Kicking a knife-holding hand

Following my article "Dealing with knife attacks", I want to make an admission:

I once thought that it was a good idea to kick knives out of people's hands.  Now I didn't actually teach this: I don't think I have ever held a class where we practised this as a "technique".

But I did use this scenario in a couple of demonstrations many years ago.  Why?  I suppose that at the time I thought it created a bit of atmosphere.  Bring out a knife and the audience perks up.

I also suppose I had in the back of my mind that it might work tolerably well:  I'd seen it demonstrated so many times over decades of training that it was just "part of the furniture": kicking a knife-holding hand seemed quite plausible.  Of course, you'd never do it with a bare foot - but then again, when are we bare foot?  On the beach?  Generally we wear shoes in daily life.  And I suppose a part of me thought: "Yeah -  thick rubber and leather are going to be far safer contact points against a knife than my bare hands... or my body/face!"

But if I had been honest with myself, I'd have realised that there was a reason why I'd never taught this in class:
I think I knew intuitively that it almost certainly wouldn't work against a real attack.
Okay - it might work: but only if someone were showing me his knife in the most obvious manner, giving me plenty of time and room to act.  In that instance, at the right range, I might manage to kick a hand holding the knife.  After all, strong shoes are a reasonable match for even the sharpest blade.  But even then the tactic would be risky.  Why?  Consider:
What if, despite all the ideal circumstances, I missed?
What if I landed the kick, but failed to dislodge the knife (will the attacker really be holding the knife so poorly that a crescent kick will necessarily make him/her let go)?
In both instances I might suffer a nasty cut to my shin/thigh.  I might also be left with an attacker who is going to lunge in and start stabbing, hacking and slashing me to pieces - all while I'm recovering my balance after just having had one foot off the ground.

Another crescent kick vs. knife defence. The best part of the video is the "give him your money" and "run away" advice.  The rest?  Not so much.

So, assuming an attacker was stupid enough to show me his knife in an obvious manner that permitted a kick, what would I do?  Well I suppose I might be tempted to kick his knife hand.  I can't discount this possibility.

This is clearly illustrated in the video below: a person "shows" a knife in order to rob a storekeeper.  Another customer intervenes and successfully kicks the knife out of the robber's hand.

Sure -  it worked in this instance.  But look at how the robber "showed" the knife; how it was being held at an ideal height and angle; how poor his grip was (meaning the kick dislodged it); how amateurish the whole affair was.
This is not a "knife attack".  
While the kick worked this particular time, I suggest it only did so because the defender was presented with someone who wasn't serious about using the knife.  (The scenario is not unlike my demonstration illustrated at the outset - the main difference being that I used an inside, rather than outside, crescent kick!)

Faced with such an "attacker", I might try something like this.  But, to be honest, my first preference would be to run away (at least out of range to where I could start throwing bottles and cans at the guy)!  Failing that option, I don't know if I'd be all that fussed about doing what he asked (within certain bounds, of course) and otherwise staying on alert.

Why?  Because you can never be sure whether someone holding a knife is really prepared - and able - to use it.

Sure, in my professional experience, most people who "show" you their knife don't mean to attack you: they just mean to threaten you in order to obtain something (eg. your money).  But you can't gamble on that:  you have no idea what they will do if the threat fails.  In those circumstances, I think your safest bet is to assume someone threatening you is prepared to use it if "push comes to shove".

Now personally, I'd pay good money to avoid a  real knife attack because even in the best-case scenario such an attack is likely be messy.  I can assure you that when a knife is involved in physical violence, people tend to get cut.  Again, I can't recall any prosecution involving an actual knife attack (as opposed to a mere threat) that didn't involve some sort of wounding with that knife.  Handling the tattered blood-stained exhibits leaves quite an indelible impression.

By contrast, offences of threatening with a knife are a different story: they're dime a dozen (eg. hold-ups at a convenience store, petrol station, pharmacy etc.).  People want something, so they pull a knife and threaten you with it.  Their primary goal isn't attack - it is to seek your compliance.

But let's move on from the amateur who has little intention of using a knife and is just "showing" it to you as a threat (at the ideal height, distance and grip to allow dislodgement by kick):  Let's focus instead on a knife wielder who is actually attacking you.

What's wrong with using your feet to kick the knife hand?  Apart from the fact that you mightn't dislodge the knife at all, the answer is, simply this:
Your feet are much too slow.
Don't believe me?  Get a partner to don gloves and start sparring.  Try to kick your partner's punches.  If you connect as you planned, even once, call me.  You'll very likely be the first person to achieve this in the history of humanity.

The problem is that your hands are "wired" for fine motor skills - skills which utilise both dexterity and speed over short (one metre/yard or less) distances.  Your feet are, by comparison, big, clumsy, lumbering objects primarily adapted to enable standing and locomotion.  Unless you're a person with a disability who has trained your feet for painting etc. they won't have much fine motor skill at all (and even if you do, this will still pale in comparison with hand dexterity and speed).

Gollum: what you'd look like if your
proportions matched sensitivity.
Sensitivity in your feet is nothing like that of your hands.  If your body had to be proportioned in terms of neural sensitivity, you'd look something like the adjacent picture.  Note that your feet would be smaller than your tongue!

So foot sensitivity to changes in movement is relatively poor.  And while feet/legs are great at "macro task" speeds (like running) they take a while to get up to those speeds: their acceleration isn't all that good over smaller distances (eg. one metre/yard).

In other words, when we're talking smaller/detailed/dexterous tasks, your feet/legs basically suck.  They are powerful and can carry great momentum.  But using them in a contest against hands at close range is pure folly.

And the folly is even greater if your opponent's hands happen to be holding a knife.  In that instance, your opponent doesn't even have to use much force to do damage: a simple flick of the wrist can slice you open (assuming a sharp blade, anyway).

When would you use a kick against a knife wielding attacker?  To keep him or her at distance.  This is demonstrated (albeit not terribly well) in the video1 below.

But in that event, I wouldn't be trying to kick the knife: I'd be kicking the opponent's "slow moving parts" - ie. his or her torso, hips etc. - trying to keep him or her at a safer distance, knowing that I might get cut/stabbed on my leg.

I might try this - but only if I absolutely had no other choice.  I might try to close the gap and stop the "slow moving parts" (including the shoulders) with my own hands.
But I'd rather not be in the fight at all.
Unarmed vs. knife is a very bad idea.  It is only marginally better than unarmed vs. gun.  Be sure to understand this the next time you see a "crescent kick against a knife" defence.


1.  I think the "grappling knife defence" the last video is criticising is this one:

I don't think the suggested "alternative" (kicking using a wall for balance) is any "better" for similar reasons to that discussed in the video (imagine a determined attacker slipping your kick and rushing you with multiple stabs!).  If anything, I'd prefer the Gracie approach shown above to the suggested "kicking" one (although, as I've said above, I don't discount the possibility of kicks keeping an attacker at a distance - at least temporarily).  

Having said the above, I'd really prefer to avoid grappling in a knife fight.  Instead, I'd concentrate on stopping the slow moving parts, followed by a quick counter.  So, for example, my own "taijiquan" counterpart to the Gracie defence in the video below at 4:04 uses similar angles but doesn't go for a "hold" or "lock" - and it doesn't try to manipulate the elbow, preferring to work at the slowest moving part of the arm, ie. the shoulder.  (For more, see my article "Dealing with knife attacks".)

Copyright © 2013 Dejan Djurdjevic


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