Knife in Combat, Part I

by Stephen LaBounty (2007-09-25)

I have been asked several times to comment on the use of a knife in combat, So here goes.

Both defensive and offense postures exist in a situation that utilizes an edged weapon, and yes, "edged weapon" is the proper term because it denotes both the cutting and the stabbing instrument.

As a police officer, I came upon many edged weapon assaults after the fact. Most were criminal assaults, but a few were defensive in nature, the victim using the nearest tool to fend off an attack that he/she believed would have resulted in great bodily injury. I have also seen several assaults in progress, one culminating in the death of the victim. It was in a jail house setting and was the result of one person carrying out the orders of a particular gang that he was a candidate for.

I remember that as the fight unfolded before me, I thought it would be mostly punches and posturing, and then the staff intervenes and everyone saves face. But when I saw the homemade shank (which is the most dangerous weapon statistically, due to its stabbing-only nature), I admit to being completely surprised. I hesitated long enough for the assailant to stab his victim at least five or six times. The delay of my partner and I was a human reaction to actual forebrain (animal instinct solely) and intimately brutal aggression on another human being at a very close, interpersonal range. During the after-action hearing, where we were interviewed in regards to the killing, one of the investigators point blank asked me this question: "Who did the search of this person?" (not our arrest in the first place) and "You could've stopped it early on, couldn't you?" No, was my answer and we did stop it, but too late.

The other two were a bar fight and a fight at a New Year's party. In those scenarios I acted much quicker and the damage to the victims (who began the incident) was minimal. Now that I have hopefully brought you into an edged weapon scenario frame of mind, I wish to posit some facts.

First, with the proper conditioning and in the proper circumstances, almost anyone can kill another. However, it is against our nature to actually "stab" someone to death. Therefore, it would be safe to say that in order to do so, one must be in great fear, or great insanity, causing the loss of the thinking and rational brain, and embracing the animal instinctive "de-humanizing" of the intended victim.

Second, from my experience most martial artists work in a static and sterile environment, and though they practice movement they are not exposed to the actual "feel", "smell" and "screams" of the person being stabbed. Yes, there is a definite smell, and the screams, plus the bulging eyes trying to move away from what is perceived as imminent, and sometimes actual, death.

Third, as we practice, not using training tools to feel the stab or the slash as the knife in our hand makes contact, many get a sense of great power often to a point of being indestructible, which is delusional at best. The psychological toll of seeing flesh ripped (maybe your own) is rarely considered. In any edged weapon encounter, regardless of your weapon, or lack of one, you will fight alone, maybe for a short period until you actually begin to dominate the situation but it will be just you and he/them. Realize there will be blood and it may be yours. There will be pain, and you might feel it. And without a doubt, there will be great fear, and it will paralyze you, eventually.

I remember once getting a call of an assault with a knife. When I came upon the victim who was cut, I thought he was in the throes of an epileptic seizure due to his uncontrollable shaking. He was in such great fear that he lost all sense of control and had to be sedated at the ER. To this day I remember the look of sheer panic in his eyes, the paleness of his skin, and though safe at that moment, he was still thinking he was to die. It probably hasn't left him yet.

Until you look in the eyes of the person you are about to mix it up with; until you've heard the cries of the wounded or dying; until you can bring yourself to put down someone who is exactly like you; until you have worked that out in your mind, soul and heart, lay the knife down for a while. If you cannot, then practice by all means. But speak to the Cops, Paramedics, ER nurses, Physicians and get your mind set in order. I love the blade, but know there is a lot more to wielding it than talk, posturing, and open-ended motor skills.