Knife Combat Realities


An Ontario Marine Raider Bowie with a 9.75″ blade up top, and a 7 inch bladed Randall 1-7 on the bottom. Both knives would be good slashing knives, but for stabbing, not so much. The Raider would have an exceptionally hard time getting to the vitals.

While teaching a “Defense against the knife” segment in a Defensive Tactics class yesterday, I was asked, “What should I do if I also have a knife when I’m attacked by a knife wielding opponent?”. I said ‘Run!”. The response was,”But I have a knife.”. At that point, I said, “Look, this is not a duel. Jim Bowie is not in the bar waiting for you to cheat at cards. When you carry and plan to use a knife it’s generally for one or all of three reason. One, it is a back up weapon for the firearm that you should be carrying to protect yourself and you have no option to run away if the firearm is disabled. Two, It is used to quietly take out a bad guy by sneaking up on him (Sentry removal, but you should have had a suppressor for your .45ACP or .22LR pistol, right?). Three, you carry it for it’s utilitarian ability as a tool for construction, chores, etc.

Speaking of knife attacks, here’s some footage from the recent Knife/Gun fight at Ohio State University LOL

As a good friend who was trained in the use of the knife by guys who were OSS in WWII said, those who haven’t used a knife on a person always “out” themselves by talking of grandiose “knife fights”, which end with them as the victor and dripping with their opponents blood. Reality is that anyone claiming to have been in knife fights (especially those claiming “But we did it in the dojo with real blades”), and “getting wet” with their opponents blood are usually nothing but blowhard, fantasy monkeys with delusions of their actual abilities and experience.


Carrying a full sized knife on the shoulder of your combat gear makes it accessible, even if a bad guy is on top of you (straddled/”on the mount”).

There are very few people who are (or have been) in a position to use a knife in a combat situation. Unlike the movies, the situation very rarely presents itself to personnel in the military. I know a lot of LEO’s carry a knife for the purpose of “Back up defense”, but those same guys are usually carrying a back up gun as well. The average citizen should definitely be carrying a defense and utility (if you don’t carry a multi-tool as well) blade that is easily accessible, even if they can’t legally carry a gun.


Carrying a knife on the opposite shoulder strap of your concealed handgun shoulder rig, gives you easier access if you are unable to get to your belt line (the bad guy is “in the mount”/ straddling you).

Generally speaking, using a knife in a defensive scenario means you have no means of escape and your firearm is either out of action, or you can’t access it (guy is on top of you [mount] and you can’t reach your pistol, but the knife is in an accessible location). Anyone who says that when given the chance to escape, they will go toe to toe with a knife wielding bad guy who has threatened them is a liar and/or a moron. As I said, this isn’t the early 1800’s, and you ain’t Jim Bowie.


As said earlier, multiple ways to access your defensive blade can be important.

What I teach in knife defense is the same as what I teach in defending against a handgun (handgun takeaways). The acronym is “RCAT” Redirect/Control/Attack/Takeaway. REDIRECT- You redirect the thrust of the blade, or the direction the muzzle is pointing. CONTROL- You gain control of the wrist, forearm, and upper arm on the side that the weapon is held (try not to be on the inside of the arm, they can wrap you up if you do that). ATTACK- You use a punch or elbow to strike an area that will cause immediate debilitating pain and/or nerve damage ( example-head or neck and/or nerves in the hand/arm). TAKEAWAY- You use a technique to strip the weapon (gun or knife) from the attacker’s hand. Usually, this takeaway will involve the fact that the thumb is the weakest point of the grip, and will “give” very easily if leveraged correctly. The caveat is that some people will wrap the knife’s lanyard around the back of their hand, so you might not be able to strip it.


One popular way to carry a full sized knife (especially by Paratroopers) is on the outside of your boot, because it is easily accessed, even in a parachute harness.

