Friday, April 10, 2009

A story of survival

Recently a friend of mine survived being assaulted by several attackers, one of whom tried to stab him. He was able to draw a folding knife and use it to survive the assault. Naturally I interviewed him to gain as much valuable information on the attack and how the folding knife worked in a multiple attacker scenario. It’s sobering and somewhat gruesome information, but it’s extremely useful to discuss the details of a life-or-death knife fight with someone who’s experienced it, and if one wants to stack the odds in his or her favor for surviving edged weapon attacks, facts gleaned from actual experience should be used to develop better skills and training.

For a number of reasons, I can’t go into detail on some aspects of the incident, but here are some interesting points and the lessons that can be learned from them.

Practice to draw quickly under stress - The attacker with the knife didn’t know the defender had a similar weapon. The attacker drew and opened a balisong and lunged with a stab to the abdomen of the defender. Apparently the deployment of the balisong wasn’t quick, and this gave the defender enough time to detect the attack and draw his own weapon. He deflected the attack and responded with two strikes to the chest of the attacker. The entire sequence happened in a blink of an eye.

Two skills were crucial for the defender surviving this knife attack: the ability to sense and deflect the strike and the ability to draw the weapon for a counterattack, both actions accomplished almost simultaneously. It’s been said that you can’t do a gross motor movement – in this case deflecting the knife strike – and a fine motor movement like opening a folding knife at the same time, but this situation is a good example of having the ability to do both under stress. Lucky for my friend, his Pekiti Tirsia training paid off and he was able to draw the weapon and successful responded to the lethal attack.

Blade finish is a key consideration – After stabbing the knife wielding attacker, two of the other assailants friends sucker punched the defender. On the verge of collapsing from the punches to the head, the defender spun around and responded with two strikes to each of the attackers, immediately stopping their assault. One assailant staggered away and the other ran from the scene.

Now consider this: why would two unarmed assailants chose to attack someone with a knife? It doesn’t make sense. Unless they didn’t know the defender was armed.

The attack occurred on a dimly lit street. The defender used a folding knife with a liner lock and a black coated blade (which closed on his fingers in the midst of the attack, but that’s for another blog post). It’s not difficult to imagine that his initial defensive strikes - to the chest of the knife attacker – did not look like knife thrusts to anyone watching the assault. A blackened blade moving rapidly in low light is very hard to spot, much less if you’re not expecting it. I think the most likely scenario is that the two empty handed attackers did not know the defender had a knife and probably thought their fellow assailant was merely being punched in the chest.

This brings me to what I consider the pros and cons of blackened knife blades. A lot of tactical folding and fixed blade knives have coatings on the blade to provide stealth and low visibility. It’s gotten to the point that anything labeled as a tactical blade virtually requires that the blade be coated. I can understand the need for stealth in some situations. I make Ginunting swords for the Philippine Force Recon Marines and we Parkerize the blades to provide the low visibility the unit requires.

But is stealth really that important for a self-defense knife? Realistically, a knife drawn in a self-defense situation will not benefit much from a stealthy finish. The weapon is drawn because the owner felt his life was in danger and he had to use the weapon ASAP. There’s no need to hide or disguise the fact that a knife has been drawn and is going to be used. I believe a self-defense knife needs to be seen. There’s the considerable intimidation factor of seeing a gleaming blade, one that can be quite useful in such a situation.

If I draw a knife and defensively strike at an attacker, and his companions see that I have a knife, there’s a good chance they’ll back off. If they don’t, I already have a weapon in hand and I’ll very soon find out if I survive the attack or not, depending on what other weapons and circumstances come into play and if they’ll improve or worsen my odds. By then the color of my defensive blade will have absolutely not bearing at all. Any reasonable and unimpaired person will not want to risk being cut or stabbed by someone else with a knife, once he sees the weapon is now in the hands of his “victim” and has already demonstrated skill in using it (unless of course the attacker is a skilled and experienced knife fighter, a nightmarishly worse scenario) .

This incident reinforces my preference for uncoated blades in my EDC (every day carry) knives. I would prefer to have the option of stopping the attack if I can without further violence, and if the sight of a knife does that, then so much the better.

Stab and slash, repeat as often as needed – Among the three who were stabbed by the defender, one died on the scene, the other died a few days later at a hospital and the other survived. Between them, they received a total of 5 stab wounds and 1 deep slash.

These facts can be appreciated from two points of view:

a) The strikes were directed to the upper torso and were apparently well placed and effective. It only took two strikes on each attacker to make them stop the assault.

b) The 6 counterattacks were effective but they were not immediately fatal as most people would prefer in such a situation.

The ideal self-defense situation with a knife will be to do a single, precise counterattack that will drop the attacker immediately. Given the extremely dynamic and chaotic nature of a physical assault and the actions used to defend against it, I think it’s highly unlikely that a defender with a knife will get that golden opportunity to end it all with one thrust. It has happened but I wouldn’t bet on it. I won’t go into detail as to what and where the “kill switches” are, for obvious reasons.

Adrenaline is flowing all around, drugs or alcohol maybe be present to block out pain and shock so the most likely scenario is that the defender may have to counterattack numerous times just to create the opportunity to flee the scene. Notice that I said “flee the scene”. Unless circumstances prevent fleeing (like having a loved one with you who cannot run), there’s absolutely no reason to engage in a drawn out battle with multiple attacker, who may themselves be scrabbling for their weapons as the fight starts.

In this particular case the defender did the right thing. He did the knife equivalent of a “double tap”, making sure the attacker he engaged had more than one wound to deal with. Multiple strikes by edged weapons even in self-defense situations have been questioned in numerous court cases, often by judges and prosecutors who fail to understand and appreciate the need for multiple disabling knife stabs or slashes in the midst of a fight for survival. For the defender, the goal is simply to survive. There’s no time to study the legalities and moral quandaries of stabbing an attacker more than once. To survive, the defender must make sure he’s causing enough immediate and disabling damage to stop the attack, and very often more than one counterattack will do the job.

In my opinion questioning someone who had to do that to prevent from getting killed from the comfort of a courtroom is in itself unfair and unjust.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this sobering account.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing. I think you are right on the subject of blade finish, I think along the same lines regarding my EDC. Take care!

Doc_D said...

is it anyhow possible to buy a Ginungting from you as the typhoon-gear site is down?
My email:
Sincerley yours,