Carrying a Knife for Self-Defense? What You Need to Know


Ka-Bar TDI Law Enforcement Knife with Straight Edge, Black, Large

So you want to carry a knife for self-defense? What’s the best one to choose, you ask? First, there are a number of things to consider before deciding to carry a knife for self-defense. First, there are the practical realities of self-defense situations and of using a knife in those situations. Second, there are legal considerations. Finally, there are the finer points (pun intended) of knife selection.

First: The practical realities of of self-defense situations and of using a knife in those situations. No one, especially those interested in selling you knives and making money off of you, wants to tell you the truth that the fact of the matter is, in most true self-defense situations, where you have no way of escape, there’s no time to pull out a knife. If you’re attacked by surprise, or there are multiple people attacking you at the same time, or someone else has already pulled a weapon on you…there usually is not enough time to pull a weapon yourself. I’ve been in many, many, many situations like this, and have always been armed with something (usually multiple somethings) that could be used as a weapon or defensive tool (I almost always have a knife on my person, as well as a kubotan-like instrument, not to mention a pen). I’ve never had sufficient time to pull one of these tools out and use them to defend myself.

That being said, there’s always the danger of the weapon being taken from you and used against you. That should be a major concern; it leads to the death of many police officers every year. You must be aware of this if you plan on carrying any instrument you intend to use to defend yourself.

Beyond that, you must train with whatever instrument you hope to use to defend yourself with.

There are a number of dull rubber training knives out there, like this inexpensive Cold Steel Rubber Training Peace Keeper Knife (only $11.17). If you’re going to carry a knife with the potential of self-defense on your person, you must train (and never with a live, that is sharp, blade!). It’s always best to train with a fake blade that resembles the blade you intend to carry the best.

Finally, for self-defense purposes, know that, depending on the situation, you may fare better unarmed (if you’re well-trained) than armed. For example, if you attack a knife attacker with another knife, what you’ve got on your hands has become a knife fight. Knife fighters don’t live very long. It’s easy to kill someone with a knife–and let’s be clear, a knife or a gun in a physical confrontation is a deadly weapon (that is, don’t pull either if you are not prepared to kill, and if the situation does not require a potential death). That being said, unlike a gun, a knife does not take a life very quickly. It may take a while to bleed to death, during which time, the assailant may strike you with a fatal wound as well, in which case, you will both likely bleed to death. That’s how knife fights usually end; both knife fighters usually crawl away to some corner to bleed to death, or they die on their way to the ER. If they make it to the ER, they have some chance, perhaps. But you’d be much better off using both hands to stop the knife wielding arm and control their blade while striking them in the eyes, throat, ear, knee…repeatedly…until you can get free and run away to safety.

Beyond these concerns, there are the many legal issues. Most states in the U.S., at least (and some countries are even more restrictive) have laws governing the carrying of knives they consider to be weapons. Sometimes specific cities (like NYC) have their own laws which may even be more restrictive than their respective states. You need to be aware of the laws where you are, or you risk imprisonment. And you know what happens in prison.

Such laws concern what type of knives you can and cannot carry (involving their size, their manner of opening, etc.), how you carry the knives (completely hidden, completely open, partially hidden but visible), etc.

You need to know and obey the laws where you are. Obviously it’s better to survive an attack on the streets and end up in prison (with risk of being raped, being stabbed to death, losing job, transmitting AIDS, wrecking family life, etc., in prison), but there are usually other options. One major danger of carrying a knife for the express purpose of self-defense, is that you’re more likely to use it. Why is this a danger? Because, you may use it (especially if you train with it, which you must do) when there’s no need. You might kill someone (and let’s be clear, that’s what’s likely to happen if you defend yourself with a knife) when you could have talked your way out of it, you could have avoided the situation, you could have run away, you could have gotten police intervention, or you could have defended yourself with much less force. Think very carefully, before you put yourself in this situation. It may very well have life-changing consequences.

But if you do carry a knife, what should it be? Very tricky. In general, as the online experts will tell you, correctly, the larger fixed blade (full tang) options, are superior to anything else.

 Something like your $76.60 Ontario Ranger Ready Detachment Knife (above), Or even better, something like your $169.95 ESEE Junglas Knife.

Of course, unless you’re living in a wilderness, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to legally carry such blades. And of course, there are better straight-bladed knives out there, but this gives you some sense of what we’re talking about. Again, you’re not likely to be able to pull one of these in a self-defense situation, and if you are able, you probably can run away.

The Ka-Bar TDI Law Enforcement Knives are also excellent, like the one pictured at the top of this post. They are a bit more limited, but they’re darn effective, and most can be purchased for less than $50. But these are only really cutting and ripping knives.

In general, again, the online experts are right, folders are not as fast or as effective (or as strong) as the full tang straight blades. That being said, the Fox Dart Knife might be an exception. If you get this, although pricey, be sure to get it with the trainer (for $274.95…..retails at $348.90).

Many others can be helpful. If you want a knife you can hold with a gun (especially important for law enforcement and military personnel), you might want to try one of the SOCP Knives, like the $97.75 model below.

Or, you might prefer the more robust Australian version, the Hardcore Hardware Australia Special Operations Tool Tactical Personal Protection Knife, pictured below, coming in at a whopping $219.00, but worth the price.

 Be aware, however, that these knives are made for stabbing. You can do a limited amount of slashing, perhaps more with the pricier Australian model, but they’re really made for stabbing.

Personally, I don’t carry any such blades on my person anymore. I prefer more regular duty knives, smaller folders (which tend to be legal most of the places I travel…except when I’m in NYC, or travelling through an airport…no blades at all there, and so I don’t bring any blades there). But I’ve never used a blade in a self-defense situation, whereas I do use an EDC blade (which could be used for self-defense) everyday for a host of cutting tasks. Depending on the day I carry a variety of knives. Sometimes I carry my trusted Para-Military 2, $117.25 version featured below.

Or, I might pack the less-conspicuous, and less expensive, Tenacious model, $41.33 edition pictured below.

Or else, quite frequently (perhaps in addition to one of these blades), the really useful and incredibly inexpensive ($9.04) Gerber EAB Pocket Knife, really more of a box-cutter, pictured below.

This is not a defensive knife, but it certainly can slash and make a fairly serious gash in the forehead (temporarily blinding an opponent), or neck. But of course, I use it almost everyday, and not for defensive purposes. Unlike the Spyderco models above (which open fairly quickly one-handed), the Gerber box cutter above does not open quickly, and is difficult to open safely with one hand.

But let’s be clear. In a self-defense situation where you have a blade at your disposal, you don’t need a fancy knife, or even a very sharp knife (unless you are slashing). A dull knife with a tip (even with a box cutter) can cut and make someone bleed in the right places. Even a dull screwdriver can do that. I have seen more than one person hit in the face while training with a blunt wooden staff, and let me tell you they bled profusely: hands, feet, face, and head, bleed a lot, even when no serious damage is done to those body parts. In a self-defense confrontation, you don’t need to kill your assailant (30 minutes or an hour after the event…as can be the case with a knife wound). You need to get away safely. A blade, or a stick, or a car key, or your own body, can do this. Check out my Essential Self-Defense Tips ($0.99 on Kindle or $3.99 in paperback) for more advice on self-defense.

So, in general I don’t think your average untrained person should select a knife as a main self-defense weapon. That being said, for someone who is interested in using a blade, who has some skills and training, I will be posting more on this topic, since it seems to be such a popular topic with so many deadly misconceptions.

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Carrying a Knife for Self-Defense? What You Need to Know

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