Can A Martial Artist Really Defend Against A Knife Attack?

Marshall Buchholz

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Be careful who you believe. A knife attack is serious business. The internet is replete with books, DVDs and YouTube sample clips of people claiming to know the secrets of how to defeat an armed attacker. But with a real-world situation knife attack you don’t get to “try again. ” Attempting to stop a knife attack is very dangerous business.

But is it possible? Yes—it has been done. In one case example where I read the report, and personally know the man who was stabbed, it was a rather simple affair. The attacker came at him from behind and stabbed him in the back. The knife was small and home-made and didn’t cause too serious of an injury. The victim turned around, saw the attacker come at him a second time, reached out and slapped him across the face. At that point, a friend tackled the assailant to the ground and took the knife from him.

Sounds pretty simple. But he and his friend were both lucky—and both sustained minor injuries that required a trip to the hospital.

In other situations, people have practiced for hours in martial arts classes against fake knives, using a variety of techniques, then found themselves in situations where very little of that training came in to play.

So the answer to the question is, yes, it is possible, to defend against a knife attack, but very dangerous. Keep these things in mind:

  1. Some martial artists believe that in training situations, the defender is usually able to stop the knife-wielding opponent about 80% of the time. That leaves a 20% chance that you would be seriously injured if that were a real knife. Do you want to risk your life on those odds?
  2. To get good enough to stop a knife attack, you will not only have to find a very good and knowledgeable instructor, but be willing to commit yourself to a long-term program of training.
  3. No matter how many techniques you learn, or how good you get at them, your best option will always be to get away—remove yourself from danger—rather than stand ground and fight off a knife attack.

But there are situations people have faced where getting away is not an option. If you absolutely have to defend yourself against a knife attack, here are some tips:

  • Kick low. A front or side kick to the assailant’s foot, shin, or knee cap keeps you at a safer range than if you try to defend with your hands. And keeping your kicks low means keeping your leg out of range of the knife.
  • Go for vital targets. The knee cap is the safest to attack because it keeps you furthest away from the knife. But if you’re able to move toward the assailant’s side or back, a strike to the ear or kidney can stun him long enough for you to get away.
  • Pick up an object and throw it at him, strike him with it, or use it as a barrier. But whatever you do, attack with the object like you mean business.
  • Most important of all, don’t play fair. If you are facing a real knife attack, this person is out to cause you serious injury, or even kill you. This is no time to act like a lady or a gentleman. Attack your opponent in anyway you can, causing him as much injury as possible within the limits of the law, in as short a time as possible, and then get away fast.

In spite of how they make it look in the movies, there is nothing cool about defending against a knife attack. The best way to survive one is to practice hard, respond with your own serious attack, and most important of all, remove yourself from the situation as fast as possible.

Marshall Buchholz is a Martial Arts instructor and school owner. He teaches the Wu Ying Tao style of Martial Arts in Salem, Oregon. Visit his web sites at: and


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