KNOWING HOW TO DEPLOY AN EDC KNIFE FOR SELF-DEFENSE IS THE KEY TO SAVING A LIFE — POSSIBLY YOUR OWN.
Some say the oldest weapon ever designed was the stick. But they’re wrong—humans didn’t invent the tree branch. The first engineered weapon was more likely an edged tool invented hundreds of thousands of (possibly even 2.6 million) years ago, according to archaeologists.
Whether used as tips for javelins or for prehistoric protection, cutting stones were formed by striking two rocks together, flaking off bits until an edge with the desired angle and sharpness remained.
Yet, fast forward several thousand millennia and you’ll find plenty of people who own knives with no clue how to use them for self-defense or survival.
So, in this, the second chapter of a two-part series on knife defense (see “The Bladed Hand” in the March/April 2023 issue for Part 1), I’m going to take a stab—pun intended!—at explaining how to draw an everyday-carry (EDC) knife for defensive purposes.
This is not going to be a guide on how to slice and dice an evil attacker because that’s actually the easy part. Heck, even a 10-year-old with a kitchen knife could be deadly. The hard part—the part that many neglect to train—is how to get your EDC blade out safely and quickly enough before that a lethal threat gets to you first.
SELF-DEFENSE STARTS WITH THE EMPTY KNIFE HAND
To be able to use an edged weapon in a violent situation, you first need empty-hand skills. The reason is that almost no one happens to have a knife already in their hand when a fight starts—well, not unless you happen to be a working chef, produce packer, or meth-fueled psycho.
Ninety-nine percent of the time you’ll just be going about your day when a criminal strikes. When he does, you won’t have time to draw. That’s because the vast majority of knife attacks are actually ambushes launched within 6 feet or closer (which I explained in Part 1 of this series and in combatives classes I teach through my company, Tiga Tactics).
If your first reaction is to go for your knife, you’ll lose that race. That’s because action always beats reaction.
Instead, I advocate that folks follow the Tiga Tactics P.R.O. Strategy, which stands for Protection, Reposition, and Offense. That means the first priority is to defend yourself with your bare hands.
How to do that depends on many factors, including the type of weapon used against you (i.e. gun, hammer, etc.). I don’t have the space to describe every defense for every inevitability, but the key takeaway is to protect your head and vital organs so that you can progress to the next phase: reposition.
THE COMBAT DRAW
Repositioning keeps you away from your assailant’s weapon but also moves you to a more advantageous spot so you can draw your own self-defense tool.
But how? Sure, you could step back; that would be the natural thing to do. The problem with moving backward, though, is that you’re also giving the bad guy more space to resume his attack. Plus, you’ll never be able to run backward faster than a thug can run forward.
Therefore, you should take away the assailant’s space by moving toward him. Yes, toward the assailant.
That seems counterintuitive. But you’re going to advance forward by firing a stiff arm (re: push) to the face with your support-side hand and stepping with your support-side leg, all the while accessing your blade with your dominant-side hand.
This is what my Tiga Tactics co-founder, Dr. Conrad Bui, and I call the “Combat Draw.” And doing so actually gives you several advantages, including breaking the bad guy’s balance, turning his head so he can’t see you, and keeping your dominant side (presumably where your knife is carried) away from him.
Once you’ve “created time and space,” you need to capitalize on that split-second opportunity to get your blade out.
Without diving too deeply into knife types and opening mechanisms due to space constraints, I recommend a fixed blade for self-defense because it’s faster to deploy. It’s a no-brainer: Grab the handle and yank the knife out of its sheath.
If you can’t carry a concealed fixed-blade due to legal reasons, I advocate for a folding knife with a pocket-deploy opening (such as the Wave Feature made famous by Emerson Knives). These knives open by catching onto your pants pocket and opening the blade as your pull the handle out—essentially coming out like a fixed blade.
GET A GRIP
Practicing your draw-stroke under duress is a safe way to find out if your grip and technique will work in a life-and-death situation, which is why we make deployment such a huge part of our edged-weapon program at Tiga Tactics.
