Knives: Part One

Why I carry knives…

I have spent a lot of time on this blog, and in the real world, talking and writing about guns. I believe that guns are the most efficient, portable, and easily mastered form of self-defense available to the common person. That fact has not changed, I am just elaborating on the concept of self-defense.

I always carry knives (emphasis on the plural) and maybe you should too. This is a daunting concept for many to accept. After all, most of you are already carrying a gun. However, once you carry a blade for a while you will never be without one again.

A knife is probably the most useful tool that you can constantly carry on your person. Guns are good for exactly one thing, shooting people that need to be shot. Knives are used for opening packages, opening mail, opening people. Cutting food, string, tape, seat-belts, and attackers. The only thing that could be more utilitarian than a quality folding knife is a good multi-tool. Although, if you walk around wearing a multi-tool on your belt:  you will look like a first class nerd. Nine times out of ten that you need a multi-tool it will be for the knife inside of it, and it is next to worthless for self-defense. Buy a decent multi-tool and leave it in your car. Carry a knife (or knives).

The quotidian usefulness of a good knife should be obvious to almost anyone with a pulse. This blog being what it is, I am going to talk about the self-defense aspects of knives.

Why should anyone carry a knife when they can carry a gun? The answer is, some things work well in certain tactical situations, and others do not. Every contingency plan should be based upon this idea. The penalty for having the wrong plan or misunderstanding the situation, for not getting it right, is serious injury or death. Firearms cover most of the deadly force contingencies out there, but not all of them. If you can learn to use a blade, it takes care of a great number of the rest. Knives and pistols are a good complement for one another, with knives being the secondary weapon.  Knives are not for everyone but if you have the stomach for it you should definitely consider the idea.

The first use of tools by human is widely believed to have taken place around 2.5 million years ago. Possibly not quite so long ago, depending on your accepted chain of custody for human development. In any case, the first tool mankind used was the knife. It was first developed by one of our innovative ancestors to slice, chop, and process meat to make it more edible. I imagine shortly after that invention, the same enterprising progenitor used his creation to cut the shit out of someone that was trying to take his knife-prepared food. Human nature has not changed that much, some people must be shuffled off of this mortal coil and someone must be prepared to do so.

So a knife was great for cavemen, why for us? As a good friend of mine is fond of saying, “Either your gun is a tool and you are the weapon; or your gun is the weapon and you are a tool.” To once again steal from Heinlein, “There is no such thing as a dangerous weapon, only dangerous men.”

Owning or carrying a gun does not make you dangerous. Your willingness to do whatever is necessary, to defend yourself and those that you love, is what makes you dangerous to those that would do you harm. Once you are in this mental state you are dangerous, everything else is a tool. Some are more effective than others.

By virtue of being a law-abiding citizen, one is almost always surprised by violence. A threat always presents itself at a time, in a place, and by a method not of our choosing. This may give the bad guy time to get within bad breath range. Bad-breath range MAY not be the time to introduce your pistol to the fight. It is your life. Do what you want to with it. However, you fight with the training, intensity, and tools that you have available. I am an American at heart. I enjoy certain excesses;  I believe that more, of all three, is better.

A general rule is: if the bad guy can reach you, he can reach your pistol. It is very easy for someone who knows what they are doing, or is just scared, to take your gun away from you. Failing that, it is very easy for someone who is panicking, as people do when they realize that they may be shot, to make your pistol inoperable. Pushing or grabbing the muzzle and slide of almost any automatic pistol will take it slightly out of battery. An out of battery pistol will not fire. Safeties can be reengaged and magazines unengaged. A finger between an exposed hammer and the firing pin will prevent a pistol from firing. The same finger inserted behind the trigger of any gun will keep it from firing. This maneuver is extremely painful and will likely result in the practitioner having the tip of their finger broken. However, that is a small price to pay for not being shot at contact range. All of these simple manipulations can leave you holding a dead-man’s gun.

