Many martial arts styles teach a codified series of knife defenses, and a few martial arts -- especially Filipino styles -- teach the use of knives as a weapon. But the reality of a knife fight is far from the controlled environment you'll encounter in most classes, and often happens too quickly for you to employ precision moves that require fine motor control.
Get the Mindset
There isn't much middle ground with knives: Although they can be used to threaten, there's no such thing as a knife fight done halfway. If your attacker has a knife, you must defend yourself on the assumption that he's out to kill you -- because even if that wasn't his original intention, he could easily deal you a serious or fatal wound by mistake. If you pull a knife on somebody as a means of self-defense, it automatically turns you into the aggressor; he may reasonably assume you're out to kill, and react accordingly.
A Dose of Reality
In contrast to the orderly, controlled way most knife fights are taught in martial arts classes, a true knife attack is fast, bloody and brutal. Most martial arts classes teach you to defend against only a narrow series of knife attacks: straight-on jabs, angled slices and an overhead stab. But the truth is that your attacker may do anything, including a mad rush to overwhelm you or flailing wildly with the knife. There will be more blood than you expect. Your best hope for survival is taking decisive steps to neutralize your opponent as quickly and completely as possible.
The only sure defense against a blade is getting far out of striking range; there's no shame in running if it saves your life. If you must fight, however, don't count on being able to pull off the precise aim and fine motor movements required to execute complicated wrist locks or disarms. Likewise, do not aim to trade jabs or strikes with your opponent. Act quickly and decisively to neutralize your opponent with anything ready to hand, whether it's a gun; pepper spray; or large, blunt object. If you're fighting barehanded, use gross-motor movements that require limited precision: Grab your opponent's knife hand in both hands to control the knife. Then slam his knife hand against a hard object; strike him; or otherwise incapacitate him as quickly as possible.
Using a Knife Yourself
Knives aren't ideal for defending yourself against a larger or more skilled opponent, because they rarely kill or disable instantly. Your attacker might not even realize he's been knifed until after the fact. Don't try to fight fire with fire -- if you're facing someone else with a knife your odds are usually better if you have both hands free, as opposed to having one hand occupied with a knife. If you do use a knife to defend yourself, self-defense expert David Erath warns on his website, Functional Self Defense, that "in order to be legally and ethically justified to use a knife in self defense, you must be facing a serious threat that you cannot escape from or stop with a lower level of force."
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