Self-defense: how to defend against a knife attack

How to face a knife attack

In this practical self-defense tutorial, we see what to do when someone tries to stab us and especially how to prevent it.

The first thing to say is that the knife is an extremely dangerous weapon. It is easy to hide, to use and it moves extremely fast (it is light, versatile and does not need loading movements to cause serious damages): let’s do not face a knife until we have absolutely no choices.

Starting from this point, as always, we want to share some solutions in relation to the context and to our level of martial preparation.

Note – This article has been asked by one of our Core Course practitioners on Patreon (see how to attend our home study classes here Learn Kung Fu online: a beginner-to-expert course).

How to defend from a knife

The sample scenario:

  • We are alone with our aggressor, a quarrel has already degenerated into a fight (read Self defense: 10 correct attitudes during a quarrel)
  • After a few blows, our aggressor gain the time / space to pull a knife out of his pocket
  • There is a certain distance between us and him (eg. we have pushed him away, read also Self-defense: how to defend from a push)
  • We are in front of a (normal) person who (in that moment) is upset enough to desire to stab us to death

A note by Master Kongling – It is important to stress that we are not talking about an expert on knife combat and not about a sudden aggression (if we do not see the weapon we cannot defend from it, read Constant attention: what is and how it works).

Possible risks:

  • The greatest risk is to be stabbed in the vicinity of vital organs or to suffer cuts where the arteries pass (this could mean a rapid death)
  • A non-lethal but extremely serious risk is to be affected in a disabling way (eg. even the slightest cut on the eyes can make us lose sight completely)
  • The other risks are substantially generic wounds and in such situation, they are almost certainly (even the most modest knife needs just a small slide of a few millimeters to cut deeply)

A note by Master Kongling – Even it is only a probability, statistics tell us that in more than 70% of the cases our aggressor will try to grab us (eg. on an arm) and stab our torso (especially in the abdomen, from the bottom to the top).

How to face a knife attack: a solution for each one

As for the punch (read Self-defense: how to defend from a punch), we want to share different solutions due to the fact that, who is very far from the martial practice (even if in good physical conditions) cannot count on advanced skills like:

A note by Master Kongling – These are capabilities that cannot be obtained without a constant and focused practice (read How to start practicing from scratch): they have nothing to do with intelligence, strength, reflexes, balance (etc., read Natural talent and martial arts).

As we already said in the past articles of this series: being a very requested tutorial, it is worth to offer a valid solution for all levels of preparation.

How a not-practitioner should react

What to avoid in a critical situation where a knife appears:

  • Let’s do not try to execute fancy disarmament techniques seen once on the web (most of them do not work and the ones who does are for experts only, with years and years of specific and constant training)
  • Let’s do not try to shorten the distance (eg. trying to grab the knife, this would automatically trigger the aggressor’s attack)
  • Let’s do not opt for rigid and / or static reactions (eg. execute rigid parries standing still, etc., read The 6 Dragons Kung Fu’s states of interaction)
  • Let’s do not contradict him in any way (read Self Defense: 10 Things to avoid in a quarrel)

Before the eventual attack

Let’s make a few considerations:

A note by Master Kongling – It is before leaving home that we have to choose what to bring and what not: it is now that we have to think about what we are willing to lose, in a similar situation. Let’s take a few days to clarify our scale of values (what comes first? Money? Affections? Physical integrity? Pride? Etc.) and let’s base our choices on it.

If we cannot pursue the previous steps (eg. he is pointing directly us or a person with us):

  • Let’s try to slow down the escalation of violence
  • If the situation allows, we must try to bring the interaction back to the verbal level (read /// Subscribe (it's free!) or Login to see this content ///)
  • For example, we can try asking simple questions that inevitably trigger an answer (gradually bringing the focus of his attention away from the cause of the dispute)
  • With a calm, not scared, slow and respectful tone we must demonstrate that he is right but that what he is doing works against him (not that he is wrong, the difference is very subtle)

To do this kind of thing, however, we need great detachment and preparation for negotiation (things that cannot be improvised in the moment of need):

  • If we see that we are not able to flee or to negotiate, we have to rapidly find an improvised deterrent weapon (read Improper weapons in a real situation)
  • Preferably we should search for a long and versatile one (read What to evaluate when choosing an improper weapon)
  • In addition to this, if possible, it is not wrong to search for a defensive one (a thick sweatshirt rolled up around the arm, the lid of a metal bin, etc.) or throwing ones (rocks, etc.) and to create obstacles between us and him (a table, etc.)

