How to Disarm an Attacker in a Knife Fight – Training for the Real Thing

How to Disarm an Attacker in a Knife Fight – Training for the Real Thing

The following article is taken from the full Disarm & Disable educational program, available through the Science of Skill store. 

Jerry Wetzel has spent a good portion of his life developing  programs on how to disarm an attacker and weapons defense, and one of the things he stresses is that when it comes to knives – though they’re a very scary weapon – they’re absolutely survivable given the proper skills and mindset.

“Your mindset has to be that this is survivable and that you will do whatever it takes. If you get cut, you will do whatever it takes and you will fight until you can’t fight,” says Wetzel.

Once you recognize the importance of attitude and approach, the second most important move is to get in control of a weapon and the other person as quickly as possible. The ultimate goal, says Wetzel, is to wrestle that weapon away from the other person and ensure he/she is no longer a threat.

This doesn’t sound easy, and for good reason. You shouldn’t “patty-cake” the knife out of the person’s hand, says Wetzel. You should disarm in any effective way possible, whether that’s hitting the other person until they drop the weapon or getting into a dominant position that allows you to strip the weapon out of his/her hand (which can imply having some disarmament skills). Of course, having skills in the classroom is not the same as implementing those skills in a real-life situation.

“When you start going live with this stuff and you get a motivated training partner, you find real quick that a lot of things rattle apart and your percentage of being able to actually pull this stuff off is greatly decreased,” explains Wetzel. This is the reason that he emphasizes training with street-level resistance. Getting in a position of control also means closing the space between yourself and the attacker. Though to many this move seems the opposite of instinct, which is often to move away, it’s an important strategy for securing your safety quickly. More damage tends to happen in the mid-range area or an arm’s length from an opponent than in any other, says Wetzel.

As with any martial arts practice, getting in mat and drilling time and learning moves that can help you disarm an attacker with a bladed weapon is essential to building up your body’s physical memory and reflexes. To get the most out of your drilling and practice sessions, Wetzel recommends the following:

  • Practice with a partner.  Focus on push/pull and the “underlying principle of controlling the pressure,” suggests Wetzel. “Now even if I’m outside my weight class and the person decides he’s going to drive back, that’s okay because everything’s relying on a push-pull. If I can drive in and he pushes back, that’s great. I’m going to switch to my two-on-one and spiral him to the floor where I have maximum control,” he explains.
  • Build a refined set of a few core techniques. Wetzel sees this goal as more important to survivability than building up a large arsenal of moves.
  • Invest in a reputable training weapon. When it comes to training and drilling with weapons, Wetzel is less about the next shiny new object and more about the tried-and-true (and least expensive) hard training blade. “ If you’re going to train this stuff, you need something that’s going to make you pay for messing up a little bit,” he says, emphasizing that you don’t want to harm yourself or anyone else but that you do want to know when you’ve made the wrong move.

Adding weapons into any training scenario can make it more tempting to want to “win” the drill, but Wetzel cautions against this mindset.

“If you’re trying to win because you know what his objective is, you know what technique he’s trying to do…we’re moving out of the realm of reality and into this tit-for-tat sportive approach that strays away from the reality you’re going to run into.”

Instead, he notes that the focus should be on maintaining the push-and-pull relationship with your partner, slowly increasing resistance and more complex fighting scenarios that mimic the real world.

How often does a person need to train in order to master these skills? Wetzel says it’s ideal if you can integrate these techniques once a week in-between other martial arts or empty hand training sessions. He stresses quality over quantity and describes combat training as a specific system (like CPR) rather than a martial art, which tends to have more complex moves and is more difficult to master in fewer sessions.

Finding the best self defense instructor or combat training school is a topic that many of our experts take seriously. Wetzel recommends really paying attention to an instructor when he or she performs and demos techniques and drills. “The more you train, the more you start being able to discern reality from fantasy with regard to edged weapons, and it’s the same way you would in empty-hand skills,” he says. In most cases, how an instructor trains, the quality of moves and the realism, is going to be more important than what is listed on his instructor’s profile.

About Jerry Wetzel: Jerry has been training exclusively in reality-based combat for over 10 years. In 1999, he founded Centerline Gym, an organization dedicated exclusively to researching the realities of violence and developing tools and tactics to deal with them. He has appeared in magazines and numerous instructional videos. Since he began training, Jerry has had the privilege of training with some of the world’s finest instructors. Among other achievements, he Jerry is the former VP of the worldwide Crazy Monkey Defense Program; a Certified Full Instructor in Jeet Kune Do and the Filipino martial arts; a Personal Defense Readiness Affiliate; and a Brown Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

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Bosko Jenkins
Bosko Jenkins

A post from the founder and head publisher at Science of Skill, LLC. A martial arts black belt and self defense instructor, Dan has spent years training with and interviewing some of the world's best self protection experts. His passion lies in encouraging others to train smart and to improve the skills that make them safer and stronger.

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