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cutting to the chase

Matthew over at Straight Forward in a Crooked World does not write often – and more the shame – but when he does, you really should read it:

To what extent are you willing…and capable of saving your life? If no gun were available could you …would you…are readily capable of doing so with a knife.

Would you slit an attacker’s throat?

Could you use a knife to filet three inches of forearm off of a rapist, a serial killer?

Employing a firearm for self-defense comes with the benefit of range; this not only increases your choices and gives you "breathing room" for thinking and acting, it also allows you to distance yourself – mentally and physically – from the damage you are inflicting upon your attacker. Unfortunately, a knife has none of those advantages, and thus requires an arguably different, or at least altered, mindset to employ effectively in self-defense scenarios. Knives are one of the simplest differentiators between "animal" and "man" and serve unquestionable numbers of purposes around the house and office, but they also beat bare hands when it comes to ensuring your continued breathing. But, like all tools, the efficacy of a knife is purely dependent upon the willingness of the user to employ it.

One important thing that Matthew did not touch on (but may in future posts) was a line that my old Tae Kwon Do instructor drilled into us during knife-defense training – If you get into a knife fight, you will get cut. Period. Even if you are the one with the only knife. Now, that may or may not be necessarily true in all cases at all times, but that is the mentality you need to adopt if you have resolved to use that specific tool for your self-defense, if only because then you can learn how to keep those cuts confined to non-vital areas.

9 comments to cutting to the chase

  • BalloonGoesUp

    Yes, in a knife fight the winner goes to the hospital and the loser goes to the morgue. It is important to learn what muscles eliminate gripping strength, which ones affect stability and which ones hurt mobility, if you believe you are capable of using a knife for defense….

    But even if you don’t believe you are capable to use it, you should still carry one to cut string, targets of boxes. They are very handy.

  • Oh, I definitely concur with carrying a knife in general – having a sharp blade is handy in so many circumstnaces, it is not even funny.

    However, employing it for self-defense first requires the mindset, then the training, and then the tool, and Matthew there did an outstanding job explaining why.

  • Archer

    I had a Tae Kwon Do instructor who said much the same thing: even if you can successfully block attacks at the fantastically awesome rate of 80%, in a knife fight that means you’ll get cut only 20% of the time. The instructor was a pompous @ss, but he had a point (no pun intended).

    Since seriously researching self-defense, the overwhelmingly important but equally understated fact is that in a critical, SHTF situation, concepts like “honor” and “fairness” go out the window. As well they should; they have no place in a street brawl (my attacker isn’t acting fairly or with honor when he pulls a weapon thinking I’m unarmed, is he?). Therefore, my duty as a responsible citizen, especially when others are also threatened by his/her actions, is to END IT. As quickly as possible. Without harming any bystanders, if at all possible.

    As my last martial arts teacher’s teacher likes to say (paraphrased): “As a student of this art, I expect you all to do everything you can to avoid fighting. But if you have no other options, then I expect you to fight. And I expect you to win.”

  • Archer

    Oh, and thank you for introducing me to Matthew’s blog. I hadn’t heard of it before now, but I found a LOT of solid practical knowledge over there. Too few people with that kind of experience choose to help educate others by sharing those hard lessons.

    Thanks again.

  • lucusloc

    “If you get into a knife fight, you will get cut.” I don’t think that is necessarily the case. I think it is more a matter of training “if you train to get cut, you will get cut.” treating a knife as a grappling distance weapon is overlooking the fact that a knife *does* give standoff capability. the goal with a knife is the same goal as with a gun (get the tool between you and the bad guy) it’s just that the distances are much shorter. I have done a lot of knife training and i find the best way to use a knife is to think of it as a really short sword. open up distance and use lunging attacks to stab at vitals and slashing attack to hit targets of opportunity (muscles in the arms etc.) if you start the fight in a grapple or within grapple distance you goal is to open up that distance in the most expedient manner possible. if the fight does not start off in a grapple (or you are successful in opening distance) and your opponent wishes to make it back into grapple distance you have the ability to make him pay dearly to close that distance, and most likely also prevent him from being successful.

