What Happens in a Knife Attack? (6 Common Things to be Aware of)

Knife attacks are common in the news because the weapon is very accessible. I wrote this article to build awareness should you be in an indiscriminate knife attack. Of course, I hope that it doesn’t happen to you or to anyone. But being aware and mentally prepared is the key to surviving this type of attack.

So what happens in a knife attack? The crowd will most likely experience the bystander effect. It means that if the knife wielder locks on you, then you’ll have to be the first responder to survive. Law enforcers won’t arrive immediately and some of them wouldn’t know how to defend against a knife. Your pure empty handed martial art will most likely be useless against the knife. You’ll most likely get cut or stabbed but the good news is that you can survive.

WARNING! This article is suitable for mature readers only and is not for the faint of heart. It is based on my observations of knife attack videos available online and is violent in nature. I won’t sugarcoat anything here so that I can maximize sharing the truths about it. Now arm yourself with awareness and continue reading.


#1. The Bystander effect

Do you remember those times in school when you’ve had a group project? As students, you didn’t know yet how to have clear defined roles. This often results in one or only a few members finishing the actual work no matter how many members there were. In psychology, it’s called the “diffusion of responsibility” and “ambiguity”. This is very common even in non-life threatening situations.

Rad Rookies | www.radrookies.com
What Happens in a Knife Attack? (6 Common Things to be Aware of)

Action is delayed when your role and contribution isn't well defined.
Action is delayed when your role and contribution isn’t well defined.

Now, throw in a “life threat” into the mix and you’ll have something called the “bystander effect”. The “bystander effect” is a social psychological phenomenon. Individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when other people are present. Based on knife attack videos, the most common reaction of bystanders is to runaway or watch in shock. People are less likely to help you out because intervening is too risky.

You don’t believe me? Let’s put you on the spot then. Let’s say that you ARE NOT knowledgeable about knife defense and YOU DON’T KNOW the victim. Are you willing to intervene in a knife attack? What if there is 80% chance you’ll get minor injuries and 20% chance of getting a fatal one?

Keep in mind that the bystanders aren’t evil or heartless. They often choose “self-preservation” over “helping others” in this situation. Research shows that there are more interventions for situations with low ambiguity and minimal consequences. And that isn’t the case for acts of terror like an indiscriminate knife attack.


#2. YOU are the first responder

Because of the bystander effect, you will always have to be the first responder. If luck isn’t on your side, then you can suffer an indiscriminate attack. Your only concern in this situation is to avoid a fatal wound. You are still a bit lucky if you receive help from bystanders before getting hit with a fatal wound.

Rad Rookies | www.radrookies.com
What Happens in a Knife Attack? (6 Common Things to be Aware of)

Yep, you're the only one who can respond quick enough to save your life.
Yep, you’re the only one who can respond quick enough to save your life.

Do whatever you can to survive. Grab a longer weapon or a shield from your immediate environment. Use the object to maintain distance from the knife wielder. If you have no choice, then use a non-vital part of your body as a sacrificial shield. This will buy you time until the police or security officers arrive to help you.

There are ways to control the situation like maintaining distance and deflecting. Next is to dominate the weapon arm and disarm the attacker. But that is something you have to train for. And keep in mind that if you are practicing it, you should do it in a realistic manner. Else, you’ll most likely sustain serious injuries.


#3. Not ALL Policemen can handle a knife attacker

Let’s use a few videos as examples. In both videos, the knife wielders were being engaged by law enforcement officers. Both knife wielders don’t look like they have any sort of knife combat training. The situation would have turned bad if these knifemen were athletic.


2 cops with batons and taser against a knife attacker

The knife wielder moved in a sluggish manner and brandished the knife wildly. The cops had batons and tasers. But despite this, the knife attacker was able to close the distance and stab the vest of a cop.

The cops could’ve used the baton to strike the man’s hand to disarm him. They could’ve knocked the guy unconscious with a strike to the head too. But those things didn’t happen. They weren’t fully prepared to handle knife attacks.

In the end, the report said that the attacker killed one person and injured two people.


2 cops with guns against a knife attacker

The knife wielder’s build is on the thin side but he is a little bit more agile than the attacker from the previous video. It appeared that he has a death wish and walked slowly towards the policemen. The policemen gave a fair amount of warning to put his weapon down. The knifeman ignored the warning and kept walking towards the policemen. This forced the policemen to walk backwards.

When the situation reached the highway, the knifeman sprinted towards a cop. It forced the cop to shoot the assailant seven times. This floored the knifeman but this wasn’t enough. He got up and sprinted towards the cop again. He grappled with the cop, ended up in a dominant position and was almost able to get the cop’s gun. The other cop shot the knifeman because he became a threat even to them.

I’m not sure if the cops were newbies or new recruits. One thing for sure is that they were lacking unarmed knife defense training.

In gun vs knife defense, there is a rule of thumb called the “21 foot rule”. A knife wielder can dash 21 feet in 1.5 seconds to deliver a fatal blow even to a gun wielder. And that is what happened in the video. It is a good thing that the police officer walked back as he was shooting the knifeman.


#4. YOU will be attacked continuously

If you’ve seen a knife attack video, you’ll notice something in common with the attacks. The knife wielder would often stab the victims many times. This is true for both indiscriminate knife attacks and ambushes. They would make sure that their victims are fatally wounded. It is very close to the “prison shanking” that you see in movies.

Rad Rookies | www.radrookies.com
What Happens in a Knife Attack? (6 Common Things to be Aware of)

An unhinged person will come at you relentlessly
An unhinged person will come at you relentlessly

It is unrealistic to expect the knife wielder to attack once and then leave you alone. Knife assailants often have bad intentions or mental instability. These people won’t show you any kind of mercy and will attack you relentlessly.