Although I teach/have taught how to perform a “Knife Takeaway”, I usually just suggest that they stop the immediate attack by the bad guy, follow up with some combatives (kick, punch, elbow) to reset his “OODA Loop”, and push the individual off/away and get out of there if possible. If you can’t get out of there, my advice is this. You were just attacked by someone with a deadly weapon. It is a “Deadly Force” attack. Morally, ethically and LEGALLY, you have the right to attack with the same force to stop them. Stopping them, doesn’t necessarily mean killing them. If you knock someone out, or make it impossible for them to continue, YOU stop YOUR attack! It would be ridiculous to come out of a knife attack with little or no harm to yourself, only to end up in jail because some jackass videoed you killing someone who was no longer a threat (think it can’t happen?).


Although the 5″ Air Force Issue Survival knife (TOP), and the 3.2″ bladed CRKT Sting (BOTTOM) would do in a pinch, a longer blade, especially one without serrations would do better in a defensive encounter where you have to use a knife. The convenience of the Sting is due to it’s strength (one piece of steel), and its concealability.

Unlike most of the defensive tactics instructors out there, I have unfortunately seen real knife attacks up close. Several “instructors” out there make the claim of, “I’m a knife fighter”, but their BS is usually easy to see through if you have any DT experience. Once you’ve seen a knife attack personally, you realize there is no “fantasies of the blade” (A knife is a tool, not some fantastical implement that you have a semi sexual bonding ceremony with), just a grim reality. Although I probably have more training in the use of the knife in combat than most “instructors” (most don’t have much, just some basics they’ve learned, but there are a few that are really experienced) out there, I still would not consider myself a knife fighter, and definitely don’t believe I’m an expert. It’s one thing for the DT instructors out there to write what they’ve been taught and hopefully that is based on reality. It’s something else entirely when they claim to be “The voice of experience”, because they “Got wet at belt buckle range”, but conveniently have no bona fides to back it up.


TOP, Fairbairn-Sykes Commando knife (handle is wrapped with tennis racket grip tape).  BOTTOM, Gerber MK II.

If you are getting a blade specifically for taking out bad guys (remember, it’s not a knife fight, it’s a sneak attack), I recommend you get a Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife (get a real Sheffield, not a crap “knock off”), or a Gerber MK II. The Gerber has a little more going for it in the utility blade (is a dagger ever really a “utility” knife?) department (heavier blade, serrated edges), but what makes it better on the utility side, takes away from it’s ability as a sentry removal tool. Once again, from experience, I can tell you that the closer your blade profile is to an ice pick (“needle point” as opposed to the “spear point”), the better it will penetrate a human target. The F-S knife has the prerequisite length (& inches) for reaching vital areas when you are attacking a target location like the clavicle (at a downward angle towards the aorta/heart) or neck from the rear.



If used in the military for anti personnel duties, this depicts training in how to use a dagger properly.

Last but not least, if you plan on using that large or medium sized bowie or tanto (7-10 inch blade), understand that they are primarily slashing weapons (you know all the primary slashing targets….right?), and if you stab someone with a blade with those types of profiles, there is a good chance it might not penetrate, or will get stuck.

Below is a post from DTG that imparts some good lessons from DTG and Marc MacYoung. There are many good takeaways from that post, Read and Heed.




First, before we get into the post as written by ‘Marc MacYoung’, which I very much agree with on the whole; the man makes a lot of sense, I am an admitted ‘student of the knife’ when it comes to capabilities and techniques.  Out of all the years I’ve studied one system or another, technique upon technique, I’ve learned a few good things:  A:  Knife duels (what most consider a ‘knife fight’) are rarer than hen’s teeth.  B:  People who say they prefer to get into a fight with a knife wielding opponent are either 1 – consummate bullshiters or 2 – in possession of a ‘less than sane’ death wish.  C:  All the knives in the world and all the ‘knife training’ in the world will not prepare you for a knife attack.  Read the article.  Knife attacks are more precisely defined as ‘assassination attempts’.  Also, pay particular attention to what the writer says about ‘self-defense’.  You have to know when to stop….many don’t.

The only place where the knife fighting fantasy exists is in the martial arts. There is no such thing in the modern civilized world. In legal terms it is attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon or homicide. To the street fighter it is assassination, not a “fight” at all. To the criminal it is a tool for robbery  Everyone else considers it abhorrent macho stupidity. 


