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The Top 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Carrying a Self-Defense Blade

TEXT AND PHOTOS BY PATRICK VUONG

A lot of self-defense instructors talk about the fight-or-flight response. They are all missing a key component.

We know you’ve done it before. We all have. C’mon, admit that you’ve pictured yourself being the hero. 

You’re going about your day when a robber/terrorist/Antifa thug pulls out a knife/rifle/skateboard and tries to end your life or that of your loved one. In a flash, you pull out your tactical folding knife and stop the threat before it even starts. You’ve saved the day! You’re the hero … in your fantasy.

But what about in real life? Would you be truly prepared if violence comes barreling down on you? Could you pull out your blade in time? Unfortunately, carrying a big burly tactical folding knife can give you a false sense of security. Just because you have a pocket-deploy folder with ELMAX steel and a titanium frame-lock handle doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly turned into John Wick.

And knowing how to use a knife in self-defense doesn’t mean you’ll actually be able to pull it off when someone is actively trying to gut you, shoot you, or smash your head in. That’s the fundamental gap between three key components of having a knife for self-defense: hardware (the knife), software (techniques), and the user (or more specifically the user’s level of realistic training).

Having one does not automatically guarantee the other two. With that in mind, we’re going to take a closer look at five knife-fighting fallacies that could leave you vulnerable … and how you can overcome them when your life depends on it.

Mistake 1: Assuming You’ll Have Time to Draw Your Knife

This is one of the biggest myths when it comes to using an everyday-carry (EDC) knife for self-defense. Many people (falsely) assume that they will be able to pull out their knives quickly enough to deal with a robber with a gun or a maniac with a machete.

But most life-threatening attacks happen so quickly that you just won’t be able to pull out your blade fast enough—even if it’s an automatic knife with a push-button opening.

“I’ve spent years studying criminal behavior … an overwhelming percentage of victims had less than a second or two to react from the time they saw the weapon to when the first attack was launched.”

Why? Violence happens at lightning (and frightening) speeds. If you’re reacting to an attack, you’re already one step behind. A lot of self-defense instructors talk about the fight-or-flight response. They are all missing a key component that I make it a point to address in my combatives classes—there is a third response: freeze. This could mean you fainted or you’re frozen in a state of shock. Regardless, the outcome is the same: grievous injuries or death.

These images depict a knife-fighting fallacy. It’s a common myth to believe that you’ll have plenty of time to spot a threat and pull your EDC blade out in time. The truth is violent attacks happen in bad-breath distance and with little to no warning.

My recent audit of surveillance footage of more than 25 real-life knifings uploaded to the internet revealed that a determined attacker could stab a surprised victim anywhere between two to 10 times in just 2 seconds.

So, how can you avoid the mistake of assuming you’ll have time to draw your knife? The primary way is maintaining situational awareness. You will survive 100% of the attacks that never happen. Keep your head on a swivel, get your head out of your apps, and follow your intuition. If you sense something is off, there’s a really good chance something is. So, move! Either get up and leave ASAP or place your hand near your EDC knife and be prepared to stand your ground.

Don’t assume you can instantly access your knife in a life-anddeath situation if it’s in your backpack or purse. Instead, carry your EDC knife as close to your dominant hand as possible if it’s a folding knife. Practice drawing it as quickly and safely as you can (with a training knife if needed).

Mistake 2: Assuming You Have Instant Access to Your Knife

I’m stunned whenever I teach a combatives course and quiz my new students on the location of their EDC knives. Some toss their life-saving tools in their backpacks or purses. And a few even leave them in their cars.

It’s not like you can call a timeout and ask the robber, “Excuse me, sir, could you pause for a moment so that I can get my Benchmade out of my fanny pack?”

“If you want to carry an EDC blade for self-defense, then guess what? You have to practice self-defense.”

As mentioned in Mistake 1, in a life-and-death situation, time will not be on your side. Therefore, you must make protection the priority.

All too often in firearms or martial arts classes, you’re taught to immediately go on the counterattack—pull out your own gun or knife and go on the offense.

That works on a theoretical level if you have time to draw. But in reality, violent criminals won’t give you that time because they’re already within 3 feet of stabbing you.

If you go for your knife in the middle of their attack, it’s a trade at best (meaning you both get injured or killed) or a death sentence for you at worst because action will beat reaction most of the time.

Instead, if a psycho is trying to ventilate you with kitchen cutlery, you should first make sure he doesn’t poke any extra holes in you by evading, blocking, or trapping the arm holding the blade.

This is where street-effective empty-hand combatives comes into play. Once you’ve stopped the attack itself and controlled the attacker, then and only then have you earned your draw and can launch your counterattack.

If your EDC knife is a fixed blade, you have more options for how and where to carry it. Regardless of the position and which grip you prefer, practice drawing it regularly.

So, set yourself up for success by carrying your EDC knife as close to your primary hand as possible.

For 70-90% of the population, your right side will be your dominant side. That means clipping your folding knife in your right pocket as close to your pants’ outseam as possible to allow your thumb to get immediate and positive traction on your folder’s handle to start your draw.

