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The Role of the Small Blade in Defense

Discussion in 'Non-Firearm Weapons' started by glistam, Nov 2, 2012.

  1. glistam

    glistam Well-Known Member

    Working on fed-operated land for many years has led me to some interesting insights I thought I'd share, though I am also interested in perspectives from those of you with more martial experience.
    For those of you that don't know, on federal property you cannot possess a knife other than a folder with a blade of 2.5 inches or less, unless the knife is used for a specific work-required purpose (cooking knives, surgical implements, construction tools). This has led me to build up quite a collection, pictured below.


    There's no denying these are all useful tools in my day to day work. But the thought does cross my mind if I had to use them in a defensive capacity. I should state now that I have "wary" view of using knives in self-defense. You can kill or injure people easily with any knife, but doing so in an SD situation in a way that is both effective and justifiable is actually a bit limited. That said, they certainly have their place. I should also say the small blade is certainly not a primary weapon. A firearm, OC, impact item, or a bigger knife would be preferable in many situations. But in circumstances like mine, it can very easily be the only thing you have.

    I happened upon several useful insights while reading about the blades issued to OSS agents during WWII, particularly the teachings on the use of thumb/lapel daggers. These were small blades with hardly any handle that were extremely concealable, often hidden in the sleeve or behind the lapels of a jacket. OSS training suggested using them in a surprise-attack fashion to facilitate an escape. Notably, the material confines all targets to the hands, the neck, and the head, fully acknowledging that winter clothing would hinder the small blade's application anywhere else.

    Extrapolating on this, it occurs to me that the knife is as much a fear weapon as it is a lethal weapon. Research shows that when victims of crime are threatened with knives, they are more compliant and fearful than if threatened with a gun or blunt instrument. There's probably deeper neuropsych research on why, but my guess is that it's a deep primitive fear of injures that might come from wild animals (virtually all predator animals use laceration or puncture wounds in some way).

    Coupled with that is the reactions I have noted to certain injuries. When you see your own blood, there is a visceral feeling of panic. Whereas blunt force injuries sometimes make the subject angrier and more aggressive if the blow doesn't put them down in some way. Think about how you react when hit your head on something accidentally versus when you cut your hand. The emotional responses are very different.

    The small blade's concealability also serves them well for the element of surprise. They don't take any "windup" and don't have to be aimed; some you can have opened and in-hand without the adversary noticing. You can feign compliance and suddenly without warning there is a blade in their face.

    Regarding why you would resort to the use of a small blade, it would be in relatively narrow circumstances, I admit. But, I can see several situations that it would make sense. At my facility, I have very limited items I can carry around with me in the course of my work. While I am a big proponent of canes and other "improvised" stick weapons, they are not practical for carry on the job. These knives on the other hand can be hidden almost anywhere: in my shirt pocket, behind my tie, just inside my waistband. I always have one with me and can always get to it.

    I'm not saying short blades are some kind of great new tacticool thing and I would take most other weapons over them if I was expecting trouble and had access. But they are worthy of a place in the "toolbox." Any further insights from your more experience knife users would be appreciated.

    Attached Files:

  2. Sam1911

    Sam1911 Moderator

    John Shirley developed a design for a small knife specifically intended for servicemen and -women to have on their ID tag chain at all times, especially in the showers at forward bases in our active war zones. Not all threats to the well-being of our troops comes from our avowed enemies, unfortunately, and showers are one space where none of the usual weapons are ready to hand.

