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Defending Yourself: Kali Escrima Techniques to Stop a Knife Attack

Let's get to point, no pun intended. What do you when you're facing a person intent on hurting you or killing you with a knife? There are hundreds of choices you can make, coming from hundreds of different sources. But if you want to get the best advice on what to do against a bladed weapon, then get it from the experts on knife fighting and knife combat - the Filipino Martial Arts. These fighting arts, known as Kali, Escrima, or Arnis De Mano, come from the Philippines, where knives and bladed weapons are a unique specialty of the culture. The Brazilians are experts on grappling, the Americans are experts on boxing, and the Filipinos are experts on knife fighting and bladed combat. As an instructor in Kali Escrima myself, I have spent over thirty years training in knife fighting and knife combat, and I will admit that bladed weapons are my favorite area of Kali. There's nothing quite like being an expert with a knife to give you self-confidence in a street fight. Enough of the introduction - let's get to it.

To Defend Against a Knife, Learn Everything About a Knife, Including How to Use It in Combat.

You can't defend against something you know nothing about. If you want to defend against a knife attack, you need to be knowledgeable about what a knife can do, both offensively and defensively. The more familiar you are with knives, the more confident you will be when you have to defend against one. Otherwise, you will panic and freeze in terror when you come face-to-face with a killer.

Ways to Use to a Knife

Knives can be used to:

  1. Slash - slicing attacks - an excellent technique for self-defense.

  2. Thrust - stabbing attacks - the most lethal technique for self-defense.

  3. Hack - chopping attacks, like chopping a carrot - avoid hacking due to its lack of efficiency

  4. Tear - ripping and shredding flesh, similar to the way that animal predators use their claws - this is very effective, but tends to cause superficial damage.

  5. Pommel Strike - striking with the butt of the knife handle - this is a non-lethal option.

17 Angles of Attack of Kali Escrima

If you study the 17 angles of attack in the picture (see left), you'll notice that this is a combinations of various paths that a knife can travel on. There are both slashing attacks and thrusting attacks of varying angles. As you can see in Kali Escrima, we use the knife 17 different ways, at least. In most martial arts, they only use one or two angles, which exposes their ignorance and lack of understanding of what a knife can really do. It's not just about stabbing or slashing in predictable patterns, but knowing that a knife can travel anywhere, in unpredictable patterns.


If you see a knife, then run, fly, and escape to safety. BUT there is an exception to this rule. If the assailant is less than ten feet away from you, do not turn your back on him. Never do that. If you do, you risk getting stabbed in the back. In this case, keep your eyes on him at all times. You can't defend what you can't see. If you're further away than ten feet, then maybe you can sprint away, but only if you know you can outrun him. If you can't outrun him, then you're better off staying where you are and finding another solution.


If you can't escape, then survey your surroundings quickly and find any object you can turn into a hand-held weapon. We call this grabbing an equalizer. You can grab a baseball bat, a knife, a gun, a purse, a shoe, a chair, a towel, or even a pen. Use anything to keep distance between you and your attacker's knife. Whatever you do, avoid confronting the knife wielder bare-handed. Fighting a knife attack with empty hands is the riskiest fight you'll ever get involved in. Use any object around you and use it.


Use your makeshift weapon and destroy his hand, or hands, that's holding the knife. Hit it with speed and commitment. Slash, smash, or stab his hands, his forearms, or even his upper arms with as much force as you can. Your goal is to force him to release his weapon. As soon as he tries to attack you, he will extend his arm to you. When he does, destroy his hand or arm. This is not as easy as it sounds because Defanging the Snake requires good timing, accuracy, and speed.


After you De-Fang him, after you cut his hand or shatter his forearm, he will drop his knife and experience pain for a few seconds. Immediately follow up this moment of weakness with an overwhelming onslaught of smashes and slashes. Unleash your fury on him. Target your attacks on his eyes, throat, groin, knees, and hands. Don't waste time hitting him in the body, but hit him at these vital targets. IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not stop hitting him until he's either unconscious or crippled (he can't get up anymore). If you give him a chance to recover or get back up, he will chase you down and kill you. So make sure to finish him.


Knife attacks are serious business. This is life-and-death. All it takes is one big mistake and your life is over. Of course, it's much better to avoid getting into situations where you can be mugged or assaulted with a weapon. You can be aware and careful, but sometimes you can't control who chooses you as a potential victim. In that case, you must fight back. You must think of yourself as your own BEST WEAPON. Tell yourself: I am a human weapon - I am a dangerous person. I am to be feared by those who want to harm me.

To back up your thoughts, you must be trained. Your excellent fighting skills will make you a formidable opponent for any attacker - but only if your train, if you train in the right martial arts, and under the proper instructor. I suggest you study Kali Escrima - it is the best when it comes to knife defense. If you want to learn how to fight and defend yourself in the best way, consider training at the Tandez Academy. If you're interested in trying out a free class, or take private lessons, contact us at 408 373 0204 or email us:

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