If he is truly ready to attack

If we understand that he will attack:

  • Considering that we are surely not prepared to face such complex combat situation, the only thing to do is to try to be ready to defend from the most common attack (to the abdomen)
  • Let’s reach a position on the scenario where there is enough space around us to try to avoid the opponent swipes and let’s continue to move (circularly if possible)
  • Let’s use our improper weapon to maintain him at distance
  • Let’s avoid direct contacts and let’s forget the idea of disarming him (his attention is all on the knife, we risk too much)
  • If there are no improvised weapons at our reach, let’s raise a long guard to maintain the minimum distance (read Which guard stance choose)
  • If he attacks let’s use the forearm (perpendicularly to his) to create a solid barrier between our abdomen and his stabs (naturally this defense has a lot of limits but there is not much else to do)
  • The only viable solution is to try to gain the time / occasion to flee or get help (using improper weapons, scenario’s obstacles, etc.)

How a beginner-intermediate level practitioner should react

Maintaining valid what we have already said, let’s see what to do if the aggressor attacks.

If for a beginner, the solution is the same as a not-practitioner, an intermediate level practitioner, could also try to:

  • Hit the opponent with an improvised weapon; we should know how to do it without making big mistakes (like losing balance, ecc.)
  • If free-hand, exploit the aggressor’s eventual errors (but only if big, eg. tripping over an obstacle) to hit him without limitations (but always maintaining the attention over the knife)
  • Only in a consequent static situation of advantage (eg. we above him on the ground), we can try a disarmament (using the Chin Na principles, read Chin Na)
  • In this case, the blows to be throws must be powerful, precise and as soon as possible sequential (the goal is to make it impossible for the opponent to continue the fight)

How an advanced-expert level practitioner could react:

Potentially, if we are extremely skilled (and specifically trained) practitioners, we could:

  • Use the improvised weapon to impose our physical and technical superiority
  • If free-hand, use trapping (read Trapping) to channel out the knife (a weapon that we know like the palm of our hands)
  • Try to find the repetitions on the aggressor’s timing and intercept, depending on the occasion, the knife or his openings (to knock out or disarm him)
  • Use the legs to hit from a (relatively) safe distance
  • Tactically provoke a specific blow in a precise area to intercept it

An expert could even try a dynamic disarmament but only in clear conditions of advantage (when out of the knife range, etc.) and being used to manage the flow of a blade.

A note by Master Kongling – It must be stressed that what we said is valid only considering a big gap in terms of combat capabilities. I remember that before the start of a knife seminary, a military asked me if he could try the theory with a free sparring session against me: he with a training knife, me unarmed (no escape). He tried to stab me in all the possible ways but nothing. After a few minutes, he said “it is impossible to catch you!” so I replied: “No, you are younger and stronger than me, if you run away I certainly cannot reach you but even if I am a very poor fighter, I train my combat skills 4-6 hours each day… you, despite your preparation, are using very predictable blows, the ones that they have taught you… in addition to this, you are not really willing my death, so you are more prudent… if you were really determined to kill, sooner or later you would hurt me and I certainly could not just redirect your blows.”

The best possible solutions for everyone

We have not directly mentioned them but these are always the most effective:

Final notes

A few conclusive thoughts:

  • As for multiple opponents fighting (read Forget everything you know about multiple opponents fighting), in the economy of a combat, a knife represents an enormous advantage that could be balanced only if there is a big difference in terms of martial preparation
  • Where there is a knife, there is blood, a lot of blood (the knife cuts and penetrate without any effort); as Bruce Lee said, do not expect to come out unscathed from a clash that includes a blade
  • In this scenario, we are aware of the presence of the knife but in a big part of the worst ones, the aggressor hides his weapon until he is ready to deliver a precise and safe stab
  • Coping with a knife (especially in a sudden situation, read Self-Defense: is it possible to always be ready to fight?) is extremely difficult, to do it we need very advanced skills and daily training
  • Let’s stay away from those who try to teach that disarmament is a simple thing, it never is, even when an expert faces a beginner (in a gym or in a video, it all seems very simple and functional but outside of a controlled context the variables change drastically)

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Reply in the comments and share your experience:

  • What would be your reaction against a knife attack?

Author: Master Kongling

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