In This Hub:
A Reality Break
Amateur vs. Pro Knifers
Cost of Knife Use
Dueling vs. Survival
Lies About Knife Fighting
Fighting Fantasies
Other Instructors
Knife fighting?
Lethal Force Instrument
What If Monkeys

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If you buy a horse and one person
tells you you bought a mule, ignore him.
If two people tell you you bought a mule,
pay attention. If three people tell you you
bought a mule bought a mule
                            Jewish Proverb

The danger of knives
(Mathematically illustrated)

On this page
The myth of knife fighting | True believers, knife fighting cults and how not to get sucked in | The math is wrong | The D&D equation | If you buy a horse | Make your own formulas | Strategies that have best chances | Further Resources

Not to put too fine of a point on it, but fighting is stupid. And the very idea of "knife fighting" goes beyond stupid and lands in macho, moronic fantasy. And don't even get me started on what I think about successfully "fighting" empty handed against a knifer. It is simple common sense that  a knife is dangerous. Yet, every year thousands upon thousand of people go to seminars and schools and are taught both knife "fighting" and how to fight barehanded against a knife! And they *believe* this BS!

Our definition of "fighting" may not be the same as yours. We define it as: Standing there and attempting to contest on equal or near equal terms over a drawn out period of time. Now whether this means the advantage is yours or his depends on the situation, however, what is important is that the advantage is not overwhelming. This lack of significant advantage is what causes the contest to be drawn out over time.

If the advantage is overwhelming it isn't going to be a fight, it is going to be a slaughter.

There are many ways to establish an overwhelming advantage: Greater size and strength of one of the combatants. Of equal sized fighters, one has more training and experience. Superior numbers (e.g. three against one). Surprise and mental state of the combatants (e.g. an ambusher is mentally prepared to attack, the victim is not prepared to be assaulted). Or the introduction of a weapon into the altercation.

Any of these will give one side or the other an overwhelming advantage that will -- usually -- become immediately manifest. If it does not occur immediately, the odds are it will soon -- and the longer you draw it out, the more likely the superior advantage will tell. This is literally the "house odds" in Las Vegas, the longer you play, the more likely you are to lose.

The myth of knife fighting
Many years ago a Vietnam SEAL veteran, who had killed people with knives, summed the whole issue up perfectly, "There ain't no such thing as a professional knife fighter." Peyton Quinn, who has survived multiple knife assaults and seen many more, commented, "Most knife assaults aren't 'fights' they are assassinations." Colonel Rex Applegate, who trained thousands of GI's in WWII and whose work was based on Fairbairn and Sikes, commented to me about the current crop of so-called knife fighting instruction, "What these people are teaching  is dueling." His opinion about dueling with knives is too long to put into a short quote, suffice it to say, it wasn't good. The reason I mention these statements of  people who have actually been there is to indicate that I am not alone in my view of  "knife fighting," and that is *fuck that shit.* A toe-to-toe knife fight is the absolute last thing I want to do, and I am considered one of the leading experts on the subject!  

Our opinions are based on one simple thing: We are not talking about "fighting" at all, but rather surviving. That is an entirely different bailiwick than fighting. Why do we feel that way? Let's just say that it's  funny how your attitude changes when you have actually faced a blade in a combat situation. You want it over, and you want it done with *now* --  before he does it to you.

Okay, so here is my expert opinion: The very idea of training to be a knife fighter is a suicidal macho fantasy.

It is a horrible reality that no sane person would ever want to go to. The thing is, until you have actually faced a blade in the hands of someone who means you harm, you have no idea how terrifying it is. In that moment of singular clarity, you know that "knife fighting" is a lie. It is a fantasy, one that the reality of can be deadly. If you think that is bad, what you experience when facing a blade bare handed is even worse. Return to top of page

True believers, knife fighting cults and how not to get sucked in
And yet, here is the problem. It is a * very* popular fantasy in some circles. There are many people out there who are paying good money to "knife fighting experts" -- many of whom have faced the same number of knives in real fights as the students,  i.e., none. Ohhhh, but they are trained in some exotic knife fighting art that they have stripped, modified and modernized and are willing to sell to you. People who want to tell themselves how "dangerous" they are" eat this act up. Like prostitutes fulfilling the sexual fantasies of their clients it is a game of mutual consent.