My pistol-wise compatriots are already congratulating themselves on not having to worry about these types of things. I can hear you saying, “I shoot from retention!” Call it what you like: retention, hip positions (you have to love Fairbairn and Sykes), position two, the speed rock (you also have to love Chuck Taylor), whatever you want to term it, the idea is variations on a theme. For the uninitiated, retention shooting is firing from a position intended to protect the gun, gun hand, or gun arm from an opponent’s control. This is accomplished in slightly different ways, depending on the school you subscribe to, and your level of expertise. It is usually accomplished by holding some portion of the pistol against a part of your body, and then using your bodily orientation to aim the gun. It works. Retention shooting is something that anyone who carries a gun should be proficient with. However, it is not the answer to every situation. What about when you cannot, or do not want to, draw your pistol? This is usually when an attacker(s) has you in a position of physical control.

Example one: An unseen assailant has knocked you to the ground and assumed the mount position, also known as an MMA “ground and pound.” I am going to talk about martial arts and their implications in another article. However, the mount is fairly common (George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin) and any school-yard bully is familiar with it. It can also be deadly if you are on the receiving end. Your head is getting bounced off of the ground every time you take a punch, meaning that you are exactly one shot away from being knocked out. This effect is intensified if you are on concrete or some other hard surface.

If you carry behind the hip, your pistol is trapped between you and the ground. Reaching behind you to get it is a terrible idea. Any attacker with reasonable intelligence will trap your arm behind your back, leaving you only one arm with which to protect yourself. Your situation has gotten much worse.

If you carry on the hip, or appendix carry, your pistol is as accessible to your assailant as it is to you, and he has the leverage. If you reach for it he is going to draw it first, take it away from you, or simply use his thigh to trap your arm. None of these are an improvement on your situation.

If there is more than one assailant, his associate has carte blanche to kick you, punch you, or hit you with whatever is handy. You will not last long. Even worse, the second, third, or fourth guy has the ability to assault your companions, spouse, or children. You have to get this guy off of you NOW and get your pistol into action. Enter the knife.

Example two: An assailant that is perceived an instant too late traps you up against a wall, a parked car, or any other obstacle. You get your hand on your pistol but your attacker traps your hand, or you decide not to produce the gun. All of the above scenarios are valid, except for the facts that you have retained your feet and have a little more leverage. You need to get this guy off of you NOW and get your pistol into action.

There are several interesting studies out there concerning the mechanism of injury generated by knives and stabbing or slashing incidents. If medical language and autopsy photos do not bother you, I encourage you to take a look. Knife wounds are devastating. The cliff notes version i

: It takes very little force to penetrate the human body. Typically between one and six pounds of pressure, depending on how sharp the knife is. It requires a little more force when using an implement not necessarily designed to be sharp, like an ink pen, but not much more.

Studies have demonstrated that the average elite level boxer lands punches of around 700 pounds of force. Some have been recorded at around 1300 pounds of force per punch. Most of us are not elite level fighters. However, the average person can wield a knife with levels of force many orders of magnitude above what is required for effectiveness. What would be considered a puny punch changes its character when it is no longer a punch.

The average human can deliver 3-4 strikes, across an area approximately 2-3 feet in length, in the space of a second. Imagine for a moment that you have a knife in your hand instead of just making a fist, what does that look like?

Now imagine that you are old, slow, and arthritic. The guy on top of you is young, strong, and intent on smashing your head in. His first couple of punches have dazed you and made everything fuzzy. You manage to get your small pocket-knife deployed but your reaction times are garbage. While he is punching you the first stab goes in just above his waistline. He starts to react but a half-second later (literally twice the time it would take the average person) you hit him again in the middle of the rib cage. Depending on which side you stabbed your assailant likely has damage to a major organ and definitely has a punctured lung. The lung wound alone is incredibly painful and obviously detrimental to his breathing. Lack of oxygen makes it hard to think, move, or fight. All of these things are good for the home team. Your attacker may not even know that he had been stabbed, he does know that he is in intense pain and can’t breathe. Do you think that this guy wants to punch you anymore? Do you think he wants to stay on top of you?

You may have already ended the fight, but you have absolutely given yourself room to run, control the situation, or go to guns.

The question in this situation is: Do you have a knife (knives), and do you know how to use one?

In the next sections we will discuss the ubiquitous nature of knives and their global availability, what knife training to acquire and what knives to carry and how…

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