Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dark Arts for Good Guys: The Right to Knife

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?

Can you descend to that primal place of fight at bad breath distance and prevail? In a very real world people are attacked inside of elevators and the ability to escape may not occur until the word “Lobby” is back-lit. Mothers are forced to the floor boards of vehicles and raped in front of the children, adventure seeking teenagers are found beaten and tortured to death with their heads found in creek beds. Grown men are jumped and beaten by teenagers on subway platforms left mangled and crippled for life.

And this happens every-single-day.

Whether you are in the back streets of Kuala Lumpur, NYC ,a remote camp site in New Mexico or in the cubicle at your office park as a gunman walks around shooting people. A knife beats bare hands and, while a big knife is better the reality is when it goes down you're most likely going to have a folder or small fixed blade to work with.

Isn't a gun better?What brand makes the best tac-folder? I heard knives are illegal to use in defensive situations? Don't worry about it. This isn't an argument about which is better, or knife-nerding about why knives are cool.

The situation is this, you are about to lose your life. Save it. Because what you need more than anything is the willingness to engage..to step INTO the fight.

Into a fight......WITH a knife?

Why do you think you practice that 21 foot in one second drill at the pistol range? The dictum is that the average person can cover twenty-some-odd feet of ground in a second and start killing with a knife. Well brother the phone rings both ways don't it. If a bad man can cover a short distance fast and kill with a knife, the average citizen can reverse the role.
Look the human body dies from either one of two ways. Natural causes or trauma. When we talk about knives and bad guys we are talking about trauma. Therefore the idea in self-defense is to create a negative alteration to the attacker's body and...... to their mind. Screw with both of those simultaneously and winning is the by product, because you should never give an attacker much credit in the bravery or the commitment department. The moment they start losing they are in the hole, because they just invested in you or rather who-they-thought-you-were (read: Food).

It's a hard concept for decent people to get around, but for a career criminal they spend the majority of their time devoted to their career...just like you do. A rapist, a serial killer, a spree shooter, general thug doesn't think about getting on with a normal like. Rather they attempt to appear normal so they can operate in the same theater as you and I. Hence the old saying a wolf in sheep's clothing.

You having a bad work day, might mean a ding in the pay check or a reprimand from the boss, or an unhappy client. For the criminal it means getting hurt, getting caught and locked up or getting killed.
How do we go about delivering bodily harm with a knife to an attacker? After all there really isn't a place on the body that can't be stabbed or cut or cause copious amounts of pain so why bother thinking this through? I mean in a fight its going to be blind stabbing....right?

For the same reason we go to the pistol range and do live fire defensive drills, aim center mass or for the head. Because in these regions bullets cause the most destructive damage to the body.
And like that, using a knife for defense has some great areas, good areas and available areas. I won't say bad because lets face it even if someone can function with a knife stuck in the top of their skull it's not “ideal” living conditions for them.

Here is the last thing I want you to remember as we go about breaking down the target areas of the body. Think about it now, occasionally as you read this by stopping and closing your eyes, and when you lay in bed....IT-IS-GOING-TO-BE-A-CLOSE-FIGHT.

Closer than you want....and closer than you may think you are capable of dealing with.

Think of his bare teeth and spit an inch from your nose, his hand gripping a fistful of your shirt, his forearms snaked around your throat.

Worried a bit? Hesitant with that idea? Scared out of your head but don't want to really admit it...that's cool get it out. Now take a minute to close your eyes, wrap your weak hand around his throat, take that thumb of yours and *click* open that tactical folder of yours and win.

Upfront. Stabbing beats slashing for the purposes of increasing a lethal wound quicker. A slash bears a strong psychological bomb. Lance the body and it opens. When it opens things spill out. It also creates a long external but, shallow (relative to how deep you cut) wound area. Blood and muscle are now exposed and there is likely nerve damage but the slash cut does its best on bare skin. Great if your attacker is naked or even half naked. Not so good if he is wearing a down jacket. Though from a tactical advantage the slash-cut to the face (especially above the eyes) is going to be a thin cut because of the amount of bone-to-skin but head wounds bleed bad. Blood in your attacker's eyes is going to keep blinding him until he contends with it. This requires putting pressure on the wound, which in turns requires one or both hands. Thus increasing your target area on him and decreasing his ability to cover his vitals.

The puncture however is what we are looking for whenever we can get it. A ball point pen requires something like 5lbs of pressure to break through and create a puncture wound on soft areas (like around the carotid artery). A knife, especially with a good clean point a pound...maybe two. Go push on a scale and see what that feels like.