Thousands of people have bought into this fantasy. The thing is there is no way to convince them that it is a fantasy. They actually believe that they have become "knife fighters." And all of this without the benefit of ever having actually faced a blade outside the training hall. Instead it arises from having studied under a knife fighting master -- who know everything there is about the subject.

We call these types "keyboard warriors." or as they strut around the training hall "dojo darlings." If it sounds contemptuous, it is.

We wish these "true believers" luck, may they never discover the differences between their fantasies and reality. The truth is however, it is not wise to be sucked into these games -- at least not if your interest is self-defense. In fact, it would be safe to say that this is one situation where bad training is worse than no training at all. Because with no training at least you would have the common sense to run like hell. You need to realize, as much as they may talk tough  and tell you how,  if you study  their " unbeatable" system,  they can make you a knife  fighter too, the odds are against you in a knife fight. When it comes to successfully "fighting" someone bare handed with a knife, the odds are even worse. That's a reality that they cannot change with all the macho posturing in the world.

But us telling you this doesn't have much weight when you look over and see swaggering studs who speak with utter confidence about their knife fighting prowess. In such a case, words are equal. The only sure way to disprove these people's claims is to take them out and watch them die in some dark alley. Thing is, why should they take that chance and go there? They got a nice safe racket going on right here. One that they get all the perceived "bennies" of being a rough, tough knifefighter, but without any of the drawbacks. Instead they will sit in front of their computers and rattle their keyboards, pontificating about a subject they really know nothing about. But oh, do they sound so confident and daring from that safe vantage point.

That leaves us faced with a dilemma: How do we show that the very common sense statements like "knife fighting is dangerous" and "you can't hope to fight a man with a knife and win" are, in fact, correct? Especially when so many true believers are running around saying the exact opposite? In the safety of the training school or on video they can show you that they are right with all kinds of flashy and cool moves. If that's all that you have ever seen it looks pretty convincing.

So  how can you show  that the common sense answer is, in fact, the more realistic?

We opted on using math formulas to show you the odds. Let them do flash demos and say what they will --  you do the math and see for yourself. If you dare to play with these purely hypothetical formulas you will begin to see how small your chances are of coming out ahead against a knife. Attempting to "fight" a knife is bucking the devils odds and the longer you play, the greater the chances of you being seriously hurt. Return to top of page

The math is wrong...we know it
E=MC2. Did you know that this simple equation, which has been one of the cornerstones of modern physics, Einstein himself admitted didn't cover everything? It is, in the strictest mathematical sense, then wrong. That is also why it is still a "theory" and not a law. Does it mean that it is junk? Of no value? Go and say that to a physicist or a mathematician and see what happens. (Hint, prepare to be slapped...either physically or verbally).

For the record, let us state that we know these formulas are, in the strictest mathematical sense, "wrong." There is no way, that the whirling chaos of a knife fight could ever be covered in a mathematical formula. There are entirely too many variables and factors involved. Therefore an accurate prediction can never be made. You cannot say when, if or that something will happen for certain. All you can do is suggest that the odds of it occurring are greater or lesser as time goes on.

In the same vein, the values that we are assigning the factors that we do include are purely fictional. There is no way to accurately determine the value of these issues because nobody has ever done a scientific study of knife fighting or attempted to establish a mathematical value for the factors. This is a purely hypothetical exercise to get you thinking about these issues.

That's fine, because that is not our point. We are *not* trying to prove a negative here. Nor are we trying to prove a positive. We are using these formulas to disprove a false positive. And that false positive is that you can "fight a knife."  So even though we know the math is wrong, it is something that you can do.

Hopefully these formulas will help you understand that regardless of what some so-called knife fighting expert has told you, the odds are *not* in your favor when facing a weapon -- therefore do NOT attempt a long term engagement!  

We're not asking you to believe just words, but to sit down and do the math. The more you do, the more you will see that people advocating "knife fighting" are in fact, advocating you committing suicide.

