I’m not confident in my ability to defend myself against a knife. I’m not. Knives are small, quick, furious weapons that can shred you up in a heartbeat. Worst of all, a knife is formidable even in the hands of an unskilled attacker.
If you’ve never seen a knife attack at full speed (or even if you have), check out the following video. The weird guy in the ski mask sees it coming, and still winds up in an unpleasant situation:
That’s against some average dude with a fairly even keeled disposition. Imagine if you encountered someone who is good with a blade. Like this individual:
The credit card trick is interesting, but it’s his knife speed that is both impressive and frightening (note: I found this video initially at Low Tech Combat).
A couple of years ago, my gut reaction was to ignore these kinds of videos because they were simply too intimidating. It’s difficult to imagine a successful defense against such deadly assaults. I told myself that I would ‘deal with it later’, or that my basic scenario knowledge was enough to get me by. Eventually I realized though that I would have to take knife self defense extremely seriously or I might as well not even study martial arts for combat purposes.
So now that you scared us Matt, how about some solutions!?
Don’t worry, this isn’t all scare tactics (I promise). I’ve found some great concepts that I think maximize a citizen’s potential for self defense. The truth is, defense against a knife is rarely pretty and clean; but perhaps by adopting some good practices we can increase the odds of survival.
Mind, Then Matter
Before I dive into videos or techniques, I need to harp on something quick. The mind is the greatest tool for avoiding knife conflict (or conflict in general). Using good judgment and maintaining a constant vigil for bad situations can be the best defense against assault. Furthermore, keeping escape as our #1 priority can increase our chances of survival, even if things do move to a fight.
But, assuming a situation does escalate to conflict, we need to investigate defensive concepts.
One of my absolute favorite knife self defense concepts comes from Krav Maga. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “is this traditional karate guy hyping up Israeli military tactics? Where’s the Samurai s*** Mr. Ikigai?”
It’s true, I really like Krav Maga’s knife work. Krav has achieved a level of effectiveness born from sheer practicality and necessity (as most good techniques do). The Israelis really need to know how to take down a knife attacker, so they worked on it and created, amongst other things, bursting.
What is bursting exactly? I’ll let Human Weapon explain:
The critical concept here is that the block and strike occur simultaneously. There is no room for error. If the block comes even a moment before the strike, the attacker can recoil and stab again. *Remember how quick the knifer in the first video struck the man in the ski mask.*
Furthermore, trying to control the knife arm/wrist without first striking your opponent makes for a lesson in futility. The knife is coming in at unusual angles and is thrusting and recoiling at a remarkable pace, even for attackers with average speed. Getting a grip on the knife wrist can be like trying to catch a wasp with your bare hand – you end up missing or getting stung.
The ‘burst’ allows for broad safety moves (like blocking into the forearm) while delivering a punishing blow to vital areas.
When Natural Reaction Kicks In
Bursting is a great tactic, but sometimes we are taken by surprise and don’t have the chance to mount a balanced, effective burst. In that case, our body’s natural instinct is to “get outta the way!”. For situations like that, especially when a stab is coming toward the stomach (like the one that felled our masked hero in the first video), this next video could prove valuable.
When watching this, try to mentally incorporate bursting into the instructor’s explanations. His defense is good, but he could benefit from utilizing lightning quick strikes to the face and vital regions.
A skilled (or just clever) knife wielder will probably stab you before you see it coming. That’s the bad news. The good news is, if your spidey senses are alert the way they should be, you’ll probably see him eyeballing you or giving out a weird vibe. Unless you’re being targeted by a really skilled killer, there will hopefully be a moment’s notice of danger.
Although I’ve mostly discussed general concepts like bursting and reactionary movement, scenario training is still valuable. The caveat is intent. Unfortunately many of us (**raises hand**) spent time discussing the intriguing theory behind scenario defense and not actually trying to perform against a non compliant attacker.
