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Facing an Edged Weapon - The Real Vs. The Psychological Threat

June 4, 2002 10:03 AM

Author's note:

During the past year I had the privilege of meeting John Du Cane and corresponding with Pavel Tsatsouline on conditioning my spec ops clients for their mission profiles. Both John and Pavel invited me to submit an article on hand-to-weapon combat training for the Dragon Door website and I am happy to oblige.

This article addresses the threat posed by edged weapons. It was originally written for a journal after the 9/11 attacks. I think you'll find it interesting and useful if facing a life-threatening confrontation.

Tim Larkin

The terrorist attacks on the WTC and Pentagon have brought to light that there are times when regular people are going to face inescapable violent confrontations. The weapons of choice this time were box cutters and knives with blades under 4 inches (Leatherman tools according to reports). No special plastic guns, no exotic explosive devices, just simple tools you can purchase at any hardware store.

Yet these simple devices were enough to hold off 60-80 people in 3 of the 4 doomed airliners. Passengers on United Flight 93 took action and seemingly thwarted the efforts of the terrorists. Although unable to save themselves, these heroes most certainly saved lives by denying the terrorists yet another high profile target and forced the plane to crash in rural Pennsylvania.

I place all the blame for these actions on those zealots who committed the atrocious attacks. Their paymasters and so-called leaders soon will pay the piper. But I do think it is critical that we all take a close look at edged weapons and learn the do's and don'ts when you face an attacker wielding them.

The Real Threat Of An Edged Weapon

You need to understand that knives, razors and other edged weapons enjoy a tremendous psychological intimidation factor. Most people assume you are doomed if you try to attack a knife wielding thug. That's not always the case if you possess just a little knowledge of the true dangers of edged weapons.

The true threat posed by any edged weapon is penetration of the blade into your body. Any blade piercing more than 2 inches into your body can rapidly produce lethal results. Vital organs, major arteries and veins all are in danger when the blade penetrates the body.

The Roman Legions conquered the world realizing this fact. The famous military tactician and historian Vegetius writes of how the Romans would make fun of their much larger opponents who would slash and hack with the edge of their weapons rather than stab and thrust. The smaller Romans found these much larger, more physically powerful foes easy prey to the straight thrusts of their short swords.


Because they knew slashes and hacks RARELY killed, regardless how powerful the blow. The Romans would trade a 12-inch long slash for a 2-inch stab any day.

Why Most Attackers Won't Stab You At First

So what does this history lesson have to do with the gang-banger with a Ginsu who's trapped you in an alley? Well seems like times haven't changed - according to the Department of Justice statistics on edged weapons assault the first 3-5 strikes in an edged weapon attack are SLASHES and more importantly these first strikes were not lethal in nature!

Many studies have been done not only on the criminal use of edged weapons but also on the military use of edged weapons in combat. The conclusions are the same: there is a strong innate revulsion by the majority of the human population to stabbing edged weapons into another human.

There are many psychological reasons given for this aversion to penetration but what you need to know is that this little known fact can save your life in a lethal confrontation with an edged weapon. Secondly you must know the difference between ?

A "Knife Fighter" And Fighting With A Knife

First off let's be real clear - if you ever face an attacker who pulls a knife and you can escape to safety - then RUN. Leave the Hollywood hero crap to the actors in the action films (actually it's their stuntmen). If you can get away, then do it. For the purposes of this article we are assuming you can't avoid a confrontation.

Most knife wielders would be put in the category of a knife fighter. A "knife fighter" is an attacker who focuses solely on the weapon he grips in his hand. It's his ultimate tool of intimidation and if he did not possess the knife he would feel weaponless. A person trained to "fight with a knife" realizes the knife is just a tool and that he has a myriad of effective body weapons available to him whether he possesses the knife or not.

Very few people are trained to fight with a knife, so in 99% of the cases you'll likely face a knife fighter. The advantages to you come with the understanding that your danger comes not from the knife itself, but from the brain of the attacker holding the knife.

Weapons Systems Of The Human Body

Think of the body as a set of weapons systems. Your primary weapon system is your brain; your secondary weapon system is your body. Every other weapon you can think of: knife, club, or firearm is ancillary, or useless without the first 2 systems in place.

Without the brain you can't command the finger to pull the trigger, or thrust the knife, or swing the club. So it only makes sense that your mission in a life and death situation is to shut down your attacker's brain or central nervous system (CNS). That is your guarantee to defeating your attacker as this diagram clearly shows:

  • No CNS = No Body = No Knife = NO THREAT

Facing an edged weapon threat, you now know you have a high likelihood of facing a slashing attack first (non-lethal). Also, when you face an attacker who is focused on the knife giving him his power, he'll focus on using the knife to fend off your attack rather than protect his central nervous system. So your focus needs to be on attacking his primary weapon system while he focuses on using his ancillary weapon (knife) against you. Which leads us to ?

