PHOTO GALLERY: Surviving Edged Weapon Threats

On August 22, 1995, Officer Steven Alva punched five bullet holes into a suspect's chest, including one that went through his heart, but the deadly fight continued as the suspect attacked with a large knife.

After a five-block foot pursuit, the 6-foot 4-inch, 260-pound suspect led Alva and his partner, Officer Jay Chambers, inside a house. The suspect ran into the kitchen area as Alva and Chambers entered the house. "As soon as we were inside we saw the suspect with a large knife held in the 'ice pick' grip, just like in the movie Psycho," recalled Alva.

Immediately the suspect lunged to cover the 11 feet between himself and Chambers, who didn't have a chance to draw his gun.

Alva fired three shots, all of them hitting the suspect's chest.

But the suspect didn't seem to notice that he had been shot as he began to slash Chambers and a struggle for the knife ensued. The suspect knocked Chambers down and landed on top of him, slashing the officer's face and making a deep cut from his left eye, across his nose, and down to his chin. All of this happened very quickly.

The slashing continued as Chambers and the suspect struggled for the knife. Knowing that his partner was taking potentially lethal wounds, Alva quickly got into position and fired two more shots into the suspect.

Now Alva was so close that he was able to wrest the knife out of the suspect's hands. Then he pushed him off of Chambers and handcuffed him.

In the aftermath, 180 stitches were needed to sew Chambers' face back together and they discovered that his kevlar vest had protected his chest from a deep slash attempt.

The toxicology report revealed that the suspect had been on PCP.

Deadly Distance

When you get into a deadly fight like this one, the key decision you'll be confronted with is whether or not to reach for a weapon-will it save your life or place it in jeopardy?

The distance between you and the suspect must command your decision. If the suspect is too close and you reach for a weapon, he could plunge the knife into you.

In the case of Officer Chambers, going for his weapon would have been too dangerous because the suspect was too close to him. Chambers would have had one or both hands occupied drawing his weapon, which would have left him open to even more stabs and slashes and could have ended his life. It also would have introduced a second weapon to contend for.

If the suspect is farther away-21 feet or more-you might be able to fire one or two shots, although you'll want to rotate off line to try to get out of the path of the incoming knife.

Alva had enough distance to draw and fire three rounds into the suspect before he reached Chambers. But even after Alva fired two more rounds into the suspect, he still ended up using empty hand tactics to get the suspect off of Chambers.

The bottom line: A knife was introduced into this fight by surprise. Surprise is one factor you must be ready for because at close range your gun isn't enough to stop a determined suspect who has an edged weapon.

My research on edged weapons, including officer interviews, reviewing articles, books, and videos, and even knife training, led me to five conclusions to help you survive this deadly threat: 1) know your tactics, 2) study concealment, 3) realize capabilities, 4) learn knife fighting, and 5) develop basic knife defenses.[PAGEBREAK]Tactics

Talk to your tactics training officer to make sure you understand the tactics for approaching an armed suspect. Then make sure to practice the tactics.

Contact and cover is one tactic used by many officers. As two officers approach the suspect, one of them makes verbal contact with the suspect. The other officer provides cover with his firearm, while the contacting officer orders the suspect to the ground to be searched and handcuffed. If the suspect refuses to reveal the palms of both hands they'll assume he's armed and keep their distance until he complies.


Sometimes the suspect will hide a weapon inside his armpit and will not raise his hands all the way. As a precaution, have him reach all the way up, so any weapon in his armpit will fall to the ground.

Another place suspects like to hide a weapon is in their palms. Have the suspect spread his fingers or show his palms. Never allow him to hand the weapon to you. Make him drop it.

Also, if you see a cord around his neck or hanging out of his pocket, it might be attached to a knife to extend its range by swinging it.


At close range a knife is as deadly as or more deadly than a gun.

When a gun is fired, the bullet is about the size of a marble and it could miss the suspect. But when a suspect slashes at you with a knife, he swipes a three-foot-long path of destruction.

If possible, make sure the suspect's hands are visible when you are still more than 21 feet away. At this distance if the suspect lunges at you, you might have time to fire only one or two shots before the suspect reaches you and can attack with the knife.

Knife Training

Learn how to use a knife with the intention of defending against it. Get some training knives and put yourself into a realistic street scenario against a determined attacker to see if your move could work.

I took an edged weapons class from knife expert Joe Nepomuceno, who has 22 years of experience as a police officer and a martial artist.

"Many officers have a 'Gun Mentality' and may not take an edged weapon as a serious threat because of the firearms they carry," says Nepomuceno. "When the suspect has a knife you should avoid going to the ground at all costs." On the ground the suspect could deliver numerous stabs into your side and cause you to bleed to death.

He also says, "Never try to grab the knife from his hand. The blade may have finger slots that retain the blade in his hand."


If you face a knife attack at close range, use a bladed stance (one foot back and your body turned slightly away) and keep your hands close to your body. This will make it harder for the suspect to cut your body and your hands.

If the suspect suddenly tries to stab you in the stomach with a low-angle upward stab, explosively move your butt backward as you cross your arms in front of you. Bend at the waist; both of your feet will slide backward about six inches from the force of your move. In the process of this move, your stomach will move away from the stab and your arms will form an "X" to hit the suspect's wrist to stop the stab. Continue your motion with a back fist strike to the suspect's face or a chop to his neck. Then guide his arm out of your path and kick the side of his knee to take him down. At this point you may be able to safely take him all the way to the ground to handcuff him.

If the suspect comes in high with an "ice pick" grip on the knife, step toward him and perform a double chop, targeting the inside of his wrist and elbow. Next chop his neck, then bring your closest leg behind his leg and put your arm around his neck as you twist your body to take him down. You'll need to control the hand with the knife.

You can't anticipate a surprise knife attack, but you can prepare for such an incident. Follow these five steps to be ready in case it happens to you. 

Al Abidin has more than 28 years of self-defense experience, which includes teaching, speaking, and writing for the law enforcement community. He also has produced several training DVDs.