How to Use a Knife for Self-Defense

For many preppers concerned about self-defense, guns take center stage and with good reason. Only firearms can afford a concerned citizen the tremendous combination of standoff capability, lethal power and pinpoint accuracy, and can deliver all the above repeatedly with just the pull of a trigger.

But there’s another weapon that almost every prepper carries that they probably don’t give too much thought to in regards to a defensive weapon. I’m talking, of course, about knives.


For most, knives are an afterthought in terms of self-defense. a weapon of true desperation, or tertiary weapon at best. Something to be used when all other options have been exhausted. This is a shame because it’s not framing the knife in its proper context.

While a knife will never give you the advantages of a firearm, they have advantages all their own, important ones. but making the most of them requires the right mindset and dedicated training, just like with any other weapon.

This article, will give knives close examination for your consideration as weapons for serious self-defense.

Defense with a Knife: Civilian Concerns

If you’re reading this article, the chances are good you are not a military Special Forces operator, a cold-blooded assassin, or a hardened con serving time in prison.

That’s good, that means you’re in the right place since you won’t be using the majority of the techniques that those folks might. If you are a civilian who carries a knife incidentally or purposefully for self-defense, your priorities are different from those professionals, legitimate or not, above.

If you were attacked with lethal force and must defend yourself in kind, using a knife, your sole consideration is getting out of the fight as quickly as possible with the minimum damage and minimizing further risk to yourself.

It is easy to take that statement in too broad a way, interpreted as you should just run away at the first sign of trouble. That is not what I’m saying.

Of course, you should run away and avoid a fight if you are able to do so safely. That little bit of nuance is key, contextually.

What the Sprint for the Car Coalition often fails to mention, is it the party that breaks and tries to run from a fight in progress is the one that most often suffers the most severe wounds. Inertia is a thing.

The bad guy gets a vote. If you have someone actively attacking you or is ready, right now, to do so then chances are a clean escape will not be possible without first neutralizing the attacker, or at least stunning him to buy yourself a window of opportunity to get away.

It is imperative you understand this: any weapon is a means to an end in a self-defense situation. Correct application of that weapon will earn you a chance to get a better outcome. gun or knife makes no difference, it is using either one, anything, to good effect that matters.

When we start to damage the attacker’s anatomical structures vital for continued life or consciousness, or ones that are necessary for proper control of their limbs, we start to degrade and eventually halt their attack.

You can’t attack someone when you’re unconscious, and you definitely can’t attack someone when your muscles are so cut to ribbons or your organs so pulped that your limbs don’t work.

This is why proper targeting with your knife is so important. We aren’t going to slash and hack at the bad guy all willy-nilly, and hope he goes “this sure sucks”, and just gives up and leaves us alone.

We must begin to take away his ability to continue his assault on us, and we do that by specific targeting of muscle groups and other anatomical structures that allow him to perpetrate his attack, specifically remain mobile and wield his weapon, whatever it is.

Our other consideration is inflicting a wound on him so grievous and so terrifying, and seemingly doing that out of nowhere, that it in essence short circuits his brain. It is not something we can always count on but it is something that happens with regularity.

Every person is hardwired with certain survival instincts, things hard-coded into our nervous system. with proper target selection and a little luck, we can use that against our attacker to buy ourselves a momentary respite and time enough to get away or close the fight.

But to make any of that happen, any of it at all, we have to know what we’re doing. First things first, you have to have a knife and ideally one well suited for self-defense meaning use against a human being.

Second, that knife has to be on your person, readily accessible, able to be drawn in a moment under duress.

Third, you need to know what you’re up against, and lastly how you’ll have to employ your knife in the gravest extreme. We will cover it all in the sections below.

The Effectiveness of Knives

Even in this day and age it is shocking to me how many people think knives are the weaker option compared to guns. We need to put that to bed right now.

Guns are certainly powerful. there’s not a pistol on Earth that won’t kill you deader than a doornail. Rifles and shotguns will blast you right into the afterlife. But make no mistake friends, blades, sharpened steel alone is beyond capable of inflicting nightmarish wounds.

Even small, unintimidating knives inflict carnage on the human body out of all proportion with their size. Consider if you will the common medical scalpel, or lancet. Often no longer than 1/2 inch, or 3/4 of an inch these diminutive blades have edges honed to inconceivable sharpness.

