Problem With Knife Fighting

On the internet...

In videos...

With the clients that I see...

Knife fighting "has become" this standardized thing
where you:

#1 Face your opponent in the same lead.

#2 Try to cut only his lead arm/hand.

After training this way for years people generally
develop a tendancy to lean in and leave their head
open. BUT... no one tried to cut that line so they
never realize it. When you do take a head shot
people say "You did it wrong. You must defang the

Defang the snake is GREAT. But if your head is
open that too is "defanging the snake".

I've also seen too many cut for cut plays. You
should be developing your skill so that you can
make "low cost or no cost" cuts.

For "basic" long range knife fighting we like to
focus on:

Dexterity/Grip (too many people still drop their
knifes when fighting).


Cutting to the high (head) - Middle (hand/arm/body)
- low line (thigh/leg)

Switching leads while sparring so that you train
against left and right lead fighters.


Use of the empty hand for deflections

After these skills are down we move into close
quarters knife.

Knife fighting is just "that". A KNIFE FIGHT. It needs
to appear that way when you train. Too often it is a
duel or even worse a rediculous display of cut for



Agree with you 100%.............

Raymond Floro

To be practical it also has to be a lot less a knife fight and more like a knife attack. Unless maybe you are a biker or hang out with bikers. LEOs go to a lot more stabbings than we do knife fights.


Guy gets you in a headlock/clinch and starts stabbing you.

Guy sucker punches you with knife.

Ground fight suddenly getting nastier when knife is pulled.

Guy charges you from within 21' with edged weapon, you are unarmed or armed but weapon not deployed, and have to get off line using the training Demi has described.


Demitri,You may want to take a look at this video which shows Ray from the post above showing why defanging the snake is nowhere as effective as cutting it's head


Excellent points. But how dare you speak out against the "standard quo"? ;) And how dare you speak out against going "cut for cut"? Isn't trading blows like they have no effect, the essense of realistic training?

(Being sarcastic if you haven't noticed)

On a side note, I also think that slashing motions are not the way to go. People can get sliced in the face and head and keep going. I haven't seen too many people keep going after a knife has been jammed through their skull and into their brain. :)



You also make excellent points. However, in a few of the scenarious you mentioned, I think you are just shit out of luck if it happens to you and there is very little you can do. I think a really big part of defending against that type of situation is awareness. I remember when I was in college and Roy Harris was a police officer, he told me many of the "tactics" he used when it came to awareness. I can say that when watching most officers on the job, I don't see them do that stuff that stuff.

Great post Demi!

I dispensed with 90% of the knife techniques I had collected over the years by simply changing 3 things about my training.

1. My training partner and I added 3 weapon fencing masks and began activly incorporating high line attacks. We were already attacking middle and low.

2. We started training medium/full contact with dowels and minimal padding consistent with what we had seen in the Dog Brothers videos.

3. We video taped all training/sparring and were ruthless in our personal evaluations. We used this feedback to focus on problem areas between active training sessions.

With pain as an incentive, we quickly changed tactics. Our footwork improved, respect for attacks increased due to instant feedback (pain), and we actively expanded our defense (movement, checking, passing, etc).

After 6 months of experimentation we had a simple and effective system that integrated our Thai Boxing with our knife work. It was easy to remember, practice, and deploy.

Now when we consider new techniques they go through the same testing regardless of the source.

Next comes incorporation of blitz attacks. That should be interesting.

Yup, and my biggest pet peeves are lack of asymmetrical training and lack of draw drills.


Sounds good. Reminds me of the way Demi and I used to train back in the day. Good stuff.


:) Bludhall, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

Hey Demi,

Is this really true? I wouldn't dream of playing with knives without a fencing mask on nor would I dream of leaning in all that much to cut a hand if it could be avoided. A better option to cut the hand is to move in a little with the rear foot first, then make a very short lunge. This enables you to drop your hips straight down rather than having to make a long lunge.

"Stealing a Pace" as it is called by fencers buys you both the time and the angulation to avoid being counterthrust in the head by maximising your reach (ie your arm goes out straight) and minimising his (by making him come down to you). It goes without saying that you have to spring away quickly after your delivery.

As my Kali instructor once said to me. Why defang the snake when you can cut off it's head?

Further to this, if most of your training is duelling knife to knife then you aren't practising what I would call reality training anyway. Chances are you aren't going to see a knife even if one is involved unless you are in a holdup situation.

Reality training is learning to deal with a stabbing attack under the pressure of surprise not starting at wide distance and fighting it out. Look at the difference in the way a sparring match goes down when one guy is given a knife and the other isn't. It isn't a fight, it's an assault! Now do the same thing but allow the knifer to begin the assault whenever he likes. Now turn the lights down low or off. Can you see what I am getting at?

The same thing as above is likely to happen in a real fight whether both parties are armed or not. There will be no time for "feeling the other chap out" or "gauging his style", the winner will be "he who moves the fastest with the mostest" and you know what? In a knife fight where each is trying to incapacitate the other as fast as possible both parties are extremely likely to be hurt.
Just my .02


I would disagree, if only in terms of mindset/philosophy. You are NEVER S.O.L. You may have the odds stacked against you, as they very clearly will be in the situations I have described, but that doesn't mean there is nothing you can do, or that training what to do won't be helpful - indeed instrumental, in saving your life. People have overcome in such situations and won, and I think options and realities need to be trained.

You make a good point for awareness, it is the best defense against this kind of thing, and allows pre-emptive action. But I would only point out that it is hard to be "on" all the time in the real world when things are happening very quickly. Stuff gets missed, and one or two officers can only watch so many people's hands at the same time - and some people do stuff you never expect even when you are aware.

I know its not your own or Roy's reasoning, but some trainers seem to use "awareness" as a fall back to avoid realistic training that goes outside their comfort level, as many of the folks that say "you don't want to be on the ground in a real fight" often say so to avoid much training in survival ground work.

I think the most important thing to remember about
knife fighting is that if you cut someone you will
probably wind up in jail. So, put a lot of thought into
it before you even carry a knife, let alone pull one. If
you have one and the other guy doesn't (most of
the time) and you know what you are doing it is
virtually an assasination - not self defense.


Hello Everyone,

Great thread!

I know way to many students, arts and schools who think that sparring aka "the duel" is a realistic approach to training for the street. They are only partially correct. As an attribute enhancer, sparring is an essential part of a fighter's training regime. For realism, and to develop street applicable tactics, a student should also add scenario based drills, force on force practice, surprise attacks, counters and practice from disadvanted positions, just to name a few other methodologies. Practicing with a weapon, any weapon, requires the person to become familiar with when to, and how to access it, from a variety of situations. As well it also dictates that if you choose to carry, become very familiar with the legal ramifications of personal protection. Lsat but not least, I would also add medical management to the list of training items.


Guro Steve L.


I would agree with you. Its kinda like Judo, BJJ or submission grappling randori - they aren't like real fights, but they develop the attributes most important in real fighting.

The key to making them practical and street applicable is with force on force drilling, scenario training, etc. as you laid out.

I have some questions for you re: your experiences training in a FMA blade art and Japanese blade based JJ/close combat styles (a la Bujinkan). I will start another thread on that, though.