By Sam Hoober
A lot of people spend a lot of money on EDC knives that are ostensibly for “self-defense” but ultimately will never amount to being more than a hugely overpriced boxcutter. Sure, Benchmade makes amazing stuff, but a carpet knife that costs $15 will make short work of Amazon boxes just as well.
Arguably better; those thin blades slice through cardboard or almost anything else like a blowtorch through butter.
There’s no question that a knife can be used defensively. There’s no question that knives kill people. That’s not actually the point; the point is more that knives are not as good at the task of compelling people to stop doing bad stuff as some people like to think they are.
If you haven’t heard of him, the man in the video is Varg Freeborn, author of “Violence Of Mind” which is a primer on the mind of the violent criminal. Freeborn had a terribly violent upbringing, and spent 5 years in prison for stabbing a man more than 20 times in self-defense.
He was able to get the conviction overturned post-incarceration, as the original trial completely overlooked the fact that the “victim” had driven out of his way to harm Freeborn, and completely intended on doing so.
In case you missed that: he stabbed the person more than 20 times before he stopped attacking and the “victim” still testified at the trial. That should tell you the kind of effect a knife wound actually has.
To reinforce that idea, let’s talk about blood loss.
The term that’s used is “hypovolemic shock,” and it can take quite a while to set in. An adult human generally has 9 to 10 liters of total blood volume. For hypovolemic shock to occur, a person has to lose enough blood.
To gain compliance via hypovolemic shock, a person has to lose enough blood for it to make a perceptible (key word) difference. That is IF, of course, the person in question doesn’t think “oh crap! I’ve just been stabbed! I better knock this the heck off!” and remember, the bad guy gets a vote.
In the context of a fight, that can take forever. This is also part and parcel as to why that old “air in blood out” trope that people who carry .45s cling to is almost entirely BS. You still have to hit the target, Ronald…but one digresses.
While everyone reacts to different things differently, generally blood loss of up to 750 milliliters (0.75L) only results in vasoconstriction. Your blood vessels constrict and that’s about it. You won’t notice a difference.
However, blood loss of 750mL to 1500mL is where things start to get noticeable. Heart rate rises to increase blood flow by pumping, and the subject may start to feel anxiety or adrenaline due to the raised heart rate.
Blood loss of 1.5L to 2L of blood (about 20 percent of total blood volume) is where a person will really start to notice it. Besides an elevated heart rate, blood pressure begins to drop and blood flow will be directed away from the extremities to preserve blood flow to the organs, which results in cold, clammy skin, fingers and limbs.
That’s the point at which diminished cognitive performance starts to occur.
Blood loss of 4L or more typically results in unconsciousness and – if untreated and nothing else goes wrong – death.
How long this takes, of course, depends on where the wound is. Some major arteries are larger than others and therefore will pump out more blood (if punctured) than others. Wounds to some organs can result in exsanguination (the liver, for instance) but again, it takes a long time for the subject to lose enough blood for that to occur.
All of this, of course, presumes that a person can even deploy their most tactical of folding knives in the confrontation, which is not as likely as it might seem. This is also why most serious fighting knives have a fixed blade.
So, it’s not that a knife is a worthless tool for self-defense. That isn’t the case; mankind has been stabbing each other since time immemorial and probably won’t ever stop. However, it is that knives are not as effective as guns, and it takes a heck of a lot of practice to get incredibly effective with either.
If you wanted an alternative weapon or supplementary weapon to a pistol the best option on paper is pepper spray or learning to fight.
A good ol’ fashioned punchout works. Just ask the two guys who tried to mug Jack Dempsey.
The point here is not to say that knives are worthless for self-defense or that you shouldn’t get a pocket knife. They’re darned handy, and frankly it’s a lot easier to open an Amazon box with your keys.
Sam Hoober is a hunter and shooter based in the Inland Northwest.