But we are not talking about being nice here. If you are puncturing you should be s-l-a-m-m-i-n-g the blade into him with 20 and 30 lbs of pressure. The deeper the wound channel the better. Couple that with multiple stab wounds and the fight changes quickly and in your favor.

Queasy uneasy yet? 

Not very politically correct? What do you think your bullet fired from your pistol does?

It creates a penetrating wound that in some cases will go in the front and out the back. Your bullet stabs a hole in the body of your attacker. With a gun you are getting to do it from a distance. With a knife and especially a small one you are doing it body on body contact and you are having to physically manipulate that blade past clothing and skin hopefully glancing or all together missing bone in the process.

Still think you don't need to practice?


The head isn't that great of target for the knife as it is for the bullet. The skull, which acts as both a vault to protect the brain and to give structural support to the face is dense, hard, and round. All joking aside it's not an unlikely possibility to slam a knife into the cranial vault and find out it's stuck. While a blade in the head is....well odd and obviously dangerous it's not necessarily fatal or even painful (though it could make for a decent handle to grip on while deliver blows with your fists until he stops). There has been more than a couple of people who have walked themselves into an ER with something stuck in the skull.

The vulnerable areas of the head are the face and the base of the skull, which if you look at sits higher than you think. The chin for example can sit more than a few inches below the skulls base by comparison.

So while stabbing and slashing the back of the skull is pointless when compared to other parts of the anatomy, the skull's base is not a bad area to attack. Get below the Occipital region and target the Cervical Vertebrae with stabbing blows or deep cuts and it's light out. Sever the spinal cord here and death is anywhere from tenths-of-seconds to-seconds.

How would that be possible?

Take for instance if you were on your back, your attacker on top of you or your body pinned up right against the wall (think kissing position) with your arms free. Roll/shift your body to the side while grasping the top of his head and pulling it either sideways or over your shoulder and the skull's base/spine is just a few inches from your face. If you can get your arms either around him or above the shoulders you are in. You are also right in the same area as the pharynx. Since this is where both food and air pass through you've got this tiny flap of connective tissue called the epiglottis that closes over the glottis when you swallow food thus preventing pulmonary aspiration. Ever hear those horror stories about drunks being found in the jail cells dead on from choking on their own vomit (as if this post wasn't gruesome enough I know). Well same principal. Stab wounds into this area can cause blood to back up in the throat. If an attacker can't breath he can not fight (you will see this again).

An attack on the face is no doubt traumatic, but not necessarily lethal. Take out the eyes and the attacker loses any ability to target you. Not to mention the immediate reaction of losing sight. His interest in his own dilemma is now greater than his interest in you. The nose is the next decent target and is probably the pain center for the head. It is also home to the Nasal Concha or turnbinates, which divide up the nasal airway. They are responsible for forcing inhaled air to flow in steady , regular patterns. It also acts as a filtration and temperature control center and is the last stop before encountering the cribform plate that separates the nose from the brain. Damage here can be lethal from the immediate impact to the brain in some cases. Regardless, a knife slammed here or a severe laceration where the nose is removed and blood begins actively flowing back inward (and outward) in copious amounts thus making breathing difficult.

The Temporal bone aka the Temple isn't necessarily thinner, but rather flatter. It does make a good point of attack as a knife blade attack from the side is less likely to break or jam and it is also near the Superficial Temporal Aretery (i.e. it's close to the surface of the skin). Either way a knife blow here is just that a blow and any good and solid impact is going to cause disorientation and possibly unconsciousness. This is due to referral shock to the brain not because the area is inherently weak, this is the “punch drunk” scenario. Motor function is disturbed along with the ability to think clear.

The ears are also an area very susceptible to damage. Mind you I said damage, not death, but severe crippling pain. A Ka-Bar LDK may not seem like much more than a shiv but, slide that little 1.5 blade into the ear canal of an attacker and use it's little bent handle like a cork screw and the screaming you hear won't be your own.

The Neck/Throat

No target area (in my opinion) on the body is more ideal than the neck and throat region. It rarely bears any significant cover from clothing and even then generally one layer from either a collar, or mask. And where a lot of areas that “matter” on the human body ,like the brain or the heart, most are protected by bone in one way or another...the throat isn't, the neck not so much. There is a small support system of Thyroid cartilage that essentially acts as a base, and while it is somewhat tough and fibrous it doesn't have the density and strength of bone.