Knife fighting lies

On this page:
Lie #1You’re going to have time to draw your own weapon | Lie #2 It’s going to be a knife “fight” | Lie #3 But what if I’m cornered?” | Lie #4 He’s going to attack you a specific  way | Lie# 5 And then he is going to passively stand there while you carve him | Lie #6 Trapping and stripping | Lie #7 Bio-mechanical cutting | Lie #8 Knowing how to stickfight means you know how to knife fight | Lie #9 Knowing kali makes you a knife fighter | Lie #10 Grappling with a knife | Lie #11 The knife is an extension of your hand | Lie #12 There is such a thing as a “master knife fighter” | Lie #13 That this is a “fight” at all | Lie #14 Expect to get cut | Lie #15 The FMA are the ultimate knife fighting systems | Lie #16 It’s easy to disarm an armed opponent | Lie #17 You can successfully fight an armed attacker | Lie #18 Drills teach you how to knife fight | Lie #19 You can use a knife on another human being without legal repercussions

There are many so-called “experts” who claim to be able to teach you either knife fighting or defense against a knife. The problem is that most of them are just teaching regurgitated martial arts, usually from the Philippines. While I have lots of respect for the martial arts of other lands, the truth is that you live where you do. Odds are you are not in a “knife culture.” And that means that whatever you do regarding knives must:

A) Work to keep you alive against how you are likely to be attacked by a knife in your homeland
B) If it does work, not put you in prison for murder or manslaughter

While B is important, it only becomes an issue if you survive A. Unfortunately, based on a lot of what I have been seeing taught with my own eyes or encountered while working with the students of these self-proclaimed “knife experts” getting past A is going to be a whole lot tougher than you think. Quite simply, most knife assaults are assassination attempts…how they occur is significantly different than how one “knife fights.” While I express my opinions on other knife instructors elsewhere, what this page is for is to help you avoid some of the more common pitfalls with what is being taught out there.

Oh yeah, one more thing, always remember…it’s your ass on the line out there, so don’t let *anybody* tell you that you don’t have the right to ask about these things or think for yourself.

Read the rest, here, then let’s have a good discussion on the subject.


One of my favorite lines from MacYoung is this one, “For civilians, the best preventative measure of them all is not to put yourself into situations where you need to fight your way out. That is what he teaches, lest people find themselves in the same kind of situations that he did. For professionals the message is “IT ENDS NOW! — and of course in your favor.” But even there, it’s better if you can keep it from going physical (if for no other reason than the paperwork).” 


American by BIRTH, Infidel by CHOICE




10 thoughts on “Knife Combat Realities

  1. The comment in article beginning about “run”‘ was the advice offered to me and a friend when we were 12 by friends older brother who was active special forces mid 70’s.He went on to ways to try and defend if necc. to get us to a point where we could,well,run.I keep hearing the same advice as first response to knife threat,realize certain situations/others health can make this a non good option.

    Side note,about a 1/4 of the way thru “A Failure Of Civility”after first a quick skim.I really like it and like another book I like by John Wiseman is written in language the average Jane or Joe can relate to.I have seen from other books/sites like this some of the thoughts before but also a slew of new to me information.The thing I keep finding in common books I have read of this nature is while the authors have solid info. they keep stressing tailor/modify to your situation.Cost me 55 bucks but a new copy and feel well worth it,would say a great gift to a friend/family who you think might be interested,at least gets them to thinking and hopefully off the fence and trying out some ideas and applying to their personal situation.

  2. I got Ka-Bar’s. I got FS (ww2 and cold war Britt) I got bowies, shark tooth bowies ,and M-3’s. Even a V-42 and half truck load of swords. I even have a Nihonto. I spent more than 30 years studying blades and training in both real Nihon and European sword schools ,I was US Army Airborne infantry trained and I’ll tell you this: If you use a blade to fight with you WILL get cut or shot.and With all my training, my self defense choice is the 1911A1 in .45 ACP ‘ cause bullet trumps blade. Unless I’m out hunting I carry a 3inch lock blade or my trusty Camillus boy scout knife. Fighting with blades is what you do when you got nothing else or its murder time. That’s WHY the Japanese warriors of old studied the Bow FIRST. —–If it ever comes a day when I need a blade I have them. But till TEOTWAWKI or the zombie uprising I’ll just carry on with my EDC rig and leave the “wet work” to the kerodin clown poshy.

