Knife Attack! What Can You Do?

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: Self-defense
25 Feb 2009


You are walking to your car from a downtown club late at night, after downing a couple of brewskis (hopefully not too many beers as you are about to drive)… and all of a sudden you notice a guy coming at you with knife!!! What can you do?


First off if you are a trained fighter – you are lucky. You have noticed the guy before he is on you! If you are not a fighter I guess it is time for lets make a deal! Ok all kidding aside, you are in one tough predicament even if everything goes right.


In this post I will go though your options in this scenario and what your options are if the guy is already on you. I’d like you to also review this excellent post by Mathew over at in his post entitled, “Knife Self Defense – It ain’t gonna be pretty.” Here is a quick video I found on youtube that seems reasonable to me.




Did you get a chance to review Mathew’s post? In it he does a fairly comprehensive review of a bunch of different scenarios that one might face. The common thread in these attacks were the distance – all were inside the critical distance. As a fighter that does not even like blocking – I am not really going to rate one defense over the others as I did not really like any of them. I do not like to fight so close to my opponent because the first person that uses initial movement – wins.


Now the video example seemed like a reasonable way to defend against a knife attack because the attacker was not too close and the defender was able to use an initial movement to slap the knife back. He then was able to do a quick counter kick and run.


Here is what I think about weapon or non-weapon attacks – if you can, pick your distance. I like to fight outside of the critical distance. I even box that way… I’ll throw fast jabs with the occasional cross and only follow up if I sense an advantage.


If you are young enough and fast – consider running! Yes running is an excellent defense! Assuming the goal is self-defense and not proving one’s manliness… yes run if you think you can get away!


If you get caught inside the critical distance – you have to strike or move. Yes just like sport karate or boxing… it is not wise to wait with your hands up in the air – waiting for the move or opening. With initial movement – the first one to move on the inside, correctly wins! This is the same for boxing, karate, self-defense – whatever!


Now here is the controversial notion that I have – If you don’t have a knife and the other guy does, you probably have an advantage! This is assuming you know how to use critical distance and initial movement. Why? Because the other guy most likely will depend on the knife – to the exclusion of kicks, punches, elbows, and any other strike! That mean that you have a 4 to 1 weapon advantage!


Now here is the downside of a weapon attack. If you let the guy get inside and either do not instantly defend yourself or move to the side/back to keep the critical distance – you most probably have lost!!! What you might be thinking?


Well here is what is up… initial movement inside the critical distance from a trained fighter will almost always win. If your attacker understands this and moves first – isolating the rest of his body, you cannot not block or get out of the way.


Here is an example, do you remember driving school? I had to follow 10 feet for every 10 miles per hour. I think now they teach 1 second for every 10 miles per hour. Why? It is called reaction time. Unless you are a mind reader or the bad guy telegraphs the move – you cannot block a punch in time, let alone a knife if it is thrown properly from inside your critical distance.


I know what you are thinking (if you agree with my premise), the bad guy is probably not a trained fighter. Huh? I don’t know about you but when I train, I assume the other guy knows as much as I do…. I don’t assume he is a sloth! I will gladly look the gift horse in the mouth and take an easy win – I just do not want to depend on it.


Ok – last issue – what do I think of Mathew’s statement about knowing the close self-defense techniques against knife attacks just in case? I totally agree – one cannot depend on anything in a real fight! While I don’t like my chances fighting a knife on the inside – I think I have as good a chance as anyone!


So in review – if you are faced with a knife attacker – run if you can. If you cannot – fight from the outside – kicking and whatever (just like you might fight an unarmed attacker) but do not commit unless you are sure of an advantage. Remember that you probably have the advantage in a knife fight (even if the bad guy does not know it) and keep your head.


Most importantly remember that if the attacker gets inside your distance – you have to stick (pun intended) or move – waiting to get poked is not a great option! :)


If you have enjoyed this post – please consider subscribing to my RSS Feed.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

13 Responses to “Knife Attack! What Can You Do?”

  1. stabbed Says:

    About a decade ago somebody stabbed me with the intention of killing me. The attacker ambushed me and was trained and quick- I didn’t see it coming at all, and had a commando knife embedded in my chest before I knew that I was being attacked.
    I think if you’re being attacked with a knife by somebody whose intent is to kill, you are going to die unless you are very lucky.
    That having been said, the nicest move people taught me later- because everybody “knows better” and thinks they know the ultimate antidote to a knife attack- was an aikido wrist-slap. I didn’t see it in any of the posted videos, but it’s fast if done properly, and surprising. You slap the inside of the wrist and the back of the hand, and the knife goes flying. It wouldn’t have helped me, but I was convinced that it was a practical combat move, more so than anything I saw on these videos.