They part skin and muscle tissue like it’s not even there. A box cutter or fanatically sharpened small pocket knife can do much the same.

The common fallacy of “it’s only a knife” infests our culture, especially those weak-kneed types that don’t believe in self-defense. Cops and armed citizens alike shoot dead attackers armed with blades the moment they perceive them, and they do so rightly.

It never fails you’ll see the media and the people in the peanut gallery squawking about how they could have shot him in the leg, or how they should have tried to take him down, or subdue him or some other such nonsense.

I can furnish ample examples of victims, cops and citizens alike, who tried to do exactly that in lieu of shooting when they should have that got carved up like they were hanging in a maddened butcher’s shop.

The point I’m trying to impress on you is this: any knife is extremely powerful. Unlike firearms, a knife can be wielded to deadly effect by an untrained user almost all the time so long as they’re motivated. In the hands of a trained fighter, knives can inflict fatal wounds with shocking speed in close combat.

Straight Silver: Knife Advantages

Knives have advantages all their own compared to guns. All a knife really is a sharpened edge with a handle. It follows that knives, as a rule, can be found anywhere, no matter where you go. It means that knives are viable weapons even when you are denied any sort of weapon.

You can duck into a kitchen, and do a hardware store, into a maintenance room or even an art supply store and produce a knife. Knives are also easily improvised from found materials.

One need look no further than every prison everywhere to find thousands of examples of homemade shanks and shivs. if you have the will and the time, you can always find or produce a knife.

Knives are easy to hide. Born the largest and most ostentatious varieties, the average knife will virtually disappear even under a t-shirt. Combined with some of their other attributes, this makes knives a devastating and deadly surprise attack weapon.

It also means you’ll have an easier time getting knives into places where you, quote “shouldn’t have them,” compared to guns.

While there is no practical firearm that is metal-free in its construction, there are dozens, even hundreds of knife designs that are completely non-metallic, undetectable to magnetic resonance scanners and still frightfully sharp and pointy.

This makes knives a definitive choice for non-permissive environment where you might be searched or forced to go through metal detectors prior to entry.

Knives are very fast to deploy. All things being equal, you can clear garment, acquire a grip on and draw a knife and strike with it significantly faster than you can with a firearm. Part of this has to do with their lighter weight.

Neither partner has to do that a knife is “on” the moment your fingers close around the handle. all those required for it to begin working on the bad guy is applying its edge or point forcefully to their flesh.

Even if it’s a bit sloppy, even if it wasn’t perfect, you’ll be inflicting a serious wound. compare that to a firearm, where botching any part of the draw means no bang or a bang off-target entirely.

One of a knife’s biggest advantages comes when someone has already come to grips with you. In an extreme close quarters encounter, a knife can be drawn in the point or edge only has to be leveraged into contact with someone to start having effect.

Pistols, even revolvers, are easily fouled and induced to malfunction when pressed against the target’s body or when they are able to get their hands on it.

Knives are so excellent in this situation that they’re regularly carried specifically for the task; as a primary weapon retention tool when tied up with an assailant.

Lastly, knives don’t run out of ammo and really don’t malfunction. Barring something catastrophic like the blade snapping off of the handle, or I guess the screws in the handle loosening there’s nothing to go wrong with a blade except its edge dulling.

A tip may break off and an edge may chip, roll or otherwise dull but you’ll still be holding a pointy, sharp piece of metal and that knife can still do work, even if it’s degraded.

Choosing a Knife

There are arguably more types of knives than there are firearms, though the operation of knives on the target is much the same: pierce, cut and sever.

Knife aficionados and fans of knives can write hundreds upon thousands boards arguing the minute differences, quirks, merits and perks of a given type of knife, style of blade, point configuration, steel composition and more.

While the choice of any weapon to be considered for self-defense is a serious one, and is due much contemplation as with most things these fans are putting the wagon ahead of the horse.

What is most important for our purposes is a sharp blade made from strong steel, a full tang (if a fixed blade) or a strong lock (if a folder), a handle that securely locks into the hand and a modest size to allow for easy concealment in multiple positions if required.

