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Understanding Edged Weapons Defence

March 07, 202116 min read

Edged Weapon Defence

Knife fighting as portrayed in the movies is a fallacy and one that will get you injured or killed if it is your idea of self defence against an edged weapon.  There are some basic rules when is comes to facing and surviving an edged weapon attack. 

Some Basic Rules About Edged Weapons

  1. Treat every attack as a knife attack.  Criminals will not necessarily want or let you know they have a knife.  This is one of the reasons why limb control and taking the initiative is so vitally important in a fight.  Even in combat with a single adversary, a third person may get involved and stab you.  Good self-defence is about escaping not fighting.

  2. If you are involved in an altercation involving a knife, you are going to bleed.  Accept that and make the decision now that you will continue fighting, even if you are bleeding.  In fact, make the decisions that you will continue fighting as long as there is air in your lungs.

  3. There are only two types of attacks with an edged weapon, slashes, and thrusts.  Slashes are far harder to deal with but thrust do far more damage as they penetrate deeper into vital organs.

  4. We have at some time in our life cut ourselves and experienced the pain of a cut.  Even a papercut can be incredibly painful.  This can create a larger psychological fear.  Even more then that of a gun.  Also, at the ranges we are talking about for self defence the knife is deadlier than a firearm.

Primary Uses Of A Knife

On the street a knife will be used for two primary reasons.  1. To intimidate, threaten or coerce.  Or 2. To cause damage.  And each require a different approach to defending yourself depending on the situation.

  1. To intimidate, threaten or coerce.  A criminal will present a knife to facilitate a crime more easily.  Easier for them.  Regardless of the crime being committed, robbery or rape as examples, the criminal’s hope is that by brandishing a blade it will encourage you to acquiesce to their request.  The fact that they are showing you the blade, suggests (at that moment of time) that they are not going to use it (this may change).  The blade has been presented to frighten you. 

How you deal with this situation, can only be made by you, in the heat of the moment, weighing up all the variables and it will be a decision you will need to live with.  There are too many variables to consider them all in this article.  However, you will be faced with two options, acquiesce or fight.  In any situation only you can decide what is the correct course of action.  By handling the goods over in a mugging or not fighting in the case of a rape attempt, there is no guarantee that the criminal will be true to their word and not escalate the crime.  A mugging can turn into an assault, or an assault can escalate into a rape.

Your 2nd option is to fight.  The one great advantage we have when defending against anyone with a weapon is the element of surprise! Now that surprised you, as it’s likely that you were not thinking that when facing a violent offender armed with a blade or club that we held the element of surprise – well we do. It’s all to do with the psychology of weapons.

Anyone armed with a weapon maintains certain expectations. We’re also told that the more powerful the weapon, the greater the expectation, specifically, that the person standing in front of them will be compliant and do as they are told. What they do not expect is to pull a knife, demand your wallet and find themselves on their back with their throat crushed.

Remember ACTION BEATS REACTION. Acceptance of this is the fundamental basis of all proactive defence. “who starts it wins it.”

Reaction times are not absolute. However, when a person’s reaction time is dulled in the mistaken belief that you will comply because of him being armed, the reality is you have all the time in the world to attack the attacker. There are certain absolutes with this concept and the predominant one is distance. Action won’t be guaranteed to beat reaction unless you are within touching distance. It may, but your opportunity to seize the initiative lessens with distance.

Sidenote:  Criminals are Masters of Economy, they want to commit the easiest crime.  They do not want a fight.  If you look like you will present a challenge, they will blindside you, usually hitting you with a tool.  Many criminals soon learn that scaring someone into handing over their belongs is an inefficient way to commit that crime.  Victims get scared and fail to comply or fail to comply quickly.  Hence some criminals learn it is easier/quicker to hit/stab first, take the goods, strike/stab again to cause damage and hide their escape.  This brings us to the 2nd primary use of an edged weapon.

  • To cause damage.  The blade is now used to cause damage.  Having committed the crime as outlined above the criminal then inflicts damage to aid their escape or for enjoyment. The blade may also be used as mentioned above in the sidenote.  Simply to expedite the crime.  Slashing or stabbing reduces resistance, induces shock, and limits witness identifications after the event. 

This blitz-attack should be defended against in the same manner as all self-defence situations with awareness and use of pre-incident indicators.  By correctly observing someone approaching you and passing you by, being alert, making eye contact, maintaining awareness of them, or even turning to face them as they pass you, are all steps that can limit the assault from happening.  More on how to defend against an attack later.

