Defending Against the Modern Edged Weapons Threat - ITS Tactical

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Defending Against the Modern Edged Weapons Threat

By George Matheis

Many people use the phrases “edged weapons” and “knife fighting” interchangeably. That is far from correct, or at least it is if you share the same definitions that I do.

Edged Weapons -Any tool that by design or improvisation can slash or penetrate human flesh.

Knife Fighting – Usually culturally inspired and traditionally taught interpersonal combat using fixed blade knives.

Regardless of which one you think of, lets look at the modern edged weapon threat and what you may encounter.


With the proliferation of folding knives, especially those with pocket clips, more and more people from every walk of life carry at least a small knife, this is true for the bad guys as well. Warehouse workers are notorious for always carrying box cutters and razor knives.

Not unlike the knives of many cultural martial arts, it makes sense to become proficient with the martial application of a tool you work with day in and day out. When fixed blades are encountered at the hands of offenders, there are of two major varieties. Screwdrivers (also burglary tools) and kitchen knives taken from home or restaurants. Most often found on offenders are heavy duty serrated steak knives with rounded tips, which allow safe carry without a sheath.

Carry and Deployment

For offenders on the outside, it’s easier to carry a cheap folder or box cutter out in the open than it is to conceal something that could be uncovered during a normal stop and frisk. Weapons will most often be carried between the waist and nipple line, allowing access from different positions.

However, we’re going to discuss actual attacks, not brandishing or menacing at a distance as with robbery attempts. Even though the same mechanics are at play we’re also not going to discuss “assassination” attacks. First, we deal with the highest probable threat to most of us.

Attack during verbal dispute

Attacks are usually preempted by a verbal discourse. When offenders attack at “chest bumping” distance, it is seldom a calculated assault. Liken it to when you are pissed off and start shaking, then all of a sudden you erupt and pound your fist on the table. The key here is being educated on preparatory and executions movements, often loosely defined as furtive movement. We are dealing with contact distance weapons which means that to defend against an attack you have to be within contact distance.

In-fight weapon deployment

You are already involved in a physical altercation and your attacker deploys a weapon. Since you’re already in physical contact, you’re likely not in a position to see the weapon. This is why many victims report that they didn’t know they were being cut or stabbed, simply thinking they were being punched until the smoke cleared.


Research tells us that the average length of a designed or improvised edged weapon will be sub four inches and will primarily be a stabbing or cutting tool, seldom both. Even when they are, adrenaline dump, anatomy and the mammalian stress response leads to cyclic stabbing or slashing more often then cutting patterns or angles. The good part about this is that a consistent angle of attack provides you with more opportunity for defense. The bad part is that not having to slow down to change angles allows for more powerful attacks.

Edged Weapon Survival 101

Your initial defense, if armed, will most likely be open hand. Open hand combatives use the hands, feet, torso and head as impact weapons. To effectively use these weapons lets talk about Combative Anatomy.

Central Nervous System – Comprised of the brain and spinal cord, this is the power strip and computer of the human body. It’s most efficiently compromised with impact weapons.

Circulatory System – Comprised of arteries and veins, this is the human body’s plumbing. It’s most efficiently compromised with penetrating attacks. This is likely to cause eventual death, but can be slow to stop violent action.

Structural System – Comprised of bones, muscles and ligaments, it’s most effectively compromised by impact weapons. Structural damage is seldom fatal yet can immediately stop an attack.

Using the above information we can logically see that open hand defense against edged weapons depends on compromising the Central Nervous and Structural Systems.

Law of Extension – States that for a person to attack you, they have to extend their arms, legs and head to you. This provides “hooks” and “touch points” for you to defend and control.

Principles of Defense

Move to the outside – Since 93% of people are right handed it is best to move to your left, their right. Get out from between their arms.

Controlling the arm – Focus on the mechanism of the attack, not the weapon. If you see one weapon, you’re dealing with one weapon. If you don’t see one you have to assume they haven’t deployed it yet. Control the leading arm by using your arms and body to maintain extension below the forearm and just above the elbow. This is best done with a push/pull movement, to hyper-extend/break the elbow. Also, train to keep your head up to increase power.

Find vertical surfaces or the ground – Once on the outside and working for control of the arm, do your best to put their head/face into a vertical surface or to the ground.

Strikes to the head – You will find that you’re now in a good position to use elbow strikes to the back and side of the head. Continue until the deadly threat is neutralized.


