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Knife wounds - thrust vs. cut?

Discussion in 'Non-Firearm Weapons' started by Preacherman, Mar 18, 2003.

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  1. Preacherman

    Preacherman Well-Known Member

    Hello, all. I'm a chaplain at a maximum-security prison, and over the past six months, have witnessed (either the event or the aftermath) at least a dozen attacks by inmates on other inmates using "shanks" (prison-made knives). I was thinking about this today (we're on lock-down again, after the latest knife attack), and realized the following:

    1. Most thrusts failed to do much damage, even if a vital organ is hit. I've seen several lungs collapsed, and even one heart wound, but the victims were able to live long enough to get to hospital, at which time treatment saved their lives, stabilized their condition, and let them recover.

    2. Slashes and cuts seemed to do far more to incapacitate the victim than did thrusts. The blood loss was vastly greater, and the shock of the wound was seemingly much more difficult to withstand - perhaps because more nerves were involved, or more tissue was damaged?

    Of course, these were assaults by "amateurs" - I'm sure none of them was a trained knife-fighter. However, I'm interested to learn whether a trained knife fighter would agree that the above assessments hold true for knife fights when the wound is inflicted by someone with greater expertise. Is a thrust generally less efficient than a cut? Does a cut disable faster than a thrust? (I know that when I was stabbed in the back, with a thrust, I was able to shoot my assailant, walk around, etc. - I wasn't disabled at all!)

    I know that the point of aim is also important, but given that in a knife fight, one's opponent is moving as well, this may not be as feasible as (for example) putting a fast-moving bullet into a relatively slow-moving target.

    Any comments?
  2. Jim March

    Jim March Well-Known Member

    Well the worst is a combination: stab, then "swish it around" :barf:. Or the "comma cut" variation: stab, then cut out in a circular motion. This IS seen in prison sometimes, at least in the US.

    The conventional wisdom says that stabs are more lethal. When pop was in the British Army, he was told to fear a screwdriver more than a knife, because give an amateur a knife and he'll slash, give him a screwdriver and he'll stab every time. He mentioned this at length when the Bernie Goetz thing went down.

    More recently, some martial artists have been advocating "precision disabling cuts"...nailing tendons in the limbs to "cripple" without killing as a fast way to end a fight. Not something you're likely to see in prison though.

    Some of this may be connected to physical strength...the difference between a "slice" and a "power rip" or something. With a strong enough wrist and a short blade such as you'll usually see behind bars, you can "slash" with the point *forward* (think "big claw wound") rather than "dragging the tip" in, say, typical sword fashion.
  3. CWL

    CWL Well-Known Member

    I'd be careful about this type of attitude Preach. Never underestimate the American felon. Street life and prisons provide training that dojos cannot duplicate.

    First I'd like to say that since it is a prison, medical services are nearby and immediately available. This is probably the primary reason for survival.

    I think that the main reason thrust weapons are not as dangerous in prison attacks is because these weapons are handmade -nails, screwdrivers, toothbrushes, dowels. thrusting weapons tend to be short and narrow which limits their ability to penetrate & damage vital organs -also why many attacks are towards the neck/throat in order to penetrate the carotid/jugular.

    larger hunks of steel or plastic get manufactured into slashing weapons. More heft, edge and surface area -which lead to larger immediate wounds. A slash will destroy more surface area, allowing more immediate bleedout. Shock is induced from blood loss.
  4. brownie0486

    brownie0486 Well-Known Member

    I instruct my students to make disabling cuts to the hands, wrists, fingers if someone reaches into their inner circle [ arms length or less ].

    If you are knife to knife the last thing I want is to attempt to reach into his inner circle to attempt a stab to his torso. If I am reaching into his immediate space he has the same opportunity to reciprocate on my person. Not the best tactics.

    Distance is key in bladework and defense from the opponents blade.

    CWL makes a valid point that most homemade "shanks", even when long enough, do not have the penetration power of a knife [ even a cheap knife ] thats manufactured due to lack of an extremely sharp point or edge.

    Shanks will penetrate but are not optimum for penetration. Their design and materials are crude requiring much more force to penetrate than an actual piece of cutlery would require. What the shank lacks in edge sharpness and tip strength is made up for by brute strength to overcome the weaknesses of the tool used.

    As CWL also mentioned, most shanks [ the killing part ] are not sharp enough or long enough to produce the same results from something like a kitchen/hunting knife or a lockback folder in any guise.

    It is generally acknowledged that stabs are more lethal than slashed but then you can see just the opposite at times dependant on where they were slashed or stabbed.