For scenarios, I like this guy’s approach:
A little bit scary right? That’s a good thing. He uses his persona to deter possible attackers. “Maybe i’ll wait for an easier target”, they might think.
Things To Avoid
If it looks pretty, be wary. I know, that’s a totally bogus generalization. Level of expertise is as important as the technique itself. But it’s been my personal experience that highly conceptualized disarms don’t work on an extremely tense and agitated attacker looking to stab you repeatedly.
Some examples of things I don’t see panning out in the ‘real world’ are as follows:
We can readily see severe differences in the behavior of the attacker than what would normally happen with an aggressive, determined knifer. Unfortunately, some of this is trained compliance that can lead to trouble in the long run.
In my own training I’ve tried to integrate good concepts of my core style (karate) with realistic training practices done by other styles. Even still, knife defense concerns me, and will continue to do so for a very long time.
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Here’s something cool. I found this video (posted below) while hopping around on Youtube. I got caught in a classic Youtube vortex where, in the blink of an eye, I had spent an hour clicking from one video to the next saying “ohh, that looks neat”, “ohh that looks neat.”
This particular clip takes place at an event called Budosai 2007 in Britain. These guys did something quite interesting – they gathered artists of different styles (all of whom practice kata Sanchin) and had them perform side by side and together. This produced a really neat look at how Sanchin could have developed over time.
The generally accepted history of Sanchin is that the form was brought over from China to Okinawa, where it was integrated into the indigenous art known as Te. The Okinawans then made changes to the kata as it became part of their training repertoire.
The practitioners seen in this video are as follows:
Pan of Yong Chun Village – Yong Chun White Crane
Chen Jian Feng – Wushu Guan
Shinyu Gushi – Pangai Noon (Uechi Ryu)
Morio Higaonna – Goju Ryu
Here now is the demonstration (original youtube location: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWh-uhw4C9s):
The differences are very intriguing. Most noticeable is the increase in length as it goes down the line. Higaonna Sensei’s kata is significantly longer than Master Pans. I imagine this has a lot to do with the kata turning into a form of meditation+body conditioning, which would both require a longer performance to test the limits of the practitioner.
The open hand/closed hand adaptation is also very obvious. The Uechi Ryu lineage kept a lot of the open hand techniques, while Goju Ryu lineage preferred a shift to closed fist.
The announcer made an important point toward the end: while we are seeing differences in technique, the same core concepts pervade each performance. Tension, breathing, zanshin, and focus can be found throughout the entire demonstration.
Do you do a form of Sanchin? Does it resemble any of these?
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“They began squabbling after leaving Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy party late Saturday. Shortly after midnight, things blew up. Brown pulled his silver Lamborghini to the side of a street in L.A.’s Hancock Park neighborhood. That’s when, per the source, Rihanna grabbed the car keys and tossed them out the window, sending Brown into a rage.
He tried in vain to find the keys, then came back to the car, put his hands around her neck and, according to the insider, said, ‘I’m going to kill you!’ According to the source, the 20-year-old ‘Disturbia’ singer told police that she lost consciousness, and when she awoke, Brown had fled.” – E Online
Here are some further details on the physical nature of the assault:
“The source told Access Hollywood that Chris Brown allegedly hit Rihanna with his fists and bit her during the alleged incident, which took place around 12:30 a.m. on Sunday.
Brown, 19, was arrested on Sunday and charged with felony criminal threats. He was released on $50,000 bail.” – MSNBC
Most news sources also gave two other bits of information:
“In a 2007 interview with Giant magazine, Brown said his mother had been physically abused by his stepfather.
‘He used to hit my mom,’ he was quoted in the article. ‘He made me terrified all the time, terrified like I had to pee on myself. I remember one night he made her nose bleed. I was crying and thinking, ‘I’m just gonna go crazy on him one day … ’ I hate him to this day.’