How To Take Out Your Knife-Brandishing Attacker

Quick review on the principles covered so far:

  • Stabs are lethal / slashes or cuts rarely are lethal
  • Most knife attacks initially are slashing attacks
  • You need to focus on destroying the knife fighter's CNS

So how do you get to the attacker's central nervous system? I'm about to present a simple set of strikes that are combat proven, extremely effective, and deceptively simple to execute. No speed or strength is required to execute any of them just your sheer determination.

As there are numerous methods of attacks, I am in no way implying this is the ONLY way to handle this type of attack. I've trained hundreds of clients successfully with these methods and received numerous testimonials as to the effectiveness of this approach.

One Proven Approach

First you need to close distance, no good if you stand off and dance in and out with an attacker with an edged weapon. That allows him to slice and dice you at will. You need to be close. Your focus is not on the knife but on his neck. Your target is his CNS.

The body weapons of choice are your forearms. That 3 inches of bone below the break of your wrist is your body's own personal piece of lead pipe. The hand has approximately 72 bones in it and can easily break or fracture if not properly set. The forearm needs no special position and is extremely powerful striking weapon.

As you quickly close distance you merely attack with full downward circle strikes. Imagine your arms rotating in front of your body like two propellers - your left rotates clockwise your right counter clockwise. The striking surfaces of your wrists rotate 6 to 8 inches in front of your torso. This attack not only provides protection of your torso area but also generates incredible striking power for this assault as you rush in.

This is a violent assault designed to strike the assailant in multiple targets of his body. Your first strikes will hit his arms and rapidly advance up his body. With your focus on his neck you will soon find yourself well beyond his knife and in his center core.

There you can use your forearms strikes to:

1. Crush his windpipe; the windpipe has the consistency of copper tubing and easily crushes, or

2. Strike the vagus nerve (follow the neck from the earlobes down, this nerve runs up and down that line on either side). You'll know when you hit the nerve, it is an instant knock out, his eyes roll straight up, his knees buckle, and your attacker collapses straight down in a lump, or

3. You can also use your thumbs to gouge out his eyes. Simply open-hand slap him on the ears and place your thumbs in the sockets and gouge.

Any one of these three strikes will take out his central nervous system and immediately allow you to control or kill him as the circumstances dictate.

You'll notice I didn't discuss what happened with the knife. During that confrontation you probably received a couple of cuts or slashes and you may need stitches? but you're ALIVE and he's either dead or out of commission. Most likely you never felt the cuts or slashes because you were focused on your mission TAKE HIM OUT. Your wounds can be healed. You can go home and kiss your kids goodnight.

Final Notes

This is just one of a myriad of possible ways I teach normal guys as well as the most highly trained commandos how to take out an attacker with edged weapons. The main focus is to maintain the offensive state of mind in a high threat environment. Focus on what you'll do to your attacker rather than trying to defend against what he is trying to do to you.

Make no mistake, edged weapons are very dangerous but you can increase your chances of victory in an unavoidable life or death scenario using the above principles. Don't get caught up with the martial arts knife fighter scenarios. It is highly unlikely you'll ever meet a highly trained martial artist or well-trained operator who fights with a knife.

It is far more likely you'll be dealing with a criminal who is use to everyone cowering when he pulls his knife. Imagine his surprise when you decide NOT to play his game.


As Special Warfare Intelligence Officer for the Naval admiral in charge of all SEAL Teams, Mr. Larkin used his extensive martial arts and combat sports background to help rewrite the way the US Special Operations Community learned hand-to-hand combat.

Uniquely proficient at teaching his concepts to both SEAL operatives and "ordinary" civilians, Mr. Larkin now uses his Target Focused Training Program, a principles-based system founded on his more than 20 years of research and experience, to provide a broad range of non-military clients with highly effective, combat-based training for their 'everyday' protection.

While he has a long list of CEO's, VIP's, and celebrities who demand confidentiality, some of the organizations who have utilized his training include: US Navy SEAL Teams, US Army Special Forces, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, US Depts of Treasury and Energy, US Marshals, Illinois State Police, and Ford, Mobil, Norwest Bank, Sony and Oracle Corporations.

Mr. Larkin is in constant demand by the media because of his dynamic interviews and unique ability to clearly explain his subject to all audiences. He recently returned from Mexico City where he lectured and demonstrated to the Young Entrepreneurs Organization, an international organization composed of many of the world's top young business leaders.

For more information on protecting yourself in an life-threatening situation and the close-combat training secrets of our elite military instructors, opt-in to his free newsletter at

Contact Mr. Larkin at: The TFT Group, 8370 West Cheyenne, Suite 109-166 Las Vegas, NV 89126. Fax: 530-325-5876. Email: