Knives: For Fighting or for Opening Mail?

I once had dinner with a man who had just bought a knife company. He bought the company because, he told me, his research showed that the average American owns more than 15 knives, and knives currently rank very high when it comes to “impulse purchases.” He was convinced that a good product supported by good marketing would be profitable. I’m sure he’s doing very well to this day.

But during that entire dinner, this man, whose new company made several “tactical” folding knives, never once mentioned personal defense or training to use a knife in a defensive situation. He was, as a businessman, much more interested in selling knives. He didn’t really care what people did with them.

I, on the other hand, have always thought about why people carry knives and how real people would use their knives. The reality is much different from the ideas most people have about using a knife as a defensive tool.

Be Prepared to Get Dirty

The very first thing people need to know and fully understand is that using a knife in a fight is an intimate and bloody operation. If you are fighting with a knife, you will be in a very close, violent and dynamic situation. If you happen to be able to deploy your knife and run the sharp edge across your attacker, you can bet things are very likely going to get nasty very quickly.

Notice that I said, “run the sharp edge across your attacker.” People who have been stabbed often report that they did not realize they were getting stabbed. Many of them continued to fight while getting stabbed. A deep slash across a major muscle often produces an immediate response because the loss of the use of that muscle provides a mechanical interference with aggressive action.

Not that I can provide you any real knife-fighting training in this column, but if you remember one thing about fighting with a knife, remember to slash extremities and not stab the torso. The former will give you a better chance to impede movement and escape. The latter might not even get an immediate reaction.

The Fix Is In

A couple of years after that dinner, John Benner (not the same guy, by the way) invited me to a demonstration of his TDI defensive knife. This short fixed-blade knife, manufactured by KA-BAR, is worn in a sheath on the belt on your non-dominant side. The demonstration included a head-to-head race. Who could pop a balloon faster: someone deploying a tactical folder or someone using the fixed-blade TDI knife? Even under no stress, the fixed-blade knife won every race.

I also really like Benner’s knife-fighting advice: Apply sharp edge to bad guy anywhere you can. Repeat until he lets go of you. Move to safety.

It was simple. I like simple. Anytime a knife-fighting instructor gets me to “Step 11,” I lose interest. But I digress.

I Prefer My Fingers Unbroken

That day I learned that if I were going to defend myself with a knife, it was going to be with a fixed-blade knife. Now, I’m not here to make recommendations. There are several really good knives out there and several really good carry/deployment options. It will be up to you to choose what is best. One thing I will suggest you avoid is any knife with a hole at the end of the handle where one might place a finger. Don’t get me wrong: I love hawk-billed blades. I’m just not a fan of sticking my finger into a circular steel ring that could get bent 90 degrees with my finger inside. I’m sure there are great videos of guys swinging karambits like food processors. There are equally great photos and videos of the damage done to the finger if the knife, for whatever reason, goes sideways. You ninjas can argue with me all you want; I’m not sticking my finger into that steel ring.

If you think you are going to fight with a knife, strongly consider a fixed-blade knife for your defensive needs. Get training. Practice your skills. Use it only as a last resort.

Stay safe.