    We've worked on a few variations:

    But a small Kiridashi would work very well for this also:

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Nov 3, 2012
  3. JShirley

    JShirley Administrator Staff Member

    The ARK that I worked with Sam on during this recent deployment is a tiny knife designed to always be on the user, even in the shower. It's a dedicated slasher meant to be used on attackers' arms and hands. Spyderco expects them to be available mid-2013. :)

    In general, though, I prefer a sturdy 2 cell light as a sd tool. My observations are rather like yours: small knives usually only enable a psychological stop, versus a strike with a hard object to a temple or orbit.
  4. JShirley

    JShirley Administrator Staff Member

    Bah. Simul-posting: this damn Android made creating my last post take 15 minutes! :D

    Oh, and THR, meet the "Daily Kiri"!
  5. glistam

    glistam Well-Known Member

    I would carry one those nice pieces if it were allowed. While I like the mini-mags too, at work I usually keep a stainless Embassy Pen close at hand.
  6. Owen Sparks

    Owen Sparks member

    The "stopping power" of shallow cuts is mostly psycological. That means it mostly depends on the mind-set and sobriety of your attacker both of which are beyond your control.
  7. JShirley

    JShirley Administrator Staff Member

    Yup. As mentioned.

    However, the anti-rape ARK was designed around the premise that attackers are likely to lose interest in rape if they need 17 stitches in an arm. :)
  8. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

    Unless of course, it happens to be across the Trachea, Juggler vein, Femoral artery, Biracial artery, or one or both Eyeballs!!

    That will stop most people in their tracks pretty shortly, if not sooner!

  9. sidheshooter

    sidheshooter Well-Known Member

    I just spent my second weekend last Sat/Sun with Michael Janich, training around this very topic. I am not him, by any stretch, so I will just say that I have definitely drunk his mobility stop kool-aid.

    In trained hands, even a short bladed knife can mount an effective defense, and it has very little to do with lethality (from a pragmatic, as opposed to legal standpoint).

    A well-designed short blade and even a modicum of gross-motor technique can cut to the bone of any of our limbs so, assuming that there is something important between the skin and bone where you cut (e.g. flexor tendons in the forearm), there is serious potential for short-circuiting an attack.

    Ultimately, it's not the tool, it's the mechanic.

    As an aside, it's good to see the actual knife that Sam and John have been working on. Kudos to both for seeing it through, and for giving people in service another tool to stay safe. I foresee some gifts for friends of mine when Spyderco gets around to shipping. Awesome.
  10. glistam

    glistam Well-Known Member

    There's also nothing wrong a "psychological stop" other than that, under certain infrequent circumstances, it won't work. That doesn't mean it never works. In fact it probably does work the majority of the time. But like any weapon or technique you should have that part of your brain that is ready for a failure. A LEO instructor I was close with years ago called it "the Oh **** protocol." He told us a story where he hit a suspect in the face as hard as a could with a PR-24 and the guy just turned and looked at him like he'd spit on his shirt.
  11. hso

    hso Moderator Staff Member

    The smaller the blade the more critical the ergonomics and geometry of the knife and the training of the user.

    That said, many a small knife has been used as a "get off me" defensive tool without needing to kill the person it is being used on. A young lady locally used a Spyderco Ladybug to make a mall parking lot attacker get off her. With him holding her upper arms pinned in a bearhug from behind she opened her little keychain knife and plunged it into his thigh and wrenched it back and forth. He dropped her and limped off leaving a blood trail. That said, the more critical a quick stop, the more critical the previous 3 criteria.
  12. JimStC

    JimStC Well-Known Member

    I am an active student of the Filipino martial art, Eskrima. That being said I agree with Sid's comments above and disagree with the other comments that minimize what a small knife can accomplish in an attack.
    Eskrima is a weapons system comprised of your hands, knife(s) and/or stick(s).
    My teacher has two knife sizes: pocket knife (2.5" blade) and a traditional fighting knife (5" blade). We train more often with the smaller blade.
    In my opinion, the effectiveness of the small blade is based on several factors:
    1. The training of the operator,
    2. The ability of the blade to cut and stab,
    3. What the operator is doing with his check or blocking hand.
    A knife is an offensive and defensive weapon. I would much rather block an incoming blow with a knife held in a military grip than a bare hand. That being said, some types of blows may actually make that statement false as I will drop my knife and move to a disarm or take down. I will only drop the knife if I am confident that I can break a limb. If that is successful,then to the head and face with elbows.
    In the case of an incoming blow where I block with the knife, the incoming arm will be cut twice (I hope:D) and then there will be a body slash or stab. Depending on the incoming blow, the third cut can be to the head/ neck area.
    In the interest of full and fair disclosure I have never used my training in real life, and I have been training for four months, so I have only scratched the surface of this complex discipline. Nonetheless, I hope my comments are helpful. Great topic. Thank you.
  13. JimStC