In a chaotic fight for your life, it’s easy to lose control of your weapon—especially with a folding knife. Your hands could be sweaty. Blood could get on the handle. The bad guy could knock it out of your grasp. Or you could suffer from one of the most common side effects of an adrenaline-filled incident: loss of fine motor control.
To compensate, you must transition from what we like to call Initial Grip to Open Grip to Battle Grip as quickly as possible, but without fumbling your edged tool.
For a fixed blade, things are much easier because your Initial Grip is your Battle Grip; just grab and pull. But for a folding knife, the transition is more difficult to perform under the stress of a deadly threat. Here’s how to make sure you don’t bungle your blade deployment.
1) Initial Grip: Acquire a solid thumb index, meaning you slide your thumb as deeply into your pocket as possible and press it against your knife handle. Then, with the help of your other fingers, pull out your tool as firmly as possible.
2) Open Grip: Transition your four fingers so you get as much meat on the handle as possible while still clearing a path for the blade. Then activate it (e.g. pushing the thumb-stud for a manual or spring-assisted knife) or pressing the tab (for a flipper folding knife). If it’s a pocket-deploy model, your pants pocket will do all the work, so just make sure your thumb is clear of the blade.
3) Battle Grip: While some fighting systems get fancy with their grips, Tiga Tactics maintains the KISS principle: Keep it simple and strong. That means using the hammer grip with all five fingers wrapped tightly around the handle. We sometimes refer to this as the Death Grip, because if you lose your grip (and your weapon), you could die.
An alternate grip is the thumb-supported grip often seen in Filipino martial arts like Kali. For this one, you place the entire length of your thumb on the spine of the blade. This grip provides leverage for certain techniques, gives you a tactile indicator of where the cutting edge is facing, and helps maintain the 90-degree blade-to-arm orientation (which is important for slicing techniques).
The disadvantage is that you have one less finger around the handle and your grip is slightly less secure. Therefore, I recommend it only to students with some experience.
ANGLES OF ATTACK
You’ve made it to the “fun” part of the Tiga Tactics P.R.O. Strategy: launching your offense. And you know what? This is also the easy part.
Many martial artists spend most (if not all) of their training on how to lacerate and eviscerate their enemies in 101 ways. They teach overly complex techniques and pontificate on “the best” types of knives. But the reality is that almost all of that is irrelevant in a fight for your life.
Don’t believe me? Just watch an actual knife fight and you’ll see how brutally simplistic the attacks are—often committed by untrained thugs using small kitchen cutlery or a $20 “tactical” blade. I’ve studied hundreds and hundreds of real-life assaults captured on cellphone and surveillance cameras since YouTube debuted in 2005. And I can tell you that pretty much all blade steels will defeat the thin skin (and clothing) of a human. Plain and simple.
Therefore, your defensive knife work should also be kept simple. It should utilize gross motor skills and natural movements.
The first offensive move I teach is a common motion not just in martial arts but in sports, too. If you’ve ever thrown a ball, you already have an idea of how to do it. Raise your knife above your right shoulder (or left if you’re a southpaw) and slash diagonally downward.
The second technique is just the backhand version. Raise your knife above your left shoulder (or right if you’re a southpaw) and slice diagonally downward.
These are called Angle 1 and Angle 2, respectively, in most Filipino martial arts because they are the two most common and important angles of attack. They are deadly whether you’re slashing with the cutting edge or thrusting with the tip and whether you’re using a forward grip or reverse grip.
If you use the angles together in combination, you’ll naturally form a figure eight in front of you that will fillet anything that gets in the way.
They can be used to sever the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of an attacker’s arm—or even lop off whole fingers. And if he loses the ability to make a fist or hold a weapon, he’s less likely to continue his assault.
Of course, sometimes slashing techniques won’t be enough, which is why the forward stab is a common follow-up to Angles 1 and 2. To execute this technique, start with your knife near your hip and simply thrust in a straight line, either to the bad guy’s torso, groin, or thigh. Other viable (but probably fatal) targets could be the throat and head.
Of course, that doesn’t mean your counterattacks must be done in this order.
In Kali, there is the concept of “slash to stab” and “stab to slash”—meaning you might slice an assailant’s arms and then thrust to the body, or thrust to the body and then slice on your way out. You can mix it up based on your given circumstances.