But before you even consider any of those minutiae, you’ll need to make the most fundamental selection for you knife: fixed blade or folder?

As with everything, both have pros and cons. Fixed blades are extremely strong and extremely fast into action but have a larger overall size for the same length of blade compared to a folding knife. still, their bombproof, foolproof nature make some ideal choices for general-purpose defensive blades.

Slender fixed-blade knife with a blade measuring around 3 and 1/2 in. Is in many ways an ideal defensive knife, capable of doing most things well.

Fixed blade knives require sheathes for safe and effective carry, akin to a holster for a pistol, and you’ll need to experiment with a combination of sheath and carry position to find one that’s comfortable, easy to conceal and fast to access.

As good as fixed blade knives are, it is folding knives that are the reigning champs of the EDC defensive knife world. This is mostly a default matter since most people, preppers included, carry a common folding pocket knife as part of their usual accoutrement every day.

The preponderance of “tactical” folders has seen the popularity of this type of knife for defense skyrocket, even though they arbitrarily have more disadvantages than advantages for the average person.

Folding knives can pack a longer overall blade into a smaller package since they fold neatly into themselves, but they are inherently weaker and more failure-prone than fixed blades, even with the strongest locking mechanisms.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of a folding knife for defense is that the blade must be deployed and locked into position before you can get metal into meat.

This is a fine motor skill that requires considerable practice to ensure you don’t fumble it and is almost always slower than grabbing the handle of and drawing a fixed blade.

Pulling a folding knife from a pocket where it rides or has been clipped is much fiddlier than drawing a good fixed blade.

Folding knives do have one good trick up their sleeve, though, they can be palmed or “loaded” into the hand in the closed position discreetly, ready to deploy with the slightest movement. This is not entirely possible with a fixed blade knife without hiding the hand holding it in its entirety.

Both types of knives can work very well in a defensive context. It is best to experiment and practice with both before committing so you know where the strengths and limitations of both lie.

It also pays to be comfortable using each; both are extremely numerous out in the world, and you never know when you might have occasion to carry one or the other.

Now, on to other considerations.

How to Carry a Knife for Self Defense | Tactical Rifleman

What Not to Choose in a Defensive Knife

There are so many variations in knife design, blade- and tip-style that it is easier to tell you what you don’t want in a defensive knife than to list all the permutations of “good” defensive knives.

Below is a list of things to avoid in a self-defense knife.

Straight and slippery handles

Folder or fixed-blade, perhaps the worst mistake you can make when choosing a defensive knife is picking one with a handle that will pop out of your hand when you can least afford that to happen.

Slick rubber, polished wood, and other materials will perform worse than awfully as soon as they get wet with sweat or blood. Bit of a problem for a knife, wouldn’t you say?

Any knife you choose for self-defense should have high-traction, gritty handle scales and/or an ergonomic shape that will lock into your hand when you grip it, mechanically preventing the knife from slipping.

Hooked, extremely serrated or pronged blades

I trust our readership is not comprised of the dread Tactical Timmies and mall ninjas, but just for the sake of completion I must heartily recommend against the choosing of any defensive knife that has multiple blades, aggressive-looking hooks, extensive or full serrations, wide swells near the tip or any other protuberances that are apt to snag and tangle in clothing or actually anchor the knife inside the attacker when you strike.

Leave the Skeletor-looking flea market toys where they belong. You need a knife that will pierce and insert cleanly into the target’s body on a thrust and cut effortlessly with a slash. The faster you clear the target after a cut or stab and can “rechamber” for the next one the better.

Large or Extra Large Knives

Large knives have a definite mystique and a certain attraction to them. A large knife with a long blade is intimidating, giving its wielder a much needed psychological boost and, it is wistfully hoped, scaring off your attacker (“That’s nawt a knoife…”) but the reality is that big blades have more negatives than positives for defense.

A larger, longer knife certainly affords more reach, a longer cutting surface, and deeper penetration, but that all comes with the cost of being heavier, slower to draw and fight with and more fatiguing to swing or thrust with.

Clearing a large knife from its sheath is a laborious process in anything but ideal conditions, and if you are already tangled up with your opponent when the fight starts you might find yourself unable to clear your pocket saber from its sheathe.

