Advice On Surviving An Edged Weapon Attack
Reexamining Modern Knife Instruction for Civilians
By W.R. Mann
Editor’s Note: Defending against a knife is not a high percentage
endeavor. Knife attacks are brutal, fast and often unpredictable. They
can kill you. WR Mann’s approach is commendable. He avoids half-committed,
non-realistic attacks and defenses. He has studied many systems of knife
defense, distilled their lessons and developed realistic street-wise
defenses that have been practiced and refined. In short, he knows what
works and what doesn’t. If your knife defense training has been
confined to the typical single thrust or slash attack, and ”I will
hold it there until you do something” method, Mann’s training
will be both eye opening and scary.
Many instructors who teach knife self-defenses to the general public
don’t understand how knife attacks really occur.
A common mistake,
for example, is to emphasize (or practice mostly) stick work, erroneously
believing that developing stick skills will automatically
transfer to unarmed defense against the knife.
The problem with this approach is that the vast majority of edged weapon
attacks are sudden and without warning. In these situations victims have
their hands so full just trying to avoid being stabbed, they have little
time to pull out a weapon (even if they have one). In most cases the
victim will be stabbed and perhaps not know it until afterwards. How
is stick work relevant here?
There are some Filipino styles that do emphasize knife work, but mainly
in an offensive capacity. They seem to delude themselves into believing
that they will always be ready for any event. The reality is that bad
things usually happen when you’re the least prepared for them.
And for the most part, these styles don’t even teach any practical
unarmed skills against a live blade.
That is not to say that I don’t practice knife-fighting (knife
against knife). But I don’t do it to the exclusion of defensive
knife work. I am also honest enough to realize that my chances are minimal
when faced with an attacker armed with a knife. I also realize that I
may not have a knife on me at all times, and even if I do have one, the
chance that I can draw it in time against a determined attacker is not
So if the odds are stacked so heavily against you in the first place,
why should you learn knife-defenses at all? For “knife awareness.” If
you practice a program that includes a counter-knife component, you may
be able to survive a knife attack, and that’s the point isn’t
it? You probably won’t wipe the floor with your attacker, but it
would be good to survive the assault.
Another mistaken strategy in my view is a tactic called “attack-the-attacker” – where
you are told not to try to block a knife or pretend that the attacker
doesn’t have one. This theory may work in certain situations, but
it’s dangerous unless you’ve practiced it a great deal. Even
if, as often suggested by those teaching this strategy, you succeed in
jabbing your opponent’s eyes, the next step should either be to
run away or to immobilize his arm. Blocking a knife-thrust with a limb
and continuing on with an offensive technique is just ludicrous. If your
instructor advocates this type of action, run away from him fast.
Two questions come to mind.
First, what types of attacks will the average citizen in a major urban
environment be vulnerable to; and second, what do I have to look for,
or even better, avoid, in terms of defensive-knife instruction?
In terms of types of attacks, I usually look at newspapers to see what’s
happening in my area, but more importantly I ask law enforcement officers
I know for their general take on the matter. The common consensus seems
to be that edged-weapon assaults usually come via domestic disputes and/or
street altercations. Many domestic disputes occur in the kitchen where
knives and tools are readily available. In street disputes, individuals
who are not at all reluctant to get into street fights are most often
the type of individuals who will carry some sort of weapon. Bump into
them on the wrong day and you could be in for it.
Other types of knife attacks are most commonly robberies and random
assaults by deranged individuals. Victims of random assaults are always
shocked by the event. They have a hard time believing they were targeted
in the first place – it doesn’t make sense to them!
The Case for Proper Instruction
I used to be more critical of knife instructors in general; after all,
poor instruction could potentially cost a student his or her life. But
then I realized most knife-defense instructors didn’t know any
better and no matter what I say, it wouldn’t change a thing. Nowadays
I concentrate on providing useful and practical information to anyone,
whether they practice kung-fu, kendo, combatives, Israeli styles or Filipino
martial arts; anyone wishing to improve their odds of survival from a
knife attack are welcome.
In general and especially with weapons, anything that can happen will
happen, and anything can work. I never state that certain techniques
cannot work in some situations, but I try to teach concepts that have
more potential of success than others.