THE FINAL TIP
There’s no denying the historical significance of an edged tool. Oddly enough, though, there hasn’t been an emphasis placed on how to get your knife out safely and effectively for self-defense in modern times. Yet, that is often the hardest part of using a knife during a life-and-death struggle.
After all, what good is an edged weapon in your pocket if you’re already being punched, stabbed, shot, or beaten?
That’s why consistent practice is key. Train your Combat Draw often so it becomes second nature, then pressure-test it. This can be done with a trusted partner by gearing up in safety equipment and simulating real-life attacks using training tools. Or, you can do it solo via a shot timer to test your speed and adrenaline inoculation.
Remember: If you have a knife, you can save a life — but only if you know how to draw it effectively in time. KI
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A frequent contributor to Knives Illustrated, Patrick Vuong is a lifelong “knife knut” whose first edged tool was a Swiss Army Knife given to him as a gift when he was 8 years old. He’s a certified handgun instructor as well as a teacher of several self-defense systems, including the bladed art of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali.
Moreover, Vuong is the co-founder of Tiga Tactics, a combatives training company. To learn more about effective edged-weapon training, go to knifedefensetraining.com.
BLUNT BLADE RUNNER
Anyone who owns a pocketknife should know how to use it for defensive purposes. And the only way to practice safely is with the proper training tools. Here are some of the best dummy blades this author has had the pleasure to train with.
CSSD Folding Training Drone: Designed by Grandmaster Bram Frank to approximate his live blades, this training knife features his patented kinetic opening mechanism—the ramp on the blade’s spine can catch on your pocket, forearm, or even your opponent’s body to open the blade in one swift motion. Fully loaded with cool features for both knife nuts and martial artists, the Drone is a high-quality training tool that’s most ideal for experienced practitioners.
Emerson Knives CQC-7BW Trainer: Originally designed only for law enforcement and military personnel, this stellar training model is a fully-functioning knife save for the blunt blade and blue handle.
Keen Edge Knives Single Guard Raptor: Created by longtime martial artist and Keen Edge Knives founder Steven Rollert, this is one of the best aluminum trainers on the market. Though it’s a fixed blade (Keen Edge doesn’t offer any folding blades), the Raptor is top notch, is reasonably priced, and resembles some of the most common pocketknives used today.
Kershaw Knives E-Train: As a collaboration between Kershaw Knives and Emerson Knives, this model replicates several live-blade models offered by both companies. It’s perhaps the most realistic yet affordable replica of a pocket-deploy knife available today, with the same weight, materials, and opening mechanism as the real deal, but at entry-level prices.
Spyderco Yojimbo 2 Red Trainer: This is a killer training blade to match a killer live blade, which was designed by Martial Blade Concepts founder Michael Janich. This trainer is nearly identical in look, materials, and operations to the real McCoy—except for the red handle and the blunt and skeletonized blade. It’s also quite expensive, if you can find one for sale, but you certainly get what you pay for.
And be sure to check back with KnivesIllustrated.com for more of the latest news from the knife industry.
This is Part 2 of our special presentation on knife defense and is intended for educational purposes only. The author and this publication are not liable for the use or misuse of any content shown herein. Consult with a medical professional before starting training, find a reputable instructor, and practice responsibly.
Top: You can become quite dangerous with a blade using just two simple techniques: A forehand diagonal stroke and a backhand diagonal stroke, referred to as Angle 1 and Angle 2, respectively, in Filipino martial arts.
Top: Once you’ve protected yourself, it’s time to deploy your knife. And the safest way to do that is to counterintuitively step toward the bad guy, strike with your support hand, and draw your blade with your dominant hand. Here the author holds a pad to help his co-founder, Dr. Conrad Bui, demonstrate the Combat Draw.
Left: Urban attacks are more likely to happen when your EDC blade is in your pocket and not in your hand. Therefore, you need empty-hand skills to survive long enough to access your own weapon.
Top: Securing a solid grip on your folding knife is easy to do in a static, relaxed state. But in violent fight for your life, it’s easy to mess up your opening and even fumble your tool completely. Therefore, consistent practicing and occasional pressure-testing is key.