Even large folders are not immune to these critiques, as they gobble up plenty of room when folded, and require proportionally more clear space to deploy.

In the case of a bungled opening, considering you now have your clenched digits on the handle of the knife they will be at serious risk of getting guillotined in the ensuing struggle.

You want a modestly sized, light, nimble knife for defense, not a big Rambo knife no matter how cool it is. Save them for camp or hunting trip.

Now that you have the 101 on knife selection, it is on to carrying it properly so you can draw it quickly in self-defense.

Proper Carry of a Defensive Knife

Proper carry of a defensive knife is a fairly simple equation. Folding knives will ride clipped on or inside a pocket, perhaps on a pocket shield device to facilitate a clean draw and good grip, or sometimes clipped behind a waistband on looser fitting garments like shorts.

No matter how and where you place it, you must do so in such a way that your hand grips it with your thumb and/or finger easily, and is able to actuate the deployment mechanism of the blade before immediately shifting to a full, strong “master” grip.

The more fiddling and movement you have to do to reach this desired end state of blade-locked-open-grip-secure, the worse off you’ll be. This is where fixed-blades enjoy enormous advantage over their folding cousins.

Keep in mind that a folding knife clipped to the top of a pocket may or may not be considered concealed depending on your state and local laws so be sure to check into that before committing to carrying one in that way.

Also, in practical matters a “clipped” folder is NOT concealed: anyone who cares to notice that giant black clip will know exactly what it is. That includes the bad guys…

Fixed blade knives are quite a bit easier to carry with a minimum of fuss. Get a good, sturdy secure sheath that will conceal either vertically or horizontally on the belt, either inside- or outside-the-waistband. Done.

For fixed blades or folders, also decide if you want to carry on your strong side or your support side. If all you carry is a knife for self defense, chances are you’ll be best carrying on your strong side so you can access it with your primary hand.

If you also carry a firearm for self-defense, a knife is best in placed, and trained with, on the opposite side of your gun so you can access it with your support hand and literally cut someone off of your gun in a takeaway attempt.

No matter which side you carry your knife on, it only belongs on one facing on your body: in front! As with guns, small of the back carry for knives generally sucks.

Yes, it is very concealable, but you will have a hard time drawing the knife from back there quickly and an even harder time defending it from a takeaway attempt if someone wants to try.

A knife carried right behind the hip (3:30/8:30, respectively for righties and lefties) is acceptable, but you will always want the knife placed somewhere on the frontal arc of your waistline to facilitate a clean, fast draw.

Basic Knife-Fighting Techniques: Into the Fray Episode 168

Deploying Your Knife in Self-Defense

You are beholden to all the usual rules, laws and ethics concerning use of force in defense when relying on your knife for protection. You may never employ it to scare, intimidate or win an argument.

Chances are drawing your knife with the blade visible is considered brandishing if done when you or someone else are in a heightened state of agitation, so never do so unless you are facing an imminent, present and plausible lethal threat.

If a threat can be handled by lesser force (pepper spray, fists) you must use the least amount of force possible. Remember: don’t get taken by the “just a knife” idiocy. That will not help you in the slightest in court.

Assuming you have a known threat you are preparing to fight before they have sprung on you, take action at once! You can draw your folder, and keep it oriented properly in your hand with thumb or finger on the deployment device.

As soon as you perceive the threat to be terminal, i.e. unavoidable, deploy the blade. For fixed blades, you may or may not want to acquire a grip early, as this furtive movement is a major tell of intent.

Trust me, a bad guy knowing you are armed is no impediment to most of them and can actually escalate the situation or make it worse. What you can do instead is surreptitiously clear any concealing garment present, if any, to facilitate a slick, fast draw.

No matter the other circumstances, the decision to draw and/or deploy your knife means that you should be using it on your attacker almost instantly. They have about as much time as it takes for you to complete your draw to about face.

When the knife is in your hand, grip it tightly! Some martial arts schools of knife use emphasize esoteric grips with half-hand pressure or full strength pressure using only the, pinky, ring and middle fingers, or other such strange methods.

But the calculus of bloodletting with a knife demands a rigid and clenched grip on the knife if you don’t want to risk losing it during the repeated impacts sustained during the cuts and thrusts you’ll be making. The less the knife can shift or move in your hand, the better.

