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Guidelines for Defending Against a Knife Fighter

Some may look at the title of this brief article and say, "My gun/taser/baton is my defense if a knife fighter comes at me!"  This is certainly an appropriate response, since a knife fighter does indeed place an officer's life in jeopardy. However, there are instances where an officer may be taken by surprise, and not have the time to draw or reach for any weapon. Further, not all agencies require a firearm to be carried in the off-duty hours. Additionally, there are correction officers, security guards, private investigators, and parole and probation officers who do not carry weapons on them all the time, even on the job. These individuals, too, will need to rely on unarmed technique in defending against a knife fighter.

Let us look at what is meant by a "knife fighter". For our purposes, we define him/her as one who is either formally trained in a system of knife fighting, from any style, or one who may lack formal training but has learned the proper methods of fighting with a knife in a systematic fashion. We are not referring to specific defenses against committed attacks, e.g., downward or upward thrust, side slash, straight lunge. Rather, we are referring to an individual whose goal it is to cut the officer in vulnerable areas enough times to render him/her too weak to defend against the killing finale. Moves are not committed, but fluid and quick, used in much the same way as a professional boxer's jab.

What of the knife itself?  It almost doesn't matter. The knife could be a folder or a fixed blade, tanto, spike, Bowie, or kukri style. It can have a lesser grade of steel or steel of high quality. The guidelines and principle used to defend against the knife remain the same.


There are three basic guidelines to follow when up against a knife fighter, regardless of one's personal style of fighting, which are consistent with Taiho-Jutsu's principles. Listed below, they are:

  1. Maintain Safety Range. When the officer sees the knife flashed, left or right rear taisabaki should initially be used to place the officer out of the line of attack at a safe distance away. The officer can then assume a defensive fighting posture, and mentally regroup and plan.
  2. Protect Vital Areas. The officer's arms should not have veins and arteries exposed, facing the assailant. The forearm should be facing the attacker, and in the event the officer does get cut on the arm, it does not become a life-threatening cut. 
  3. Distract Before Attacking. Prior to countering, the officer should distract the assailant. This may be done by (stealthily) reaching into one's pocket for a wallet, keys, a comb, or any such object which may be tossed at the knife fighter's face immediately before countering. Spitting into his/her face is another form of distraction. When quickly moving in for the counter, a loud, shrilling kiai should be done, further stunning the attacker, however briefly. Counters should utilize maximum force against this potentially deadly attack.

While there is no 100% guarantee that an officer threatened by a knife fighter will come out of the situation without a scratch, the guidelines presented will maximize the officer's chances of a successful and safe solution.

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