The Reality Of Edged Weapon Attacks
By By Lloyd De Jongh
“It is better to never fight; but win if you
I live in South Africa; here knives are commonly used on our streets.
Knives are seen as a thug’s weapon, and unfortunately our culture
has developed an unusual, sophisticated criminal knife method. Blade-to-blade
combat, or facing a knife unarmed, is a reality here. We have learned
both to fear and respect the blade because of this.
This article addresses aspects of the very real threat of the blade by
examining what we (whether civilians or law enforcement personnel) really
face, and the training methods designed to counter it. Hopefully this
will benefit your own research and practice.
To best counter an enemy, study him. Know his methods and know why he
does what he does. Thus, we learn from those who use blades in their culture,
and study the kinds of people that are considered a threat. Then, take
those methods apart and learn to respect them. The people who would harm
others know only too well how to speak with a knife. Think like a violent,
When you do this you will see that violent people are rarely there to
‘fight’ on equal terms, they are there to win. Their use of
a weapon is to give them, quite literally, the edge.
The Dual Fantasy
We, as the potential victims of criminals, have a peculiar idea of a
knife ‘fight’ based on the assumption we will be given warning
of an impending knife attack, and allowed time and room to prepare. We
have a mistaken expectation of a duel. Question: Why would I carry a small,
easily-concealed weapon with a very limited range and then reveal it so
that you can find an equalizer?
In prison the knife is an assassin's weapon and victims are taken by
surprise. Wardens who are assaulted are attacked without warning, with
no chance of meeting the assault on equal terms. Policemen who are knifed
have fractions of a second to respond, as the weapon is employed at very
short range as a surprise attack. People who are mugged with knives usually
don't see it coming until way too late. If you still imagine that these
scenarios are duels then your wheel's spinning, but your hamster's dead.
There are knifings, there are stabbings, there are threats made with
knives, and there is armed robbery. I have seen people trying to kill
each other, but I have yet to see people fight an extended duel with a
blade. Combat with knives is not the equivalent of a fist fight. In my
experience blade-to-blade scenarios involved warring gangs in close-in
lethal combat; drunken or otherwise highly emotional individuals in an
argument that escalated into physical violence; or assaults in neighbourhoods
where residents expect to be accosted with a knife and habitually carry
their own. Such duels were brutal, violent and very short. I have yet
to see scenes like these at the movies, or in knife training classes.
Criminals and others who have experienced knife assaults respond in two
ways. Either they get a better weapon with a greater range, or they just
run from a potential assault. If they don't want to go toe-to-toe on an
equal basis with a determined knife-wielding attacker, why would you think
The Fantasy of Empty Hand Defence
Since we know that a knife can provide a massive advantage psychologically
and tactically (and is employed for these very reasons), let us examine
another potential fantasy in our knife training: going it empty hand.
Empty hand against a blade is not your first option because it is potential
suicide. You see, you don't “fight” an armed attacker, you
SURVIVE the assault.
Why then do exponents of various knife systems speak of how lethal or
disabling knives are, and then go on to say one should "expect to
get cut"? Somehow this makes a committed assault with a legally recognized
deadly weapon seem a minor inconvenience when used by the bad guy. An
assailant uses a weapon to minimize his risk by removing your options,
allowing him to overwhelm and dominate. If you play his game you will
be more than inconvenienced.
To quote a brilliant observation by self-defense expert Marc Mac Young:
“self defense is not about fighting, it’s about not being
hurt by physical violence”. If you must get cut, do so on your terms.
Unarmed, you do not trade blows with a knifer. Only trade a cut for a
The Fantasy Of Protection By A Handgun
Ownership of a handgun does not guarantee immunity from a knifer, and
Law Enforcement Personnel have their own unique set of concerns –
which we’ll bring into the picture from this point on. But many
of the same principles apply to any owner of a handgun.
An edged weapon does not guarantee a quick kill. Neither do bullets.
Often there is no time to draw; very often this is by design. It is well
documented that bullets often fail immediately to stop a motivated attacker.
Law enforcement officers thus need control tactics to deal with someone
at close range so that injuries sustained from bullets can take their
toll, or to create an opportunity to draw and bring a weapon to bear.
Prison warders have perhaps a greater awareness of the dangers of edged
weapons due to the fact that they are unarmed when they go about their
duties, relying on instinct, natural weapons and the use of their environment.
Armed officers however, may have an unrealistic, perhaps false, sense
There is a saying “Don’t bring a gun to a knife fight.”
Here is the reason. The Tueller Drill (named for Sgt. Dennis Tueller of
the Salt Lake City Police) demonstrated that the concept of draw and fire
on a target at 7 yards (6.5m or 21ft) was not decisive, but resulted in
a tie when the aggressor charged the shooter. An average time of 1.5 seconds
was calculated for an aggressor to cover a distance of 21 (6.4m) feet.
In local experiments it has been shown that 7 metres can be covered in
just over 7/10ths of a second, and an expert draw time was calculated
at 1.3 seconds. If you are taken by surprise by a knife wielding assailant,
or the assailant takes evasive action, you are almost sure to lose the
confrontation should you rely solely on your firearm.
Sgt. Tueller concluded that someone with a knife or club at a distance
of 21 feet or less was a potentially lethal threat. (Note that Jeff Cooper
at GunSite teaches a drill time of 1.5 seconds for drawing a handgun and
firing two aimed shots)
To illustrate the seriousness with which this threat is viewed, the "Tueller
drill" is now a standard part of Massad Ayoob's Lethal Force Institute
classes (nationally known for arms training programs for law enforcement).