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The D&D equation
Since fantasy plays so much a part in the idea of knife fighting, it is only appropriate that we answer with another fantasy to disprove the idea long drawn out knife fights. Go out and get a D&D dice set. (0kay so if you don't have a set of twelve sided dice around you can use regular dice). We're only going to limit this to a 'three move fight'

Now, roll the dice. If they come up with an even number, you didn't get cut. If they come up odd, you got cut.

If it came up even you roll again ... that's your second move. Cut or no?

Here's the ugly. The first time you roll an odd number, you have to roll a penalty roll. That's a roll 1A. See every time you get cut, it slows you down and hurts you making you less able to  function effectively.

Let's say you threw even on your first roll. You throw your second roll. If that comes up odd, you start the penalty rolls. If however, your first throw was odd and your second roll come up odd, now you have two penalty rolls.

Now for your third and final roll. If you've been incredibly lucky you're three for three even rolls. That means the fight is over (he's on the deck and not getting up anytime soon) and you're not cut.

If however, you've been incredibly unlucky, this is your third odd roll and now you get an additional three penalty rolls.  

Using this simple equation you can see how even in a short of time you can be cut anywhere between zero and nine times when a knife is involved.

It doesn't seem possible, but until you realize that every second that you stay and engage an opponent without rendering him incapable of attacking you again, you risk serious injury.

If you buy a horse... After seeing these examples you will begin to see how the quote that started this page applies. Of course the salesman will tell you you are buying, and you might well believe him. Unfortunately, as the mounting evidence that it is a mule begins to stack up the truth -- that has been obvious to others all along -- will become clear to you. Like we said, the numbers and values we have chosen are totally arbitrary and we know the formulas are incomplete (i.e. wrong) But even then they point to the very commonsense idea that you cannot hope to stand there and "fight" an armed opponent without the odds catching up to you. Therefore you *really* need to be leery of someone who is trying to tell you different...even if they can demonstrate it in a class room setting and through drills.

The reason that it is impossible to come up with a real working formula is that knife fighting is so unpredictable. You simply cannot control all the variables, much less identify them.

Having said that, let me ask you a question, if you can't control or predict variables in a mathematical formula, what makes you think you can do that right in the middle of a knife assault with someone trying to recruit you for the Turkey Club (i.e. carved like a...)?  The answer is you can't. In this game, that spells your death.

"But, what about training?" I hear people ask. What you don't think mathematicians have more training than you do? This is their field of expertise -- and they are telling you the factors are uncontrollable. Which is exactly the point. Those people are taking rank with the rest of the world in  telling you that you bought a mule.

As sexy and exciting as it may be listening to the guy telling you that dueling with knives is safe and cool because you are 'trained," it ain't the truth. That's a mule, not a horse.

If you object to this idea, maybe you ought to take a look at why you want to believe that it is a horse. There's more truth there than in the idea of "knife fighting."

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Make your own formulas
Hopefully we have burst some bubbles here. As we stated, we know the math is wrong. The values that we have assigned are purely fantasy, which quite frankly lands these formulas into the realm of "junk science." On the other hand, if you are so offended by our incorrect mathematical formulas feel free to come up with some of your own to prove us wrong.

However, know two things.

1) Your formulas will be peer tested. Mathematicians will come out of the wood work to blow you out of the water if you try to tweak the numbers to show in your favor. Math doesn't lie, people lie, and those who are good at math, don't like it when you attempt to lie with numbers.

2) For every value you assign to yourself because of your training/ability, you have to assign the same to your opponent. You are not the only one who can move or might have had some training.