No matter how strong or skilled you are, being close to a sharp piece
of steel moving rapidly in your direction is not a good place to be.
There is a good chance you will be cut and severely injured. The wisest
course of action is immediately to turn and run away if the opportunity
presents itself. Many martial artists claim that if you run, the attacker
may chase you and still stab or cut you! But then again, most martial
artists haven’t had any real fight experience. This philosophy
comes from the martial arts mentality of “stay and fight” and
has nothing to do with safety concerns.
So what if he chases you! Your attacker will not be able to inflict
the same degree of damage on you if you are moving instead of just standing
in front of him; with your throat, heart, stomach and liver within easy
reach! If you run, you can always find objects to place between you and
your attacker; you may even get the attention of police, or the attacker
may think you’re not worth getting arrested for and leave. But
your chances of surviving are far greater trying to escape.
Demonstrating a defense against an attacker with a knife, WR
Mann controls the attacker’s arm by gripping the upper arm and forearm.
The key is to immobilize the arm and control the attacker with his
own arm. Don’t loose control by trying to counter attack,
such as blocking with one arm and attacking with the other. While
so your attacker might just free his arm to launch a second or
If you can’t run, if you’re too close, or the attack is
too sudden, what can you do? The best course of action in this case is
to immobilize the attacking arm; instinctively and anyway you can. Not
at the wrist or hand, but at the high bicep and junction of the elbow.
You’re better able to control your attacker in this manner.
Attacks such as descending, ascending or straight thrusts or slashes
are handled slightly differently, but the principle remains the same:
immobilize the upper arm. At this point, if possible, bump or push the
attacker, turn and run. If you feel this is not sufficient then you may
have to bump/smash the attacker against a wall or trip him so he falls
(all the while maintaining a firm grip on his arm). Note: after initially
gripping the arm it’s important to bring his arm close to your
body (either inside or outside). This will give you the power to neutralize
his delivery system fully. It’s also vital to grab his shoulder
and the area above his elbow for a stronger grip.
If you carry a large bag, case or any other object, and you’re
too close to run away, use that bag or case as a shield between you and
the attacker. Smash into him, push him off balance and run.
Don’t forget to yell or scream for help if you’re being
attacked. In most large American cities, I’ve heard it is more
beneficial to yell “Fire” than “Help.” It just
gets more attention. Quite often people in large cities won’t help
you because they’re scared, don’t want to get involved or
think you are having a domestic dispute.
A Note On The Idea Of Running Away
There is something distressing about the way martial arts often train
students not to run away. Even if they happen to successfully smash or
push their opponents up against a wall or drop him to the floor, there
is this silly ingrained habit of facing the opponent and getting into
a rigid guard position. That may work in a tournament or the confines
of a school, but don’t waste your precious time, or life. Ignore
this misguided habit and get out of there as fast as you can. An average
person with no training can run about 20 feet in a second, with some
help from your adrenaline, you may cut that time down considerably.
All of these concepts mentioned above will give you a better chance
of surviving an edged weapons attack. I personally know people who have
used these methods and survived to talk about it. Unfortunately most
knife instruction doesn’t include these concepts -- that’s
why I do.
About the Author:
W. R. Mann is a writer, realty-based self-defense instructor and founder
of the website www.RealFighting.com. While living in Japan he studied
many traditional martial arts including Goju karate with Yamaguchi, and
later with Mas Oyama (Kyokushin). He also studied Muay Thai (Thai-boxing)
in Thailand, Arnis in the Philippines and various Chinese systems in
China. In addition to teaching the Realfighting self-defense program,
he is also currently practicing Brazilian Jujitsu with John Danaher at
Renzo Gracie's Academy. In knife fighting has trained with James Keating,
Raymond Floro, Kelly McCann, Jim Wagner and others. He has incorporated
many of the common denominators in the way these instructors approached
fighting and self-defense into a program that teaches defenses against
weapons, multiple attacker's and surprise attacks. W. R. Mann teaches
in New York City and gives seminars throughout the US and Canada. For
FightingArts.com he serves as a consultant on knife-techniques to the
Editor, Christopher Caile, and is a regular contributor to the site.
Visit his website at: www.realfighting.com