Most of us carry a knife (or two or three or...) as a regular part of our duty gear. Anything from the standard Buck folding knife to the latest tactical automatic folder, from the tried-and-true boot knife to a last ditch neck knife. But how much thought did you give to where you'd carry it before you purchased, borrowed, or received your knife? Where were you going to keep it? Why?
Most of the equipment on our ever-growing gun belts has a specific purpose. But a knife can be a seatbelt-cutting device, scraper, impromptu screwdriver, pry tool, rapid tire deflating device, loose thread remover, trunk key, and a life or death survival tool.
There are generally two reasons to carry a knife. First, as a tool for cutting, scraping, and other mundane tasks. Second, as a last ditch self defense weapon. While working patrol, I carried several knives. To prepare for situations in which a knife could save my life, I went over scenarios in my head in which I was in a bad situation or a bad position. I would then see what tools were available to me and if I could reach them. Sometimes, I found that I could not reach my backup gun, but I would be able to reach one of my knives.
When it comes down to using a knife to save your life, you will likely be in close proximity (usually face to face) with your assailant; rolling around on the ground fighting for your gun when this situation raises its ugly head. You can't or won't be able to use your firearm (if you could, you would). Your pepper spray is on the ground. Your baton is useless when you are on your back. Help may or may not be forthcoming. You are about to lose the fight and the bad guy is trying his best to kill you. When it dawns on you to use your knife, it would be a crappy time to remember that the only knife you have is in a case on the back of your gun belt and takes two hands to open.
Now is the time to think about some important issues pertaining to edged weapons. Will you be able to grab your knife, open it, and use it when fighting with a dirtbag? Under what circumstances would you use a knife to save your life? Do you have it in you to stab, slice, maim, or kill a bad guy with a knife? These are difficult questions to answer without some forethought.
A multiple use knife that's to be used as a tool (Leatherman, Gerber multi-tool, etc.) should be housed in a belt sheath. On the other hand, there are various types of defensive knives that can be carried in numerous locations. When selecting a location to carry your edged weapon, you should consider the following:
Convenience: Is it easy to get to? Is it going to be placed on your jam-packed gun belt? In your back pocket next to your wallet? In your sap pocket with your flashlight?
Accessibility: Can you reach this area during a fight? Can you get to it without moving other stuff out of the way? With which hand? While lying on your back or side? While lying on top of the bad guy? With the other hand securing your firearm? Gun side or non-gun side?
Comfort: Will this area dig into your body during your shift? Do you need to readjust constantly to fit just right? Do you take it off when driving or sitting?
Security: Will it be there when you need it? Is it still there after you get out of the car, run after the bad guy, jump a fence, and start fighting? Has it fallen out in the past? Did another piece of equipment knock it loose? Can the bad guy grab it before you do, or worse, without you knowing?
Ready Availability: Is it ready to go when you need it? Does it take two hands to open? Is it deep in a pocket where it's hard to get out? Is it in a case on your gun belt?
Concealability: Will the bad guy know it's there? Is it out in the open for him to grab during the fight? When you show your new knife, do your partners ask, "Where did that come from?"
There are hundreds of carry options for as many different types of edged weapons. Here is a short list of some possible locations for carrying an edged weapon.
A uniform boot works well for carrying an edged weapon with many variations. An edged weapon can be placed on either boot on the right or left side of the boot. This allows you to draw the weapon with either hand. The sheath can be secured with the laces or even sewn onto the boot itself. A fixed blade knife mounted in a downward draw sheath on the outside of either boot will allow you to draw the knife without first pulling up the pant leg. This carry option works well if you are on one knee or bent over.
A good clip-on type knife with a thumb stud or an automatic (if legal for you to carry) works well in the front or rear pockets. Keeping a knife on the opposite side of your gun allows you to draw the knife with one hand while holding onto your firearm with the other. Keep in mind that if you are right handed, you should try to find a knife that you are comfortable opening with your left hand. A folding knife that can be carried tip up will also allow you to open it with your thumb instead of your fingers. A pocket carry will be accessible from most fighting positions.
With all the stuff we're forced to carry on a daily basis, adding another item to an already full gun belt is optimistic at best. Fortunately, the great thing about edged weapons is that they are usually light, thin, and easily stowed. Behind magazine pouches is a great location to put a knife. A small fixed blade placed between the magazine pouch and the belt in a sideways draw with the sheath secured with a cord works well. This places the knife on the opposite side of your firearm and is within easy reach from most positions you might find yourself fighting in.
A pen pocket can hold an improvised stabbing weapon as simple as a "Bic" pen or a purpose-built sharpened steel tube with a pen cap on it. There are several commercially produced "pen type" edged weapons on the market that could be carried daily without notice. A clip-on knife in a shirt pocket can double as a license/document holder on a traffic stop.
The vest is usually a last ditch, something has gone pretty dang wrong, spot from which to draw a weapon. A fixed blade, flat knife attached to the side of the vest is a good hidden spot. The knife may print on the outside of the shirt but will be concealed by your arm. It is drawn by unbuttoning, unzipping, or tearing open the shirt. This is much slower than other options but it will probably be missed by a bad guy searching you in a worst case scenario.
The last location is a neck carry. More and more manufacturers are creating neck knives to be worn like necklaces. A neck knife is easy to conceal and quickly drawn if you do not have zippers in your shirt. You can modify a shirt with Velcro or pop/tear/unbutton the buttons off in an emergency to have fast access to the knife. One word of caution: tape or cover the blade when practicing this technique to avoid ruining a shirt (trust me).
As with any new piece of equipment, you must train with your knife to become proficient in its use. The next time you practice defensive tactics, have a partner grab your unloaded firearm, at slow speed, and see if you can access the area where your backup weapons are carried. Try it from the ground, bent over, in a headlock and see what works and what doesn't. Also, if practicing with a live (sharp) blade, wrap electrical tape or duct tape on the blade to prevent some injuries. Always be safe and never show off a new technique by saying "Hey, check this out."
Douglas Iketani is a deputy sheriff with 18 years of law enforcement experience. A department use-of-force instructor, he is currently assigned to the Office of Homeland Security as a technical schools instructor.