Personal Defense Tips: Blades - Defensive Responses with a Knife

Targeting the Bad Guy

At this point in the fight the bad guy or bad guys are about to lose their pound of flesh. Your objective is singular as a civilian defender: escape with as few injuries as you can. It does not matter if you “beat” the attacker, or if you kick his ass or anything else.

All that matters is getting away and going home with the same number of holes that you left the house with.

To achieve this, it is not necessary to kill the attacker. Yes, he may die from the wounds we inflict on him in the course of our defense, but that is not our objective. our objective is to inflict substantial wounds that will reduce his ability to continue the fight against us.

These ones are specifically ones which will reduce or eliminate his capability to use a weapon against us, or ones that will hamper his mobility or immobilize him.

Of course, any wound that damages a vital organ or causes severe blood loss is also a net win; once blood pressure or blood volume drops low enough, no force of will can overcome it.

If the attacker cannot use a weapon, we have drastically reduced the threat. If he cannot pursue us or move quickly enough to strike us, we have significantly reduced the threat. Good alternate targets are those which inflict serious psychological damage.

Even a comparatively minor slice to the face or neck can upset the attacker’s mindset with concern for his own damage. Blood streaming into the eyes is a major distraction and severely demoralizing.

With all of that in mind, here a few good targets for your knife in a fight:

Head, Specifically Face, and Neck

Everyone is naturally very protective of their head, and they should be. The head houses the most vital organ in the body, the brain, and the eyes, the two organs responsible for processing our most vital sense. Any wound great or small to the head bleeds hideously and is a serious psychological obstacle.

Any strike to the eyes will severely hamper on attackers’ vision, giving you a major advantage. It goes without saying that any cut or thrust of the neck is more than capable of easily damaging bundles of major blood vessels which result in near immediate incapacitation.

Arm and Hand

Any major wound to the muscle groups of the arm or the hand itself will begin to take away your attackers ability to use that arm against you, either directly or by holding a weapon.

Cutting the muscle groups of the upper arm will degrade the attacker’s ability to control the lower arm. Cutting the muscle groups of the lower arm will impact the opening and closing of the hand, meaning their grip.

Any direct attack on the hand itself will obviously severely impact their grip and is also another psychological barrier to continuing the fight.

Lower Body

Attack below the belt are definitely worth pursuing if you’re using a knife on defense. Jordan growing itself for the pelvic region around it has a high likelihood of severing major blood vessels, and cutting vital tendons and muscle groups used for stability and control of the legs.

The psychological and emotional impact of a cut or thrust to the reproductive organs needs no discussion. Attacks to the huge muscle groups of the thigh are also money makers, and damaging or severing them will do much towards hobbling one of the attacker’s legs.

Remember, if they cannot pursue you and you can get away, you win. One easy target is the band of muscles directly above the knee on the front of the thigh.

Processing the Fight

When you are attacked, or the attack is imminent, it’s time to fight now. Don’t wait until you are wounded to begin your defense. Forget right now the idea of two fighters slowly circling each other with knives or other weapons in hand.

Your street fight for survival will not look like a boxing match, and will not look like the flowing, almost gentle sparring of two martial artists in a ring in a dojo.

Street fights are a clash, two bodies slamming into each other and trying to pile on as much damage as quickly as possible. This will inform how we fight.

While you are on the defensive as the victim, there’s nothing defensive about protecting yourself; a good defense looks a lot like a vicious offense. Your goal as the would-be victim is to attack the attacker with such ferocity that the only thing he has time to think about is saving his own skin.

Drawing your knife only to hide behind it, and wait for the attacker to do something is the wrong play. Unlike training for a fight, your attacker will not feed you a choreographed, easily intercepted attack like you two are in the practice ring. Expect every attack will be followed up by another one as fast as you can think.

No matter how fast you are, no matter how good you are at countering, some of those attacks will get through. Once you are wounded, and wounds pile up, your defense will degrade and pretty soon he’ll be closing in on the coup de grace.

Don’t let that happen! To prevent it, as counterintuitive as it seems, you need to go on offense. Make him react to you. Try to tie up his weapon arm and land cuts or thrusts on all major targets as quickly as you can until the attacker is disabled or gives up.