In the same interview, he said he had studied martial arts, which he used to defend himself once in a fight with several classmates. Brown said after his mother broke up the fight, he urged her not to go to the police. ‘Don’t go to no cops pressing no charges,’ he reported begging her, ‘like we don’t do that in the hood.’”- Times Dispatch
This is extremely unfortunate. Cases of domestic violence are always outraging, and when it occurs between high profile individuals the consequences can be widespread. Celebrities carry the responsibility of maintaining personas worth emulating, and when the wrong message is sent (like in this case), the trickle down effect can be very undesirable.
There’s little doubt that Chris Brown wouldn’t want his actions to influence fans negatively (or impact his career negatively), but should he be officially convicted of these charges, he’ll become part of a very unfortunate ‘fraternity’ of musicians who are infamous for inappropriate and dangerous behavior.
Although Rihanna’s health (and proper repercussions toward Brown) are the most important factors here, there is something more subtle that concerns me. Almost every news source I encountered while investigating this case vaguely mentioned something about Chris Brown’s martial arts practice. For example:
“Brown, known in addition to his singing for his athletic feats of dancing — he has performed upside-down — previously said he studied martial arts, according to the New York Daily News.”
Here is a handful of reputable news sources I found stating something along those lines -
Huffington Post – Rihanna Bloodied, Beaten, Bitten by Chris Brown
Gaurdian – Rihanna Was Victim of Alleged Chris Brown Assault
MSNBC – Brown Bit Rihanna, Hit Her With Fists
ABC News – Can Chris Brown Bounce Back?
MTV News – Rihanna Reportedly The Victim in Chris Brown Case
Times Dispatch – Chris Brown Charged After Argument with Rihanna
What are they implying? What is the point of including this piece of information? It seems relatively harmless, but the cultural implications are actually much broader than we might think.
First, they might be suggesting that Chris Brown’s martial arts experience aided in the effectiveness of his assault on Rihanna. That would be a legitimate aspect of the story if any reports indicated something other than a barbaric act of violence.
The three types of attacks cited are choking, biting, and hitting with the fist. Which of those stands out as martial in nature? I would understand if Brown were using high kicks or perhaps joint locks, but the kinds of attacks mentioned are indicative of an enraged man using brutal, untrained methods to cause damage. I think it’s clear that martial arts were not involved in the physical act of this attack.
Second, they might be suggesting that Brown’s martial training turned him into an aggressive, violence-prone individual. If this is the case, then it demonstrates that the negative sterotypes of martial arts are as strong as they ever were.
With karate or taekwondo schools in every small town in America, one would think that information regarding martial arts would be wide spread. One would also hope that, while many schools might be suspect in quality (aka mcdojo), they would at least teach the essential maxim of ‘defense only’. Just from my personal experience, I think that most do. Certainly there are plenty of exceptions and there ARE violent martial artists, but not nearly enough to suggest that martial arts are a cause of widespread violence, especially in domestic cases. Sadly, I think the history of abuse in Brown’s family is much more telling.
MMA practitioners should be a little worried too. Riding alongside the ‘martial art’ claim is this report from an anonymous police officer:
“According to TMZ.com, unnamed law enforcement sources said Rihanna’s contusions “look like an MMA [Mixed Martial Arts] fighter or something … [It] looked like she was growing devil’s horns.” - Mercury News
That’s not good.
I’ve seen a lot of MMA fights and a lot of COPS. Getting hit in the face always looks roughly the same. Which, like I said earlier, is another obvious reason martial arts weren’t involved with this case – there were no armbars or ankle locks here that would be indicative of MMA.
Ultimately, I think the news sources would simply defend themselves by saying ‘well this was a case of violence…and martial arts are about violence, so that warrants the connection.’ For them, Brown’s martial arts experience was a juicy nugget they found stashed away in a two year old interview, but perfect for his recent troubles. To me, in a case that is all about sending the wrong message, this is yet another message that shouldn’t have been sent.
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