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Torakan Karate-Do

Is Karate Usefule in Knife Defence?

Is Karate Training Useful in Knife Defence?

This is a topic that is always controversial. Everyone has an opinion on the subject; some through the mirror of their own experiences. However, many seem to have an inflexible opinion on the subject, with little or no real experience and with a very rudimentary education on the topic.

I have defended myself against four serious knife attacks, I was cut in three of them, minor injuries, only one of which needed fairly immediate attention. However, after all four attacks, I was back on the job straight away, while all of the attackers spent considerable time, one to six weeks, in hospital prior to doing serious jail time.

Table of Contents

· Threat level – to intimidate.

· Threat level – aggravated assault.

· Threat level – attempted murder and serious assault.

· Dealing with a bladed weapon is a deadly serious business.

· Be as prepared as you can possibly be.

· If at all possible remove yourself from the situation.

· The Unmentionables: knife cultures.

· Knife fighting martial arts.

Teaching Knife Defence is a Serious Affair

Teaching knife defence to Close Personal Protection Operatives (CPPO) who just might find themselves up against someone with a knife is a serious affair. It needs to be practical, and they need to believe that it will work; because doubt is the back stabber (pardon the pun).

I think we should differentiate between the categories of knife or bladed threats. There are some dramatic differences in threat levels; consequently, there is a difference in the defence strategies used. There are three main threat levels but with a myriad of intensities.

1. The knife presented to intimidate or as an overt threatening device.

Generally, in this case, the intention is not to kill or do serious damage. However,there can be many and varied mitigating factors and this kind of threat can still progress to a real and sometimes life threatening danger. If you are presented with a knife threat situation, remember that an action is quicker than a reaction: initiate the action (Deai).

Basic Knife Defence Principals

Knife Defence 1 – An action is quicker than a reaction.

2. The knife used in an aggravated assault.

Perhaps to intimidate during an attempted robbery/mugging/rape et cetera, where injury is not the main intention, but where it all too often escalates to the next level.

I am not talking about the legal definitions here; what I am talking about is the intentions of the knife wielding assailant. This, by degree only, is a more serious situation for the victim of threat level 1.

Knife Defence 2 – Don’t wait for the action, instigate the action.

3. The knife deliberately used in an attempt to murder or seriously injure.

Again, I am not talking about the legal definitions; I am talking about the intent of the assailant. There can be a hairs breadth between attempting to seriously injure someone and killing them.

Knife Defence 3 – Trapping the attacking knife hand and knife.

Knife Defence 4 – Evade, deflect and capture.


In answer to number 1 and 2, your responses need to be instinctive and immediate. There will be a variance in the degree of danger and the method of intimidation; however, providing you train your responses until they are instinctive (Mushin), you will minimise injury to yourself by remembering these rules:

· An action is always quicker than a reaction: implement the action.

· Act without doubt and without hesitation and don’t stop until your assailant is disarmed and nullified.

In answer to number 3, if you get the opportunity to initiate the action the same rules apply. However, considering the nature of number 3, you may not get the chance to initiate the action. There are far too many variables to generalise; however, when I was putting together my knife defence seminars, apart from utilising my own personal experience, I studied hours of CCTV footage of brutal knife attacks, from all around the world. The situations were many and varied but the outcomes were all pretty grim; mostly ending in a fatality.

I have studied the different ways that people are attacked and determined the best ways in which to combat each different kind of attack. There is a particular defence technique that I teach for a very distinctive type of recurring attack that is used when an assailant is determined to kill his victim. This attack is a rapid stabbing motion; not unlike a rapid, repeating gyaku tsuki type motion, while controlling (pulling/pushing/grabbing) the recipient with the free hand.

I watched CCTV footage of an attack on a police officer. The recipient of the attack was a big policeman; when he stopped a small, suspicious looking man to question him. Attacking suddenly, viciously, without provocation, a knife appearing in his right hand, the small man used his free hand to clamp the policeman’s gun hand against the gun as he was frantically attempting to draw, while stabbing him repeatedly, to death… right there on camera.

Here is a link to an online step by step sequence of still photographs, and a slow motion video of the defence for just such an attack. The advanced karateka among you may recognise the entry… from Soshin Kata:

1. You must meet the attacker head on; do not wait until he has got the first stab in. This is a repeated stabbing action, meant to kill you.

2. Do not let his free hand control you.

3. You must strike, simultaneously ramming your forearms: a) Into the forearm of his knife hand. b) Into the attacker’s face; jamming his first stab and smashing his face (Sen no sen). This action will halt his forward momentum.