Facing An Armed & Motivated Aggressor
Let us assume that we are facing a highly motivated, determined and goal-oriented
What we need then to follow up on this new awareness is to be at least
as motivated and goal oriented in our tactics to confront violent aggressors
who wish to attack us with knives, clubs, machetes, bricks etc.
The aggressor has a goal: use violence to neutralize you as a threat
and to achieve their aims.
To follow up on our awareness of the threat we need to have equal or
greater intent than who we face, and make use of sound goal-oriented tactics
to deal with them when we are attacked with knives, razors, machetes and
clubs. Why? Well, those are the tools used successfully by those who regularly
use violence. With that in mind, your goal should be to survive the assault
and stop your assailant.
The horrific events of September 11th 2001 brought home to us all the
reality of how effective even a small bladed weapon is in the hands of
a determined man. It also taught us how only equally committed action
will allow us to prevail against this kind of threat when we cannot retreat.
Potentially Threatening Situations
Since police officers carry weapons and face dangerous people and situations
on a regular basis, it makes sense to examine some of the scenarios they
One might have to face multiple opponents, one or more armed with
We might not be able to reach our firearm, or not immediately.
You have shot an assailant, but he is still attacking. (In one incident
in Cape Town, three police officers shot a knife-wielding man who
had randomly assaulted people 12 times with a police issue weapon.
He still assaulted two of them and ran a fair distance in an attempt
to escape before collapsing.)
You have slipped and fallen, or were knocked down.
Your attacker has two knives.
Only after you have been struck do you notice blood and realise
you have been cut.
These incidents are based on actual events. Speak to those who deal
daily with violence, and you will hear worse examples.
There have been situations where guns have been emptied into an on-rushing
assailant who still managed to kill the shooter, with both dying. In police
work this is not an acceptable result.
Too often, training fails to take into account the emotional impact of
surprise on performance, such as shock, hesitation, fear and doubt. It
also often fails to address the real-life issues of poor lighting, wind,
rain, restrictive clothing, crowds and slippery surfaces. Firearm competence
alone is thus insufficient.
Adding Strikes To Handgun Retention Tactics
Defensive tactics emphasizing handgun retention skills and close-in evasion
and escape to create distance for a draw are necessary. In South Africa,
I believe that 4 out of 5 handgun owners are shot with their own guns
by assailants. That statistic begs the question why.
I believe that knowledge of striking tactics that do not utilize fist
strikes is a requirement for handgun users. Studies done at the excellent
Modern Warrior facility have shown that the most common injury due to
fist strikes is to the last two knuckles of the hand, and strong hand
injuries are the most common arrest-related injury - due to these fisted
strikes. Officers who were asked if they could get a solid grip on their
weapons after the injury most often said no.
For this and other reasons, the Modern Warrior Defensive Tactics Institute
has removed fist strikes from their Police Defensive Tactics curriculum
and has replaced them with palm strikes and other open handed alternatives.
Palm strikes have been proven to produce the fewest number of injuries
when used by police. A fracture will take almost 2 months to heal, while
a torn ligament (sprain) can take up to 6 months.
Training For The Real World
Is the training environment dynamic, chaotic and unorthodox? When training
for life and death and learning the risks and limitations of using or
reaching for a handgun when being taken by surprise or rushed by a knife-wielder,
we need to simulate as much stress, confusion and shock as possible to
acclimatize to the realities we face.
Does your training teach you to be aggressive? Learn to project all of
your energies: voice, gaze and body language as a clear signal. Life and
death struggles are no time for timidity.
Since we are dealing with the risks attached to facing a bladed weapon,
which necessitates that the aggressor is very close, learn to treat any
striking movement as if a knife was coming at you. Don’t find out
after the ‘punch’ withdraws that you have been cut.
Protect yourself from harm with your awareness and your own offense.
Turn the tables by putting the assailant on the back foot. Use the same
game plan and strategies he uses because people who are ‘professionally’
violent know that in these situations those methods work.
The initial stab or cut is usually not fatal or disabling; it simply
opens the way for further aggression that will finish you off. Do not
allow an opportunity for his momentum to build; you keep fighting no matter
Since the chaos of violence is by its nature unpredictable, and thus
hard to prepare for, let’s bear a few things in mind:
Adjust your response when it isn’t working. Have a positive,
aggressive, winning mind-set. Believe you can prevail. Learn to deal
with surprise and shock and keep going.
Question and experiment, learn the fact that there is no perfect
defense. However, there are attributes that make you far more likely
Learn to react to sudden aggressive arm movement appropriately. Stay
close, jam and neutralize; evade and escape; or evade and find/produce
a weapon of your own.
Know that an attacker at 21 feet (6.4m) can be a lethal threat, even
if you are armed with a gun, and even if they “only” have
a knife. Hone your knowledge and awareness. And remember this in a potential
life and death struggle. Offense wins fights. Defense keeps you fighting
to allow your offense a chance to work.
About the Author:
Lloyd De Jongh has been in the martial arts for 14 years and for five
years he as studied and learned criminal methods – from surprise
assaults, muggings, fighting methodology, weapons use and psychological
tactics. His website is: http://www.urbanshield.za.net