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Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture
Weapon Defence

Hi All,

As a first thread in the new self-protection section, I thought a discussion on “weapons defence” would be a good idea.

This is “inspired” by a recent search of you-tube where I was subjected to a plethora of x-blocks, followed by arm-locks, followed by disarms, followed by stabbing the enemy with his own knife (which is hardly fair as he was kind enough to stand still and give them the knife in the first placecrying).

I was genuinely annoyed by the amount of really poor, life threatening material shown. So let’s help give people some better quality advice. How do you drill “weapon’s defence”? What have you seen that you feel was very practical? What are common mistakes to be avoided? All thoughts will be gratefully received.

All the best,


unclefester's picture

I am in complete agreement with you Iain.  There are plenty of videos on Youtube that if applied in real life would almost certainly end in death.  So to start things off the first common mistake I think people make is to believe they can easily take on someone with a knife.  Personally, after 20 years of study, I would rather run as fast as I could given the opportunity, or to comply and give them my wallet etc.  If I absolutely had to then I would expect to get cut and bleed.

DaveHaze's picture

We train with the guy with the knife usualy just coming in and pumping in stabs as we try to control the arm / knife. At the same time, if you can control that arm the attacker may start slamming some punches into you with the other hand. I don't see this as a salution to a knife attack but it gives people a more realistic knowledge of what being attacked is like.

I really do not have a salution for this type of attack. Many of my friends that train think you can disarm the attacker and they will not get cut. We do this drill with them with markers and they have marks all over them. Your going to get cut.

Leigh Simms
Leigh Simms's picture

Don't want to sound like a "pragmatic drone" but its surely best to drill awareness. A good drill for this Is to have the students randomly attacked in the class and for them to defend themselves (either by using a fence to keep the fight from happening and/or pre-empting) or having to use their bunkai drills if they were unaware.

Now the new dimension for weapons, which i am yet to try, would be to have some of the "Plants" in the class to have a rubber knife, and to do exactly the same as above. 

An additional point, would be to maybe disorientate the defender first. As its hard to create the same kind of "fear/stress" that comes with weapon confrontation, we could disorientate the defender to make their jobs a lot more difficult.

mattsylvester's picture

One thing that we definitely don't do is 'feeding' i.e. the attacker steps in with a thrust and then leaves the thrusting hand out there.

The first thing we teach is the 'you can't turn and run' based on Vince Morris' teaching. This is where his studies have shown that if someone is within 21 feet and armed with a knife, you can't be assured of getting away safely. We do this by  having a student with a training knife stand at the far end of the hall. We then ask our students to stand where they think they can safely turn and run away. The look on most people's faces when they constantly get caught by the attacker is very telling. 21 feet is a long way when you look at it, and even then we have students getting caught over that distance due to not fully committing to the escape.

Our first method of defence is what Jim Wagner calls the 'Tactical L'. This is where you are attacked with a knife from the front. This can be stabs or swings. The defender attempts to move backward as fast as possible using the outside of their arms to shield against the attack (striking the attacker's arms as they do so). Then at some point they cut to either the left or right at a 90 degree angle. They use that space to either close with the attacker (securing the knife hand etc), to try to impede them by attacking the legs, or to do a plain escape.

HawaiianBrian's picture

Ah, weapons training.  The bane of existence for any martial artist.

I'll talk more about situation and pressure testing rather than techniques here, especially ones that I've developed over the past while.

Mattsylvester rightly pointed out one of the biggest flaws in knife training: feeding.  This is something I feel must be avoided at all costs.  I was trained under the feeding principle (hell, I was even told that handshakes are the same as knife attacks!) so I can attest to its ineffectiveness. 

Using protective gear is greatly beneficial to knife (or shank) defense training as it allows both the defender to know if his/her counter striking was effective and allows the attacker to see the same.  Protective gear including face cagesand shin/instep and forearm protection greatly enhance training.

