I can't believe the amount of fundamentally bad advice that is being given in this node. Some of the advice is not only irresponsible but downright dangerous.

Let us make a few assumptions and break down the readership of this node into a few groups.

  • Group one, those who are involved in the martial arts and interested in knife fighting for esoteric reasons. If this is the case, your best bet is to go study arnis, escrima, kali or other related Filipino martial art. Knife fighting as an art is a dirty business and not something that can be read about and meditated upon for improvement, it must be experienced.
  • Group two, intermediate to advanced students of a martial art form that actively teaches the knife as a primary weapon. For you guys who practice Filipino, Malaysian, Indonesian or other South/Southeast Asian weapon arts, this is more or less a joke node.
  • Group three, everyone else. You have stumbled across this node for any number of reasons. You do not really care to spend months or years studying how to use or defend against a knife but feel this information might be useful to know. Your interests are more properly defined as "How to survive a knife fight." The rest of this writeup is for you.

First, we will not concern ourselves with defending against professionals. Professionals are predictable, only not in a good way. You won't see it coming and the first indication that you are in a knife fight will be pain and a growing patch of red on your clothing. On the other hand, the world is full of amateurs. We're going to find out how to deal with these guys.

SharQ's advice is most fundamentally sound. Your first option is retreat. All other courses of action should lead back to option one. Forget about trying to use a knife. If you do not already know how to use a knife, you are not going to have an epiphany and figure it out the moment someone tries to stick one in you. There are a number of misconceptions about how to hold and use a knife, but we'll get to that later.

Fenylannar goes into technical detail about how to fight with a knife. I don't know what he considers "professional training" but his methods are not basic enough for our needs yet too specific to cover most of the situational bases. There seems to be an underlying assumption that you are out to defeat your opponent by cutting him. Our objective is survival, remember?

NightShadow propogates a couple very common misconceptions. First, you are not going to have time to take off an article of clothing, much less wrap it around your arm. In my experience, someone who is willing to stab you or cut you will not do you the courtesy of allowing you to get ready to fight. Think about how long it takes to take off your jacket. Those few seconds could mean your life. Think about how vulnerable a position the very action of taking off an article of clothing places you. Regardless of how you take off a jacket, there will be a moment where at least one arm will have restricted mobility and be down at your side instead of up and protecting your face and neck. More on that later. In addition, you run the risk of getting your arms caught in your coat while you are taking it off. Simple things become extremely complicated in a real fight. Second, if you happen to have your coat in your hand, you do not necessarily want to wrap your arm in it. Your coat or jacket is more useful for entangling and/or obscuring the knife blade. Think Spartacus - the gladiator with the net and trident. Properly done, he will either lose his grip or will need to pull/shake off the coat from his knife. You are going to use those few precious moments to make your escape. Third, a hard block is the last thing you want to do. When people try to block any kind of strike, they tend to chase the attacking limb, leaving their own bodies wide open to counterattack. You are going to leave your arms close to your body to protect your own vital spots.

The single most dangerous bit of advice given by more than one source is to grab the knife hand. Do not attempt to do this. Let me stamp my feet three times and say it again loudly. Do not attempt to grab the knife hand. The hand can move very quickly and you are more likely to get cut in the attempt than actually get a grip on his wrist, much less maintain it. If you don't believe me, experiment with a friend and some felt tip markers. Do this with an old shirt because its going to get dirty. You might be able to grab the wrist a few times, but it's not reliable.

So now you're thinking, okay you nimrod, you've told us half a dozen examples of what not to do, how about being proactive and telling us some things we can do? Here's a couple do's and a few more don'ts:

  • He cannot cut you if he cannot see you - start throwing things. Mugs, glasses, ashtrays, books, telephones - it doesn't matter. It is natural human instinct to duck and close your eyes when things are thrown at your head. Even better if there is beer in the glass. When I was younger and prone to getting into bar fights, if I were in a situation when I felt I had to fight dirty, the first thing I would reach for was a glass of beer. Throwing the beer in his face would create a moment of distraction and obscured vision - all that was needed for me to get in the first clean strike. In the knife fight scenario, you are buying time. While you are doing this, you should be searching for an escape route or weapon of your own. What is a good weapon? Anything that gives you a reach/range advantage. More on this later.

  • He cannot cut you if he cannot reach you - get obstacles between you and him. Chairs, trashcans and overturned tables are good obstacles for buying yourself time. If you are in a kitchen, pull out the drawers. If you're lucky, maybe some of those drawers will have forks, spoons and knives. Throw them. See above.

  • He cannot cut you if you have a shield - pick up something that he has to get past to stab you. Trashcan lids, big cooking pot lids, the cooking pot itself and even your backpack, shoulderbag or briefcase held between you and your opponent can be a shield. Be a lion tamer and grab a bar stool, chair or even a stove rack if that's all you can get a hold of. Hold with both hands and use it to knock away the knife hand if it gets too close. Don't get too attached to your shield if he manages to grab it and uses it to pull you to him. In that case, don't just let him have it, but really let him have it - stretch out your arms and use your shield as a battering ram to push him. A swift kick to the shins or a knee to groin and affect your escape. The key here is to keep your shield between your and your opponent, don't allow it to be jerked to the side and certainly don't get into pushing/pulling match - if your shield is jerked to one side, follow it around. You are a three dimensional being, you CAN move side to side.

