The Reality of Knife Defense (From an Adaptive Perspective)

I originally tried to have the following entry published in a few magazines, but nothing came of it:

Having to defend oneself is a scary endeavor, even when some claim to have no fear at all when it comes to the possible reality.  One could have over twenty years over martial arts training under their belt, but simply because they are human means that they can be caught off guard the same way anyone can. This could be a myriad of attacks, and while  It’s not something we readily want to admit or think about, but it is true none-the- less. And yet, even in not wanting to think about these realities, I’ll submit to you that thinking about these realities, are part of what might actually help us to go home safely at night. You want to know what plays in my mind a lot? Being attacked by a knife, to make matters even scarier, being attacked by a knife while I’m in my wheel-chair or standing with my crutches.

I’m not simply talking about someone holding a knife to my throat, but rather pumping the knife in an out of my body and me not being able to do anything about it. Even with over thirty five of my arts experience under my belt, being an instructor under the Jeet Kune Do Grappling Association, which is very wide array of styles under one banner and a purple belt in BJJ, this reality still scares the hell out of me. Not only for myself but for others like myself. The type of cerebral palsy that I was born with, is very mild compared to some. Even with it affecting the right side of my body (I don’t have full mobility and use of my right arm) and balance in my legs. I can still work out and take care of myself fairly well. The problem is getting my body to react fast enough when it’s truly needed.

            As a youngster, I grew up learning various disciplines of FMA, learning all kinds of stick and knife attacks, flow drills and jaw dropping knife disarms. I say jaw dropping because as a kid, it was amazing to see how one could easily strip the knife away from someone or smack it out of the attackers hand. As I grew a bit older and was in college, I began to have what I’d call a Martial Crisis. Which really means that I began to doubt and question all that I have been taught throughout my martial arts journey. It was extremely uncomfortable to say the least, there I was sitting in my dorm looking up real knife attacks on YouTube. I was in a state of shock, never have I ever saw so quick and brutal attacks in my life. And most certainly, it was not flowing slice and dice that I was taught in Kali, no this was straight up violence and evil. Then I read stories of an elderly lady in a wheel chair who was stabbed to death a long with her care provider.

Reality set in, and I wanted to find options for myself and others, not so disabled people could become the adaptive version of Jason Bourne. But being able to provide a fighting chance. Yes, I’m deeply aware there are some people that won’t be able to defend themselves at all, while others may have a sharp mind, and little to no use of their limbs at all. Even still, if the mind still is working, then I want people to understand situational awareness and various pre-contact warning signs. For if a person with a care provider or friend can notice a person or particular context that seems un-easy that is a job well done. If, on the other hand, a person similar to myself is faced with such a scary and even reality, what then are we to do? In all my years of teaching adaptive self -defense, the most annoying statement I hear is “run-away”.

            Run away? That honestly makes me laugh, because even the most mild cases of CP can’t run all that well or fast. So, the idea that most knife attacks happen in close proximity and the understanding that people like myself are simply going to “runaway” is complete non sense. Even if I was attempting to turn away in my wheel-chair and get away, still my back is exposed and that’s a whole other nightmare. Then there’s “Just shoot’em” (yes I’ve heard that too). As one who is pro conceal carry, learning how to use a firearm is an area that I preach for disabled people to learn, as it is a great means of defense. However, to think that a person is always going to be able to access their gun or knife even, in a quick enough fashion is very detrimental and  misleading. If an attacker is already assaulting you, and your only means of defense your EDC, it’s going to really suck for you. I’ve even heard people say “Make space and get a weapon”. I can kind of get behind this, kind of. For if a person has the mobility and dexterity to make space against someone bigger and stronger than them, great. But guess what? Its still going to be hard! And what happens when you do access your weapon, and the attacker still manages to pin your weapon baring hand? What then? Do you have the skills to fight from there? These are all things that one has to consider in their daily training exploration.

So what’s my solution then, you ask? Controlling the limb baring arm as best you can, knowing that it will be the hardest fight for your life. If one is an wheel chair, the simplest option (and scariest) is to let the knife come to you,  most of the knife defense video’s that pertain to seated knife defense are about as fancy as most Kali demonstrations, I don’t trust them. And when it really comes to it, your going to going against real resistance. So trying to chase the knife baring arm, or redirect in mid air is rather stupid to me. In my training, what has worked is getting some sort of deep control of the arm and pinning it to your body or even wheel-chair. From there, is where we deal with energy, meaning that the attacker tries to pull his (or her) limb baring arm back. In which case (as I have found) you either have to go with the energy the attacker gives, which might mean falling to the ground with them, maintaining control and fighting your way to a better position, or at the very least maintaining control until help comes- if it does.

This is of course, is not without risk, the reality of the blade touching your body is very high. However, in our daily training we learn to not give up and develop emotional and mental resilience as every warrior should.