Fight or defend against the knife

September 23, 2019, Israel

 A knife is a deadly object, not to be taken lightly. 

Knife attacks are brutal, sudden, and often deadly. The question is how to handle them. On this topic there is a wide divergence of opinion.

I present here my ideas, after decades of training and research, having studied thousands of real life cases and studied a myriad of martial arts. 

First Step - Respect the Knife 

First allow me to say that one must respect the knifeOne must not think of knife attacks as a game, or an opportunity to test your martial arts skills. The first step, I believe, is to respect the knife. You must understand how one well placed stab could by your end. You must understand that a knife can cut coming and going. You must understand that a moving knife is a deadly device. You must forget everything you have seen in the movies or in the martial arts school advertisements. The first step is to acknowledge reality. 

Second Step - Avoid the Knife Attack  

Once you understand how deadly a knife is, you must learn to avoid a knife confrontation whenever possible. If you see a knife, create space, create distance. If you are armed this distance will give you a better chance of pulling out your weapons. If you are unarmed this distance will give you an opportunity of grabbing an improvised weapons, or escape. This can also create an opportunity for others to help, such as with shooting the knife attacker. (this often happens in Israel). 

Repeat the mantra...Avoid the knife.

Third Step - Be Aware of the Possibility of a Knife Being Present. 

 ow that you know the dangers of the a knife, understand that a knife can be easily concealed. Just because it is not yet displayed does not mean that it is now within reach. So if a punk approaches you, remember this: it is highly likely that he has a knife somewhere on his body. I think it is wise to always think of the suspected assailant as being armed.  

Fourth Step - Situational Awareness.  

Nothing, nothingis more important that this. This means training yourself to be constantly aware of your surroundings. Your level of awareness changes with the location; know your your area. Know when to be on high alert. Make situational awareness a habit, a way of life. And stay alive.

Surprisingly I have discovered that not only is this obvious idea unknown to most, but when I present this idea they see it as an expression of paranoia. I see resistance to this idea. 

Fifth Step - Do not Attempt a Traditional Knife Disarm. 

Traditional martial arts offer many defenses against knife attacks. These usually involve grabbing the knife hand and doing some disarm based on the rotation of the arm. These are nearly impossible to execute under the stress of a real situation. Certainly none but a great master would even stand a chance of survival. The knife is constantly moving; grabbing it and then doing a disarm is the feat of Wizards, certainly not something I would ever recommend. 

Sixth Step - Do Not Be Embarrassed to Escape.  

We should not die of embarrassment. I know many brave men who would run away from a knife, given a  chance. The decision to stay and fight or run away of course depends on the situation, on the   APCAbility, Purpose, Circumstance. Every great army has at some point made a strategic calculated retreat This option should never be discounted, certainly when faced with a knife. The only bruises you will receive might be to your ego. Do not let your ego kill you. 

Seventh Step - If You Must, Defend; Don't Fight. 

We are not naïve to think that it is easy to defend against a knife but it can be done and has been done. Our goal is to minimize damage and walk away alive. 

There are those that argue that you cannot defend against a knife and therefore your only option is to "fight the man". i.e. hit the person, beat him and perhaps gain control of the knife arm. Not so simple. Grabbing a moving arm is like trying to catch a chicken or a cat.

To a certain extent we do believe that you must defend against the knife. We must be aware and avoid getting stabbed by surprise. If that first stab hits us by surprise, it might very well be all over. One deep penetrating cut to the "right" place might be the death blow. With proper awareness that should not happen, we should be able to at least block enough to avoid the death blow. This is what we train for. 

If you did get caught by surprise and the assailant got in several stabs to vital area, well, not much left to do. Thus we train constantly for situational awareness and I stress that this is more important than any technique anyone can learn. And your physical fitness level is really not much of a factor either. 

We teach blocking the knife attack first, and then countering or disengaging, but not really fighting the person. Being a fighter, as in a boxer or MMA fighter is really no defense at all against a man with a knife. We have seen this time and time again, the fighter fights as if he is fighting an unarmed person and ignores the knife. In my way of thinking this is practically pointless, although I know that many do teach this way, and that is a popular approach. 