Training knife defense against single stabs is good for learning the basic mechanics. But that is still far from the truth when it comes to an actual knife attack. The reality is that it is brutal, merciless and continuous.

This brings us to the next point which is…


#5. Your empty handed martial art won’t help you much

Let’s break the seriousness of the topic and watch this “knife defense” video of Jim Carrey for fun. 😛

Jim Carrey teaches “knife defense” to women and fails miserably

It is funny but that is how many empty handed martial art styles do knife defense training. I should know because I enrolled and observed different styles do it, haha! A single block to the knife hand can only work if you do regular body tempering. With tempering, your limbs become weapons in the literal sense. And even then, you’d have to master the timing and correct body positioning.

It is good to polish basic knife disarms against single knife attacks. Bad news is that it isn’t enough to ward off a real knife attacker. The knife is a force multiplier. A white belt with a knife can stand against a black belt without a weapon.

Most martial arts experts aren’t trained for knife disarming. MMA fighters, professional boxers, Muay Thai champions, BJJ black belts are great. But they generally have no knife training or even improper training at times. This includes most aikido and karate practitioners too. Their knife compliance drills aren’t pressure tested at all.

All hope is not lost though because there are realistic weapon based martial arts you can learn from.


#6. YOU will get cut BUT you can survive

Yes, YOU WILL get cut if an indiscriminate knife attacker targets you. Video evidence shows that you can get stabbed many times to the neck and gut and still survive. This is NOT ideal but this is a fact. And I’m telling you this so you can mentally prepare yourself and not freeze up should you experience it.

Rad Rookies | www.radrookies.com
What Happens in a Knife Attack? (6 Common Things to be Aware of)

Relax. Panicking won't do much. Protect your vital parts.
Relax. Panicking won’t do much. Protect your vital parts.

You will get cut but you can avoid fatal injuries. You can do this by having positional awareness of the blade. When you are in this situation, it is important that you use objects from your environment as a weapon or shield. Doing this will significantly reduce the chances of receiving a fatal stab.

When you don’t have objects to shield yourself up, remember that it is okay to sacrifice a limb so that you may live on. Use your arms or legs to prevent the blade from penetrating your vital parts.

And if you really want to learn more about realistic knife defense, then you should…


Learn a Weapon Based Martial Art (like Kali)

The best way to defend against the knife is to study the physics behind it. Indiscriminate knife attackers seem to attack wildly and unpredictable. But this doesn’t mean you can’t defend against it. You can categorize knife offense based on the angle and type of attack (slash or stab).

You can learn and train in knife defense. Reality based martial arts are a great way to learn these kinds of stuff. I personally practice Kali (Dekiti Tirsia Siradas and Kalis Ilustrisimo). The techniques you’ll learn from Kali will blow your mind!

In learning anything, I strongly suggest that you be critical and have an open mind at the same time. Practice the techniques you learn and verify its effectiveness. Always be questioning and adapting unless… you want to be like Jim Carrey…

Rad Rookies | www.radrookies.com
What Happens in a Knife Attack? (6 Common Things to be Aware of)

 "I'm fine. I shifted my internal organs to avoid the knife! However, like a lot of beginning students... you attacked me wrong..."
“I’m fine. I shifted my internal organs to avoid the knife! However, like a lot of beginning students… you attacked me wrong…”

I hope this article was helpful to you! If you enjoyed reading this, then share it to your friends! You can also find helpful articles in this website about breathing exercises and rock climbing. 🙂

Have you witnessed an indiscriminate knife attack before? What do you think you’ll do if a knifeman targets you? Do you know someone who has experienced this? How was it like?

Share your thoughts and make sure to comment below! 🙂

source 1, source 2

15 thoughts on “What Happens in a Knife Attack? (6 Common Things to be Aware of)”

  1. It’s good to know that there are actually ways to defend yourself from knife stabs pr atleast try your best to survive the stabs. And yes, the “bystander effect” is real (as I have studied it in social psychology) because your instinct tells you to save yourself rather than save others especially if you know that you are not equipped.

  2. Totally wouldn’t know what to do if im in the situation or if im see someone being attacked. baka wala din ako magawa. paktay ang ending. hopefully this helped me. most importantly, presence of mind talaga pinaka important din ano?

  3. I can’t imagine my self in this kind of situation. I saw a video here in Korea, a man had a knife and a group of policemen was trying to stop him. It took time before they handcuffed him. The policemen here only uses an expandable baton (the gun is not allowed).

  4. I can’t imagine myself being on this situation. I did taekwondo before but I’m not sure if my skills are enough to defend myself. I might just run real fast. LOL. Kidding aside, we really need to learn self-defense!

    1. During “fight or flight” situations, your brain is on fire because of the numerous options you have. Just being aware of the common scenarios for a knife attack will cutoff bad decisions (faster response time from yourself) and give you an increased chance of survival.

  5. one of my eldest’s current course is Arnis & Self defense, and last tuesday, they were taught how to fight off a knife attack. but i think the best thing his coach taught them was that the best defense is to avoid trouble….or something of that sort. it’s something my dad also taught me — to recognize danger a mile ahead and avoid it.
    and yes, knowing martial arts is a plus.

    1. True, it is good to recognize danger a mile ahead or avoid trouble in general. The problem is that sometimes… trouble finds its way to you without you wanting to participate in it.

      I hope that your eldest is practicing knife defense in a realistic manner! That way, it can become handy when the time arises. 🙂

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