to get hit.
You’ve got to survive long enough to get your knife—or any other weapon you may carry—into action.
One option for drawing a knife in response to a close-range, lethal-force attack, is to combine your standard deployment skills with a simple guard structure, using your non-weapon (aka “live”) hand.
By establishing a solid guard, you at least use your arm to cover your most vital targets—typically the head and neck—to prevent, or at least minimize, injury while you draw. This approach borrows heavily from close-quarters handgun tactics and, consequently, fuels many of the same debates when it comes to arm position.
In my opinion, sticking your left palm to your forehead just above your left eyebrow is the best way to go. This creates a solid structure with your left arm and, for the right-handed majority, protects against the most common contact-distance attacks by the rest of the right-handed majority: high, forehand attacks, like a swing with that tire iron.
For lefties, or for righties facing left-handed attacks, pivot the entire structure into the path of the attack and try to make contact with the attacker’s arm, rather than his weapon.
One commonly taught tactic involves hitting with your live hand, while drawing with your strong hand.
The problem with this approach is that hitting hard is a gross-motor skill. Deploying a knife—particularly a folder—is a complex motor skill. It’s very difficult to “split” your body to be a caveman on one side and a precision athlete on the other.
In high-intensity training, I’ve actually had students hit hard and, as a sympathetic gross-motor movement, draw their knives with enough gusto to throw them into the ceiling. A more common result is a good draw with a weak, ineffectual hit.
Either way, the simultaneous approach to hitting and drawing is difficult.
The best way to ensure that you stay alive long enough to get your knife into the fight, is to respond to the attack with an empty-hand defense that creates the time, distance, and opportunity to bring your knife into play.
This approach allows you to use your entire body—including both hands—to defend against the attack and then fire back a decisive hit, or hits, that stun your attacker momentarily. It also allows you to take advantage of the adrenaline dump you’ll likely experience, to deliver hard, gross-motor-skill strikes before you attempt to access your weapon.
In this way, you not only create a better opportunity to draw, by stunning or debilitating your opponent, you also get those hits “out of your system,” allowing an easier transition to the complex skill of weapon deployment.
To put it another way, you want to sequence your skills, rather than integrating them. Do one well and THEN do the other. During the chaos of an actual attack, this will yield better results than trying to do everything at the same time and doing none of it well.
To integrate this into your training, first use a training knife to master the mechanics of drawing and opening your blade. Next, focus on developing some good, practical empty-hand defenses against common attacks. Learn how to flow from these defenses into immediate, debilitating strikes, like eye gouges, hammerfists, knees, and low-line kicks.
Once you’re comfortable with the individual components, start putting them together with a training partner. Learn to defend, counter, create distance, and deploy your knife in a fluid progression. Then increase the intensity and use striking pads and heavy bags to practice hitting full force before immediately transitioning to your weapon draw.
Getting your knife into the fight takes much more than just a quick draw. You’ve got to earn it. 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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