    A slash that goes deep enough to an artery [ armpit, neck, etc ] will create more damage than say a stab to the leg or arm. It is all relative to the type of attack, what configuration the shank was made into [ some are stabbing implements only while others have an edge for slashing as well as a point for stabbing ], the strength of materials used in the shank [ plastic, metal, etc ] combined with where the wounds have been inflicted will in part determine the outcome of the attack.

    I for one appreciate the information provided by the "Preacherman" relative his observations inside the prison. Just goes to show me how much I really need a good defensive tactical folder if and when I ever find myself defending against another with a blade for some reason.

    His observations speak volumes to me about why I carry a stout, sharp tactical folder or two on my person daily. Something with good tip strength and a super sharp edge that creates good wound channels with little effort apparently beats the odds of creating more damage quickly than when compared to crudely made/fabricated implements [ I'm talking some of the junk thats sold which actually performs no better than a shank found in the prisons.

    "Draw straight, keep your steel sharp, and watch your back"

  5. El Tejon

    El Tejon Well-Known Member

    Preach, I've noticed the same thing in my line of work. Have known a few guys who have survived multiple stab wounds while they were down, even wounds to the kidneys. However, guys who were "slashed" were hospitalized because of blood loss, infection.

    I have always suspected: 1. poor tools, 2. poor working knowledge of the human body by the attacker.
  6. Don Gwinn

    Don Gwinn Moderator Emeritus

    A thrust probably requires a larger blade to be as effective as a cut. A cut makes a larger, more horrible wound, I suppose, but is more dependent on location (there are fewer lethal places for a cut than there are for a stab.) And a cut probably generally requires less precision at times (easier to cut across a throat than stab into the windpipe or the artery.)

    Glad I already had breakfast. Keep in mind that I don't actually know what I'm talking about.
  7. Gray_Fallen

    Gray_Fallen Well-Known Member

    I am of the thrusting kills faster camp.
    Someone with knife training can kill someone faster thrusting, than slashing. Thrusts get to the vitals easier than slashes, and while a slash may to some extent disable someone, its going to be a slower kill.
    Several well placed thrusts to the neck, lungs, heart, and kidneys, will kill someone nicely... and the trust will get in deep enough to do the damage easier than a slash.

    Now... the best, is to turn your knife to reverse grip, witht he edge in, and stab, then rip your way out. Sounds weird, but it works without any extra effort, and does the best of both worlds. Depth of a stab, with the length of a slash. Nasty. This is how I train.
    Can also be done in forward grip with the edge up, stab in, rip/lever the blade up and out.
    Its either with the blade edge in or up, than with it out or down, simple body mechanics, how your wrists move.
    Peketi Tersia practicioneers may be familiar with doing it this way.
  8. JShirley

    JShirley Administrator Staff Member


    You're right about that last, for sure- I described doing exactly that in the sentry removal thread. Death to Bambette was instantaneous. The problem may be closing to the distance for such an attack.
  9. gryphon

    gryphon Well-Known Member

    Just a thought, but could it be that the "average" prison shank is not as long as say a 4" folder? I'm just thinking that if the shank was not long enough to get to the vitals or not deeply into them that might have something to do with the failure rate of the stab.
  10. ACP230

    ACP230 Well-Known Member

    George S. Patton designed the last cavalry saber adopted by the US Army. He designed it as a thrusting weapon because thrusts were supposed to do more damage and be more incapacitating, and be harder to recover from.

    Whether this translates to an improvised knife, who can say?
  11. CWL

    CWL Well-Known Member

    Contrary to movies, cavalry sabres are all thrusting weapons. The slash is a follow-up move.

    From light cavalry/hussar curved sabres to heavy cavalry straight sabres.

    G.S. Patton didn't come up with the idea. He just designed the pommel & guard.
  12. Preacherman

    Preacherman Well-Known Member

    Thanks (shanks? :D ) for all the replies, folks. A few responses:

    1. Jim, you've got a point about the "combination stab-and-slash". However, most prison shanks are good for one or the other - not necessarily both. Of the (literally) hundreds of shanks I've seen, most have been designed to stab, not cut: and the relatively few (less than 20%, IIRC) designed to cut as well as or in place of stabbing have been home-ground on concrete, which doesn't produce a great edge, to say the least!

    2. CWL, gryphon - the average length of a prison shank is probably at least 4" - 6" in the blade. Some go as long as 10". (These measurements exclude the handle.) So I don't think that length is a factor. However, the stabs are usually delivered against a violently struggling victim, at an awkward angle, and often in the press of bodies, preventing a long approach build-up: and the weapons aren't all that sharp. These factors limit the depth of the stab, I think.