    things to be mindful of as you learn a new skill-set:

    -watch for forearm grabs and sweeps. a 3 inch standoff is something, but is not a lot. use your off hand to protect your tool.
    -fingers are targets of opportunity too. if a plastic training knife can break a finger a real knife, even a small one, can remove one.
    -as with real swords, know your lunge distance. it important.
    -lunges work for retreat as well as attack.
    -as with firearms, don’t train to get cut (or shot) but be prepared to fight through if you do.

    a valuable resource to learning all this it to look up the old style sword martial arts and adapt them to a shorter distance. you can bet those guys didn’t train to get cut, they trained and learned how to not get cut. you should do likewise if you plan on using a blade for self defense.

  • @ Archer: That was one of Colonel Rex Applegate’s key points when it comes to using knives in combat/self-defense situations as well – what you are engaged in is not a duel, there are no rules, and you had better realize it quickly, because that other person means to kill you, and you may need to kill them to stop them. Cannot say as though I see a flaw in his reasoning, nor do I see a flaw in “getting it over NOW” – the shorter a combat lasts, the less time there is for you to lose.

    Pretty much all of my martial arts instructors were along the same lines as well – we are not teaching you how to fight, we are teaching you how to win, but only if you have to.

    Matthew writes some positively amazing stuff, and is quite willing to go places and discuss things that most people are unwilling to even acknowledge. By all accounts, he has been there and done that, and, for us desk-jockeys back at home, seems more than willing to share (in an appropriately anonymized fashion, of course :) ).

    lucusloc wrote:

    I think it is more a matter of training “if you train to get cut, you will get cut.”

    No, it really is not. It is as much a matter of training your mindset as the post by Matthew was about training your mindset – if you are unwilling to get in and cause some grievous harm at close range to another human being, you have no business carrying a knife for self-defense; and, likewise, if you are not mentally prepared for the possibility of being slashed, most people have the completely predictable response of shutting down. I do not want to shut down when my life is on the line.

    Or, as another knife instructor says:

    Now who ever came up with that term originally was speaking about a very important idea. That is that you will be cut in a blade altercation and that you need not to panic when it happens and that you must continue on to the best of your abilities in order to increase your chances of survival. To that intent and meaning I say “Amen!” I couldn’t agree more.

    I do not want to get cut. I am not going to seek out getting cut. But if/when it does happen, I want to know enough to keep it minimized and localized to an area I choose.

    (Also, there is a reason almost every single sword-wielding fighter in history wore some degree of armor, be they medieval knights, imperial samurai, or rapier-wielding poofs. Except the Scots and Celts. No accounting for naked men.)

  • lucusloc

    Many people today going in to armed conflict today wear body armor designed to stop bullets. training with the mindset that “you will be cut” is like training with the mindset that “you will be shot.” you don’t wear the armor because you *expect* to be hit, you wear it just in case you do. being prepared for a bad outcome is not the same as expecting it. my main contention with the philosophy of “you will get cut” is that it sets up a training regime that exposes trainees to greater than necessary risk by, for example, teaching them to close to grapple distance with a knife. I have trained fairly extensively with blades from 3 feet to 3 inches, and the main idea is always the same: keep your opponent out past the tip of your blade. don’t grapple at all if it can be avoided. do i train in grapple with a knife? of course, we should all train for worst case scenarios. but i also train to get out of worst case scenarios. you really only get to survive if you can get out.

    it really is the same philosophy that we use when training to take appropriate cover in a gun fight. we train our movement, our reloading and our awareness specifically to avoid getting hit by our opponent. does that mean we don’t prepare for the contingency? of course not. what it does mean is that we train to minimize our exposure to the threat. you very rarely hear firearms trainers saying “you will get shot in a gunfight.” you hear them say “hear is how you minimize your exposure to getting shot.” i just apply the same philosophy to a knife fight.