Note that “giving up” is not him screaming or begging for mercy. Giving up is dropping the weapon, falling to the ground, halting his offense or trying to escape.

At any rate, the moment you think you can disengage and actually get away from the attacker, do so. Remember, in a self-defense situation you may only use the precise amount of force necessary to stop the unlawful use of force against you, and not one cut, scratch or poke more.

The Bloody Aftermath

Unless we are talking about using your knife in defense during a true WROL scenario where you’re answerable only to your conscience and your God there will be legal fallout that must be attended to, whether you want to or not, after your defensive encounter.

One thing to keep in mind if using a knife for self-defense, is in the minds of much of the citizenry it has a sort of “bad guy weapon” label.

Don’t misunderstand, you can rest assured most people on the jury will be at least passingly uncomfortable with the idea of using lethal force in self-defense at all, compared to a gun a knife May skew their opinion of you.

Gunshot wounds are never pretty, but compared to the slaughterhouse horror that repeated blows from a knife inflict on the human body they are virtually clean. Perception controls events, and controls people’s personal realities.

Separating the carnage you inflicted on your attacker, even when you’re the victim, even when it was in defense of your life, may be challenging for your “peers” on the jury.

You can quote chapter and verse all you want regarding legal use of defensive force, but I’m telling you that your fate in a courtroom will come down more to attorneys and what schmucks are sitting in that jury box than the law as it is written.

In this regard, knives have a distinct disadvantage compared to guns, which are far more commonly used by good citizens in self-defense than any blade.

This is not to the dissuade you from using a knife if it is the right tool for the job or is all you have access to under the particular circumstances you are living and working in.

You do, after all, have to be alive to see your day in court and clear your name. But it is something you should plan for now.

Discuss the matter with your family attorney and if they are not comfortable defending or advising you on matters of self-defense, they need to refer you to someone who is.

Preferably, this referral will have experience and expertise in civilian use of force on defense and especially should have experience in defending in court use of a knife, though this is very rare among lawyers.

Lastly, the onus will always be on you to precisely articulate why you took the actions you did in defense of your life and why they were necessary to achieve the outcome escape and survival.

Any fight, especially one with life-or-death consequences, seems to happen in a confused blur I am with the benefit of hindsight and time to reflect it can be extremely challenging to put events in the proper order and then assign what your thought process was to each action.

Compared to use of a firearm, especially in an event where you had standoff from your attacker, use of a knife will be highly chaotic and extraordinarily emotionally charged.

This will not work in your favor when you’re cross-examined in court and have to explain each frantic cut, thrust and maneuver you made.

Those decisions you had to make in an instant, but for lollygagging jurors and dispassionate judges they will weigh, analyze, and then pass judgment over at their leisure. Remember that, and plan for it now.


Knives are powerful and universally available weapons for self-defense. But using a knife for self defense and attaining proficiency in it must be approached in a different way than preparing to use a firearm.

Knives have their own strengths, but they also have their share of limitations, ones you must work around if you hope to be successful with it. Read over the concerns presented in this article and start building your knife-centric skillset today.

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2 thoughts on “How to Use a Knife for Self-Defense”

  1. extremely well written and OH SO TRUE and yet the aint gun nuts still scream about the scary black guns MANY times i have written comments to aint gun nuts about the dangers of blades and all i got was cussed out or laughed at UNTIL they where forced to see the reality of the fact most of the time AFTER they saw what someone could do with nothing more than a simple paring knife or they saw what someone could do with very little medical knowledge and if you get someone with some SERIOUS knife fighting skills and nothing more than a 4 inch push dagger in a loud place and you could have 5 on the way into the grave before the first one is gone and yet NOBODY of any kind influence wants to hear it god knows i do NOT want to use ANYTHING i have learned over the years but i would rather have something and NOT need it than need it and not have it

  2. I have to take exception on one point here. I’ve carried a Spyderco Delicate with full serrations in stainless handle for years and theyve been nothing but helpful. It can poke with the best of them and when it’s time to cut a plain blade can hang it up. I’ve cut inch and a half braided nylon rope in one swipe numerius times. Show me a plain blade the do the same in the same length blade. I’ve never seen one.


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