    In the latest stabbing (Sunday morning) the victim received 14 stab wounds to the back and side. Two of them punctured his right lung, which collapsed, and he was coughing up black blood. He was rushed to a local hospital for emergency surgery, and will survive, but was lucky it didn't take half-an-hour longer to get him there...
  13. brownie0486

    brownie0486 Well-Known Member

    In reverse grip I prefer to keep the edge facing the perp for two reasons.

    1. I can use the edge to defend against incoming in a strictly defensive posture. The perp will only meet the edge of the blade, the spine of which is resting against my forearm for support/stability once contact is made.

    2. I do not want the edge facing my body. I have no need to leave an edge up near my forearm where it may get puched into my own body parts. He they want to push, they can push on the edge facing them.

    I have seen the opposite technique as described by Gray_Fallen in reverse grip and witnessed how an opponent slapped the blade into the guys forearm. If the edge was out he would have pulled back bloody digits at best.

    I feel any technique which leaves the edge facing toward me instead of toward the perp is asking for "Murphy" to step into the fracas. If it can happen it will. Keeping the edge facing out, away, and toward the opponent probably drops the risk of cutting oneself in the heat of battle.

  14. Joe Demko

    Joe Demko Well-Known Member

    When you describe slashes, how deep are we talking? Relatively superficial cuts or slices deep enough to sever muscle and open arteries?
  15. Gray_Fallen

    Gray_Fallen Well-Known Member

    Edge out works to some extent, I wont say it doesnt... but you cannot get the depth with edge out slashes, you will with edge in (which I will call Pikal, which means "rip" or "ripping"). When you slash OUT, you push your attacker away from you, and the depth of the wound you make on him is going to be very minor. You'll never get deep enough to do serious damage, unless you back them up against the wall... and still, they are going to be defending which makes it harder still to get a hit in thats worth anything. In Edge Out your only hope for doing some serious damage is going to be thrusting, or getting really lucky and having him against a wall, where your slash cant push him away, and that force will push into his tissue.
    Pikal is hard, and fast, and drives right into them, your blade goes to depth, finds vitals, and rips outwards. You pull your attacker towards you, until your blade rips free of his flesh. Better wounds, worse wounds, and you dont just keep pushing him back.
    I've seen lots of pics of guys in hospitals and ambulances who have these cuts/slashes all over their bodies, even on their throats, but are walking, talking, and no-where close to dying. And I've seen lots of pics of guys in the morgue who have one or two good thrust wounds under the arm-pit, into the throat, or beteen their ribs, or who have one or two Pikal looking wounds, like it was stabbed in and ripped out, tearing through everything in the way.
    If someones knife can be "slapped" backwards like that, they are doing something wrong. Their grip is weak, they let their wrist be too loose, something. Basically, they let it happen, through bad technique. Your grip has to be hard, firm, tight on the knife handle, and your wrist almost locked, with the knif eblade straight down out the bottom of your hand. I dont know why people want to make their grip and wrist loose, and let the spine of the blade lie along their fore-arm, makes no sense to me, and it opens one up to having the knife "slapped" around to control it.

    But hey... maybe I am nuts, I like a hard solid grip that will keep me from losing my knife, and I like doing as much tissue and organ destructing damage to my attacker as possible, in the shortest amount of time. I look at the knife as a lethal force tool, so my intent will be to terminate the SOB once my knife comes out, so I'd really prefer not to waste my time trying to kill him, and just get down to the meat and potatoes of it, and hurt him a whole lot, real fast... the type of hurt he doesnt just crawl away, get some stitches and get over.

    I suggest to anyone who is reading this, and has doubts one way or another, that you try Pikal for yourself, against a foam cutting target, without "limp wristing" the technique. You really can do a lot more damage with Pikal, and I've found its a much more natural feeling method, in terms of body mechanics.
    Also, when using a folding knife... when you stab in normal reverse grip, the angle at which your arm moves, no matter what angle of attack you are using, is an arcing motion... and the way this hits the target, it puts a TON of pressure on the back of the blade, which can cause even the best lock to fail (chopped into my little finger like this), now flip the knife over, and all that pressue is being put onto the stop pin, and against the edge... safer, and makes a better wound. WIth a fixed blade, the same is true, except the fixed blade cant fold up on you, but you can still get better wounds with a simple in/out stab, because of that arcing movement pressing the edge against the side of the wound, widening it.

