Knife Fighting 101: Fact vs Fiction

The author with a suitable folding knife.
The author with a suitable folding knife.

Article and photos by Keith Sipmann

Have you ever noticed how everyone seems to be an expert on something these days? Whether it be geopolitics, food, parenting, guns, knives, survival techniques, self-defense, basket weaving … you name it and someone can tell you all about it online in a two-minute YouTube video. Well, knife fighting is not immune to this. There are many untruths, myths and opinions about knife fighting, also known as edged-weapon defense. I can’t address them all in this short article, but let’s try to separate a few facts from fiction.
I am a knife enthusiast, and I openly admit that I am no expert in knife fighting. So, to help educate myself on the subject, I reached out to a professional instructor of edged weapons defense, Fred Matison of Force Options Tactical Training and Security, to research the topic further and learn from an industry expert.

Probably the most well-known thing about knife fighting is that you don’t want to bring a knife to a gun fight – you don’t want to be that guy. Also, another thing that Fred Matison discussed in his class is that it’s important to know there really is no such thing as a knife fight. He feels this is something Hollywood has invented to sell action movies, and I basically would agree with him. As a martial arts instructor myself, I understand that actual street fights can last several minutes, where many techniques may be used to subdue an opponent. When a knife is deployed for self-protection, there is only one technique needed to end the aggression, and it very well may end up in a death.
knife fighting2Many of the YouTube experts and internet-forum gurus would argue that you need a large tacti-cool knife to defend yourself in “battle.” First off, a large knife is not practical in most every day carry (EDC) situations. If you live out in the desert on a ranch, a large knife probably is okay, but it isn’t going to work out well for you at the office. You do not need a big tactical knife to defend yourself; but you do want a quality knife, so do your research and find the blade that fits your need.

A medium-sized folder will work just fine. For example, I carry a SOG Mini Aegis as my EDC/defensive blade. It’s small enough to fit deep in a pocket, it’s lightweight, uses high quality materials and the shape of the blade is great for cutting and stabbing. Realistically, the shape of the blade is much more important than the length of the blade – and there is a reason for that which I’ll discuss in the next paragraph. A large knife may grant you greater reach and a deeper penetration, but a medium-sized, EDC-style folding knife can be handled with greater speed and controllability. Considering all of this, the advantages and disadvantages of the size of the blade will depend on the skill of those who wield it, which is why you should train to use (and defend against) a knife if you intend on using one for self-defense.

knife fighting3
Are you realistically ready to use a knife as a defensive weapon? Ask any police officer, emergency room nurse or doctor, military medic, or EMT – knife wounds are bloody and disgusting, probably the worst kind of street “battle” wounds. Not only do they leave a mark physically, they also have a psychological impact too. Fred Matison discussed this quite a bit during his edged-weapons class to get his students into the proper mindset. Cutting someone and ending an aggressor’s action in self-defense not only takes some skill, it also requires a mental commitment. During the discussion of ending that aggression quickly, the question of whether to slash or stab often comes up in his class. He actually teaches his students to stab and not slash (if possible) for a specific reason – slashing doesn’t guarantee that an attacker will stop. Stabbing them in a vital area does. He also stressed that someone using a knife for defensive purposes must treat it the same way an individual carrying concealed would treat their pistol – meaning that you should only draw it when it’s going to be used for defense, and that you must remember that your response must be proportional to the intensity of the attack you receive, reflecting whether your attacker has a knife or other weapon. You don’t deploy a firearm to wound an attacker, and a knife should be used in the same manner. Whatever the situation, your defensive response should fit into the self-defense parameters establish by the law; this is the same whether carrying a knife or a firearm.

Many people think that using a knife for self-protection requires no training, and they couldn’t be more wrong. It is true that anyone could technically use a knife for self-defense, but to be truly effective you really should acquire some realistic-edged weapons training that provides scenarios and tactics of escalating force to manage a variety of circumstances. Remember, following the survivalists’ mindset, you’ll always want to be fully prepared and fully trained, so find a reputable trainer and get some schooling and stay sharp! (cheesy pun intended)

Editor’s note: Keith Sipmann is a veteran of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, firearms enthusiast, gun rights activist, self-defense instructor, conservative political writer and owner of BCB (Boot Camp Bravo) Firearms and Self Defense Clinics.