  3. For some reason this post by Dodge caused me to rummage through my “cool stuff” box and dig out my SOE issue FS. Turning it over in my hand I remember one of the first lessons… “you will take hits” (unless its use is murder, which is what it was designed for). Ray is right; one of the other first lessons was “Open the distance” then shoot him.

    .45 always trumps blade.


    • That’s one of the reasons I advise and teach students that if given the choice, attack, then push off. When given the option of using a disarming technique, or pushing away and going for my own weapon, I’ll take using my weapon. I am comfortable with disarming someone, but I’m more comfortable with keeping it as simple as possible, and avoiding certain “Murphy” induced variables.

      • Not to change the subject (much) One of the things I have been into for several years has been stone and glass knives. Glass is sharper. Flint is “harder” , and harder to break. Both will make a wound that won’t close without stiches. (ask me how I know).I know they aren’t Randal’s, but : If you really are “prepping” it is one of the “top Ten” needed skills.

  4. A few years ago I found myself being attacked as I walked to my truck to get some paperwork while at a hotel for work.

    It’s interesting to read your section on lies in knife fighting because that attack made me realize how little I actually understood about fighting and how absolutely wrong most of the people I met afterwards were when they tried to give armchair advice about what I should have done. I would love to be able to say that some of the “decisions” I made in that fight were conscious ones, but the truth is that they were instinctual and not something I thought about at the time. I assume that if you were actually regularly practicing knife fighting you would be still fighting by instinct, it would just be a better instinct?

    I was between my truck and the minivan beside it when a young man jumped out of my truck (he had been trying to hot wire it). Him kicking open the door caused it to slam into the vehicle beside it and left him only through me as an escape route. He had a long shank screwdriver in his left hand and a maglight flashlight in his right hand. I had a knife (folding) in a sheath on my belt but I never even went for it, he was too close and I guess I knew that it would take too long to get it unfolded and out of it’s sheath. Your comment was absolutely correct, you may not have time to draw your knife.

    I seemed to have concentrated on the screwdriver, I guess I was unconsciously aware it was the more dangerous weapon. At some point I punched him in the face and he dropped the screw driver. I assume that he was likely right handed because he waved the screw driver around but never connected with it, while he managed to hit me in the left shoulder and side of the hit 6 or 7 times with the flashlight. In hindsight I often wonder if it would have been smarter to go for the weapon he was using than the one in his off hand.

    Eventually after what at the time felt like minutes but when I was shown the hotel security footage was under a minute I hit him in the nose and he dropped the mag light as well and clutched his nose. That is when the accomplice of his hit me from behind and I went down and he jumped over me and ran off to an idling vehicle about 30 feet away and they took off.

    I survived but I realized that close combat is much more deadly and difficult than I had ever realized. It’s not something I really ever want to experience again, but it did make me aware of how little I actually knew.
    In then end I needed 12 stitches to my head and neck and shoulder (all my left side and all from the flashlight he was using).
    My shoulder (again left) was dislocated and I never realized it till the ambulance crew were looking me over and asked why I was holding my arm that way.
    I also had a huge bruise across my knee (on the back side) where his lady accomplice hit me with the tire iron. That is what knocked me down.

    I was reamed out by the cops for fighting back, they suggested I should have turned and run and called them. Given how close he was when he jumped out of the truck I’m pretty sure turning around to run would have been fatal.

    I was given a lecture on how I should have drawn my knife by the paramedic. Once I the hospital the doctor didn’t believe me that it was a car jacking ( he claimed his city was a safe city and those sorts of things didn’t happen). Though the young resident was very gentle when she put the stitches in and unlike everyone else she didn’t lecture or second guess what I had done.

  5. Any opinions (good or bad) on the CRKT Hissatsu knives (fixed or folding)? They appear to be designed for using for ‘social purposes’.

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