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An enraged stranger suddenly draws a blade and rushes you from just a few feet away, fully intending to end your life — this is a nightmare scenario for anyone who has studied self defense. A knife attack doesn't require a lot of training, strength, or technique. In fact, it's disturbingly easy for a bad guy (or gal) to maim or kill a victim using relentless “sewing-machine” stabs with a screwdriver, or repeated slashes to the neck and abdomen with a cheap paring knife. And as you may know, it's also easy for that individual to close the gap between the two of you in the blink of an eye, even if you saw them coming. These primitive methods are used in street killings, prison riots, and crimes of passion around the world, and their deadly effectiveness is undeniable.
However, by studying knife attacks, it's possible to learn how they typically unfold and prepare to defend yourself against them. We spoke with Patrick Vuong, the founder of Tiga Tactics, about how his company trains students to deal with the challenges of protecting yourself against an edged weapon attack. His methods are intended to be practical and accessible to the average person, so you don't have to be Rambo or an experienced martial artist to find them helpful. Read on for our exclusive knife attack Q&A.
RECOIL OFFGRID: Tell us about how the idea for the Tiga Tactics Stab/Slash Survival Skills Seminar came about. What does it cover and who is it for?
Patrick Vuong: We jokingly call it the Stab “Slash Slash” Survival Skills Seminar because of the slash symbol in the written title. But the slash symbol is there to show that the principles we teach covers both piercing and hacking attacks. As you might have guessed, we take our craft seriously, but not ourselves. After all, if you’re not having fun, you’re not gonna want to train.
The seminar is for anyone who wants to learn how to survive a knife attack. You could be a cop or a survivalist, a bodybuilder or a grandmother. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never trained before or if you have a black belt with 10 stripes on it. Anyone will find value in our seminar because of our unique approach.
How has your martial arts background — and that of your Director of Training, Conrad Bui — influenced Tiga Tactics' approach to edged weapons?
PV: Conrad and I like to say that Tiga Tactics is “all martial, no art.” What we teach is devoid of martial arts myths, tactical mall ninja bullshit, and all the other cultural nonsense. Our edged weapon curriculum is instead based on real-life knife attacks — particularly the most common types that occur regardless of age, gender, or region.
However, having said all that, we couldn’t have gotten to this “all martial, no art” point if we didn’t first pay a big debt to martial arts through decades of blood, sweat, tears, and injuries. Between the two of us, we have 12 instructor ranks, 60-plus years of continuous self-defense training, and dozens of medals and trophies from competing in combat sports. Many of the systems we’ve studied are bladed arts. Plus, Conrad has real-life experience as a bar bouncer. So we’ve distilled all that down to a program that’s “all martial, no art.”
It’s kinda like fire-starting. How will you know the best method unless you’ve learned a buttload of techniques first and practiced them in a variety of adverse conditions? Imagine if you only learned the fire bow method; you’d probably think it’s the best fire-starting technique in the world. Then you try it in the middle of winter in three feet of snow while someone else walks up and starts your tinder with a Bic lighter.
There seems to be two schools of thought on defensive use of a blade: either it should be primarily a stabbing implement (e.g. an icepick) or a slashing implement (e.g. a box-cutter). Where do you stand on this?
PV: Both can be quite lethal. Anyone who tells you differently is either lying to you, lying to themselves, or have been lied to by their instructor. Again, it goes back to the cultural nonsense. And I don’t mean cultural in the sense of ethnic or regional culture. I mean it in the psychological sense of “my way is better than your way.” Cultural nonsense could refer to any concept people have deep emotional attachments to, from the “9mm versus .45” debate to the “drink your own urine to stave off dehydration” myth.
So where do I stand on stabbing versus slashing? I think you should be well-versed in both concepts because in the real world there are just too many factors involved.
Everything is contextual. One method that’s great in one context might be a total failure in another. Think fire-bow in the dead of winter.
If your intent is to end someone’s life quickly, then a thrust to the brain, neck, heart, or lungs will do it quite efficiently. If your intent is to stop their attack but not necessarily kill them, then a deep slash could do that. But don’t get me wrong, a slash to the carotid artery can be just as fatal as a stab to the brain. It’s just that one method will be faster than the other.
