From Shihan's Desk

5 Hacks To Survive A Knife Attack

You’re walking home on an otherwise nice brisk evening with your family or loved one when, out of nowhere, you are surrounded by aggressive and intimidating people that want to harm you. They may just yell and/or push at first. They may grab you, or swing or threaten you with a gun or a knife. What would you do? Would you know what to do to protect yourself and your family? How would you feel? How would you react?

         Any of these scenarios are scary at best and deadly at worst. Over 1500 people die from injuries involving knife attacks each year; 5 times as many as those killed by rifles. Statistics aside, the brutal reality is that knives are prevalent and dangerous, knife wounds are nasty and becoming a victim is totally preventable. It is wise to train to defend against threats and attacks with knives, and the best time to think about this is not when the attack is imminent and real. I highly recommend that every reader get some training. For the purposes of this article, I will address 5 hacks that could save your life in a knife attack scenario.

1.Understand the Threat. 

           Knives are a real threat! They are common, easy to carry and conceal, and can inflict severe wounds and damage, up to and including death. I really don’t think that most people understand how nasty slashes and stabs of the knife upon human flesh can be. This is a mistake. Awareness of the seriousness of the threat is an important step in preparing to deal with it. Awareness can also help you to pay attention, noticing who around is carrying a knife well before any threat exists.

            On the other hand, it’s very important to know that it’s very possible to survive an attack if you know how to. In the best case, of course, you have trained in advance. The time to condition to react correctly is when the threat isn’t real; I often remind my students that, “it’s a good thing to get stabbed with a rubber knife all day long”. What can be a painful or deadly mistake in real life is, in training, only feedback.

            With or without training, it is important to understand that fighting back aggressively will more likely improve your situation. We know from the defensive wounds of attack crime reports that the victim will not often be killed by the first, second or even first several attacks. Most attackers are not trained knife fighters, but rather an angry person attacking viciously with an overhand (icepick) stab, underhand upward vertical strike, stabbing or slashing, and probably repeatedly, but probably with more aggressiveness than accuracy. It is for this reason that actively defending is so important, and this leads us to knife hack number two.

2.Aggressive Counterattack

            As I alluded to in number one, the victim that tries to defend without fighting back is the most likely to be killed by a knife attack. Of course, if the scum bag threatening you with a knife just wants your money, you should give him your money because, as I have also already suggested, a knife fight situation is not something that you really want to get into. The variables are many and the stakes are high; so, if he wants something that you can easily replace, the right play is to give it.

            My teacher once told me, though, that when you are dealing with a terrorist, you should consider yourself already dead, and that any move that you make to improve your situation improves your situation. While I am certainly not saying that every knife attacker is a terrorist, I am saying that not everyone with a knife will leave you alone just because you give them what they want. You will have to make the call of which one you are dealing with and act accordingly.

            This decision only applies to a knife threat, of course. Once the knife is in motion towards you, your decision time has been ended. This is the time when, as I say, you must deal aggressively with the problem. In my system, Krav Maga, we will use a block and a simultaneous counterattack. While the block will hopefully stop the first attack and, if not the first then the second; the aggressive counterattacks address the problem. The problem isn’t the knife but rather is the attacker wielding the knife, and that problem must be dealt with aggressively.

3.Control The Weapon

            As soon as we block and counterattack, we should also attempt to control the weapon. The exception to this rule would be wherein we counterattack strongly enough that we make enough distance to completely disengage and get away so quickly that we don’t have to, which is even better. In close proximity to the attacker, however, by necessity or because we can’t move quickly enough, we must control the weapon hand as soon as possible, stopping its ability to continue cycling the attack. We need to control long enough and well enough to affect knife hack number four.

4.Disengage or Neutralize

            As stated in number 3, making distance and getting away from the attacker and attack is the best case of all. The disengagement can happen directly after the initial defense and counterattack, if you made sufficient distance to escape and are fast enough to do so; or it could be after you entered and controlled the weapon, have already struck multiple times in the correct areas to slow down the attacker and then you disengage and exit the area while scanning for more attackers. Still other times, the situation may dictate that you can’t leave the scene; perhaps a small child or elderly parent keeps you from the ability to flee quickly. In this case, one must be able to neutralize the threat to ensure that he’ll be able to get his family home safely.

5.Prepare Today

            At the risk of being redundant, the very best thing that you can do to survive a violent knife attack is to start preparing for that scenario today. Be aware, of your own abilities and limitations, and also of your surroundings, including where you are, with whom and who else is in the area. Practice doing this always. At first it will feel funny, or even awkward; but like all new skills, awareness will become natural when practiced over time. If you can, get some training from an experienced instructor trained in a reality based martial art including knife defense. If you already train, practice seriously. I believe every Krav Maga student should have their own training knife and training gun. The combination of proper instruction on how to best defend yourself, with significant repetition and practice under stress, is the very best way to prepare today to defend tomorrow.

I hope that nobody reading this ever has to defend themselves against a knife attack. In the best case, should you decide to take my advice and get some training, all the preparation will be only insurance. In a great school, the training will come with some bonuses including fun, fitness, friends and family, as well as the confidence to walk in peace. I pray every day that none of my students ever has to use the self-defense that I teach them because, by definition, something’s gone really bad and someone’s going to get really hurt. The only thing worse than having to defend, though, would be to have to and not be prepared for it. This is why we pray for the best, but train for the worst today.

            Stephen Del Castillo

 Grand Master Del Castillo (Shihan Steve) is the Founder and Master Instructor of Krav Maga Martial Arts. He has over 35 years of martial arts experience with the last 15 specifically in the Israeli Self Protection system known as Krav Maga. He is a 7th Degree Blackbelt and Master Instructor with Blackbelt Schools International, an MBA, and the Chief Instructor of KMMA USA, with affiliate instructors and schools around the country. For more info on Shihan Steve, his schools or affiliate program, contact us at KMMA Tampa. For any questions or comments about this blog or his programs, you may also email Shihan at