But I feel strongly, that if you are fighting, i.e. focusing on hitting the guy, kicking him, but not blocking him, you are making a deadly mistake. While you are fighting him you are actually staying in close contact with this knifeman, thus giving him more opportunities to harm you.

If you have not trained in knife blocking (not disarms) I would say RUN no matter what the circumstances. As the "Human Weapon" show demonstrated clearly, fighting vs knife is a lost cause. None of those fighters survived. While they were busy "fighting" they were stabbed multiple times. (fortunately with rubber training knives).

We teach simple and effective blocking and then countering or disengaging. The idea of fighting the guy is not only illogical and most likely will get you killed but it is irrelevant for any but the most fit and athletic trained fighters. You are fighting but he is stabbing. You need many blows to knock him out, he needs but one well place stab and you are bleeding to death. 

Our Krav Maga is for all. We do see clips now and then of some strong guy fighting a thug on the street, but is that applicable for all? Beware the teacher who uses his physical strength, his physical prowess to defeat the attacker, that may, may, work for him but you are not him. You are you!

We teach and advocate simple strategies and simple yet effective defenses. We believe you can survive but you must train. You must prepare yourself. 

Eighth Step - The Counter-Attack, but still No Disarm. 

When we do counter, i.e. we block and then decide based on the circumstances to move in, we are still not attempting a disarm. Allow me an analogy, what we do is instead of deleting an e mail and logging off the computer we are taking a sledge hammer to the computer. We are still not disarming the person, we are destroying him, at which point the knife should be somewhere on the floor, if you call that a disarm.

I quote the only certified instructor under Bruce Lee, "Knife disarms are incidental if not accidental" (Danny Inosanto). In plane English it means forget about the knife disarm. 

Important Point to Remember - Please remember that we are not talking about some late night Kung Fu movie, or a Jean Claude Van Damme movie where the fight goes on and on. All the incidents that we study and train for involve a matter of mere seconds, not even minutes. Thus we are not talking about a "fight". 

The idea, if one cannot escape, is to block and move in with specific strategies that we have developed and trained with to quickly hit vital areas and neutralize the attacker. This is always done with a clear eye to controlling the knife-hand, and never as a pure attack on the body because even as we try and pummel the guy, if we are not addressing the knife, he can still stab to kill even as he is being brutally attacked.

To see this more clearly...come to class or view the DVD. 

IKI Krav Maga DVDs
Knife attacks, knife threats and more

IKI DVDs, direct from Israel

Comments Welcomed!

We have many instructors out there with a great deal of real world experience, I am always learning from you even when I am teaching you. Please send in your input, make this article a group effort. Share your experience and knowledge with us.

Write to me on the form below or via email or Facebook (Moshe Katz)

In introduction to the following comment:

The comment was written by IKI Instructor Pat Honan in Australia. In order to more fully appreciate what he has to say I feel a few background words are in order. 

Pat came to IKI after extensive training and experience in other styles of Krav Maga. He researched us carefully and then came to Israel, twice, for training. He works as head of security in his area and has a vast amount of hands-on experience with very violent situations. At age 58 he continues to work the door himself and deal first hand with violent thugs. I have seen some of the CCTV tapes. 

Wolf, whom he refers to here, is his dog, well trained and disciplined. 

Good Morning Moshe, 

All I can say is from been stabbed by a large knife to my left cheek with it coming out over my jaw bone with the point sitting under my chin.

I deal with long knives and short vegetable knives. Scissors and sharp sticks are also used to stab with here. I remember the night I was stabbed in the face, I had no idea this person was armed with a butchers knife.

I thought I was punched, but the warmth of my blood running down my neck and soaking my chest and into my pants and then my shoes was not the concern, I had I just wanted to live.

The attacker I managed to deal with, but the anger I felt still affects me today as I am reminded every day of my life when I clean my teeth, shave my face, and sometimes my food falls out of my mouth when I chew.

