This is an article I wrote a couple of years ago about ‘knife attacks’ & how they relate to martial arts training….
By John Wetherell (White Rose Martial Arts)
The Statistics available on knife crime in the UK vary depending on the source from which you draw your figures. The results can sometimes be contradictory to each other and some experts may say, misleading.
Many people, including journalists use statistics which are drawn from both the ‘British Crime Survey’ (BCS) and the ‘Police Recorded Statistics’ (PCRS). There is a significant difference in the number of knife crime incidents recorded by these two reports. For 2007-2008 the PCRS recorded 22,000 incidents and the BCS survey recorded 130,000!
The following excerpt is from the www.insight-security.com website:
“The new figures indicate that in the year 2007-8 there were some 277 deaths from stabbings in England & Wales alone (the highest recorded figure for 30 years). This represents an average death toll as a direct result of stabbings of over 5 for every week of the year”
Media / Public Perception
The media has played a big role in highlighting knife crime mainly amongst youths in gangs. This has had a positive effect of making people aware of the very real dangers of fatalities and serious injuries that can so easily occur from a bladed weapon. There are arguments to say that such reports give a distorted view of society as a whole and that the fear of knife crime is greater than the threat to most people. It is ok that people are now more aware of the dangers of knife crime and they take reasonable precautions but at the same time get on with their daily lives. However, the fear can create a paranoia that becomes paralysing to the point that some people are scared to leave their home due to what they have read in the paper. For a large section of society the threat of knife crime is minimal yet obviously still present. The housewife in suburbia faces little risk of exposure to such crimes compared to the housewife who lives in Hackney. Moreover the threat of such a crime in Hackney will be far less for those (the majority) who are not involved in criminal gangs.
This section is not meant to disregard the very real threat that everyone could face from a person with a knife, but instead to highlight the way the media creates fear and feed people’s fears. Without labouring the point, the media can be irresponsible in their reporting of traumatic events.
In an attempt to analyse the different type of knife attacks it is useful to break them down into different categories i.e.: the attacker’s motives and different scenarios.
Robbery is a common motive of a knife wielding attacker. Here the attack could be pre-meditated and planned, i.e. the attacker (or attackers) know you are in possession of valuables/money etc.. and have planned their attack. In this case they are likely to be more skilled than the average opportunist and the best course of action would be to comply with them and hand over the goods. This would be in the case of the ‘professional’ criminals who would have set up the situation so as to give the average man on the street little to no option of negotiating his way/fighting his way out. Here the attacker’s demands will be clear and precise. The threat of violence to you with a knife (or multiple people with knives/weapons) is designed to give them the upper hand psychologically, so you are even less inclined to try anything heroic.
So this is a mugging where the attacker(s) is using the ‘threat’ of the knife as a psychological deterrent but they themselves would prefer not to (may not even be prepared) to use it. Unfortunately this is not always the case; there are instances where the attacker will be prepared to use the knife, may want to be given an excuse to use the knife, may use it after you have given in to your demands or may panic and use the knife without ‘meaning to’.
We must also remember the opportunist mugging, where an attacker spots an opportunity and you happen to be at the ‘wrong place at the wrong time’. The attacker could be on his/her own and believe that their knife will get you to give in to their demands. Again, they may or may not be prepared or want to use the knife. They may be up close or at a distance (within lunging distance) or perhaps further away but with an accomplice on the other side or behind you (pincer movement). The situation may be in a side street or in a busy place. There have been many reports of people being mugged at the Notting Hill carnival; where victims have a knife pointed to their stomach before they know it, surrounded by a gang who are actually using the noise of the event and the amount of people to their advantage. There have been cases of this happening where the victim has handed over wallet, money etc and still been stabbed as the muggers most likely wished to ‘prove themselves’ in front of their peers.
Abduction / Rape
A knife may be used by a single attacker or a group to gain cooperation for a more serious crime (this is not intended to downplay the seriousness of a mugging). A knife can be a powerful weapon in an attacker’s arsenal in overwhelming a person to get their full cooperation. Again the attack may be at a distance, up close (knife in stomach or to the throat) or from behind (knife to back or to the throat – i.e. in some kind of ‘choke’).
If we look at abduction first. In this case the motives for abduction may be financial (i.e. the person in question has access to a lot of money). Here the gang is likely to be organised (maybe employing people with ‘good’ experience in such matters) so the threat of violence is always there. Maybe they will inflict violence on a smaller scale, i.e. punching and kicking the victim but the threat of more violence is ever present i.e. knife in the stomach.. Again any organised criminal gang would try and give the average person no option but to cooperate.
Instances of abduction of women and children for sexual gratification generally tend to involve a single male attacker. Here again the attacker could be up close, in front, behind or to the side of the attacker. The knife could be at the person’s throat, pointed at their stomach or in their back. One of the psychological elements of such an attack that is often reported is that the attacker will be fearful (despite or maybe because of the adrenalin in their body). The attacker wants a quiet, fearful and compliant defender.
There are also: Knife attacks which are crime of passion, revenge attacks, Car jackings, or attacks in the car, group fights, initiations into gangs, often young gangs – goading groups or single/vulnerable males and even pre-arranged knife fights; here the simple advice would be, to not be there in the first the place!
Martial Arts & knife attacks
Martial artists down the years have always (for very good reason) tried to deal with fighting and ‘self defence’ in a logical way. They therefore create systems designed to deal with a whole range of eventualities. The very definition of a system would indicate to some that the fact it is a system in itself is a limitation due to the fact that boundaries are being imposed. Systems are great for developing skills and if approached with an open mind by the experienced practitioner these boundaries can be broken down.
