7 Principles of Knife Combat

The following article is based on the principles and techniques taught in the Knife Defense videos. It is intended to give a brief overview of the central tenet of knife combat for the experienced martial artist. This article is for educational purposes only.

Many years have passed since my last mission as a special agent in the military. Looking back, I find something valuable from what I learned in the training Academy. My combat instructor T. Kim used to scream at us during the grueling knife-fighting training sessions, “Once engaging, do not run away from your opponent, get closer to him! Dissolve the knife in your head!”

In the midst of chaotic situations where knives, clubs, metal pipes, rocks flying around, our unit members who tried to run away from the attackers got seriously injured. Those who chose to stay closer and fight, by following T. Kim’s instruction, survived.

Knife1 Junsado Sang H Kim

The cardinal rule of combat, whether against a knife or an empty-handed adversary is “Once engaging, stay tactically close to your opponent!” Especially when your opponent is armed with a knife, there is often no way out but to stay close and fight. The keys for surviving in close quarters combat against a knife are:

First, read the intent of your enemy. In combat, the enemy has only one motive, to eliminate you and obtain his objective. This often made the first assessment for me simple – there was not option to escape or placate my attackers. In civilian life, however, you must read your attacker’s intentions. Assess what he wants from you: your money, your car, your pride, your honor, your life – assailants have many motives for attacking their victims. If you can buy your way out of a situation, whether through material possessions or your wits, this is your best option. Do not hesitate to give the attacker if he wants if it means he will spare you injury.

Second, assess the intensity of his hostility. Try to determine if your attacker means to hurt you or to kill you; if he will be satisfied by getting what he wants or if he is bent on violence for the sake of violence. Many times you might find yourself faced with an assailant that has no mercy and is bent on inflicting pain no matter how you respond to his demands. If you cannot escape and your attacker is intent on hurting you, you have no choice but to fight back with all your might.

Third, acknowledge that you will get hurt. Once you commit to a defense against a knife-wielding attacker, you must accept that you will get hurt. Without overcoming this psychological hurdle, you cannot hope to survive. Accepting that you will get hurt, allows you let go of the notion that you must defend yourself perfectly. There is no perfect defense against a knife. Things will not go as you planned or practiced. You must be prepared to respond without prejudice or preconceptions, something you cannot due if you cling to the notion of a perfect defense.

Fourth, do not try to intercept the knife. Focusing on the knife is the most deadly mistake you can make. The knife is simply an inanimate object. You place your focus on the stopping your attacker, not the inanimate object in his hand.


Fifth, attack the forearm, shoulders, neck, and head. To defeat the knife, you must attack the limbs or if possible the intelligence that is controlling it. The most practical initial attack will be to the attacker’s forearm (of the armed hand). The second most practical attack will be to upper arm or shoulder. Both of these targets will allow you to gain partial control of the knife wielding hand or at least to momentarily divert the attack. Your final goal should be an attack to the neck or head of the assailant to either control his body or render him unconscious.

Sixth, cut in to the side or rear of the enemy. To attack the head or neck, you must bypass the knife. To do this you have to divert the attack with a looping, deflecting, parrying or cutting technique. Once past the knife, you should move to the side or rear to take the attacker’s balance and keep the knife as far from your body as possible. This is the stage where staying close becomes essential. Once you establish contact with the assailant’s body, you have to stick to him like glue. Any space between you and your attacker works to his advantage, giving him space to maneuver the knife or take your balance.

Seventh, destroy the central senses of the opponent. When you are in close, you should have access to the assailant’s head or neck to apply a finishing technique. In combat, this is often a killing technique, using the assailant’s weapon against him. For civilian’s a lock, choke, or immobilization technique is suitable until help arrives.

Simply put, to annihilate the opponent’s intention to use the knife to kill you is the best tactic. When this first option is not possible, the second is to destroy the functionality of the weapon in the assailant’s hand by attacking the forearm, shoulders, head or neck. In order to achieve this goal, you must stay close to get the chance to break into the enemy’s vulnerability during the split second movement of the opponent’s cutting or thrusting attack. When you retreat, you give your assailant space to advance continuously and drive you into the fatal psychological corner that magnifies your fear and desperation.

Like this article? Learn more about knife defense techniques and strategies. Watch Advanced Knife Defense by Sang H. Kim now.

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