In Modern Combative Systems classes we start off doing drills against the open hand, then training knives and then stun guns. The stun guns were added because when using training knives, people would get cut, quit, or fail to control their attacker until they were neutralized. Humans have a primal response to electricity. At the end of the day they have a clear understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Their responses are pressure tested.

Task – Don’t get cut or stabbed, or get cut or stabbed as little as possible.
Standard – Defend as efficiently as possible, and control the attacker.
Condition – You name it.

George “mercop” Matheis is a retired municipal police officer with a background in SWAT, patrol and training. He currently runs Modern Combative Systems, LLC which provides training in open hand combatives, impact weapons, edged weapons and firearms to citizens, military and Law Enforcement.

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  • Daniel Garcia

    Very, cool! This should be real good.

  • Great read, thank you for the post.

    Continued success,

  • What’s your opinion on those stun training knives George? I’ve heard a lot of people proselytize them, saying that they provide that primal response to electricity you talk about, in a training edged weapon format.

  • Sepaulsen

    Awesome article.

  • Phil

    I found your article very interesting, currently I work as a Lieutenant in corrections in the midwest, where improvised hand made weapons is the norm, and typically used with surprizing efficentcy. I tell the recruits when they come into our academy all the time about these dangers but many ignore the real world applications of these weapons and that any person concerned about their safety and security needs to practice dealing with these types of threats

  • Buck Hempel

    I highly recommend watching the “Die Less Often” DVD series put on by the Dog Brothers and Gabe Suarez. They only teach a few simple techniques that can handle empty hand, knife, or blunt weapon attacks. These techniques can be practiced and are shown at full speed sparring. If you are taught moves that involve having your opponent attack using a memorized sequence instead of free flowing, it may not work in real life. Any martial art that does not allow sparring at full speed, it will not give you the sense of what it is like in real life.

  • Ken

    Connor, a couple of us instructors had the chance to play with a couple of the shock knives. If nothing else it showed some of our techniques of blocking would infact produce blood even though it seemed to work while developing a basic edged /shank weapon skill using a plastic knife.

    For the cost they are just out of the reach of a lot of agencies as a small niche items which is a shame considering how cheap stun guns are now a days. The ones we were looking at were in the $400 range per knife.

    • Thanks for the info Ken!

  • W.Herndon

    For anyone who looking to be trained in a edged weapon based fighting style I would suggest studying Sayoc Kali (Filipino Martial Arts). I’ve studied it for several years and it’s the best system by far.

  • James

    For edged weapons thinking I’d very strongly suggest looking at and Dennis Martin of the Liverpool Gutterfighters. Both are experts in this arena.

  • In 2007 I created the Edged Weapon progam for the Air Force DAGRE teams at Hurlburt Field FL. I have also presented my Spontaneous Attack Survival for LE program to the MD DOC Special Operations Group and the Southwest AL Police Academy. The later is submitting it for POST certification. I write this to tell a little of where I have been. Too many people in the knife community equate offensive proficiency with defensive luck/skill.

    The Shock Knife is nice besides being about 2-3 times the size of the knives that I saw in the street. It is too big to deploy during force on force.

    Go to a gun show and get a few $40 stun guns and get some friends together and train. What you will see, at least in the beginning is people fixating on the tool and forgetting it is attached to a person. After a while they get tired of getting stunned.

    I travel to teach open hand, stick, knife, firearms, and vehicle tactics. For more information on hosting a course or just to chat e-mail me at [email protected].- George

  • S.Nielsen

    I was reading through this and thinking ‘Huh, sounds like someone owes Mercop a little credit…’

    Cheers for the read, George.

  • Ken

    Nielsen, when I first read the article on my phone the day it was posted I was thinking the same thing. “I know I’ve read almost this same article somewhere!”

    Hopefully George will get clearance to come out to Az and get a couple classes going.

  • one shot

    hey i was wondering if u copuld do an article on hidden compartments

  • I will travel to teach anywhere. I would rather train than breath.

    A reader sent me an e-mail saying as a LEO he had been taught to get off the X to his right, their left to put him to the “weak side” of most people.

    This is the problem when gun guys try to use a gun mindset with everything. Before we had weapons we still had fight or flight. When a right handed person stands their ground to fight the right foot usually goes back. When they want to “flight” the left for goes back.