This is hard enough to do with hand to hand fighting but now there is the knife in the equation. Most people would not be concerned with the acquisition of ‘knife fighting’ skills as practised in the Russian Martial art of Systema. Other systems deal with an unarmed defender against a knife wielding attacker. This leads us to analyse such ‘attacks’ and ‘defences’ that are often taught…
Martial Arts methods of defence against knife attacks
So first of all there is the simple attack of a single attacker holding a knife at their own stomach level towards you. Bas Rutten discusses such an attack, and talks about different ranges: If you are a greater distance apart than kicking distance then run! If there is no option of this then get something between you and the attacker, so if there is a chair to hand get that between you and the attacker, maybe even throw it at them and then when they are momentarily occupied with an object in their path or flying towards them then close the distance and attack them. If you are within this range, i.e. kicking range he advises kicking the person (not the knife holding arm or hand) and maintaining the distance between you and the attacker and getting away. The closer in you are the more you would need to attack them. In Krav Maga they would advocate for such a ‘lunging attack’ from a range that is closer than kicking range you should stop the arm holding the knife and then follow up with multiple attacks. This defence would be difficult to execute under pressure and with a determined attacker, as you would need to: one stop the person’s attacking arm (not that difficult in the dojo but how easy under real pressure?) and then overcome your natural fear of the blade by moving in closer to execute as many attacks as necessary to stop the attacker, thereby dropping the knife.
A variation on actually reaching out to stop the arm (perhaps an instinctive response, a movement which a stronger or more committed attacker may override) can be seen in various Karate school, employing the sweeping block – again ineffective against a committed attacker or one who would be intent on stabbing you again (as most would) if the first attack failed. NB There are often reports of people dying from multiple stab wounds, with the attacker’s adrenalin ‘taking over’ and the number of stabs recorded as 10, sometimes 20 sometimes more. Just imagine how long it takes to perform multiple stabbing motions. This is where most martial arts teachings fall down as they only deal with a single stabbing motion and one which may not be the most likely. It is very difficult to ‘defend’ against an attacker making multiple back and forward stabbing motions let alone if they start wielding the knife in a completely haphazardly frenzied manner. In such a case, cuts, slashes and maybe stabs will be highly likely. As even in the dojo with rubber knives and no danger it is very difficult to not ‘get got’. The one thing here is to employ as much self preservation as possible (i.e. no thrusts to the gut, better to take a slash on the arm than to the face or body) and attack the person with as much as you have got.
Martial arts systems often deal with knife attack to the throat, in particular to a knife to the throat with someone from behind. The ‘classic’ position would be the attacker with their right hand round your neck holding the knife. This actually happened to a friend of mine. The attacker was mentally disturbed (in nature and also in this case through drink) and attacked my friend by complete surprise in their shared kitchen. He felt the long kitchen knife start to cut across his throat and instinctively placed or squeezed his hand between the blade and his neck (rather his hand get cut than his throat). He remembers little of what he did but has the scar on his hand to indicate what he did. The knife cut across his hand as he spun to face the attacker and in his words hit him with everything he had. He also remembers that following where he must have placed his hand by his neck between the blade and his neck he then grabbed the knife and as he turned snapped the blade. Most people wouldn’t teach such a ‘defence’ as you end up cutting yourself and also it may not be successful – i.e. what if you don’t manage to get your hand between the blade and your neck? Or you do and your hand and throat get cut? But what happened was that without thinking my friend’s hands reached up towards his hands in an act of self preservation, after that his instinct was to turn and neutralise the attacker. Most systems I have seen that deal with this situation instruct the defender to place your hand/hands on their attacking hand thereby drawing the blade away from the neck and enabling you to then, like in the above example, turn and strike the attacker. Some systems go on to discuss disarming etc.. However the most important part of this is saving your life and incapacitating the attacker until they can’t hold the knife anymore.
Like I said before martial arts categorises the different knife attacks: Such as
Forward lunging stab, slash, back hand, over hand slash and stab, downward stab, upward stab. Krav Maga practitioners talk about (as long as you are within range and have to) stopping the arm with a 360 degree ‘block’ to the attacking arm and following up with multiple attacks to incapacitate the opponent. A karate-related example would be a rising head level block against and overhand stab. I have known an instance of a policeman using this defence and it working. However this doesn’t take away from the limitations, or dangers of having to deal with such an attack. One question could be, what if the blade is long or the thrust is stronger or faster than your action/reaction?
So to conclude, knife attacks can be random and difficult to train for, due to the psychological effect that the knife would have in reality. There are obvious limitations to any such ‘knife defence’ training. These include; False sense of security created by a ‘knife defence’ class or course, the randomness of knife attacks, the reality of such an attack; we are not sure how we would really react or act. There are other factors to include such as the distance of the aggressor, the number of aggressors, whether they are trained in knife use, whether they are organised criminals, sexually motivated, financially motivated, whether they are prepared to use the knife, or just use it in a psychological way. There is also the attacker who may take pleasure from inflicting pain. Obviously the most important part of such attacks is not getting fatally or seriously injured, and attacking the assailant with as much force as you have so you they cant hold the knife and you can make your escape. Bearing in mind that disarming shouldn’t be a focus as you become fixated on the knife rather than the attacker.