Since then I have faced many more edged weapon attacks. When we are faced with the threat we are lucky if they show their intention as I arm myself. Also my APC (Ability, Purpose, Circumstance, IKI concepts) is if I can not go or escape I must deal with it.

I never try to disarm but I make it impossible for them to stab me or my security Dog Wolf as we have faced 2 attackers at once, both with 2 weapons each in their hands, long knife and short knives.

The contact became a dances of distances and the threat of being bitten or taking a heavy blow from my steel baton. So distances is our friend and no effort was and should not be made to disarm; Madness to try.

The advantage is if you can put something between you and them: do it. Time is what you need so help can arrive, even lock self in somewhere, so escape is the main factor.

Never allow yourself to be grabbed and held, this is the end. I always noticed that in a fight or knife or weapon attacks I have been in there is always the same style of attack: downward blows and slashing. The only time it is a direct stab its either when they have hold of you or it the first strike or   the knock on the door, as I say,' There here'.

Throwing rocks and bottles or anything also helps 

When Wolf and I were attacked by the 2 offenders even when the security team arrived they stopped and watched for a few seconds, like they were in shock at what they saw. So people do freeze; next bad mistake .

Until I told them to run forward and now they were been attacked by multiple numbers of security. I had an attack Dog but he would be stabbed to death if I let him move in for the bite as the dog will lock onto one target and like us we can only defend successfully if we don't have too many to deal with at once.

  • Don't stay if you can escape; run! 
  • Don't get grabbed or do some take-down or armbar;  you're gone for sure, he or they will keep stabbing.
  • Put something between you and them a pillar or table, pick up a chair street sign.
  • Run into the crowd, use others as a meat shield. There may be someone who will do something to stop them 
  • Throw rocks bottles and anything that can be picked up  
  • If your caught in a toilet block or close confined area, you will have to fight and that's where our knife defences will come in, hopefully to give you a shift in their position to escape.

I've seen these attacks as I was an inmate in a maximum security prison for 9 months until I went to court and was released. So from there my security training and career started as a security contractor and maritime security crew member. Now I spend a lot of time in my K9 unit dealing with  large brawls and weapons fights, and its' taking its toll on me.

The big factor also is always know where you are what is around you who is who in the Zoo.

The best self defense is don't be there if it looks like its going down, GO ''

Moshe I can only talk to you from my work life as in my private life I don't go anywhere as am constantly looking over my back and around me.

I am currently looking at counseling as the whole scene is getting a bit much I've signed a 6 month contract with the casino here we provide the K9 services so myself and Mr Wolf. He is 7 years now and I am 58 years this will be the last run we do.

Last week I saw and stopped people stabbing each other; one was another person stabbing another in the head until I got there at stabbing strike 4 as I run into strike,

The police are armed, we are not and we are there when it happens, the blood is still warm and the smell of human shit still strong with body odors and mucus.

The men rely heavily on myself and Wolf, it gives them confidence to keep marching. The other is your Krav Maga; I only teach your knife defences to them as it is the only thing we deal with here.

I hope this helps you Moshe 

Regards Pat, Australia

Hello Moshe,

Many thanks for this topic about the knife. There is really nothing to add. I particularly liked where you said to minimize the damage and run away! It is in my eyes no shame to run away. I come from the street and have seen many situations with the knife, where people have taken drugs and reacted even more aggressively. You do not get these people under control as a normal person. It is important to explain to the pupils and the people that we do not live in a movie, but recognize the reality! I find it very strong how you explain that and give the opportunity to defend and flee. Far too many sports schools still sell the untruth about the knife and sell them that they have a chance! I come from the street and have experienced a lot! Thank goodness nothing happened. Thank you for making such enlightenment. It is important that we do not tell people stories.

Thank you, dear Moshe, that I may be part of IKI.

Many greetings

Joram Wemyss, Germany

Hello Moshe. 

Your text is brilliant and concise as always. 

I concur with the ideas exposed. 

- Understand a knife is a deadly weapon, and it is more dangerous when it is not seen or expected.

