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Departments : The Winning Edge

Skin vs. Steel

February 01, 2006  |  by Alfred Giusto


The author (left) demonstrates his technique for blocking a knife swipe while also going on the attack. Note that the block technique guards the most vulnerable arteries on the inside of the wrist and arm against the knife attack.

Some say countering a knife empty handed is ridiculous. I say jumping out of airplanes is ridiculous but people do it, and they do it well. I’ll go even further and say that, as cops, you are under constant threat of an edged-weapon attack and learning how to counter it without drawing your sidearm may someday save your life.

An edged weapon is not just a synonym for a knife. An edged weapon can be anything capable of cutting or stabbing a human being. It can be a hypodermic needle, a box cutter, a broken glass bottle, a sharpened piece of metal, and numerous household items you could encounter while responding to a domestic dispute. Officers responding to domestics have been stabbed with forks, scissors, knitting needles, tweezers, and combs, just to name a few edged weapons.

If you don’t think you should be training in how to counter edged-weapon attacks, consider the following: The bad guys are training how to kill you with blades.

Here’s a statement from a member of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang that appeared in The New Yorker. “Knife fighting, at its best, is like a dance. Under ideal conditions, the objective is to bleed your opponent—cutting hands, wrist, and arms and as the opponent weakens from blood loss, inflicting further damage to the face (eyes) and torso.”

This quote shows the bad guy’s mindset and tactics. This gang member has studied anatomy. Most people don’t know how to protect the vital areas on the insides of their arms and legs. He does and you should, too.

The bad guys can get their hands on numerous training manuals and videos. Just look at what’s sold in martial arts magazines and over the Internet. I suggest you start studying knife fighting manuals and videos. Then learn an empty-handed system for edged-weapons defense.


Don’t Believe This Stuff
Let’s look at some popular misconceptions about edged-weapon attacks and edged-weapon defense.

Many defensive tactics trainers, including knife defense instructors, will tell you that it’s almost impossible to defend yourself against a skilled knife fighter. I’ve heard them tell their students, do whatever you can to get the hell out of there. That’s a defensive mindset and a defeatist attitude. It sets you up to lose. You can defend yourself against an attack by a skilled knife fighter, and you can do it well.

A much more dangerous misconception is the belief that the gun on your hip will always protect you from a knife attack. The FBI estimates that a motivated knife attacker can charge at you from 21 feet before you can draw and fire your weapon. Most of you probably know this.

What many of you probably haven’t considered is if you shoot a knife-wielding attacker before he or she reaches you, your bullets won’t stop your attacker’s forward momentum. Worse, unless you shoot your attacker in the head, he or she may still be able to stab you, even when mortally wounded.

Empty-handed tactics are needed to back up your firearm, especially if it misfires, becomes jammed in a struggle, or you can’t access it in time to stop an edged-weapon attack.


At TREXPO East 2006, the author looks on while officers in his class work out on the mat. The officer in black is blocking the knife thrust.



Be Ready
To respond to an edged-weapon attack, you have to be ready for one. If you treat all attacks as a possible edged-weapon attack this will give you a key advantage.

Often when an officer is stabbed, he or she does not see the blade. So it’s quite common for a wounded officer to think an assailant is punching him until he realizes that he’s been stabbed. The reason for this is simple; many edged-weapon attacks on officers involve tools that are small enough not to be seen in the attacker’s hand, especially at night or under low-light conditions.

Don’t forget that you are fighting a person and not the weapon. Fight your assailant or assailants, not the knife. If you break down the person holding the knife so that he or she can’t function, then that attacker and his or her weapon are no longer a threat to you or anyone else.

Remember, people holding weapons always feel that they are superior over someone without a weapon. The same goes for a group of assailants facing one person or a smaller group. This is their security blanket; you need to take it away from them. And you can do this by injuring them and breaking them down.

Knife attacks are not pretty. No matter how adept you are with hand-to-hand combat, you are likely to get cut. To win, you have to get past this.
Visualizing being cut in training will help you prepare for the reality of a knife attack. Remember, one knife wound is usually not fatal. Multiple knife wounds usually are. The lesson here is to keep fighting even after you’ve been cut.

Use your training to conquer your fear. Managing fear and stress is critical in a knife attack. Channel your fear as inspiration and don’t let it debilitate you. In physical combat, the worst mistakes are made out of fear, which results from improper training.

Block and Strike
Being attacked by an edged weapon is no different than being attacked empty handed. If the attacker jabs, you block and strike at the same time.
Too many people make the mistake of fencing or boxing with a knife fighter. Movement is sometimes your best defense. It’s hard to stab a moving target, and your movement may lead to mistakes by your attacker.


Here the author is demonstrating two aspects of his method for responding to edged-weapon attacks on the ground. He blocks the attacker's knife thrust with one arm and pulls him down with the other.


Once the attacker has been pulled down he is at a disadvantage. He is in position to get kicked repeatedly while the author draws his sidearm.

CONTINUED: Skin vs. Steel «   Page 1 of 2   »

Tags: Defensive Tactics, Martial Arts, Ground Fighting, Knife Attacks, TREXPO East, Empty-Hand Defensive Tactics

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