When someone mentions a “knife fight” the image conjured is often that iconic scene from West Side Story, or heavily choreographed fights from more recent movies like The Hunted starring Benicio Del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones. As with most things Hollywood, reality is far different from what is portrayed on the screen.
Most people will never be in a knife fight. Even the term “knife fight” is, well, wrong. A more accurate description might be “knife dueling” because, let’s be honest, if an assailant only has a knife your best bet, and first choice, should probably be to run.
The easiest way to survive a situation like that is to not be there. If you voluntarily engage someone using a knife of your own, you’d better be very sure of your legal position lest “self-defense” become manslaughter or even murder.
Knives play a role in self-defense, although the times and situations in which one can be deployed both effectively and legally are few and far between. For the sake of argument, let’s say that you find yourself in a dire situation with no escape and only a knife to defend yourself. What then?
Lawrence Kane, author of Surviving Armed Assaults, told me, “[I]t really doesn’t take much skill or training to use one to kill or cripple someone with a knife. The challenge comes in doing it when you’re the good guy. In most cases that means that you are facing multiple threats, armed assailants, and/or losing when you try to deploy it. Even well-trained “fighters” don’t always succeed … but any tool beats no tool when/if you really, really, need it.”
Having it when you really need it is a key point. Many law enforcement officers, military, and armed citizens carry a knife of some sort as a back-up weapon. The types of blades that are suitable vary based on the environment and role. An armed citizen may carry a folding lock-blade, while a law enforcement officer employs an assisted opening knife, and an infantry-man a dagger or bayonet.
Each style of knife has its own advantages and drawbacks. Folding knives can be easily concealed in a pocket. Some come with belt clips for easier deployment, and high-end models are adjustable so that the blade can be carried point up or point down. Assisted-opening knives with a clip are the fastest folders you can carry, but they are illegal in some jurisdictions.
Various styles of martial arts lend themselves to combat using edged weapons. The Filipino arts of escrima, arnis, and kali are most notable. Kane recommends some form of RBSD (reality based self-defense) from an instructor who can impart context as well as technique. Regular scenario-based training can help hone your skills and various drills can ingrain muscle-memory.
One thing nobody tells you about the use of a blade in a violent confrontation is just how intimate it is. Unlike a firearm where the engagement distance usually measures between one and seven meters, blades are deployed at “bad-breath distance” well within an arm’s length.
One of my contacts for this article told me of a time he killed a sentry from behind in Vietnam.
“The Gerber MK II blade was struck into the man’s neck from the right rear and then leveraged forward ripping through the throat. There was a rush of escaping air and a spray of initial blood and then the flow from the various blood vessels the blade had severed as I lowered the body as quietly as I could to the ground as we quickly moved past. Hadn’t considered that aspect nor the immediate follow-on smell.”
He went on, “His blood was visible on my jungle fatigues when we finally got back to a friendly base… I later burned them, but what do you do with the memory?”
Obviously the use of a blade is deadly-force and should you make the decision to use one in a violent conflict you must be prepared for the full weight of the consequences, both legal and mental.
These days I regularly carry a Kershaw G10 Speedbump, although in the past I’ve also carried a Gerber 22-47162 Fast Draw and a Camillus Blaze. I’ve never used one in self-defense. My blades spend their time opening stubborn plastic and cardboard packages. Whether or not you should carry one for self-defense is a personal choice, and always consult your local laws before making the decision to carry any potential weapon.