Without question your three best points of counter attack here are the right and left carotid arteries and the trachea (read: wind pipe). If you take your thumb and index finger and open them like you are prepared to pinch something and put them each on the opposite sides of the wind pipe you will feel a soft border on the outside edge of each. That is essentially where the arteries are. Severe and forceful slashes and stabs here stop a fight. Not so much because they cause immediate non-voluntary incapacitation or death like a rifle bullet to the head or a snapping of the neck, but rather they cause rapid blood loss...rapid. 

Cutting the trachea creates a back flow of air and blood. Again when an attacker has to fight to get air he can't fight you. He has to choose. The thing about this area is you don't have to work to find one over the other because more likely than not you're gonna hit two out of the three.

You have to be willing to go at it. If you can use both hands....actually use everything. There are no rules that say you can't stab a rapist in the throat while deliver a knee to the groin...or each one repeatedly. If he drops his chin to cover his throat, stab the lower portions of the face and eyes. Or instead of trying to force the head back to open the target area, get a good grip on the back of his head and pull it even lower using his idea against him. His neck area is now tight and fully exposed, and what does the neck do? Supports the head and the throat. Slashes, stabs and cuts here cause structural support problems. Air and blood are again introduced into airways, blood is leaving the body as fast as the heart can pump it out and...you are slicing through neck muscles, nerves like the cervical plexus. Severing all of this creates irreparable damage to shoulder functions.

Since the arm relies on the shoulder and the shoulder relies on the nerves here signal function becomes disrupted. Grips aren't as strong on you, blows less severe. Combine that with an amazing amount of blood loss in short fashion and an inability to breath your ability to escape is almost immediate.

Mind Games

Knife defense is seen as controversial. It's also necessary. Talk to a career police officer and he will tell you about how to defend against a knife attack. Talk to a combat Soldier, a Marine, or someone out of Special Activities where attacking and hand-to-hand combat is about killing and, not detaining and you will find that the ability to use a knife lethally is fundamentally important.

It is easy to say “not me” I'll never need it. The paramount problem I think most people have with defending with anything other than a handgun is one of several things. For starters its a combination of training and muscle memory. You get it ingrained it into your head to draw, aim and fire. Even with taking a good firearms course that really gets into raising your heart rate and reality 90% of your range experience else where is very sanitized. You shoot-you go home.Training creates confidence. Confidence creates reassurance, reassurance creates bravery.

Understand that is not belittling, it's just how it is. The knife suffers from what the gun does not. There is no “knife range” to go to. No target to set up so you can “knife” at it for 50 or 100 rounds. So most people who carry a knife for defense don't get beyond drawing it and presenting it while standing in the kitchen, only to fold it back up or to re-sheath it.

Get in the habit of mentally visualizing an attacker inside of an elevator and launching an quick barrage attack upon you. Or trying to shove you into the back of a van. Oh I get it. You are thinking this part is for the women...cause you know...rapists. True enough. But at some point Bob Levinson, Daniel Pearl, Paul Chandler and only a few other hundred thousand men through out history have been forced into captivity. This isn't a “please come with us kind of thing” it's an shit kicking assault until submission happens kind of thing...and that is just the kidnapping.

Not long back in Boston, a guy was riding a subway with his toddler son. He told the boy to wait “over there” pulled a claw hammer out of his back pack and began slamming a complete stranger while yelling “Allah Akbar!” ...and no I'm not kidding. The man he attacked could have fought back with a knife and won.

In India, where everyone from the West who practices yoga sees this as a “spiritual place”, I stopped an assault that occurred inside of vehicle with a CRKT Hissatsu fixed blade.

The Virginia Tech Massacre, where guns weren't allowed on campus, could have ended in short order if someone with balls and a blade would have chin grabbed the son of bitch and cut his throat.

And that is the reality. It is an incredibly scary prospect for many to step INTO a fight with a knife and kill the bad guy. Some people are cowardly by nature, they have water where there should be blood. Can't fight because they're afraid to fight, afraid to fire, afraid to stab, afraid to resist.

And then there are others who don't fight because they can't think beyond the pistol. If this is you I suggest you stop and reorganize. Because there may come that day where you are vacationing somewhere where your conceal carry permit is broken and as you look out over a beautiful chasm from a suspension bridge taking in the view with your family the guy next to you decides he want to throw people off it...just because. 

The end game is this. There is a difference between "feeling safe" and having viable options to safely defend oneself. 