Another sidenote:  Many combative groups love talking and training for the “Shank Attack” or prison type attack, repeated aggressive stabs from behind.  And while I am not claiming that these attacks cannot happen, or even with the greatest self-protection system in place that we can find ourselves “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  I feel there is an over-emphasis on this type of training, with correct self-defence procedures in place we do not need to be unduly concerned with these types of attacks.  Avoidance and awareness should limit the opportunities for this type of attack.  There is an element of “live by the sword, die by the sword”.  Most reasonable everyday people (and I include myself in that description ) who are not involved with the criminal world do not have enemies who want to kill them.  Criminals kill this way and its usually for business or personal reasons.

Different types of edged weapons

            Edged weapon defence does not always mean a knife.  A knife is a tool, and many other everyday tools can be used as a weapon.  Scissors, nail files, beer bottles, pint glasses, and garden shears are examples of everyday objects that can be used to slash or stab, even a set of keys held between the fingers may be used.  But the most common items you are used will be knives, screwdrivers, razor blades, and Stanley blades/carpet cutters.  The blade length does not have to be very long to cause a lot of damage.  Even an edged weapon of less than one inch blade length can inflict a lot of damage.  Likewise, not all edged weapon attacks happen on the street.  It is conceivable that weapons can be improvised in the home or a bar/nightclub scenario.  What will alter how we deal with these improvised weapons is more the range the weapon has rather than the angle of attack.

            This brings us to how traditional martial arts approach the topic of edged weapon defence.

Mistakes in traditional Martial Arts.

            There are many legitimate and different reasons that martial artists can train with knifes.  Many of which I shall cover here.   

However, either from ignorance or a genuine belief their systems knows best, much of what is taught is dangerous and ineffective.  Not preparing a student for a violent altercation is bad but teaching material that is blatantly wrong is worse because it could get them killed.

We know from the Martial Map, that not everything must fall into the category of effective on the street.  Some traditional martial arts have a history and a lineage of techniques handed down through the generation from the warrior techniques performed on the battlefield.  Many of these techniques were performed in armour or with edged weapons not in everyday use anymore, such as spear or swords. (Yes, I realise I could be attacked by someone with a sword in the 21st century, but the odds are so slim of that event happening, I am not going to spend decades training in the martial arts on it) This type of training falls under the historical or cultural aspect of the martial arts.  I have no issue with this type of training once it is explained as such and not as realistic knife defence.

When you look at the issue through the prism of historical/cultural viewpoint rather then a practical approach, much of the mistake perpetrated can not only be forgiven but also understood.  Here ends the lesson once it is not taught as realistic.  Convincing them what they are teaching is not realistic is a whole other issue.

Some of these issues are as follows.

  • Attacks from the wrong range.  Typical of the extended karate type attack. 

  • Wrong type of attacks.  Exaggerated slashes or downward/overhead strikes, single stabs or thrusts, with the arm fully extended. 

  • Attacks where the limb is left out or only a single strike is performed.

  • Attacks are cold and stale with no passion.  There needs to be a difference between practice and doing.

  • Attack training that starts with bowing.  And doesn’t simulate realistic situations.

  • Attacks where the knife is shown and in full view as the attacker slowly closes range.

  • Attacks that are defended with unrealistic techniques, such as x-blocks, where the attacker stands stationary waiting the counterattack, wrists-locks or disarms that are initiated before any impact had been delivered.

All training practices/drills have flaws.  Some of these examples may be a legitimate way to train, if and only if, the flaws are explained to the student and they understand how the drill may be part of a training matrix.

  • Distance means time.  Giving lower grade students a longer distance, gives them more time to learn a technique.  May be valid once they realise, they cannot rely on learnt techniques in a real situation.

  • Using a knife as a teaching tool.  Put a (fake) knife in your opponent’s hand can raise the stakes for the student meaning they change to a better mindset.  One they should be encouraged to keep after the lesson.

  • Training by stealth.  Practising a skill or attribute against an empty hand and then adding a knife, can allow a student more repetitions without realising they are practising the same thing.

  • Adds interest or entertainment value for a student.  Learning locks against a knife attack seems more “real” to lower students.

  • By learning (correctly) how to use a knife can give deeper understanding to how to defend against one.

  • Techniques may be a grading required.

The above 6 bullet points are examples why certain training methodologies may be used the way they are.  Many of those examples are only valid as martial arts training not self defence training.  And I would further argue only for lower graded students.


One major area that traditional martial arts fall on is concealment.  As well as the above-mentioned errors, most traditional martial arts attack scenarios start with the knife in full view as the attacker slowly advances.  This may reflect a historical battlefield duelling situation, but it is not how a knife is used in modern society.  The modern criminal will not show you his blade and will not run at you from a great distance.  The blade will be hidden.  Generally, if you cannot see their palms you must assume, they have a knife.  (I make it easier; I just assume everyone has a knife).  Even if you can see their palms the knife may be concealed.  It can be up a sleeve, in their belt, in behind their neck and only the limits of imagination restrict where someone may be concealing a knife.  And I am not going to list all the conceivable places because they are all dealt with in the same way.  Impact plus

What do I mean By impact plus?  Impact plus cover the limb reaching for a weapon. 