Plus, there will be legal repercussions, so you’ll need to understand the laws in the area that the altercation took place.
But I don’t believe that you should focus on only one type of defensive use. Learn both of them so that you can choose the right technique at the right time in the right context.
However, the best method is the one in which you don’t need to use a knife on anyone because you’re not forced into that situation in the first place.
We've heard the old saying that “in a knife fight, the loser goes to the morgue and the winner goes to the hospital.” What are your thoughts on this statement?
PV: I’m not sure how accurate that is, but it is an effective warning. It reminds us all that if you engage someone who has an edged weapon, serious damage is going to go down and someone (or everyone) is going to have a bad day.
Of course, we teach our students with the hope that they both prevail and don’t get hurt at all. That’s why our curriculum gives our students life-saving knowledge by identifying the most common types of knife attacks (the problem), provides street-effective defenses against those likely attacks (the solution), and drills those defenses in a realistic way against a resistant partner until they become ingrained.
If you're facing a foe who has an edged weapon, what does your “fight or flight” decision-making process look like?
PV: First, we must start by saying that if you’re facing someone who already has a knife deployed and you’re empty handed, you done screwed up a long time ago, partner.
At our Stab/Slash Survival Skills Seminar, we teach many of the pre-incident indictors of an impending knife attack. We’ve watched tons of videos of real-life attacks since YouTube came along 15 years ago. Anyone who has done as much research as we have can tell you that before someone gets ambushed with a knife, there are some obvious signs that something’s about to go down. We teach the most common ones and provide four defensive tactics to avoid having to face a knife in the first place.
Of course, even if you know all the pre-fight behaviors and memorized all four of our defensive tactics, you could still just experience bad luck and be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s when you need to have life-saving knowledge, street-effective techniques, and the realistic training to use those techniques when SHTF.
We've read claims that carrying a knife for self-defense is only for mall-ninjas and wannabe tough guys, because those who are really serious about self-defense will just use a gun. How would you respond to this?
PV: These claims fall into that cultural nonsense category I mentioned earlier — the whole “my way is better than your way” type of thinking. It’s no different than preppers who claim that you’re not serious about prepping unless you have an underground bunker and two years’ worth of food stored up. Again, context matters.
If there’s a mass shooter, then, yes, I’d absolutely want to defend myself and my loved ones with a gun. But despite what the mainstream media want to play up, mass shootings are a rare occurrence — especially when compared to the tens of thousands of empty-handed or edged-weapon attacks that happen in the United States every year. And in some of those situations, a gun might not be the right solution.
What most people don’t realize if they haven’t done the kind of research Conrad and I have done is that the vast majority of violent attacks happens in bad breath distance. Criminals don’t train. They don’t practice. So they’re not accurate or precise. They want to be as close to their victim as possible and have the element of surprise before they launch their ambush to increase their chances of success.
The moral of the story is that you should learn to use as many self-defense tools as possible, be it a gun, knife, flashlight, or pepper spray. Practice with all of them until they’re ingrained. Then figure out which makes the most sense for you.
How does training with an edged weapon compare to training with other defensive tools?
PV: Conrad and I are instructors in a dozen systems and studied many more, which has given us the opportunity to train with many different weapons — from German longsword to the AR-15. There will always be similarities in training various defensive tools, but each weapon platform requires its own approach and training.
Fortunately for us, we’ve studied Filipino and Indonesian combat arts, which tend to be concept-based rather than technique-based. That means I could pick up a knife and use it in a very similar fashion as I would a flashlight, a tactical pen, or a baton. Why? Because I understand the general concepts of movement, angles of attack, and the biomechanics involved with targeting. So, I could train someone how to use a knife and, after they’ve reached a certain level of competency, I could put a tactical pen in their hand and show them how to apply knife concepts with a different weapon.
Why do you emphasize the importance of working with a resistant training partner?
PV: Because any self-defense technique will work on paper, in theory, or in a sterile environment. But bad guys aren’t going to just stand there and let you counter with whatever weapon or technique you have in your arsenal. They’re going to be doing everything in their power to end your life or beat you down as quickly and brutally as possible. So, if your training doesn’t even remotely reflect that, you’re gonna be in for a world of hurt on the street.