We don't talk, train, and fight out of a sense of hatred. We do these things out of love. The love to get home, to see our children raised, our families thriving as a whole. I don't “hate” anyone who is trying to do me harm. But they sure in hell are my enemy and I intend on seeing them dead first if it comes to that. I've come home beaten, bruised, battered, rattled, torn, cut, bit and burned...but I've come home.

I expect the same of you.

The Right to Knife Part II coming soon.


GunRights4US said...

Your stuff is never a disappointment Matthew. Looking forward to Part II.

Oh and I linked to you on my blog as well.

Unknown said...

Always worth waiting for - especially love how you focus on the mental parts of self defense. CAn't wait to see the next part!

Brandon said...

Glad you're back from the hiatus. I missed the DAFGG series.

lorraine said...

Did you read House to House by Staff Sgt. David Bellavia? He was in the Battle of Fullujah 2004. He has a terrific 1st person account of a knife battle 1 on 1 - even though he was armed to the teeth. There was a very good reason he couldn't shoot. Great story in that he describes how he felt as he was getting as good as giving until he got the knife. Point of interest is that earlier in the book he described his difficulty with knife use in a different situation. You probably have read this and wrote about it but I haven't gone back to your day one. It would be good for others to read at any rate - it opened my eyes. I am so glad you started this again - your tweets are sharp, short and sweet but no meat. love ya

Tam said...

Hard home truths.

Roadkill said...

It is a spooky idea. One that is not easy to train for either. I've been deeply interested in the defensive use of the knife. I've more or less considered the use of a defensive blade more like a cat trying to get away, not an attempt to kill but to inflict enough harm to bring you out on top or at least escape a now weakened opponent. Excellent post!

Ted N said...

Awesome write up, I'm eager to read part 2.

wv: extro; this post was extro awesome.

William the something something said...

WOW....just wow. No pocket knife will ever look the same.

Someday you are going to have to address the rumors about your background that float around the chat forums.

Anonymous said...

Excellent artical, don't forget slashes at all the pressure points( underarms, inside thigh) anywhere you can reach major artieries will quickly lead to your enemy going weak from blood loss. Learn to combine the puncture of stabbing then pull the blade to you, slashing the flesh open. Good practice is find a friendly farm that will let you use your knife to kill a pig or turkey, chicken. If you have never felt the blood spraying on you when you cut someone, it will quite a shock.

Bret said...

Training with a practice blade on a bob dummy and or a cutting post with a live blade gives the blade shock and targeting work plus the draw time needed to be proficient. Great article. look forward to more

drjim said...

I always carry a good knife.
I *know* I'd use it if I had to, and I *think* I could be effective, but just like being in a gunfight, you never know until it happens.
I pray neither ever does....

Anonymous said...

Good stuff. If I may, I would point out that almost every "fight" starts or rapidly evolves into grappling at arms length. The person with the knife should use it on the arms while the bad guy is holding onto the front of the shirt or grabbing the knife arm/hand. even small wounds can cause bleeding which results in slippery hands. If the knife can be used on the inside of the attacker's arm, go for the inside of the elbow, where nerves, muscles and arteries are vulnerable, then, when the attacker is distracted and wounded, go for the neck/throat and cut stab deep. I once saw a man bleed out from a stab wound by a pen just inside the collar bone. The stylus used caught the carotid artery and the man bled out in 90 seconds.

Anonymous said...

I think he's working his way down the body. Let's not get ahead of him he said part two is coming.

Mel Saxon said...

Insights, out of Seattle, WA has an excellent course entitled "Defensive Use of the Folding Knife". I took it 2 years ago and have carried a small folder ever since with a high degree of confidence. It is cheap, cost effective life insurance that no prepper should go without.

Anonymous said...

Great post! For practice with knives it is always best to have a realistic training knife. www.keenedgeknives.com has very affordable and realistic training blades and live blades. These knives are a great way to become confident without the danger of accidentally cutting yourself.

Anonymous said...

Great post as aways.

One question: isn't there a danger when attacking the carotid arteries of being on the receiving end of large blood sprays? I would worry about blood born diseases getting to my eyes.


Anonymous said...

Great stuff, as always. It made me miss the days in the Dojo where we used to study this stuff pretty frequently.

Bryan Reavis said...

Outstanding post, excellent points and decent examination of target areas so far. All too many gunnies think that defense starts and ends with the carry pistol. There are places and times that make a pistol unfeasable, but a knife plausible. Besides, while the gun is efficient, the blade is terrifying.