    JimStC Well-Known Member

    Failed to mention, that I would choose the fifth knife from the top on the right as an EDC.
    Sam and John's design shown above are perfect for the task. I carry a similar knife in my left pocket point up so that it can be drawn by the left hand and presented to the right hand handle first. Actually I have three neck knifes and the Spartan CQB tool. I am very confident in the useability of that design.
    In my right pocket is a folder with a 3.5" blade.
    I have thought about whether I would draw the smaller knife first and probably will as I like the fixed blade concept for its simplicity of deployment and the ability to use the sheath as a striking tool.

  14. C0untZer0

    C0untZer0 Well-Known Member

    Gerber stopped making their little Gerber 200 keychain knife. I had to take it off my keyring to go to the County Clerk's office (part of a county govt complex that includes court) I thought I had lost it.

    I really loved that little knife and when I found out they weren't making them anymore I spent 2 hours going through my car until I finally found it, wedged in my front seat mounting bracket.

    I'm glad I got it back:



    Attached Files:

  15. Owen Sparks

    Owen Sparks member

    You could say the same thing about a Red Rider BB gun. The problem is that in the dynamic chaos of a real fight you can't always count on precise shots (or cuts in this case) to such small targets. I know an individual who was stabbed in the stomach seven times in a fight that he won by the way, and at the time he really did not feel it. He said that he thought the other guy was hitting him with rabbit punches. It took major surgery to repair all the punctures to his intestines caused by a small knife.
    That being said, a small blade is much better than no blade and the psychological effect of being sliced repeatedly is enough to cause any rapist to lose interest.
  16. hso

    hso Moderator Staff Member

    The OP's point is that he CAN'T carry a larger knife so he carries what he can.
  17. scramasax

    scramasax Well-Known Member

    You use whatever tool that is handy. Any object that can assist in penetrating the skin will get thier attention. The deeper the penetration the more effective. Someone that is more motivated might need a disabling wound. This is where something that will cut/tear a wound chanel deep enough into the flesh to effect movement. This is generally best done with a reasonably sharp instrument. Notice I stated reasonably not super super sharp. Also don't agonize over what to target. Attack whatever you can reach. The key is to attack without hesitation as violently as possible and not to stop until your attacker is leaving or immoble.

    As to the knives pictured any of them will do. You would be best served by either a one hand opener or non-folder. Odds are you will only have one hand to operate the knife.
    I used to have a lot of flight attendants as friends and would give them SC crickets and show them different ways to use them. Even turned a lot of them into costume jewelry.


  18. Deltaboy

    Deltaboy Well-Known Member

    Several years ago I read here that ladys in SA TX used Box Cutters across the tops of mens hands who didn't understand NO. Having used Razor blade knifes for years I can attest they can clean deer, cut meat and if used on the human body be very nasty.
  19. jeepnik

    jeepnik Well-Known Member

    I have to disagree. Shallow cuts delivered to the right parts of the anatomy can be quickly disabling. Beyond the obvious "going for the throat", slashes to areas where ligaments, tendons and nerves are close to the surface can quickly remove your assailants ability to use parts of their body.

    While I'll admit you certainly can do more damage with a larger blade, never underestimate the effectiveness of a small blade by someone who know where to apply it.

    Unless your goal is to end the life of an assailant, rather than simply stop the attack, the types of damage you can do with a small blade are more than sufficient. And in today's lawsuit happy world, choosing to disable rather than kill an assailant my be the better option.
  20. JShirley

    JShirley Administrator Staff Member

    What can happen is different than what is likely.

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