Let’s use that fire-bow analogy again. If you’re a survivalist who only trains on a clear sunny day when conditions are dry and warm, you might not know how to respond if you’re trying to start a fire in high winds, in the dark, or in the dead of winter.
A similar concept can be applied to those with a concealed carry weapon license. If your only form of practice is going to an indoor gun range and shooting a paper target that’s 12 yards away, you’ll have no clue what to do when someone’s charging at you with a hunting knife from six yards away. You haven’t been forced to deal with the OODA Loop or the negative physiological effects of an adrenaline dump — which can cause tunnel vision, the loss of fine motor control, and shallow breathing, just to name a few symptoms.
That’s why Tiga Tactics emphasizes training with a resistant partner in a realistic, progressive manner. You need someone who will do a bit of role playing to safely replicate how a criminal might act before, during, and after an attack.
Of course, if you’re newbie or just learning a new technique, you want your training partner to be a little compliant so you can learn the concepts properly. But eventually he or she will need to give you some resistance to test your skills. Otherwise, you might as well just get into war reenactments if you want to know exactly who loses the fight and how.
Where does a blade fit into a well-rounded self-defense skillset alongside empty-hand skills, impact tools, and firearms?
PV: I always advocate being as well-rounded and versatile as possible because you never know what you might encounter, when, and where. So naturally an edged weapon should be a part of your overall self-defense training plan. The more skills you have, the more tools you have to draw from your toolbox when a certain job calls for it.
Explain your selection criteria for a defensive knife. What are some characteristics you would recommend, and some you'd avoid?
PV: First and foremost, you have to consider the knife laws where you live, work, and play. It would be doubly sad if you had to use a knife to defend yourself only to be in legal trouble afterward due to ignorance of local laws.
Secondly, if the knife is going to be used solely for defensive reasons, then consider a fixed blade if it’s legal to carry one in your area. It doesn’t require you to push a thumb-stud or nudge a flipper tab; just yank it from the sheath and it’s ready to go. Plus, fewer parts mean less chance of a fixed blade breaking on you.
Thirdly, the blade profile and handle shape should fit comfortably in your hand and stay there regardless if it’s cold or hot, or if you’re sweating or bleeding.
As for characteristics to avoid…
If you choose to go with a folding knife over a fixed blade, avoid models that have intricate locks or opening mechanisms that require fine motor control. In a life-and-death situation, you’ll have far less time than you think you’ll have. And not only that, but the adrenaline dump will really mess with your finger dexterity.
Also, avoid knives that lack a tip. Tactical cleavers are trending right now, but those with extremely angular blades don’t have much of a pointy end. For a defensive knife, you want both a sharp tip and a long cutting edge. Actually, that’s what I’d want from a bushcraft knife, too. The more versatile a blade, the easiest it’ll be for you to adapt to a given situation.
We've enjoyed your Death by Martial Arts Myth video series. How does the typical portrayal of a knife attack in movies or TV compare to the reality of an attack?
PV: Movies and TV reflect very little reality when it comes to knife attacks, or violence in general. Action scenes on the screen are meant to entertain and tell a story.
In a real knife attack, there’s often no time to draw your own weapon to defend yourself. And if someone does manage to do it, the ensuing fight never ends as cleanly or smoothly as Hollywood portrays. Real bladed attacks are lightning fast, extremely messy, and launched as surprises.
If you could teach everyone one lesson about defending against a knife attack, what would it be?
PV: Learn how to run. And fast! [Laughs.] In all seriousness, the best lesson to learn about knife attacks is to not get caught in one in the first place. One of the defensive tactics we teach is to avoid physical confrontations whenever and wherever possible.
If you get into an argument, just keep on walking (preferably not with your back to the other person, though). Do your best to avoid, de-escalate, evade, and — if needed — run. Because you just never know if the other person is unstable, evil, or straight up murderous. Your best defense is not putting yourself in that kind of situation in the first place.
Check out the video below for a brief recap of the recent Stab/Slash Seminar. For more information on Tiga Tactics or to sign up for a future self-defense class, go to TigaTactics.com.