Concealed Carry & Home Defense

Emerson Combat Series: How To Win A Knife Fight

Ernest Emerson Contributor
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By Ernest Emerson, Emerson Knives

An old and very experienced man once told me that the winner of a knife fight is, “When two guys go to the hospital and one lives.”

It is a fact that you are statistically more likely to die from a stab wound than a gunshot wound.  Most people don’t believe it but it is indeed true.

I guess, if you only knew the previous two anecdotes, the absolute best way to win a knife fight is to never get in one.

Most of us know what we know about knife fighting from movies or television.  As a result, a lot of myths, held truths and down right, bull manure has found its way into the general perception of what knife instructor and edged weapons combat is all about.

Right here and now I’m going to bust the biggest myth about knife fighting that exists.  Here we go.  Ready?  There is no such thing as knife fighting!

The days of two combatants standing steel eyed across from each other with edged weapons in their hands has long since vanished.  What I’m saying is that statistically it does not exist.  That’s not to say that someone somewhere hasn’t been in a knife on knife confrontation but that your chances of being hit by lightening, while being attacked by a shark, holding the winning lottery ticket, it far more likely than being in a knife fight.  Thank God for that.

The reality is that in knife related attacks there is only one knife involved (in the hands of the bad guy) and that many times the victim never knew there even was a knife involved (until he was being sewn up in the hospital).

The reality is that if you are ever involved in knife combat, you will be unarmed fighting off an attack by a knife wielding attacker.

So let’s look at developing a program that will protect you against the most likely scenario.

The first thing I’m going to caution you against is the idea of trying to go for your weapon in the midst of an armed attack.  Remember, we are talking about Hand-to-Hand Combat here, not gun fighting, which has different rules.  We call it a “weapons dependent” mindset and it is likely to get you killed while you are trying to get to your weapon.

You have to defend yourself against the initial attack before you ever get the chance to get to a weapon or your knife.  You have to brunt, negate, or minimalize the damage that the attacker is trying to inflict upon you, by any and every means possible before you get an “opportunity“ to access your weapon.  Life or death combat is an arena where you must remain focused on the task at hand.  And that task is surviving, especially during the initial onslaught where you are the most vulnerable.

It seems obvious that distance is the best defense when it comes to the subject of knife combat.  If he can’t touch you, he can’t hurt you.  Someone once told me that the best way to practice knife defense is to learn to sprint fast.  Actually this is true for every confrontation you may find yourself in.

However, since an attacker picks the time, place, and opportunity to attack sometimes you don’t have the option to run.

Perhaps you are in a room, perhaps your family is near, and perhaps you are protecting your partner, your teammate or an innocent.  Then you are in the fight. At this time the terms “In it to win it” take on a whole new meaning.

I always say, “In a deadly attack, the fight isn’t over until the attacker is dead.”

Let’s look at a few principles that you can use to survive an attack from a bad guy with a knife – whose intent is to kill you.

Never assume any less.  If someone brings a deadly weapon into a confrontation you better fight him from the position that he’s trying to kill you.  Anything less than your all out effort to subdue him (permanently) will likely get you killed.  This is a kill or be killed time.

Try to stop the attacker’s intent by any means possible.  He has a deadly weapon, his intent is to kill you.  In simplistic terms, you want him to be worried about you killing him.  It’s an attribute more than anything but it is an effective life saving principles.

You will probably, but not always, get winged by the guy, the key is to limit the amount of times he gets to hit you.  You have to stop the slashes, the stabs and the swings as soon as possible.  You have to get him reacting to you and not you to him, turning the tide of battle so to speak.  Any Marine will tell you that the best response to an ambush is an aggressive, unrelenting counter attack.  It’s just as true here. Let’s look at two basic defensive / offensive tactics that you employ to accomplish what we’ve been discussing here.  Distance once again becomes paramount here.

Control the distance – if I can’t run away, I take it away.  That’s right, charge headlong into the fray.  Against a knife – You’re Crazy!  Remember, were talking about running away is not an option. So, should I stay at arms length, dodging and darting about, trying to reach in and grab the knife while the attacker swings and strikes at full speed, when and where he wants.  Staying in this no mans land is a good way to turn yourself into a chopped salad.  Remember I’ve got to get him reacting to me and not me to him.

The Techniques – When and if you have no other option but to take the distance away, closing the gap, so to speak, here are the two simplest and effective means to do so while giving you the best protection against the weapon. In order for these tactics to work, you simply employ them against the angle of attack, not the old, “if he does A then you do B” concept.  These are not specific blocks against specific strikes, but obstacles to the strikes, roadblocks, if you prefer.  They are most effective if you are moving, (charging) forward but are also effective if you are caught flat footed or even moving backward.

The Upward Triangle: This is most effective against the overhand stabbing motion or the downward slashing attack to your upper body and head.  At the instant of attack your arms come up in front and together in a clap motion as you thrust them outward and upward as you charge forward.  Essentially you are forming a triangular frame to protect and cause the strike to deflect off to the side and away from the center of the torso, the head, neck, and eyes.  The upward position of your arms naturally protects the neck from the side.

The Downward Triangle: The principles here are exactly the same as the upward triangle except in this case it is to protect against a slashing attack to the lower chest or abdomen and a thrusting attack to the gut.  Again it works best moving violently forward.

In essence.  I want to protect myself while slamming chest to chest into the bad guy at full speed in an explosion of power just like a linebacker blitzing up the middle into an unsuspecting quarterback.

Now this is where you can wrap him up, take him down, bite his face off, bite his fingers off, and gouge his eyes out.  This is where I expect you to do anything –Anything—to stop the attacker.

Are these tactics and strategies infallible?  No, nothing is, save a suit of armor.  Will you get cut, probably, but you can’t worry about consequences you are in a fight to the death – his death.

And always remember, in the words of Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”  Even if you disarm him or he drops the knife you still have the bad guy in front of you.  In the words of my friend, “you have far more to fear from a deadly man than a deadly weapon.”  These words are oh so true.  Keep them in mind in any confrontation.

In closing I want to add that I want you to always be aware of distance.  Even if you have to close the gaps and have no other option, the option to run may yet still present itself and if you get a chance to run take it – always. Staying in the fight when you don’t absolutely have to may be a decision that costs you your life.

Hopefully you will never have to use this information in real life.  But if you do, it’s must better to go in with a game plan that will save your life.


Ernest R. Emerson is a knife-maker and personal combat instructor. Visit his site – click here to visit