Dacayana UK

KNIFE DEFENCE.         By David McGoldrick

I thought I might weigh in on this hugely controversial subject. Every time knife defence is discussed or shown, someone will always be ready to tell you why it won't work. Everyone is an "expert", right? So, what makes everyone an expert? "I'm a black belt", "I've done a weekend course on knife defences" and "I've been stabbed". I've heard them all. In this Internet age, everyone is "entitled" to an opinion, no matter how uninformed.

I have a colleague who is a very well respected and experienced martial artist who refuses to teach his students knife defences. In his opinion, they don't work. I would love to know if he would feel guilty if one of his students got stabbed because they didn't know what to do and froze. 

Time and again, the naysayers go back to an archetypal image of an assailant. They ask, "but what if he's a big, strong alpha male, professional knife fighter, who is 100% focused on killing you in a surprise attack with a double edged combat knife and the victim has little or no self defence experience?" Yes, then they are probably done for. Of course, this is possible and I'm sure you can find this scenario if you search on the internet, but does it accurately reflect the vast majority of knife defence situations? No, I don't think it does. 

Let's address these assumptions one at a time. Realistically, how many big, strong people carry a knife? Isn't it far more likely that a weedy little reprobate would carry a knife than a rugby player? If someone doesn't have natural fighting attributes, they are more likely to feel the need to be armed than someone who is quite confident in their ability to look after themselves physically. If you don't have skill and experience then strength CAN make a huge difference in controlling the weapon wielding arm and I would argue that control is a very important factor in knife defence. It is only gender stereotyping that makes us assume the attacker is male. I have seen and heard of plenty of people being attacked by women. 

Now, let's address my favourite misconception. The idea of a professional knife fighter is hilarious. I would love to know how many people make a living out of knife fighting. Where is this job advertised? What is the remuneration package like? Is there a pension plan? Can you still get life insurance? Obviously, there is no such thing. I think what people are usually referring to, is those who are trained and/or experienced with knives. Well, that's us. We are the "baddies" in this scenario. You could argue that military special forces also train with daggers, but not as much as we do in Dacayana Eskrima. The reality is that members of drug gangs are probably going to be the most experienced at using knives. So, let's deal with that.

The vast majority of knife crime in this country is drug related. The two main categories are going to be inter gang warfare and mugging people for drug money. In the first case, my advice would be "don't join a drug gang!" Do you think you can manage that? In fact, just say no to drugs, kids. It will considerably lower you likelihood of getting stabbed. As an upstanding citizen, you are more likely to be mugged for drug money. This whole image of your opponent being "100% focused on killing you in a surprise attack", goes straight out the window. People who do drugs are not usually 100% focused on anything other than getting drugs. If they want your money, they will threaten you with a knife first. Of course, the ideal thing would be to throw money at them and make your escape. If they are still intent on stabbing you after you have given them money, it's hardly a surprise. You should be prepared for that at all times during a mugging. If someone is trying to kill you, it is usually because of who you are or because of who they are. So, my simple advice is "Don't get into arguments with nutters." 

Combat knives (double edged daggers with a point) are thankfully quite rare. The vast majority of stabbings are done with readily available single edged knives (or broken bottles or stilettos). As students of Dacayana Eskrima and Combat Judo, we, of all people are aware of how much more difficult it is to defend against a combat knife than a single edged knife. That is not to say that any stabbing defence is easy, just be thankful that so few people use combat knives.

Hopefully, I have convinced you how unrealistic is the archetypal image of a knife wielding assailant. That is not to say that this type of attack is impossible, just statistically unlikely. Now, let's deal with the victim.

You don't have to scratch the surface too deeply to see that there is an idea of some "Holy Grail" technique out there. This technique has to be easily taught to people with little or no previous experience in one easy lesson. It's got to be simple to do, learn and remember with little or no refresher training. It has to rely on natural reflexes. It requires no strength in case your assailant is stronger than you and it's got to work every time against every type of attack, in all situations, against any type of assailant for every kind of person no matter what the laws of the land allow. Well, that is just ridiculous! If that technique existed, then using a knife would not give you the advantage which it clearly does. And yet, so many criticisms of knife defences seem to rely on this presupposition. 

This is my opinion, based on the results of studies into successful knife defences and my own personal experiences of knife defence. Your best chance of defending against a knife is by gaining control against the knife wielding arm as soon as possible. Otherwise, you will be repeatedly stabbed. This is what Dacayana Eskrima students do when we study Combat Judo. Controlling an arm is not a low level skill. Ask anyone who is good at other Martial Arts that teach armlocks. You really have to understand and have a feel for body positions, resistance, leverage and the way the joints move. You cannot just rely on strength. This cannot be taught to a beginner in one easy lesson. Guess what? Knife defences are difficult!

Another supposition that often comes up is that it is impossible to do advanced techniques under duress. This is based on a study of one group of beginners who were given a short time to practice easy techniques whilst another beginners group had the same time to practice difficult techniques. Obviously, when the techniques were pressure tested, the group with the simple techniques did much better than the group with the difficult techniques. This supposition is then mistakenly extended to people are well trained and highly skilled. 

As an aside, in nearly every discussion about knife defence, someone says "expect to get cut". This is obviously sound advice. However, if it is their only contribution to the discussion, then they know nothing. Can you imagine how stupid you would look if you told a boxer "expect to get punched in the face"? How about this; instead of being a scaremonger, be more realistic and say that the vast majority of knife wounds are not fatal. Or you could show real insight and suggest that everyone should be current on their first aid training, paying particular attention to the treatment of cuts and bleeding. That is probably more useful than any technique.

Now, I hope it's obvious that I'm talking about civilian knife defence. If your job involves directly dealing with high risk people, then other variables are considered. Stab proof equipment, working in teams, being armed, duty of care and locking people in rooms change your approach. Your training should be specific to your situation.

So, the best advice I can give is to avoid people and situations that will get you stabbed. Secondly, always be ready to escape if it is safe and possible to do so. Finally, if you have ignored the first two pieces of advice, then there is little point giving you the last piece, but here goes. Whether you are being threatened, stabbed or cut, once or multiple times, control the knife wielding arm as soon as possible. I'm not saying that is easy, but it is the most effective defence.

As always, these are my opinions, based on my knowledge and experience. I really love hearing from people who disagree with me. D