ARTICLE | CUTTING IT - IS YOUR KNIFE SURVIVAL TRAINING GOOD ENOUGH? | by Orjan Pettersen
Knife crime is a trend that has continued for close to a decade in the UK*, with year-on-year increases, as these offences grow rapidly outside of urban areas, making them not only a density-populated area crime phenomenon, but a national problem.
As a Krav Maga and self defence community, these developments should trigger a reflection as to our approach to our teaching and training methodology, wherever we are aware of these developments.
Firstly, our primary question needs to be: If knives are the highest (or high) statistical cause of criminal deaths, is the amount of time we allocate to knife survival training sufficient, or should it be adjusted?
Albeit not necessarily the most common instrument of overall violent injury (statistically lagging behind open hand or limb attacks), nevertheless its dominant statistical position of causing serious injury or killing means it should feature near the top of allocation of training time and teaching philosophy in serious self defence schools.
Supplementary to regular curriculum training, knife survival practice can easily have added time allocated to it through dedicated weekend or extra seminars or other topical events, where students can solely focus on this aspect of their skill acquisition.
Secondly, a further important consideration comes into play: Is our approach to knife survival realistic to the real life context these attacks occur in?
Consider our methodology to teaching knife ‘defences’ for a minute. It’s very common to envelop these in a less-than-real context. Are knife ‘defences’ always taught in isolation, that they are only repeated under the banner of its own topic - or after they treated as an implied threat in all kinds of techniques and situations?
As important as repetition is in learning, it’s the enemy of understanding if what we’ve taught is genuinely adequate for real-life application. What happens if the student is surprised by the attack and it’s totally unsuspected? Can they handle it? Start using random and surprise knife attacks in other defence scenarios and find out.
What about repeated attacks, especially where the attacker changes angles of direction on the weapon? A lot of Krav Maga counter-weapons training is conducted in a relative laboratory condition; the direction is stated upfront, the attack is singular only and the perpetrator is not moving from the point of attack. Have you tested unsuspected, multiple and dynamic attacks? Does your approach work sufficiently in these scenarios? Start putting pressure on knife attacks, make them repeated and random - and see what happens?
How have you practiced and considered the environment around you enough in the training and teaching? If the light conditions are poor, or the situation is observationally-limited, and the practitioner has difficulty in establishing if it is an open hand or edge weapons attack (think small or hidden knife), how will they approach what they cannot fully see? Especially as it takes the brain around 0.5s to notice and make a decision on a physical response, do they need to spend extra time to evaluate and choose responses based on what is not clear to them? How is this approached in training and teaching? Can your techniques and responses be made agnostic as to whether a weapon is used or not? For example, do you teach different techniques for an open hand circular strike to the head to the same motion with a knife?
Do you use readily available common objects in the training against edged weapons? Everyday items are around us can be applied, but only if our trained instinct is to use them. A chair, a bag, a jacket or any shielding, striking or barrier object can be the difference between life and death. How are they incorporated into our practice?
Thirdly, do you test your knife survival defences in ‘performance under pressure’ drills?
Reality will never match the relative calm and friendly atmosphere of a Krav Maga class, nor can it be fully replicated in anger, but we should move closer to the latter, or at least as directionally close as possible. Do your techniques stand up when put to the test with a faster and furious protective gear drill, where the attacks are repeated and the situation very dynamic? Of course, it makes our success rate much more challenging and inconsistent, but it also teaches a couple of important lessons; future shock and stress management and utter respect for the weapons involved and what they can do.
Finally, there is also a generally missed element of knife survival practice, overlooked in many schools.
If subject to an attack, expect an injury and prepare for it. Do students know how to self-manage a penetrating trauma injury? If catastrophic bleeding takes place on the limbs, do they know how to apply a tourniquet or similar, if possible? If a chest or major arterial injury has occurred, do they know how to stop and manage the wounds? Have they got a portable medical kit giving them the basic tools for this? The first few minutes, or longer in a rural setting, before the emergency services appear, are often critical.
There are many aspects to knife survival training should the student not be able to extricate themselves from those life-threatening situations. As knife, edged and sharp weapon violence appear to become more and more prevalent in our crime picture, our teaching and training should reflect this as part of our self defence evolution.
(*Data in this article refers to knife crime statistics in England and Wales).