For wrong-handed, er, we mean left-handed users, obviously you’ll mirror this by carrying your folder in your left front pocket.

If you’re carrying a fixed blade, you have more options for setting up for a faster deployment—especially when considering whether you want to be able to draw in forward or reverse grip, or have the option to choose on the fly. (We won’t delve into this subtopic here, as it could be enough to fill another feature article.)

Mistake 3: Assuming You’ll See the Attack Coming

When’s the last time you saw a tiger stand up out of the tall grass and announce to the antelope, “I’m going to eat you now”? In the animal kingdom, an apex predator will almost always use the element of surprise to catch its prey. Humans are the same way because, well, we’re animals, too.

Sadly, for the vast majority of folks who have never seen real life violence—let alone experienced it firsthand—they assume that just by carrying a folding knife they will be safe because they’ll see a threat coming.

The reality is that most criminals won’t make it that easy for you. Think about it. If you were a lowlife robber, who would you rather bum rush: a man who spotted you from 20 yards away or someone who’s got his hands full and his eyes on his smartphone?

I’ve spent years studying criminal behavior and spent countless hours watching surveillance footage and cellphone video of violent attacks uploaded to the web. Whether it was a robbery with a wheel-gun in Brazil or a random stabbing spree on a New York subway, an overwhelming percentage of victims had less than a second or two to react from the time they saw the weapon to when the first attack was launched—if they saw a weapon at all.

So, to prevent yourself from committing this mistake, start thinking like a criminal. Evildoers can sometimes be more vigilant than the innocent, as they’re always on the lookout for what this author calls the three Ps: prey, police, and potential witnesses.

The next time you’re in public, scan your environment like you’re a criminal and watch for not only possible predators but also vulnerable prey. This switch in mindset will remind yourself to take proactive steps—whether you choose to flee or to fight—instead of freezing.

Mistake 4: Assuming the Attacker Will Stop Once You Grab Your Knife

Another knife-fighting fallacy that you must banish from your warrior ways is the thought that the moment you fight back, the attacker will slump over like a zombie hit with a head shot. The reality is that even if you’ve successfully pulled out your EDC knife, the bad guy will most likely do everything in his power to end your life. It’s just a survival instinct—a him-or-me mentality that drives people to became ultra-violent.

So, don’t assume that just because you’ve deployed your knife or even nailed your assailant with a defensive slash that the fight has ended. Sadly, this myth has been perpetuated by both modern combatives systems and traditional martial arts. Teachers show techniques that make it seem like two or three moves will end a fight. Or they overtly or implicitly have their “attacker” stay static during a demonstration to make it easier to counter-cut, never facing any realistic resistance that happens in an actual street encounter.

Don’t assume that because you’ve decided to fight back that your assailant will suddenly stop the attack. Protect yourself, move yourself to a safer position where you can tenderize him with some counterstrikes before drawing your EDC knife.

How do you overcome this mistake? First, change your mindset. Don’t deploy your self-defense knife to scare off someone or to cut him once to “make him think twice about continuing.” That sort of thinking will land you in jail or in the morgue.

Remember, the moment you pull out a blade, you are using a deadly weapon in the eyes of the law. So, you better be justified in doing so, which means your life must be threatened with deadly intent. And if your life is in danger, you must do what it takes to end that threat. Second, well, see the next page.

Mistake 5: Assuming You Don’t Need to Train

This misconception afflicts all sorts of people, not just those who carry knives. I know law enforcement officers who don’t train their defensive tactics. We’re friends with “survivalists” who never practice fire-starting. And, unfortunately, knife folks are no different.

If you want to carry an EDC blade for self-defense, then guess what? You have to practice self-defense. I highly suggest you start training in any edged-weapon combatives system ASAP if you haven’t already. The specific style is almost irrelevant. After all, any good folding knife can easily slice through clothes, skin, and muscle with a swing at half speed. (Again, we don’t have enough space to elaborate on the science of a sharp knife, because that could fill its own story.)

You don’t rise to the occasion, but rather fall to your level of training. If you’re not training, you won’t be prepared when someone ambushes you with a knife.

What’s more important is that you find a reputable and experienced instructor who is nearby or offers convenient ways to train online. Second, make sure he or she is a joy to train with. After all, if your training is not fun and convenient, you’re not going to want to do it. And everyone definitely needs to train for self-defense.

As the saying goes, you don’t rise to the occasion, but rather fall to your level of training. And if you’re not training, guess what will happen when someone comes at you with a gun, knife, skateboard, or just their balled-up fist? I can almost guarantee you it’s not going to play out like it did in your alpha male fantasy. KI

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Patrick Vuong is a lifelong knife knut, a writer/journalist and the co-founder of Tiga Tactics (a combatives training company). As a self-defense teacher since 1999, he uses his diverse knowledge of fighting methods to close the wide gap between two traditionally separate warriors: martial artists and firearms enthusiasts. He’s an instructor in several systems, including the Filipino bladed art of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali. For more information, go to TigaTactics.com.