  • He cannot cut you if he doesn't have a knife - disarm him. Forget all those fancy moves you've seen in martial arts action movies. Most of them don't work in real life even with years of training. I have a few dan ranks in hapkido and know half a dozen ways to stab a guy with his own knife while he's still holding onto it, but you're not going to catch me trying that stuff if I can get my hands on a decent weapon. Remember that weapon you were looking for? You're looking for anything that will give you a reach advantage, preferably something clublike. Crowbars, umbrellas, The Club (that thing that people use to secure their car steering wheels), ski poles and even frying pans will work (Hah! Quentin Tarantino stole my idea.) We're going to use our weapon to get rid of his weapon. More on that later.

  • Do not get option paralysis. Do something. Anything. Just don't do nothing. The worst thing you can do is freeze while you try to think of something to do. This is the trap that a lot of beginning to intermediate martial artists fall into. While they're trying to figure out the perfect response, the situation moves beyond them. Perfect is the enemy of good enough.

  • You can't buy new intestines. Don't let the value of any object get in the way of using or discarding it. You're going to feel like a real idiot when you're attached to a colostomy bag because you didn't want to break a few lamps or lose a few books.

Now you're thinking, geez, this guy has me stuck in a Jackie Chan movie, what next? A ladder? Lets figure out what do do with your weapon. Stand slightly oblique to your attacker. Don't square off. Pull your hands up to your chin, old school boxing style, with your inner wrists pointed in towards your body. Relax your shoulders, arms and hands. The trick to keeping relaxed is to drop your shoulders. If they're hunched, you're too tight. Tense and tight is bad.

The back of your hands and wrists should be pointed outwards. This is so that if you do get cut, your major veins are okay and but much more importantly, you have not compromised your grip. Look down at your wrist. See those blue lines? If those veins get cut and are left unattended, you will eventually bleed to death but it's actually going to take a while to bleed out. Hopefully enough time to affect an escape and seek medical attention. Now make a fist. See those cords that just popped up? Those get cut and you're pretty much fucked right then and there - you can no longer form a fist or hold onto anything. This is going to seriously negatively affect your ability to fight.

Lower your head, but don't tuck your chin too tightly. This is to minimize your exposed neck area - a stray slash that cuts your chin or your cheek is okay, your throat, not so much. After all, facial scars add character and chicks dig scars. The only thing that that people are going to dig if your throat gets cut is your grave. Your weak side is slightly forward. Your strong hand should be holding your weapon, your weak hand should be about chin level. This arm is going to get cut. Sorry. This is real life and not a Steven Seagal movie.

If you are an experienced martial artist or someone who has been in a lot of fights, you are going to have an easier time telling the feints from the committed attack. Otherwise, your weak side arm is going to have to be both bait and shield. When the committed attack comes, you are going to counter attack with your weapon. Your target is his forearm. Do not focus on the knife. The knife and hand holding it are low probability targets. The hands are too agile and are a small target so your chances of hitting hard enough for your attacker to drop his weapon are slim. The forearm is a much larger and has a smaller relative range of motion. The ideal target is the boney area right behind the wrist but any hard strike with a heavy object to the top of the forearm is going to cause him to lose his grip on the knife. The idea is to start your swing as soon as you see him start his stab or cut and meet him when he is extended. If he is withdrawing when you swing, its too late. Keep your swing short and controlled, wildly swinging will only expose yourself. If you do this correctly, you should have a weapon and your attacker won't. Ho ho ho. You are no longer in a knife fight. Proceed to kick ass normally.

Maybe you're thinking, okay you putz, the title is how to WIN a knife fight, not how to de-escelate one. What if I found a knife in my hand and I don't have the option to run away? What if aliens abducted me and forced me to participate in bloodsports for the amusement of their beautiful amazonian princesses? ..... Ahem.

Assuming that you are not the knife wielding homicidal maniac in this scenario, we are going to assume a defensive posture. Same stance as above, but now we're holding a knife in the strong hand. The strategy of circle and cut described by Fennylar has some applicability here, but since our primary goal is self preservation, we are not going to hold the knife in the most versatile manner, but the best defensive one. The knife is point down with the blade pointed outward held at shoulder level. When the lunge comes, you will circle to your strong side by pivoting on your forward foot, drop the knife tip downwards, then make a circular cut upwards on his forearm. You are targetting the area around the crook of the elbow. Forget about trying to cut the wrist, its not going to happen without a lot of practice. Why are we gripping and cutting in this manner? So you end up in a defensive stance again, with your neck and face protected. The tendency when cutting with the handshake grip on a knife is to overextend thereby leaving yourself open. When you make that circle cut upwards, if you miss, you miss, no big deal. Its simple, which is why beginners find it easier to pick up. Repeat until your opponent gives up, collapses, or those Amazons take you away to be their love slave.