    Check out Don Rearics site, and read the following articles:
    This one talks about a knife made for Pikal, but the last two thirds of the article is a description of technique and advantages, I suggest everyone read it.
    Again, about another custom knife, but it shows a lot of Pikal techniques, and advantages, as applied to a double edged blade (but also that work with a single edge)
    And about yet another knife in particular, but it talks more about Pikal, the hows and the whys, and some added info about Pikal as it related to folders.
    Although Pikal works with any knife, so dont let the fact that these are about 3 specific knives throw ya. Read the articles, and give it a try for yourself. :)
  16. brownie0486

    brownie0486 Well-Known Member


    No argument that you get better wounding effects with blade edge in as you describe. Kinda goes without saying that they would create deeper nastier wounds and would also likely kill quicker. These would all be stabbing techniques.

    The idea behind defense is to stop an attacker/aggressor not "kill" them. If your written words are ever revealed in a court action where you are a defendant for such actions you would probably be doing jail time as it goes to intent [ if you explained it this way to a judge/jury/prosecutor which I'm sure your atty: would advise against ].

    There are defensive techniques for the reverse grip edge out that keeps the edge between you and the attacker. Like a wall surrounding you [ the edge moved to their attacking limb ].

    The edge out reverse will of course produce less lethal cuts to the opponent. Again, I am not defending in an attempt to "kill" my attacker but to only survive and get them to cease their aggression towards me.

    There are also trapping techniques with the edge out [ cats claw ] that catch the incoming limb and deflect/redirect their motions.

    The F/Sykes daggers and double edged knives are/were never designed or used in reverse grip as an edge is against/facing your own body [ considered dangerous with Murphy around ].

    Your description as to how and why it is effective would be effective is outstanding and your effort to make us see [ visualize ] how the technique would be applied equally so.

    From your response I may have not made myself clear enough on the edge out. It does not rest on your forearm continuously. It can be laid there when desired. Other times it will be at or close to 90 degrees from the forearm. Just to clarify if you thought thats what the original post stated.

  17. makdaddy03

    makdaddy03 member

    Man! That makes me hurt just thinking about it. But I feel that thrust would work better. Stab,Twist and turn every which way possible.:barf:
  18. cratz2

    cratz2 Well-Known Member

    For making your own makeshift impliment, it seems it would be easier to build a stabing device than an effective cutting device.

    My gut instinct (pardon the possible pun) is to hold the knife point down and blade out. I have no training and I can't recall ever even talking with anyone about it but my reasoning is this probably provides the best defensive stance and it should allow for the quickest slashes to hands or arms of the offender. And if a neck opportunity should present itself, a punching motion just to the knife holders weak side should result in a neck hit. (That is to say if the knife holder is right handed, punch just to the left of the bad guy)

    I've certainly been more of a fan of slash than stab. An attorney my mother worked for was knifed in his convertible after not being able to give the worthless POS any money. The guy slashed his arm open and he nearly bled to death and he was literally right in front of a hospital. I'm told the underside of a forearm cut length-wise produces lots of blood cuickly. Guess that's always just stuck with me and I think that would be my primary target along with the neck.
  19. brownie0486

    brownie0486 Well-Known Member

    Targets should be chosen based on opportunities presented during the altercation.

    A trained individual would be able to create openings in the perps defensive posture rather quickly to get to the body targets he desires based on his/her goals to either disable/mame or kill.

    In reverse grip you could "come to point" and "pick" to the perps face/neck area. These are techniques that are easily learned and executed.

    "Coming to point" is usually from a sabre grip but can be performed in reverse as well. This puts the end of your blade [tip] between his eyes just above the eyebrows. Creates copious amounts of blood quickly and probably will result in blood in the perps eyes also helping your cause along. The "eye pick/neck pick" works great as well.

    These would be targets of opportunity as they presented themselves within the constraints and time frame of the altercation.

    I like the stabbing techniques as well as the slashing stuff but will tend to slash defensively initially until I can open them up for a good "stick" to any number of areas about his/her person.

    One proficient with edged weapons should be able to become proactive in his response unlike most who will be reactionary in their responses to the threat presented.

    My response to threats will be quick, light slashes to the offending limbs as they attempt to reach into my "inner circle" followed by whatever may present itself based on the opponents responses [ targets of opportunity ].

    Stabbing requires you to close on the bad guy and you suffer the same liability as he when you are that close. Distance is key and learning how to keep proper distance based on how the flow of the situation is developing lends greatly to avoidance of "hits" to your person by the perp.

    The stab, twist, and turn every which way does not appeal to me for several reasons.

    1. The longer you linger at this the longer you yourself are vulnerable to reciprocity.----Not acceptable

    2. You are violating one of the basic rules of keeping enough distance unless absolutely forced into closing due to environment/surroundings.

    "Draw straight, keep your steel sharp and watch your back"

  20. El Tejon

    El Tejon Well-Known Member

    brownie, good points. Thanks for posting these observations. I'm glad you're around.
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