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Knife Attacks Pt.1 - Basic Survival for the Average Joe

The guidance provided in this article is for anyone and not just martial artists. It is only meant to boost your awareness about behavioural and situational tactics. If you'd like to develop more in these tactics or even physical self-defence skills, we recommend you enrol in a reputable class that has a well-established background. Be sure to watch the British Red Cross video at the end of the article so you know what to do if you are cut in a knife attack. We'll keep this article short and sweet with a summary at the end.

Now before we begin, consider the following critical point:

Never try to fight when there is a chance to run away!


Good self-defence should always start with trying to maintain a sense of awareness. Awareness of our surroundings and being alert to potential threats can prevent us from walking into many dangerous situations. In Japanese martial arts the term for this is zanshin, but regardless of what you call it the concept is universally accepted as one of the pillars to self-defence.

Of course it could be mentally exhausting being constantly in a state of alertness, so we should pick our moments, which are times when we may be more vulnerable than normal. For example, while walking home at night tired from work we should be more vigilant than usual. Most of this comes second nature to many but we should never let our guards down. It doesn't matter if you are a highly skilled martial artist or someone who has never thrown a punch in their life. You should not underestimate how much situational awareness/alertness can save your life.

Building on this, if you feel like there is a threat or potentially threatening situation, you should not hesitate to take the necessary actions. This leads to the next point.


Don't hesitate to act on your instincts if you feel you might be in danger. It is better to act quickly and be wrong, than to regret not acting when you had the time.

A split second can be the difference between avoiding a dangerous situation and finding yourself in one. It only takes a split second for someone to get into attacking range and cause you harm.

When we perceive a threat severe enough to cause us concern the brain experiences a delayed cortex function which causes lower mental responsiveness. This is what we call panic. In a potential dangerous situation it is this panic that can cause us to lose precious time.

With this in mind, having a clear, pre-determined strategy for potentially dangerous situations can help you to act faster in the right moment.

Another way to help you better cope with the stress and panic of potentially violent situations is to enroll in self-defence training. This does not necessarily mean you have to enroll in a traditional martial arts course, but these types of regular training have more long-term benefits. If this is not possible, there are also short courses that can be useful.

Ideally you'd expect them to mentally prepare you for hostile situations, and not just to teach you combative techniques.


Sometimes despite our best efforts, we find ourselves in dangerous situations. Without overstating the obvious, we should immediately start thinking about physical routes of escape. Whether your attacker gives chase or not depends on their level of motivation. Regardless, your objective should be to find safety and alert others to the threat as this may discourage your attacker.

Often, the best places for safety will be where there are other people present and high visibility. Screaming loudly or banging on someone's front door are some ways in which you can attract the attention of others.

If possible, try to familiarise yourself with the surroundings of new or strange places before you go there. You can do this by taking a few extra minutes to look at maps to identify high streets, and local amenities or commercial areas, where there is likely to be larger numbers of people.


An important point about knife attacks is that most of them come as ambushes. That is to say, the knife may be concealed until the very last moment. So if you are suspicious of someone approaching you, don't hesitate to go the other way, and be hasty about it too! Keep them well out of range and try not to get cornered.

Koryu Jujutsu Knife Techniques

Another option to keep your attacker out of range, though highly risky is to kick at your attacker. The average leg is longer that the average arm, so if you have nowhere to run and do not have an object to fend off your attacker, you should aggressively kick instead of trying to grapple. If you're fast and aggressive enough, it just might work, but remember that this is an absolute last resort.

There is a lot to say about physical techniques and combative strategies, but these are almost useless if you are not practising them regularly and intensely. If you are interested to know more lookout for our upcoming article, Knife Attacks Pt.2 - Traditional Jujutsu Tactics.


If you have been left with a knife wound after an altercation it is important to act quickly as the loss of blood could be fatal. At the same time, the effects of panic and shock could result in loss of consciousness. So try to remain calm and focus on the following things you need to do; ​

1. Apply pressure to the wound. If an article of clothing is available then use it to stop the bleeding. Maintain pressure until emergency services arrive.

2. Call emergency services. Be as calm as you can over the phone to help them understand you better.

3. Relax. To avoid going into shock try not to over exert yourself. Sit somewhere warm and comfortable and take deep breaths in an attempt to lower your heartrate.

Please watch the video below on dealing with stab wounds.

Created by Art Against Knives in collaboration with the British Red Cross


All the points made above may be a lot to take in at once, so here is a short summary.

  1. Be alert - Especially when in a higher risk environment.

  2. Act fast! Act fast! Act fast! There is nothing to lose by overreacting.

  3. Keep looking for your escape, and attract the attention of others.

  4. Keep out of range, first by being alert and then by any other means once an attack is imminent.

  5. Keep calm if cut or stabbed. Try to get comfortable and apply pressure to the wound. Call emergency services.

If in the heat of the moment you can act on any of the points made above, you'll increase your chances of surviving this type of assault. Walk through these actions in your head, simulate with a friend or even better, enrol in a reputable self-defence course, keeping in mind what you expect to be taught.

You are much more likely to do the things you've read in this article if you practice them.

Last but not least, if you find this article useful please share with friends and loved ones.

Be safe!

How do you feel after this article?

  • The points were simple and useful. Worth the read.

  • It's a little light on details. I wish it went deeper.

  • Too complicated for the average Joe.

  • Not good advice for the average Joe.

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