Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Self Defense in the Age of Rape Culture Awareness

The term 'Cut and Run' has a specific meaning
I see more and more women on social media talking about taking self defense courses, and carrying pepper spray and folding knives with them when they're out. I tend to applaud this trend - first, because once men realize they can be badly hurt or arrested (or both), they will immediately think harder about their more predatory instincts. But also because what you DON'T see is a lot of "I'm gonna get a gun" postings. We have enough guns. We have enough untrained, unskilled Rambo wannabes in our cities and towns. Armed self defense is good, but we're still a nation in peacetime.

That said, the 'pepper spray and folding knife' self defense solution can be problematic. Pepper spray is great - I wish every woman carried both a full power version in her purse and a small short-range version on her key ring. But pepper spray isn't always disabling, and if you miss your 'shot' or the guy has a high tolerance or your pepper spray isn't as powerful as they said it was - well, you've escalated the conflict and now you've got a physically violent confrontation on your hands.

But my concern with knives is greater. Don't get me wrong - I ALWAYS have a combat knife with me. But you need to understand what it's for, and how to use it. If you confront a bigger, stronger opponent and you pull a knife and wave it around and try to stab your way out, you're going to lose. Stabbing is like punching - if you aren't confident of your success throwing punches against a male adversary, you won't be successful fighting him with a knife.

So let's go back to basics. First, think about your knife. Is it big enough? Is it razor sharp? Can you get to it quickly, open it efficiently and discretely and grip it properly? These are things you can practice in your living room. Nobody needs to know. Get a good 4-5" combat folder, half serrated blade, and a sharpening kit. Don't use it as a screwdriver or a prybar. Keep it scary sharp, and keep it where you always know where it is.

Now. How to use it. Stabbing people is surprisingly hard. You need to expend a LOT of force to drive a knife deep into a human torso. But that's ok - we're not here to talk about lethal force. We're here to talk about crippling, disabling wounds that let you disengage and withdraw. You have three targets. The tendons behind the upper arm, the soft tissue inside the elbow and the major tendons in the back of the thighs. Anytime an adversary throws a punch or reaches to grab you, he exposes those muscles and tendons under the triceps on the back of the upper arm. If he's not wearing a leather jacket, reach up, cut hard across the outside of the arm, use the serrated inner part of the blade, and slash around the arm. Use a LOT of pressure - you want to do deep muscle and tendon damage. This damage will render the arm useless, and you will have a physical advantage you can use to end the fight and get home safe.

If you are out of position to reach the back of his arm, the soft meat inside the elbow - where they draw your blood at the doctors office - is vulnerable to a similar deep slash from above, rather than from below. You'll do less structural damage but you'll back him off by getting some spurting arterial bleeding that will scare him into disengaging quickly.

Finally, there's that hamstring tendon behind the thigh. There's also an Achilles tendon behind the ankle, but that's a secondary target. If you open your knife and hold it down by your side, you might be able to go to the ground, wrap yourself around his legs and drive the point of the knife into the meat of his thigh and saw it out. If you cut that tendon, he won't be able to walk - and you can leave, or call the police, or just go ahead and end him, if you want.

Look. None of these things are easy, and if you just throw a knife in your bag without thinking or practicing you're going to get badly hurt. Not everyone can use a knife in defense, and not everyone can do it even if they want to. But these are the realities of using a knife in self defense, and if you are carrying a knife out with you, you owe it to yourself to at least think about how you're going to use it effectively.


  1. One of the hardest things for people to overcome in self-defense is the reticence to actually use violence, often combined with a tendency that many people just naturally have in a "flight or flight" scenario to not be able to react--to "freeze". This tendency can cause someone to fumble, telegraph, to not even reach for a weapon until its "too late". IMHO, if you are at close enough quarters to have determined you need a weapon to defend yourself against someone against whom you can not successfully arm wrestle--you have the risk of basically handing a weapon to your attacker--not a good outcome.

    Best scenario for women--stay where there are people and visibility--it isn't always total protection, but it helps. If it's a case of theft--just give it up and call your bank and so on. But if it's a sexual assault and you need to fight back?

    Aim for nose, throat or eyes, be quick, brutal, bloody and disabling (improvise--keys, nailfile, if you have to) and then run like your life depended on it because the usual size/strength differential only gets you minutes, not a chance to kick ass and exult.

    My upbringing had me knowing what a ziphoid process was when I was seven. So far, situational awareness and how I carry myself have sufficed. I carry a knife, but I have never felt like a gun would make me any safer.

  2. Hi mikey, don't freak; I'm here to pay you a compliment. Occasionally we wind up commenting on the same post at Vixen's site, and I come over to see what you're up to.

    I want to extend my congratulations to you and to Vixen, because you both offered very sound advice. I more or less agree with what you have both posted. You know, I taught hand to hand combat and weapons training for 8 years, and during this period did a lot of practice and research.

    Here are some books that might be of interest to you.
    1) Military Knife Fighting by Robert K Spear (my view is that this is the most practical and straightforward book, and therefore in many ways the most valuable.
    2) The Complete Book of Knife Fighting by William L. Cassidy (Cassidy was one of the old timers that developed his views from the teachings that came out of World War II and is both practical and historic)
    3) Cold Steel by John Styers (This book contains reprints from Leatherneck magazine. Vixen's father may remember this Marine Corps periodical. The book teaches a form of unarmed combat that was developed out of “the Fitzsimmons shift,” a method of knock-out that was sometimes seen as a killing blow derived from a boxer. It also has information about bayonet, stick, and knife fighting. Once again, much of its information is of historic value. It's good, but if you try the “passato sotto” derived from fencing, you're going to get killed.)
    4) The Secrets of Modern Knife Fighting by David E. Steele (More contemporary, lots of good practical advice that comes highly recommended by Massad Ayoob, one of the most renowned teachers of tactics and combat for civilians and police for many years.
    5) Knife Fighting, A Practical Course by Michael D. Janich. (Another good contemporary book with a realistic perspective.

    I do disagree about guns. Let's face it: there is simply no better way to defend yourself if you are willing to pull the trigger.

    One of my favorite stories. A girl back east was coming out of a tavern, car parked in the alley. A guy grabbed her and her purse and threw her in the trunk.

    He drove her out to a remote spot where he intended to have all the time in the world for rape and murder.

    He opened the trunk and realized he had not been conscientious enough.

    The girl had a 6-shot .357 magnum in her purse. She had removed it during the ride, and she had positioned herself so the gun was in her hand and ready.

    She hit him 6 times, center mass, with the .357 loads.

    Needless to say, she ruined the guy's fun permanently. (I love to relive this story in my mind occasionally.)

    I know of cases involving extremely fit women, some with fighting skills, attacked by a psychopath and who fought long and valiantly, with courage and determination, only to lose their lives. I still find thinking about it disturbing. I used to tell my students that as far as I was concerned a .38 caliber revolver with plus-p hollow points should be women's equipment along with their cosmetics.

    One last thing. You and Vixen have it right. It's unrealistic to think that a woman is going to out-punch and out-kick some man with serious intent most of the time. (There are always exceptions, of course.) So I used to teach some very artful ways of defeating a man. (For example, sitting on his lap with your hands on his face as if you are going to kiss him, and instead you hook a finger in her face and rip his face off. Anyhow, stuff like that. Once you're in close, if you are not handcuffed there are ways of doing serious damage.

    I don't know if any of this will be helpful, but I am impressed by the sensibleness and practicality with which you and Vixen approach the subject.