Since prehistoric man smashed two flints together and accidentally formed a sharp edge, blades have been a necessary part of the human experience. We don't have claws or sharp teeth and four hundred pounds of muscle to drag down gazelle, and you aren't going to tear the meat off a carcass with your bare hands unless you've got bear hands. Fortunately we are among the few creatures smart enough to use tools. So throughout human existence we have hunted by hitting living things with denser, sometimes sharpened, inanimate things. Bullets, arrows, pianos winched into position above the target; it is all the same principle.
Blades are so important to our working and home lives though, and so easy to find or even make, that anyone from the desperate criminal to your angry five-year-old niece can find something to stab or slash another person with if they are so moved. There are no background checks on a chef's knife, after all. If your zanshin is up to snuff and you are functioning like a true martial artist—distrusting even your nearest and dearest and mentally running through how you would set up the throat punch on the person you're talking to at any time—you might never find yourself at knife point. But what if you do, huh, dummy? All those hours of rolling around under sweaty men are only going to get you ventilated like Swiss cheese on the street, Holes Gracie. Fortunately while you were superficially putting in the rounds and the miles to get a six pack, real martial artists are studying the blade.
Run or Fight?
The traditional response to the blade question has always been that there is no better defence against a knife than roadwork: just be able to run decently well and do it at the first opportunity. But just as with every other aspect of martial arts, there are dissenting opinions and different principles from style to style. The Russian art of Systema follows the same principles of "confront a gun, flee a blade" that so many other combative systems do. The difference is that Systema never turns the back to the knifeman.
That is Martin Wheeler, world famous Systema expert and endorsed by the great Rigan Machado. Now, you might be saying that those knife attacks were slow as molasses.
You might be thinking that that they weren't really trying to stab Wheeler because of the weird, cultish suggestibility of the kind of person who would attend a Systema seminar.
When you see Wheeler and his friend throwing tennis balls at each other and quick drawing as they fall into shooting positions from the movies, you might even be ready to call this LARPing. But I would point out to the sceptic that the video title from Wheeler's own youtube channel insists that those knife attacks were full speed. I would also call you a 'non-believant' and walk away from the conversation. This would, in fact, just further prove the practical application of that principle of evasion.
But retreat and evasion is just one answer to the knife problem, and as effective as it is it cannot answer every scenario on its own. There are alternatives to fleeing though. A practitioner of kyusho, for instance, would never run from a knife encounter. In fact looking at many of the seventh and eighth dan grand masters of kyusho, one might come to the conclusion that they couldn't run. Such is their confidence in their art. And, of course they actually deal with the issue of being grabbed.
My go to authority on this is Evan Pantazi, a man so good at Kyusho that he allegedly rejected an eighth dan from George Dillman and left to do his own thing. Pantazi has been prolific with his DVD output and believes that Kyusho can counter almost any attack and even produced the leading instructional on chi fuelled lovemaking, Kyusho Sex Points.
Pantazi's advice goes to some peculiar places. He's very keen to protect the vital organs and wrists when dealing with a knife, but treats the back of the body as if getting stabbed there is no biggie.
As you would expect, there's a lot of hitting points on the wrists to release stern grips. But this clip sums up one of the criticisms many would level at Pantazi's approach. That is that if someone is showing you the knife, and hasn't just walked up to you and stabbed you, it is because they want something from you and the knife is there to prevent a struggle. Most of the time that is your wallet, in which case why immediately slap the guy's hands and escalate the situation, especially if it doesn't work first time. In this demonstration Pantazi even misses his point (or his partner fails to comply) as he begins to show how much more effective getting the right point is. That could be problematic.High grade bullshido.
But you have to give Pantazi points for flair. This fabulous pirouetting gun disarm is worthy of Master Rayllamm.
Dropping all the jesting though, everything Pantazi shows is an attack designed entirely around using Kyusho to counter it. The thinking was "I have to touch this dude's wrists but don't want to be stabbed." It is starting at the solution and working backwards to invent the problem. So we have numerous examples of defeating an opponent who is holding a knife against your throat with his arms nicely straightened (to the degree that he couldn't stab into the neck if he wanted to) so they can be parried...
And opponents who are lunging with the karate stepping punch thrust of the knife from a few meters away. We live in the internet age, if you want to see a stabbing you can quite quickly find one. Most of the time stabbings are about anchoring with one hand and repeatedly shanking the guy with the other hand.
Maybe, maybe you will encounter a dribbling, mouth breathing moron who will place the gun or the knife against you and conveniently let go with the other hand as you execute your sick parry or turn. But the reality is that most people will hold a knife with their strong hand, and use the other hand to either grab or push—there isn't much teaching required to do that. As I mention every time we have a chuckle at some of the absolutely deluded nonsense put out under the banner of 'self defence', you can test this at any time. Get yourself a cheap white t-shirt and a tube of lipstick. Actually allow your partner to try, then see how your shirt comes out. But no one likes doing that because it is a harsh, if harmless, encounter with reality. Certainly to a lifelong practitioner of one of these traditional arts who has to believe he has an answer for every situation and that his time hasn't just been wasted, it is going to be a bitter pill to swallow.
Unless you are backed into a corner and the situation has already escalated to the point where the knifeman wants to actually murder you, striking into their knife hand isn't going to help you.
Charging a man who is lunging from a distance where you could easily run away instead, isn't going to help you.Running samurai movie bitchslap.
Practicing knife defences against unresisting opponents going through set, pre-arranged motions is not going to help you. In fact it is wasting your time and if you ever do find yourself in a situation where someone is showing you a knife and demanding your wallet, then you try your knife defence, you are wasting your life. No amount of dans on your red belt are worth that.
If you are still thinking that there might be a decent way around a knife, there is—it's called "getting two hands on the knife hand" and it is decent in the same way any way of dealing with multiple attackers is 'decent'. It is just slightly less crap than the other methods presented and might buy you seconds as you look to run the hell out of dodge. I will leave you with Jon Fitch, world class welterweight fighter and lifelong wrestler, struggling with a lightly resisting opponent while working with a 'shock knife'. A stark reminder of why for most people, most of the time, in most parts of the world it is probably best to simply hand over your wallet and cancel your credit cards when you get home.