Assuming all the pre-incident indicators have been met, you feel threatened, you may or may not be able see the hands.  A pre-emptive strike is the soundest tactical decision.  If the threat reaches for something, regardless of where, you need to explode into action, cover the limb that is reaching and deliver (hopefully) a finishing strike.  To do anything else exposes you to an edged weapon.  You cannot allow the threat to pull a weapon.  The hand must be stopped, and you must deliver impact to allow you to escape.  There are many ways this should be practiced that I will not cover here.  Remember that criminals use deception, bending down to tie their shoelaces may be hiding the fact that they are trying to withdraw a knife from their boot.

Core Principles of edges weapon defence

As mentioned previously the knife will be used for two primary reasons, intimidation, or damage, and the first may progress to the second.  Obviously, I am not going to recap all the principles of self-protection, but we are assuming that your awareness, avoidance, and de-escalation skills have failed you and you are now employing the fence or have a blade pressed against you. (this was covered earlier)

If you are employing the fence with no knife in view (assume there is one) the usual rules of de-escalation or pre-emption apply, with one caveat, if it looks like they are reaching for something, you must act, immediately. 

If you have distance between yourself and a knife, what are you still doing there. RUN and run fast.  This is not a movie folks.  If you see somebody carrying an edged weapon from a distance, get out of there.

You read a lot about getting or using an equaliser.  Using something to defend yourself from a knife.  I don’t agree with this model as it does not consider realistic scenarios.  Unless you have the tool in your hand and have trained to use that tool defensively you will not use it under stress.  You will not roll your magazine up to hit with, use your briefcase/clipboard/chair as a shield or hit them with an umbrella.  As for picking up a chair to hold him off like a lion tamer, if you have time to get a chair you have time to escape.

If that distance is less or around 1 meter, forward is the only way to go.  Of course, escape is the first option if a knife enters the proceedings, but unless you have a ten-foot gap as a head start, turning your back is not a good idea.  Your attacker can move forward faster than you can move backwards.  So forward is your best option.  Close, control and strike.

Remember action beats reaction. 

If they are using the knife against you, you have several options. 

  • Move inside the strike while striking yourself.

  • Parry the strike while striking yourself.

  • Impact (block) the strike while striking yourself.

All these options can be summed up at pat and attack.  The most important part of defending against an edged weapon is to get control of the limb and to shut the computer down.  This is done by deflecting the blade, (martial artists use terms such as blocking, parrying, or entering) and an endless barrage of blows with the first blow using the maximum force possible, to stun, knockout or discombobulate our attacker.  When, I say control the limb I do not mean grab the wrist.  This you will not be able to do and is bad tactically for many reasons, least of all your attacker can switch the blade to his other hand.  However, maintaining a sensitive pressure against the limb will enable you to feel your opponent’s energy and redirect the blade away from your body all the time delivering devastating blows.  This initial deflecting action must be done as a heavy slap.

 Here the Filipino strategy of ‘Defanging the snake’ may come into play.  If you cannot head, hit the limb holding the blade.  The aim here is to destroy the limb, which may result in them dropping the knife.  However, once you have hit the limb the priority should be to clear the limb to attack the head.

Disarms and locking even throws may be taught as advanced skills.  But like all self-protection they should be considered gifts presented by your opponent, fit your strategy, can you escape while holding a lock?  And should be redundant if your initial strike knocks your opponent out.  There are 3 principles of throwing someone, karate invented a fourth, shut the brain down and there is nothing to hold the body up.

This article will not try and teach blade defences but here are some final points in relation to the body mechanics.

When facing a bladed weapon keep your limbs close to your body to protect vital organs and turn your palms towards you.  When defending against the blade you want your inner forearms protected.  Here is where your veins and arteries are and the ligaments controlling the hand, specifically closing the hand.  If you get defensive cuts you want them on the back of your forearms, firstly this area bleeds less then the inside of the arm, secondly there are no arteries close to the surface, and thirdly if the slash is deep enough to severe ligaments, it means you will not be able to open your hand.  The result of this you will not be able to grab, but your fist will still function as a club for impact.

This hand position with the palms on your head can be used for crashing in and closing distance.  Ideally combined with striking with the elbows.

If thrusted at, pull your stomach in and round your back to create more space. 

In relation to violent thrusts to the stomach.  One hand blocks the strike while your second arm takes the power out of the strike by striking the shoulder.  This needs to be practiced.  At a higher skill set the shoulder strike may be directed at the head/neck instead.

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