  2. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Yep – you bring up a good point! If you get ambushed – you don’t stand much of a chance. My only comment is you still should try and give yourself some distance if you can but if someone is inside your distance (arms reach) before you realize it – he can stab you if that is his intention – before you can react!!!
    I remember reading in Black Belt mag. when I was growing up about this karate instructor that was bragging that he defend against any knife attack. The news story went on to say he was stabbed in the back at a night club and later died.
    Thanks for your comment – I’m glad you made it.

  3. robb hamic Says:

    I teach the Israeli Martial art, Haganah. I am a tactical knife fighting instructor. Check out this site:

  4. Matt Klein Says:

    If you can see the weapon (and that’s a big if) the tools of Kali might give you a fighting chance. You stay offline, not staying in front of them, give them the outside of your wrists instead of the inside where the crucial veins are, and target eyes and throat with your strikes. This is a last resort if you are not able to pick up something or improvise a weapon, or run. You will get cut, there is no gettting around it.

  5. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Thanks for the link Robb – I check your site out and it looks like information.
    Hi Matt, I checked out Kali and yes – lots of hand to hand and knife fighting info. I am more of an optimist. If I can keep the attacker on the outside – he will not get a chance as I would take out his legs or such as fast as possible.
    On the inside – I would agree that getting cut during a defense is a real possibility. That’s why I like the hundreds of self-defense techniques we learned in Kenpo… I’m just hoping to avoid a close-in knife fight!
    Toby Massell at the re-union on Saturday told me about having to fight off a guy with an Ax handle. He took a downward glancing blow with his right forearm cover, was able to grab the Ax handle and chase the guy off. He sustained injuries but just bruises… he was lucky his training kicked in.
    Thanks for you insight Matt.

  6. Gerry DeYoung Says:

    I recently started a self defense products website because of the fact that some people, myself included, aren’t physically able to defend themselves unarmed. I hope that I can help others like me to not be so afraid. You are welcome to see what may help you at
    We believe in non violence but also the right to defend yourself.
    Thank you for your time,

  7. clint Says:

    wow, finally a great forum for info on evasive techniques, how to overpower, use attackers force to your advantage, and many other tricks and tips to be resilient in confrontation. Adding a simple pepper spray, or stunning device to the equation will give you that much more confidence, and leverage in any negative occurance. Please visit the site above, or for info and newsletters on protecting yourself,family, and all that is important to you. high voltage stun guns available, keychain peppersprays, and an infinite amount of products to help you get the upper hand. Hope to hear from you! stay safe, and prepared!

  8. clint Says:

    if you would like more info on how to protect you, your family,friends, and/or colleaques, visit us at of for details that may someday deem itself priceless….We offer the upper hand, and want to help you attain it. Products such as VISEC software, hidden cameras, child protection, and soooo much more. compare our prices, and we hope to make you happy, prepared, and confident.

  9. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Clint,
    I like site such as yours because not everyone will take the time to learn a martial art. Additionally having a layered defensive strategy is a good thing… who knows what will work in a real attack. I personally depend on staff’s and clubs in my home as I work out with them. On the street my wife carries pepper spray, we have large dogs in the back yard and I am proficient at karate… again a layer defense is what I believe will work best.

  10. Ash Says:

    correct me if im wrong but in most cases wouldnt it be advised that if you can run you would just take that often and try and exit the situation as fast as possible and seek help or find a weapon to use against that person?

  11. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Ash,
    Yes if you can exit safely, you have somewhere to go and you are fast enough, then I would say run.
    You might not have the opportunity or be middle aged like me (slow) so avoidance would not be a great strategy. Also if you are with family – flight is probably out so you will have to bargain or fight.
    I am in the situation where any young person could out run me but most could not fight there way out of a paper bag… When I got to about 35 years old – I made that decision.
    Thanks for drawing this issue out some – there are a lot of variables to consider.

  12. Fear the Blade! Defense Against Knife Attack | Says:

    […] timing are a sure recipe for failure under stress and panic.  And, finally, (in my experience) distance saves injury/lives as often as anything else might.  A system that encourages working from the outside and keeping […]

  13. self defense products Says:

    Hi, how are you doing. i visited your blog and i found it so interesting,i want bookmark it.
    self defense products