  • And having taken such training from multiple instructors over the years, I can honestly say that your contention is unfounded.

    Look, maybe you are that much of a badass with a blade, but the truth of the matter is that for 90% of the law-abiding citizens being attacked with a knife, the other guy is going to be better, simply by dint of “attacking law-abiding citizens with a knice” being his generic job description, and all of the additional experience and OJT that provides.

    That specific circumstance is technically known as “you’re hosed”, and not training for it is foolhardy and borderline delusional.

    You like to hear your contingency plan training expressed one way, I have no problems with it being expressed a variety of ways, and, apparently, neither do some very skilled knife fighters and knife-defenders. I am ok with that. But it sure as hell does not mean I or them are going to go out of our way to get cut.

  • lucusloc

    I don’t know if i would go quite as far as “badass” but i have been know to give the occasional instructor a run for their money in sparing matches. for many years i lived in california and the only tool available to me for defense was a small knife. i trained fairly extensively with one and i can quite honestly say that i wish i was as good with a pistol as i am with a knife. now that i live in a free(er) state and can carry a more effective tool i do, but that still does not change my opinion that it would be relatively easy to train to the point where you are better than 90% of other people with a knife.

    i don’t want to sound like i’m dissing people i know nothing about, but in my experience there are 2 types of knife fighting instructors, those who teach it as an independent martial art, and those who teach it as “martial art x, this time with a knife in your hand.” the second one is useful if your planning on making “martial art x” your primary form of defense, and in that case i understand the instructors emphasis on “you will get cut.” that isn’t necessarily the way it has to be though. if you train in a martial art dedicated to blade use you will learn how to not get cut, and it is a different enough skill set that i can understand it not being taught in classes that are not dedicated to it.

    do i think i will get cut in a knife fight with a random thug on the street should i find myself in that situation? i doubt i would (and yes i understand that a fight will likely progress far past the first “lethal” hit. knives are not known for killing quickly, and that should be included in training). even assuming that the thug is willing to trade taking a lethal hit for merely a wounding hit i’m pretty sure i could disengage or evade any ill conceived and wild offensive he cares to try, even given less than optimal fighting conditions. i can say this fairly confidently because sparing practice bears this out. do i understand sparing is not the same as real life? of course, but we train to as close as real life as we can and let the rest fall where it may.

    i don’t know how well this applies to others, maybe i’m just a natural with a blade (if so i wish i were a natural with a gun instead). like i said earlier, i train with for a gunfight where i don’t wind up shot, knowing full well it’s still a possibility. similarly i trained for a knife fight where i don’t get cut, knowing full well it is still possible. i guess i just have an issue with the “will get cut” mentality because it seems to me to set the expectations for the student lower than they need to be. maybe it really is an unreasonable expectation. i just hear that phrase an my gut reaction is “no, that’s not right.” maybe all were arguing is semantics. what i know is i can go through several “full force” sparing matches and not take a hit from a blade. i think anyone who can do that stands a reasonable expectation of not getting cut in a real fight. i think if you plan on making a blade you primary defense tool you should train to do that, preferably in a martial art dedicated to it. I’m not trying to be rude, or badass or put any trainers down or anything like that, i just think it can be done.

    i also fully agree that the knife is best used to just get away. knives are not good tools for finishing a fight (or starting one for that matter), and sticking around past the time you can disengage is just exposing yourself to unnecessary risk (same as any fight really). if you want to not get cut you also need to know when it is safe to disengage and run.

    on a final note, for me this is all academic, because i can carry a gun. gun beats knife every day of the week. if you make the decision to protect yourself, and a gun is an option and you don’t chose that as your tool of choice you are a fool. the only time you should choose a knife is if there is no other tool available for you to use, as its only marginally better than bare hands.



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