In fact, let us help you come up with some more accurate formulas. One thing we tried to throw out to the people who helped us with these formulas was something even the best of them would not take up the challenge -- but maybe you are better than they are. Use a crap shoot factor. Let us say that the scale runs from 1 to 20 of physical skill and competence. One being akin to someone with cerebral palsy in a wheelchair, 20 being a martial arts grand master who has survived countless real life combat situations. Let's assign an everyman -- oh let's just pluck a number out of the air -- value of five. No training at all, physically not in great shape, just physically okay. Now for every technique from martial training that the person has "mastered" (i.e. can do it instinctively and correctly) add in a .2 value (to add up to five techniques gives you one complete point). Let's add in a .25 for every year of  normal MA training the person has (four years means a point). Now let's add in a point for every "fight" the person has been in. Two points for every actual weapon experience the person has survived and two more for every time they have actually used a weapon on another human being. Let's randomly assign a -.333 for every light punch. A -1 for every hard blow you take. Then let us assign a 10 point advantage to anyone with a weapon. Now as to that,  let's just say you take a -3 for ever light slash you take (to make it fair make that over a five second period because you are bleeding out) and a -10 points for every deep slash and cut you take  effective immediately (remember knives destroy muscle, tendons and nerves, if it's cut, it doesn't work anymore) Obviously, a fatal hit will result in minus -20 points. Like we said, assign the same values to your opponent.

Here is where the crap shoot  factor come in. Go ahead and stack as many factors in your favor, but with all of your training and advantages, what level of opponent will you have to "fight" where you can even have a 50/50 chance of winning barehanded against a knife? If you have done everything to stack the deck in your favor to where you are say a 13. The guy with the knife will have to be a three -- because with that knife, he too has become a 13. Now, when you have numbers between one and 20, what are the odds of rolling a three or below?

And don't forget...for every 3 seconds it goes on, the odds change again. If you think our formulas are totally wrong, go ahead and prove us wrong by coming up with formulas that are better.

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Strategies that have best chances
Of all the responses to the threat of a knife I have seen, four main strategies have the greatest success rate. Personally, I was adept at two of them and used them in my encounters. Going out and talking to people who had also survived knife encounters I have discovered that the people who managed to survive -- sometimes unscathed -- overwhelmingly used one of these four.

Now there may be a better strategy, but until it is proven in battle, these are the ones that have worked the best so far. They are listed in descending order of effectiveness.

1) Run like hell
2). Do an immediately effective response that prevents further attack. 3) Avoid the attack, buy distance, then deploy and use a longer range weapon
4) Go ape shit on the guy hoping that somewhere in there is an effective response

I should also point out that there is still a good chance of getting cut while doing anything other than option number one. Option number one was dubbed by Phil O'Brian, an ex Australian cop as the " Nike defense." And in all honesty, it does have the best success rate. Not only for keeping you alive, but uncut too.

There are a few more caveats however.

On number one: Run like hell --
You have to make sure you haven't put yourself in a place where that is not an option (see the robbery section). Furthermore, the effectiveness of this option is greatly reduced if it is your "plan B." This is *not* a back up plan. Run now, avoid the rush.

On number two: Do an immediately effect response --
By "effective" we mean it works *right now,*  coming out of the gate, no matter what he is doing -- it works against that. It is not a set up for something else that is more effective, it works all by itself to stop what is happening. You need to know, however, the argument over if whether or not your trained responses meet this standard is, to put it mildly, a 'hot' one. Our standard is: Does it work now. If yes, then five years of training will only make it work better. If it doesn't work now, five years of training may not change that. If it doesn't work in training a significant majority of the time, then it isn't likely to work in real life.

On number three, avoid, range, deploy another weapon --
Mountain man rabbit stew recipe: Step one, catch a rabbit. If you can't get past step one, forget it. That's the exact same problem here, except that it's steps one through three that you have to do first, avoid, range and deploy. That's a whole lot of steps for something to go wrong. Also, if that longer range weapon doesn't have defensive capabilities, there is a good chance of him closing and attacking again. If said weapon doesn't have defense application, you will have to provide such application by other means until the weapon's offensive capabilities take effect. (In other words, expect to bleed some more).

On number four,  go beserk --
If you don't accidentally find an effective response somewhere in there -- and real fast -- you are going to get slashed up like you tried to fight a weed whacker. Don't try this option and then think you are going to switch over to option number one.

The point that all of these responses have in common is that they are all immediate. That is a large part why they are more successful than other strategies. Often the speed of their deployment momentarily compensates for the attacker's advantage -- especially if the attacker was overly relying on that advantage.

As stated they are listed in descending order, an order that increases your chances of getting cut the further down you get. The less effective the response the more likely the situation is to draw out longer...and we all know where trying to fight a knife in a long drawn out confrontation will get you.

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