4. The stills will show you the first technique from three different angles.

5. It is then important to move quickly, smoothly into the next action, taking advantage of the first shock to his system.

6. Vigorously, simultaneously, push his head down and lift the knife hand up in the manner shown.

7. Keeping your back straight for best results and least chance of losing your balance, bend your knees and drop your centre of gravity, to pile drive the attackers head into the ground.

8. To finish, using a wrist/arm lock, wrench hard to take control and or break the arm.

9. It is doubtful that the knife will still be in his hand, but if it is it will have been nullified all the way through and can be taken easily at this point.

Let me be quite clear about this – I know from practical experience – I taught this technique to the high risk contingent of the security industry for 25 years with nothing but positive feedback; this technique works.

It is not practical (from the point of view of the damage you can cause) to practice this technique, repetitively, with a partner at full speed with power. However this link will demonstrate a method of practicing a modified version of the technique. There are also 3 other possible knife defence techniques on this link that you can practice with a partner, with a little speed. Some training tools if you will:

I think that one point should be made here. If you are confronted by anyone with a stabbing or bladed weapon, if at all possible, you should remove yourself from the situation immediately. Do not make it an ego thing! Even if you master knife defence; having to disarm someone with a blade, regardless of the antagonist’s skill, or lack thereof, is extremely dangerous. However, if you are unable to remove yourself – you may be cornered or doing your job (protecting someone) – you owe it to yourself to be as prepared as you possibly can be.

The Unmentionables

There are still a couple of areas not yet mentioned… To talk about knife defence and not mention the most difficult types of bladed weapons to defend against would be grossly duplicitous. I could do what a lot of people do when covering knife defence: put these weapons in the too hard basket and just ignore them!

Obviously, anything involving knives is more than a little dangerous. If you are thinking of employment in the close protection industry you should consider training in one of the knife fighting systems. You might also familiarise yourself with as many other systems as possible. My initial knife fighting training, in the military, consisted of a mishmash of the most useful, deadly techniques from a variety of origins. My additional knife fighting education comes care of Tantojutsu from Bushido, and the Filipino knife fighting of Kali. I also acquired some of the practicality of stick fighting from Kali; which transfers very nicely to an extendable baton; and which is extremely useful against a knife by the way.


I grew up on stories of the Glasgow razor gangs. There was still the occasional incident, but on the whole the open blade razor had gone the way of the dinosaur. Quite obviously, they were not used for stabbing but for slashing. They could be used with devastating effect: blinding, opening up or slashing pieces off face and hands et cetera. In an experienced hand they could kill quite easily but, for the most part, they were meant to menace and intimidate. Designed to cause extensive damage without the risk of accidentally killing someone; they were quite a terrifying weapon!

The box knife is fairly commonplace in Glasgow nowadays: with a capacity to do massive amounts of damage, but without the depth of blade to accidentally kill someone in the process. Another terrifying weapon!

Defence against the two aforementioned weapons, mostly because exponents of said weapons usually train in their use, I would put firmly in the realm of ‘the knife fighting cultures’. I would therefore advise that defence against them should follow the same lines as dealing with any of the knife fighting martial arts.

Knife Fighting Martial Arts

Lastly, I’ll touch briefly on knife fighting martial arts, which are numerous. Here are just a few of the most prominent:

Pencak Silat (Indonesian)

Silat practitioners use a curved blade called a Karambit. In trained hands, this is a deadly weapon.

Kali Escrima (Filipino)

Kali practitioners use a relatively short, single bladed, stabbing and slashing knife. This is another devastatingly dangerous weapon.

Paranza Corta (Italy)

Practitioners of this deadly art use a stiletto bladed knife; primarily, a deadly stabbing weapon.

Tantojutsu (Japan)

Using a Tanto; this is a devastating, stabbing and slashing knife fighting art.

Military Special Forces (various countries)

This is usually an amalgamation of the deadliest techniques from various, classical knife fighting arts. The weapons vary, my experience was with a bayonet; however, it is adaptable to most knives.

If you are cornered and you have no weapons, distance is your only ally; long range striking is most advisable. Utilise, as a weapon, anything that you can get your hands on. If you are protecting someone, professionally, then you should be carrying some kind of weapon, an extendable baton at the very least.

So, will Karate help you in knife defence? Certainly there are tools within your Karate training that will assist you. However, you really need to train, specifically, for knife defence to stand a decent chance against someone with a knife. And the more skilled your adversary, the more skilled you need to be.


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