- Avoid the knife confrontation. Stay away, use your surroundings and everything at hand to increase your chances if there is no other option than to engage

- The danger is in the hand with the knife. Avoid trying to fight the man. Get control of the armed hand if it is a must, otherwise just run away. 

- situational awareness is a must. Don’t let them get close enough for a punch, much less to grab you and stab you. 

- Traditional disarms require a lot of dexterity, not the first option even for the most advanced practitioners, lest for the newbies. You’re not in a movie, you don't get second chances 

- Embarrassment won’t kill you. You will live another day to tell your story and pass the knowledge to others. 

I would add that if the attacker has shown the knife you have a chance to use something to block it or just get away, however if you’re facing somebody that has training in knife fighting you will get cut, just don’t get stabbed. You have to be extremely aggressive cause you’re fighting for your life 


Gus Osorio, Mexico

This is a good blog.  I do have an opinion on step #5 however. I believe that circumstances play a big part in a disarm attempt (which is not included in your blog). If you're in an elevator in transit, if you're with your family who doesn't understand to depart, in a hotel stairwell or perhaps even  a hotel hallway or have physical challenges that don't allow you to take flight-you may not have the option of walking away from your aggressor.

I agree that 95% of what I see in traditional martial art blade "disarms" are just a pipe dream (unrealistic). However as one's options decrease (as previously stated) one must learn/train & execute a disarm or destroy your opponent. The only way to see if your "disarm" is battle worthy is to stress test it and in different environments and situations. As a prior law enforcement officer I understand the law of statistics is not on my side.  

If I can defend and walk away, I do. If I can't,  I have trained for this and will do what I must.    

-Joe Cayer   USA


I thought the step were beautiful, well thought out. I liked respecting the knife, I liked that you stated treat it like another person buy addressing it before/with the wielder but not just the wielder in isolation free from their weapon. I love the fact you state to not be afraid to run away. The only thing I personally would change is one last bit on the demeanor one should keep during to fight. I don’t mean to sound defeatist buy stating this but I would say something like 

“You will get cut. This is not a resignation to defeat but a admission of clarity. You must understand with all likelihood you will get cut so to understand this and knowing this ahead will empower you to face that reality in the heat of the moment when your faced with a blade and your own physiological response to it. Know your job is to mitigate that threat to the smallest corners of your physic a small nick in a non vital area free from major arteries, large veins and organs might not feel like a victory but it is a small victory because statistically you will get cut. “ not sure how you feel about it that is my best two cents love the blog hate the subject I personally shudder at favoring a real knife. I have confidence in our training but I can’t help but think especially when training against knife slashing, “I hate this and I hope I never have to use it”

Thank you Moshe hope this helps

Brian Johnston, USA

If any of you actually attended Moshe Katz's classes you'd have no need asking these questions. It is never about being perfectly prepared, as it would be impossible. It is to learn to be as aware as possible, and as quick to respond as possible. If anyone teaches you to be a hero- you are in the wrong class. There is no perfection- but if anything can get you close to that- Moshe can. And I'm talking about real life- not Hollywood.

Saying that for generations of little warriors you have raised to know better, to be more aware, to always be on guard, and to always respect your enemy's ability. I know that what I have learnt saved my life at least once- and I'm most certainly not the only one.

Daniel Per. Israel

Hello Moshe, 

Great lesson as usual. Thank you for sharing. I would like to add the following:

1 PRIORITIZE: If the attack is imminent then the knife should always be the first priority and thus you should stay focused on such weapon at all times. Then the rest (the attackers mindset, his other hand or legs, the surroundings, his partner in crime waiting to help him out, call an ambulance, call the cops, call for help, etc.).

2 PROTECT VITAL SPOTS: Again if the attack is imminent, focus on not getting hit in vital places. As we all know: you are most likely to get cut, try to protect vital areas at all costs. If you can escape then go for it; escaping is a way of protecting yourself!

