Countering knife attacks

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The desire for practical knowledge on how to defend and survive against a knife attack or similar bladed weapons is one of the main reasons why people seek  martial arts training. Though various martial arts techniques differ in dealing with this deadly scenario, their principles agree at certain points.

 Eskrima de Abaniko chief instructor Clifford Rosaroso (left) demonstrates a close-quarter combat technique.  CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Eskrima de Abaniko chief instructor Clifford Rosaroso (left) demonstrates a close-quarter combat technique. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Krav maga way
Dindo de Jesus, regional director for Asia of International Krav Maga Federation, said knife attacks are fast, requiring only small movements, and brutal.

De Jesus said there are two common knife attacks: an overhand stab that starts high and continues to a downward thrust; and an underhand stab that starts low then upwards, which he said is the more dangerous of the two.

According to him, less common methods yet still as dangerous are straight stabs that are mostly employed in a knife fight, slashing attacks, and other unorthodox methods.


One advice useful against these attacks is to never attempt to catch the stabbing hand.

“One doesn’t need to disarm the knife for disarming is very technical and very hard to do,” De Jesus said. “The objective is to create distance from your attacker. If the attacker lunges again, use regular front kicks or defensive forward kicks for defense.”

Once an attack is launched, he said practitioners of krav maga, a self-defense system from Israel, employ the “360-degree defense”, a forearm block accompanied by a series of punches, and a kick to the groin. A variation wherein the forearm is used to block inward is used against straight stabs and slashes.

FMA approach
Filipino martial arts (FMA) maestro and scribe Celestino Macachor said that one should determine the precursors of an attack and be aware of one’s surroundings, especially in areas with high crime incidents. “Run if you can, I suggest all serious self-defense advocates spend a bigger percentage of their training in cardio workout than senseless drills.”

FMA practitioners are known for their skilful use of sticks, knives, swords, staves, and expedient weapons.

But if a fight is unavoidable he also eschews the thought of attempting disarming techniques and counsels to protect the center mass at all times. “Statistics prove that most knife wounds are concentrated on the center mass of the human anatomy,” he said, adding that one could protect himself by tucking in his arms.

For trained individuals, he warned that even gross motor skills break down in such a scenario and one should limit his repertoire of techniques. He said to focus on jamming the elbows rather than attempt grabbing the weapon hand. “Elbows travel at a very narrow radius and easier to neutralize.”

Meeting violence with violence is essential in surviving a deadly assault, according to Macachor, adding that the real focus should not be on the weapon, but on the individual holding it. “Like your assailant who wants to take away your life, you retaliate with a real intent in killing the attacker.”

Close-quarter combat
Clifford Rosaroso, founder of FMA system Eskrima de Abaniko and who has held various security jobs, said that a person threatened by a knife should always consider surviving than engaging. If engagement is unavoidable, however, he said gulang, or dirty tactics, should come into play.

When being attacked, he said that one should use distractions to disrupt the focus of the assailant. If there is any, a long weapon such as a piece of lumber can be utilized to keep distance and can be used as a weapon.

“Target the nearest fatal area like the head,” Rosaroso said when one decides to counter attack, adding that one can be a difficult target through constant movement.

If one is armed and engaged in an actual knife fight, Rosaroso also advocates the use of body movement, but with a slight difference: getting out of the angle of attack and closing in on the attacker instead of creating distance. “Defense through offense. Control and do not be controlled,” he said, echoing a popular adage known among FMA practitioners and close quarters combat advocates.

Rosaroso counselled against wasted movements, saying that one should attack with every opportunity. He also counselled against a defensive mind-set where the defender is waiting for the assailant to attack before taking action. “Don’t follow his rhythm; make him dance to your tune.”

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