"The morale is to the physical as three is to one."

And since there really is no such thing as a deadly weapon, one should be prepared for any circumstance.

Scott in Marietta GA said...

Thank you sir for your excellent article. Time and time again you provide copy that is informative, interesting, important, and inspiring (as in, I'm getting off my butt and joining a shinkendo/aikijujutsu self defense and blade school around the corner).

TOR said...

I think it is worth remembering that people killed eachother for a long time with pointy things and blunt objects.

Remember, a knife fight is just a fight where somebody has a knife. If you can punch someone then punch them, if you can throw them into something then do that, if you can stab them then do that.

Physically fighting with an opponent requires skill, strength and a moderate amount of conditioning. (I say a moderate amount not because more conditioning is bad parse but because I have never seen a non organized fight go long enough for it to be a real factor.)

Focus on practical skills with real life applications. Simple techniques you can repeat under stress are the way to go. Some "expert" with a black belt from some obscure asian martial art who teaches graceful spinning and flipping and slashing techniques so you can safely previal in any fight despite size or strength disadvantages has almost surely not used any of them for real. Hit up youtube for prison fight videos to see how these things really go.

Skill requires learning realistic techniques and practicing them with a live and not cooperative opponent. This means bumps and bruises and black eyes and lots of folks don't like that. Better to learn that a technique sucks now in a gym or a backyard then in a dark alley some day.

Strength (and size which is usually correlated) is a huge factor in fights, especially since most folks have an average low skill level. It takes strength to effectively impliment techniques. You don't see a skinnyfat 40 year olds beat up a beefy 24 year old construction worker very often for a good reason. Get to the weight pile and lift heavy things to get stronger so you can lift heavier things.

Good post!

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Rich T said...

Great posts on this. Thanks & posted.

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Anonymous said...

Your comments on knife fighting are spot on. I spent 10+ years in the army and have worked trauma shifts in the ER many times. I almost always carry a knife, usually if possible a 4" SOG Pentagon, but when a straight blade is appropriate or can be hard to get to, then a folding Cold Steel Ti-Lite. Knife fighting or any hand to hand combat is something that is hard to imagine for most people that have at least done some wrestling, or the unfortunate fighting as a kid growing up, where at least they have some idea about grappling and how quick things can go from calm to very, very bad.I have seen many people in the ER that have come in with knves sticking out of the torso, but mostly in the lower and center parts of back and because of copious drug or alcohol they aren't really that aware of it. Nobody ever comes in to an ER with a knife stuck in their neck or face, but plenty come in with wounds, most often mortal wounds to the neck and chest areas. Stab a lung and breathing becomes really difficult as a person sustains an open "sucking" chest wound leading to lungs collapsing. Even a sturdy hit to the thyroid area can be fatal if the hyoid bone is broken. Its the only actual bone in the airway in a persons neck.

Nobody in a fight for life should ever have anything on their mind except putting down an attacker or traumatizing them long enough to escape. Sadly this take a lot of training and while many think of sheer brutality it is the will to survive if not to protect others, like spouses or children. Anything can be used as a weapon, but people usually freeze up if they have never been in a life threatening situation. I hope most people never are in such a situation, as it is mentally traumatizing, but better to be discussing PTSD with a counselor than having your family holding a closed casket funeral. As others have said most of the fight is a mental challenge to engage. It happens in the field with new warriors or medics and even in the air with new pilots, even though they have done simulations and maneuvers for years. if the situation arises, you must not hesitate to get in the game if, you can't flee the situation safely and quickly. FYI, I found your blog while looking for a watch review. Interesting stuff. Sort of letting some of the long kept secrets of combat out and into the open. I can say that some of it finds this refreshing, while other parts of me always wish the everyday citizen would not need to know these things. Sadly after many, many incidents that have been publicized, everybody should have a talk with their loved ones on what to do, and maybe even some drills on emergency actions for fire, kids going nuts in schools... China just had a load of people killed and injured by a group of people armed only with several knifes, and it happened with lightening speed. I wish this wasn't the case these day, but better to be prepared mentally and physically and equipped with the knowledge of how to use your baggage, a folding chair or paper weight as a weapon and to engage as quick as possible. That's just how life is in this 21st century.

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Matthew said...

Dear Anonymous, If that's even your real name, it's pretty clear you didn't read the article...in any capacity.

None whatsoever.

At all.

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