Martial Arts Knife Fighting and Defense

knife fightingMartial arts knife fighting and knife defense techniques exist in a variety of martial arts practiced across the world. Generally speaking, except for the most aggressive of martial arts, most of them practice knife defense techniques, or in other words, how to defend yourself against a knife wielding opponent. There are many different things to talk about here, so let’s not waste any more time and get right to it.

The Basics Of Defending Against A Knife Attack

Many martial arts focus on the ability to defend against an attacker who is wielding a knife. As opposed to popular belief, one of the best ways to defend against a knife attack is to use your hands, not another weapon. The main goal of knife defense is to get both of your hands on the limb of the attacker wielding the knife.

The point is to get a hold of the knife wielding limb with both of your hands, get control of it, and disarm the opponent. There are many ways of gaining control of your opponents limbs in order to subdue them. One of the most effective ways tends to be putting your opponent on the defensive momentarily. Many martial arts advocate a quick strike or face to the body in order to distract or injure the opponent, followed by a quick transition to some kind of hold or lock on the limb which is wielding the weapon.

After control is achieved, the aim is to either joint lock the opponent to the point where they have to drop the knife, slam the hand on a hard surface to cause pain and the release of the knife, or to actually use the knife to stab or slice the opponent while they are still holding it. One of the most recognized and effective martial arts for knife defense is Aikido, where a lot of joint locks come into play.

Knife Defense & Martial Arts Styles

There are of course a wide variety of martial arts out there, some of which are great in terms of learning how to fight with a knife and defend against a knife attack, and others which are not so great for it. Some of the most effective and beneficial martial arts that you can learn in terms of knife defense includes a variety of Filipino martial arts. Ones such as Escrima, Kali, Arnis, and Silat are just some of the Filipino (and Southeast Asian) martial arts which have a big focus on knife fighting and knife defense.

Systema is another very popular martial art which focuses heavily on knife fighting and defense. Systema is a Russian martial art, one often used to train military units like the Spetsnaz. Another popular martial art which focuses on knife fighting and defense is Krav Maga, the Israeli martial art.

Also, the mixed martial art used to train US special forces, marines, and other military units also incorporates a lot of knife defense techniques. There are many others which also focus on knife defense including various forms of Karate and Kung Fu. Some of the martial arts like Judo, BJJ, and other grappling based martial arts do not focus too heavily on knife defense, but they do still include some of it.


Some Knife Defense Myths To Be Aware Of

There are some problems with the way that knife defense is taught throughout various martial arts. These problems can lead to knife defense myths that can put you the defender in harm’s way. What are some of these myths?

  1. The knife wielding goon is going to square off with you, thus giving you the time to gauge their movements, consider your reaction, and prepare a move that will subdue and disarm them. The reality is that you need to be able to react to split second changes, because someone looking to harm you with a knife will most likely conceal it from you until the last minute. An attacker is not going to give you time to deal with their knife, which is kind of the point which the attacker has in mind.
  2. Another myth to be aware of is that a knife wielding attacker will always lung at you and attempt to stab you right in the gut. This is a myth because once again, the point of the knife is more or less to surprise, ambush, and intimidate. Any good knife fighter knows that the easiest way to get disarmed is to lunge at the opponent with arms extended and legs off balance. They will most likely try to slice you at a short range before they ever go in for a lunging stab.
  3. Yet another myth that many people believe is that once you have blocked the knife hand, the attacker will just wait there, knife extended, looking to see what kind of Aikido lock you’re going to break his knife wielding hand with. Related to this myth is the thought that the attacker won’t use his free hand once you have blocked the knife wielding hand. Attackers can keep moving the knife after a block. They can slice up your hands and arms during or after the block and they can certainly use their free hand to cause damage as well.
  4. Never count on a one strike finish. Many people have this idea that you can strike a kmnife wielding attacker once and they will be forced to drop the knife. Well, getting a one strike finish is extremely hard. You could probably punch an attacker right in the nose and he won’t drop the knife. Just beware that if you plan on using a strike to subdue a knife wielding fiend, you have to make it count.


Knife fighting and knife defense is an extremely volatile subject. Different martial arts go about the defense process in different ways, with many saying that their way is the best. One thing is for sure, if you are not 100% percent confident in your ability to take on a knife wielding thug, you are better off either handing over your valuables to the mugger or engaging in that good old flight response. You can’t get stabbed if you can run away faster than the opponent can chase you!


I'm Steve D'Agostino, founder of Martial Arts Weapons and Training. Thanks for visiting and reading my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

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  • Haakon

    Wow, this was a really interesting post to read, especially because I have a slight fear of being attack by a knife if a fight were to occur. Maybe I should join Krav Maga class sometime? what is your opinion of it?

    • kungfuninja

      I’m a fan! My daughter has a good friend who practices krav. It’s very cool and combat-ready, so if it’s available to you, check it out!

  • Thomas

    Hi Steve, I am ammused by the amount of knowledge I have gone missing out on, while looking into what kind of self defense based martial art to start practicing. This page opened up a lot of doors towards what could be my first martial art training. Such well written and informatic page! Thank you!

    • kungfuninja

      Awesome! I’m glad you like the site and have some ideas of martial arts you’d like to learn. There are so many styles with different purposes it’s hard to know where to start!

  • http://worldsinthenet.wordpress.com Brent Stypczynski

    With numbers two & three, I think it’s important to differentiate between beginner level training (e.g. learning) and upper level practice. Of course, beginner level is slow attacks & the opponent waiting, so the trainee can get the proper movements, transitions, etc. into muscle memory. Later comes faster, more realistic attacks.

    The best advice I ever got came from a USMC vet sensei who said, “If you or your attacker has a knife, you will get cut. It’s going to happen. Never expect to get out of a knife fight unscathed.” We proceeded into a knife randori (three knife wielding attackers). Everyone was stabbed at least a few times, but it was a great practice & experience.