Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, Sept 2000

Knives, Forks, and Toothbrushes

By Will Davis

Copyright © 2000 EJMAS. All rights reserved.

The thing to remember about a knife is that it is inherently no more dangerous than a fork, a spoon or even a toothbrush. It's just an object.

Toothbrush Guy

And it is not the object that should worry you, but the situation that you are in. For example, upon entering your kitchen and seeing your wife with a carving knife in her hand, you don't immediately jump in with a "judo chop", as all she is doing is carving up your dinner. Therefore when considering any knife incident, you have to ask yourself, what is the other person doing and what does he or she want?

You can ignore the experienced knife fighter that wants you dead, as you won't see the knife. You'll have no notion of any impending attack. You'll just be dead. So there's no point in worrying about that one. Indeed, the only defence against someone walking up behind you and sticking a knife between your ribs or cutting your throat is to avoid annoying anybody likely to do that. Ambushed and killed is just that.

Likewise, if someone standing twenty feet away pulls a knife and starts to threaten you with it, remember that he's simply trying to save face or look important. So stay calm and don't say anything stupid. Just back away, giving him lots of room. But be ready to fight just in case, and certainly don't be the idiot who says: "Go ahead, you haven't got the guts." He just might.

At the other extreme is the guy who pulls a knife at close range and then starts talking. Here you have to do some thinking. Why is he talking? Is he getting his courage together to attack you? Does he just want you to admit that his argument was right? Is he trying to save face, or make you look small in front of his (or your) mates? And most importantly, does he want to stab you or is he just trying to scare you?

If you read this guy right, you should be able to talk him down. The trick is to allow the fellow with the knife to save face. Let him think he has scored all the points, that since he has the knife, he is in control. After all, that is usually why he's pulled a knife anyway -- he has lost control of the situation and is trying to get it back.

Nevertheless, for the sake of discussion, let's say that it's late at night. You're in a car park on your own. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a guy jumps out and demands your money and he is brandishing a knife. You now have four basic options.

In the Car Park

Option Number 1 -- Fight.

Hit him very, very hard. Then hit him again. Then, once he's down, kick him a few times. Finally, pull his legs off and eat them! In other words, go completely ballistic and just destroy that strange alien being that has just arrived from another planet and intends on stabbing you with his toothbrush.

The way this option works is to become the attacker and destroy the victim you've chosen. You are the predator, not him.

The flaw with this plan is that no matter what they say, very few people are really predators.

Strange alien toothbrushes

Option Number 2 -- Talk.

Talking is not as easy as it sounds, for it involves reading your opponent and saying what he wants to hear. Fortunately you can talk while giving up your money or talk while trying to keep it. Just play it by ear.

For those who think fast, there are even options such as, "Do you really think I'd be down here stealing cars if I had money?" This can then go on to, "Look mate, keep a watch for me as I only want the car, you can keep the stereo." Then you can break into your car and drive off. Either that or you find an expensive-looking car that's bound to be alarmed and after triggering it, shout, "Damn! Leg it, mate!"

Alternatively you can go the "You're not scary, I am" route and get him to back down. Unfortunately this may not work if he has mates with him, because he will not want to lose face by getting beaten by an unarmed victim. Also, you must be able to back it up by using Option Number 1. So if you don't think you can fight, don't try this.

A third option is to give in. After all, it's only a wallet with some money in it. However, don't hand it over, instead throw it to the ground behind him. That way he can either move for you or move to the wallet, and that will tell you his real intentions, and you can respond accordingly.

A nice thing about exercising the talking option is that if the situation isn't working out, you can always try something else.

One note of caution, however. If it turns into a fight, remember that grabbing his knife arm will only serve to remind him that he has a knife, and then you will get cut. And, since this is real life and not the movies, whatever body parts get cut during the ensuing fight probably won't work right again, and death from blood loss or infection is a distinct possibility. So try to use your coat or something to keep the knife from cutting your arm too awfully, and meanwhile just keep hitting him as hard and fast and frequently as possible.

Option Number 3 -- Hope he goes away if you close your eyes and think of Kansas.

Hmmm -- no comment.

Option Number 4 -- Run like the devil.

This is okay if you can run, and have somewhere to go. But if you get caught, talking won't to any good, except perhaps pleading for your life, and even that's hard if you're out of breath and heaving.

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If during a confrontation or argument someone standing right in your face tells you that he has a knife and goes to draw it, well, don't let him. Just nut the twat and finish it there and then. If someone twenty feet away threatens you with a knife, back away, with your eyes on him, ready to fight if necessary. And if someone in between pulls a knife, try to talk. If talking fails, then remember that all your fighting skills must work whether the guy is holding an object or not. So next time you're training, have your partner throw a few punches while holding a toothbrush. If your defence against a left hook doesn't work against a left hook with a toothbrush in his hand, then it isn't a defence against a left hook.

But if at all possible, try talking. An armed attacker who hasn't jumped out and knifed you for the money that your dead body has is using the knife because he feels that he needs it to control the situation. This is not to say that he won't use the knife if he has to. He simply has chosen not to use it, and in his hands, the knife is just a tool to encourage you to capitulate more gracefully. You have room to manoeuvre if you are careful. But if you are not careful, this is the kind of person who will use it when you move to take away the knife. So regardless of how good you think you are, be very careful about going for the knife.

About the Author

Will Davis is an instructor with Complete CQC in the UK.

JNC Sept 2000