The necessity for gear is because of the scenarios one must go through (both parties, ideally should wear equipment).  A lot of knife defenses include controlling the knife and people wrestling over it, but I think that once it gets to that level, the training needs to further reflect people's actions in accordance with the scenario.  If the defender starts to wrestle the weapon, the attacker should (and would) start hitting back in an attempt to dislodge the defender's grip; the presence of the protective gear allows these kinds of dynamic training methods to be carried out.  All knife attack scenarios should include the full dynamics of violent encounters including the attacker's counter striking; not just the knife and technique(s).

In terms of scenarios, I think that training in confined spaces is effective and realistic.  Also, methods such as surprise attacks work well, such as having the defender up against the wall and the attacker attacking as soon as the defender truns around at speed and force.  Still more examples include prison yard rushes and the one that many hate doing, the attacker coming in with a hand in the pocket and a distracting hand, acting non-threatening, then exploding into a knife frenzy  Given that the knife is such a lethal weapon and used as such, any defenses and training should be done in those kind of worst-case scenarios with protective gear to allow for the full range of options against weapon attacks.

Last, but certainly not least, training should focus on multiple stabs and slashes.  Many a knife defense technique begins and ends with a single attack, with the arm conveniently straight for an armbar and the attacker compliant for control, rather than the wild, slashing, stabbing assault that is more common.

Hope this helps!


Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

HawaiianBrian wrote:
Last, but certainly not least, training should focus on multiple stabs and slashes.  Many a knife defense technique begins and ends with a single attack, with the arm conveniently straight for an armbar and the attacker compliant for control, rather than the wild, slashing, stabbing assault that is more common.

That’s a very valid point and I feel this is “one step sparring” doing it’s evil thing again. An oi-zuki with a knife in the hand is nothing like what would be faced in reality. While I’m not a fan of one step training generally, I can accept that people still want to include it for various reasons. However, one-step “knife defences” are so dangerous I don’t feel there can be any justification for them.

Other training methods employed in the martial arts are also problematic though. For example, knife flow drills that have people slashing each other to pieces condition people to stay and fight as opposed to facilitate effective escape.

“You will get cut” is potentially an extremely dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy; and yet we hear it a lot. Using the outside of your arms to cover vital areas is also another fallacy that would get your arms flayed to the bone (try it with practise knives and see if you can avoid thinking of the black knight in Monty Python's "The Holy Grail"). “Pat, Wrap, Attack” has a tendency to get you messed up during the “wrap” stage (although “pat - attack” has more merit).

So much of the “accepted wisdom” does more harm than good and there is not much good quality information out there. Marc MacYoung’s “Surviving a Street Knife Attack” is a joyous exception to the rule. Extremely good and the realistic demonstrations should leave people in no doubt that 99% of what is taught throughout the martial arts has no chance of actually working.

All the best,


Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

Wasn't it Fairbairn who said there was no sure defence against a knife so the best bet was to run or use, "a lightning fast kick to the groin".

When pushed further on what he'd do he simply said, "I don't do lightning fast any more".  (I can relate to that)

I enjoyed Lee Morrisons 'On the sharp edge' course and it reminded me how little I know.  I was stabbed myself in the 80's but luckily it was 'just' a screwdriver and it hit my hipbone rather than a vital organ.  I put the man down and escaped and still only hazily remember the details, it was over quickly and definately not technical. 

It was a horrible and painful experience though so running is now my first option.  Failing that I'll look for a force multiplier rather than trying any fancy stuff!


Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

Curiosity aroused I looked back to where I read the above:

One of the motivating causes for the interest in the fighting knife was the discovery that even Fairbairn ("The Greatest of Them all") had no real defense against a knife in the hands of trained fighters. We knew a number of ways of disarming men with pistols, some of them relatively safe. Even trying to disarm a person with a knife is dangerous, unless the person attacks with the dramatic "assassin's stab" holding the knife like an ice-pick overhead. For that kind of stupidity there is a clear and positive response, fortunately. But even for the Paris "Apache's" style coming in low, with the knife edge upward and aiming at the guts, Fairbairn had only two suggestions


B. "With a lighting-like kick of either foot, kick him in the testicles or stomach."

But when my brother asked him to demonstrate this move, "Willie never even got up from his desk he just said, 'You missed the phrase lighting-like. I don't do lighting-like any more.'"


shoshinkanuk's picture

im far from competent in this area, awareness and escape is certainly my primary teaching.

a couple of drills we use inc -

1. multiple flow drill attacks - the attacks just keep coming, don't get cut or stabbed - teaches us to move, and cover our vitals - then break the flow and make it more dynamic.

2. knife attacker puts the armour on and goes for it, defneder can hit 'heavy' to see how the strikes work, or not in terms of creating gaps and space.

The biggest issue I find is getting our guys to attack in a wild and persistant manner - were all to nice.............

The marker pen drill is an eye opener for sure.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Our emphasis is on escaping and if that fails … jamming the drawing arm / holding arm, smashing them in the head and then escaping.

If the enemy is too close to run away from, but too far away to safely jam and hit, we adopt a posture (arms up and “pleading”) which makes slashing the head, neck and body difficult – the arms are in the way – and hence a straight stab is more likely and they are easier to block. As soon as contact with the enemy’s arm is made it is back to jam, smash and escape. Far from ideal but what we feel to be the best option in the circumstances.

If it all goes completely wrong, then it’s a matter of getting to an angle while controlling the weapon arm as we try to take out the head (and kata and the related bunkai drills are full of controlling the limbs as strikes are delivered to the head and neck, so this is base skill). “Fighting” is nowhere near as effective as getting distance though and it’s a travesty to see it taught as the primary option so often.

We don’t do any disarms or anything complex and the majority of practise time is spent on escaping and proactively jamming the arm, smashing the head and then escaping.

I dislike the term “Weapons Defence” because it puts the emphasis on the “weapon” and on “defence”. The weapon is not what we should be fixating on. It’s the guy wielding the weapon that we should be concentrating on … we either get distance from that person; or if we can’t, then we need to strike that person so we can. The “weapon” will keep coming if we don’t address the person wielding it. “Defence” is also a bad term as it infers we defend while the bad guy attacks. Personally, I prefer the idea of pre-emptively and proactively escaping; or jamming, smashing then escaping.

I can’t recall who said this to me, but I once heard that there are two good ways of dealing with a weapon: “Run like f### or fight like f###!” A little simplistic but I see the wisdom in that :-)

All the best,


Phil Miles
Phil Miles's picture

This is actually one of the reasons I left my previously club,  I was not happy teaching beginners that they could magically 'dodge' knives and take down the opponent.

Personally I think a car is a good defence - it has a tough shell and goes pretty quick!

In my personal opinion:

1. Don't be there!

2.Be able to identify a potential situation as early as possible (threat/aggro awareness)  then see 1.

3.Run! - using whatever means keeps the weapon from you, if you have room to hurl objects and cause distraction thus avoiding physical confrontation then great!

4. If it does come down to a physical situation,  protect yourself, strike hard and as fast as you can to incapacitate the attacker  (read as: stop them from continuing the attack) and RUN.

By my interpretation this is not a fight - I describe a fight as a mutually agreed scenario - squaring off etc.

The type of situation above is an attack and always should be - it can only ever be a fight if you're at war and both armed or you have no-where to go and you have a bigger/better weapon, they maybe it's a fight - but it's still pushing it.

I like the use of a marker pen when training in such scenario's, I think it really opens a person's eyes to what really happens.


Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:

I can’t recall who said this to me, but I once heard that there are two good ways of dealing with a weapon: “Run like f### or fight like f###!” A little simplistic but I see the wisdom in that :-)

I like that and will immediately start using it.  Not just for weapons though, I'd roll it out for pretty much every scenario that has the potential to get painful.