3 USE IKI TECHNIQUES: Focus on gross motor movements instead of trying to go for a wrist grip. Along adrenaline and fear, come a lack of precision on our hands. If possible run, but if needed then go for the disarm BUT with proper technique and movements that are far easier to remember and apply. 

4 MINDSET: If you get hurt, evaluate the situation and act properly BUT no matter what DO NOT PANIC. A slash cut will make you bleed but it's not the same as getting stabbed. Staying in control in your head, as much as possible, should help a lot while you go through the attack.

5 POST-KNIFE-ATTACK: So you defended yourself successfully, now what? Well again: PRIORITIZE. Is the attacker really under control? Did he come alone or is his buddy about to strike from behind? Does he have any other weapon on him? Do you need first aid? etc.

6 SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE: Knife attacks in my opinion are vast and differ greatly BUT, it would truly help out to share such incident with everyone so they get something useful out of this horrible experience. A good analogy I could use here is Airplanes. Every time there's an accident there's an investigation. They make sure to learn from it and avoid future mistakes. We are only humans and we will commit mistakes; even if we train a lot and intelligently. 

7 CHOOSE WHAT IS BEST FOR YOU If circumstances dictate you should submit the attacker, then leave it at that. If a terrorist comes after your family and you decide to take things to another level, then go for it. We are not murderers but I personally would prefer to proceed this way than to have my loved ones killed. 

8 TRUST YOUR GUT, BUT TRUST YOUR TRAINING EVEN MORE There's a reason why we simulate reality and practice hours and hours per day. Don't go for anything new or stupid just because "you felt it". 


Eduardo, México

I'm a true believer that traditional martial arts knife defense and disarms don't work in a real confrontation. Knife is more dangerous than a gun and more difficult to defend. 

The first and best defense against a knife is to run but in case of confrontation, big gross movements  like the ones  we use in IKI will give us an advantage. Two arms against one will always work to control the attacker and prevent a life threatening injury. 

Knife disarms are accidents if they happen great but that's not the main focus of our defense. Our main defense ingredient is awareness. Be aware of your surroundings always, keep your eyes open and at the first signs of danger get the hell out.

Jorge Castillo, Puerto Rico, 

Dear Moshe,

I have to admit that it took me hours to recover from your article.  Hard stuff. Why? I became the huge responsibility aware we have as IKI instructors.  Defence against a knife is not a game. Yes, and you are so right, it's not  a fight as a karateka, kickboxer or Hollywood star. As ridiculous as it sounds,  the blog lets me think of a „fight" a few months ago. I was in the kitchen alone  with a sweet potato and a small knife. It took only a second of carelessness, and the  whole kitchen was full of my blood. It was a small but deep cut into my right index finger.  It took me weeks to use this finger again. Since this "accident" it is numb. May this numb index finger  always remember me of your words. Your article is one of the most important and inspiring one. As a  result of that, I will surprise and confront my students in the next training session with a real knife.  For a well-dosed shock and a controlled practice with the bloody reality. (If I teached them right, they  will leave the dojo immediately ;-) 
All the best and thank you,

Thanassi S., Austria

As an Officer of the Law and Court Bailiff, I'm assigned to the busiest court district in the state.  I'm privileged to attend and witness many petty to felony cases.  One felony case that constantly plays in my mind is a murder case with a Rambo knife minimized to menacing.  According to the victim testimony and video surveillance he managed to stay alive by mentally saying to himself, "I'm not dying today!" 

In the video you can see the perpetrator swaying back and forth with the Rambo knife on his right side before he charges forward.  As he approaches the target with his knife hand above his head the victim explodes forward with a simple overhead left arm block stopping the momentum and delivering a right elbow, trapping the weapon arm and delivering multiple combatants until the suspect's knife was dislodged and he was laying on the ground.  The video showed the suspect attempted to fight back from the ground, but the victim stood above him and kept him restraint until the Police arrived.

According to the victim's testimony, he was not aware the weapon was dislodged during the scuffle and that it cut his left forearm when the knife enter and retracted.  The victim was thankful to be alive and received 21 stitches on his left forearm for his effort. 

Victor Camacho, USA

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