    The problem is this weak side bullshit. It is your “reaction” side because that is the side you naturally react too. Think of it as a football player breaking off the line. A right handed player powers to the left, off his right foot. Next time you have your gun out see which side is easier for you to track too, left or right. You will find you can track much better to the left. Much, much better if you only use one hand. Two hands on the gun for some reason locks people into moving straight forward and strait back. We have also found out that once a shooter gets a two handed grip during force on force against a man charging with a knife, they often refuse to take the reaction side hand off the gun to defend against the blade. Muscles contract under stress. One handed shooter are able to fire, defend, and move. Also if you move to their right it does not allow you to “smother’ the weapon. It is also easy to remember since in boot camp and the police academy we always start marching with our left foot. This comes from when Baron Von Stueben brought drill and ceremony to the continental army and remains today.

  • John

    Instead of all of this stuff that really seems over complicated, against edged weapons attacks, a primary hand (hand comes across the body, back of arm contacts incoming knife hand, sweeps it off course) works ridiculously well for the common grab and stab, or slash and dash. This, combing with getting to the side of the attacker, literally facing the same way as in parrallel to one another will set you up for a great strike, and any number of locks strips and reversals

  • Pingback: Choosing an edged weapon instructor & instruction | Modern Combative Systems()

  • Pingback: Knife training - Page 2 - INGunOwners()

  • Jake McCluskey

    I learned in improvised weapons training to attack the hand/wrist of the attacker with either a baton, rolled up magazine or even your fist if you must. Its a technique called defanging the cobra I think if I remember correctly.

    But then I also remember the first rule of a knife fight… You are going to get cut.

  • jason

    how do i use a knife in self defense without actually causing life-threatining wounds on him?

    • TacticalTom

      You would NEVER use a knife in anything less than a life-threatening situaiton.
      Any use of an edged weapon is going to be considered deadly force in any court of law.
      Anyway, a knife is a poor weapon to try to incapacitate w/o killing. A more appropriate weapon for that use would be a baton or escrima stick. These are NOT automatically considered deadly force; it depends on the manner of use(ie. strikes to the head w/ a baton).
      IMO, attacks that target the weapon or the arm are often ineffective. A better target is the person in control of the weapon or the arm. Destroy the brain. Take out the computer and the weapon is useless!

    • chet

      If you are using a knife for self defense, then it is because your life has been threatened, in which case by Texas law you can meet “force” with proporitionate force. Ie: if an assilant produces a “deadly weapon” that they are attempting to assualt you with, you have the right to defend yourself with proportionate force. If someone has a knife, club or a gun etc… then you have to do what you have to do to take the person to mechanical failure or even in some cases survive.

      I recommend checking out “Academy Combat Application and Techniques” in North Ft. Worth (Samson Park) They teach three levels of training; the first being edged weapons training. In the edged weapons training portion you first go thru the laws pertaining situations of conflict and edged weapons along with a back ground check, then training proceeds from there with edged weapon against edged weapon, unarmed against edged weapon and finally unarmed against unarmed. That is the level one training. The best thing that I have found about this style is that it does not take years to learn to be effective with it, its more like months.

      The instructor is former Army Ranger Andrew Curtiss, he developed this particular style for the ability to be used when operating in the “red” or when one is fatigued, the techniques can also be applied while wearing body armor.

  • robert moultrie

    In the realm of day to day human combat seen throughout the streets of America the foundation of defense lies in steeling the mind. Matheis is a breath of fresh air. Excellent information tempered in reality vs. fantasy, or marketing. Lol- Say Hard-Stay safe !

  • Halderon

    You guys are a knife fighter’s dream–get some reliable info or you will be killed. 1. The idea that you have to be cut is really stupid since that is the reason the other guy has a knife-where is the place you want to get cut? 2. The Filipino’s are a blade culture, and have a defense of “defanging the snake” not the cobra-at least read.3. The guy with the Escrima sticks-how do you plan to hit my head,while I will be cutting the arteries on your arm ? 4. I will move slow enough for you to grab my arm-please! That “pull-away” will leave your fingers on the ground-that is called Distraction-hoping to find someone dumb enough to grab my arm or even better-my hand.5. In prison, the average knife fight lasts 4 seconds-while your trying to evade a jackhammer of stabs.6. While you are doing all these wicked things to me, what do you think my checking hand is doing? Another small knife,perhaps or forcing you into a corner where you will be cut and slashed to the point of shock where you can’t do anything?6, Remember that the knife has a reverse grip,a backslash, a point that not only stabs, but tears your skin! And can be manipulated in a # of ways.7. Get some training by some pros-your a disaster.

  • Steven Schneider

    What’s the knife?? Anyone know?

    • Charlie Williams

      I need that knife

  • Carlos Ramirez

    Kali/ Escrima

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