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I happened to come across a Krav Maga youtube video that teaches a knife-fighting stance that seeks to guard the major arteries. Here is a link to the video. I would describe the stance more, but the video demonstrates it well.

On face value, it seems like an extraordinarily practical stance for a knife fight. Is it?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Against knives, that's a terrible position. In bladed arts like kali, escrima, and penjak silat, you see it appear as the briefest of transition phases, usually if you have a blade yourself but it's not a position to hold.

With your arms crossed over like that, it's easy to control and trap both arms with one hand, allowing your attacker's free hand (the knife) to repeatedly stab you in the abdomen. It's especially vulnerable to the classic prison shank maneuver.

The more practical stance I've seen is somewhat like a tight boxer's guard ("Peek-a-boo" style). Trying to google it, this manga boxer pic is pretty close - imagine this except hands open palm with the fingertips coming just below your eyes and your legs brought close together (to protect the arteries on inner legs).

Just like peek-a-boo boxing, you'll be using a bit of bob and weave, a lot of body movement to angle, and you may transition into covering your neck with your hands or bringing one arm to cover the sides quickly. The other half is offensive - you want the knife gone ASAP and that means either attacking the weapon arm, getting control, or grabbing a nearby object as a weapon or shield.

Unlike taking blunt strikes from an unarmed person, nearly everything is a target to a knife, and you can't afford to keep taking hits. You will not be in any particular stance for very long, as you either have to get rid of the knife, run, or you'll be in a bad position while they're stabbing you and trying to figure out what you're going to do next.

Ideally you move yourself to a flanking position outside of the weapon arm with some control and then break that arm/stun it and get the knife out.

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+1 solid advice, and I like the "classic prison shank manoeuvre" link - cheers! –  Tony D Jun 4 '14 at 16:03
Good answer. That prison shank video was great. I'm trying to learn how to actually survive in a real knife fight-- a lot of martial arts advice is impractical or overly ideal/simplified. What would you recommend doing to train for that? Obviously I never want to get into a knife fight, but it seems foolish to train in martial arts without seriously training for that possibility. –  Nathan Jun 5 '14 at 14:40
There's the low commitment answer and the high commitment answer. The low commitment answer is to cover up, and find a way to stun & run or control & break and get away ASAP. The high commitment answer is to study an art like kali, escrima, silat... a lot of Systema also has a lot of good knife stuff as well. Knives are dangerous, change angles fast, and this is why there's entire arts devoted towards dealing with them (especially now we live in an era w/o swords, spears, and other long range weapons as standard...) –  Bankuei Jun 5 '14 at 15:17
The "prison shank" video shows exactly why the krav maga instructor linked to in the question will be going home without a few internal organs. –  slugster Jun 6 '14 at 12:35
That video link should be required watching for every martial artist who does any type of "knife defense" training. Knife defense drills are, imo, largely a waste of time. You learn more in a five minute sparring session with a determined knife wielding attacker. –  Owen Sechrist Jul 8 '14 at 16:41

The position in the video seems to presuppose that you can't avoid getting slashed but do have time to cross your arms into place and tuck your head down... that's a very bizarre supposition. If you've time to get into that position, you may have had time to move to dodge or block the knife, restrict the targets, angles and/or power, or preempt the attack with your own attack. I'd generally rather be in a race to do any of those rather than cover up and hope for the best, particularly as that position will leave you in a difficult/slow position to unravel from to watch them properly, let alone prepare to defend or counter - i.e. they can probably slash again, and again, and again.... Further, the original attack might not end up being a slash - they could easily stab into your front ribs or temple.

Even in a worst case scenario - they've just knocked your glasses off and it's dark and you've no chance of knowing where they're attacking from and one foot's glued to the pavement ;-P... I'd rather lean away and swing my front arm across the path they're likely to take for a slash or thrust and hope to go from there.

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Be Proactive

Any "stance" against a knife gives the wrong idea about what you should be doing. Now, I'm sure the instructor here is not advocating standing there and shelling up. But he is not engaging the knife-wielding attacker. It is important to be pro-active versus a knife, not reactive, and the idea of this "stance" is fundamentally reactive. If you are against a knife, you must be either

  • A) (best option) retreating, running away, not engaging at all.
  • B) controlling the knife-wielding hand in a direction that it cannot cut you, or, if that is not possible, controlling it so that it will cut you where it will do the least damage

There is a gap between options A, where you're totally dis-engaged and B, where you're completely in control. The idea is to minimize the gap. There's very little time here, certainly not enough to be worrying about a guard of any kind like the one the instructor in the video shows.


I can't make assumptions here about what this instructor teaches and what he doesn't from a short clip on Youtube. But I can tell you the stance he is showing leaves several options available to a knife-wielding attacker. He has covered his neck and his armpit. Great. Now he's got a knife underneath his sternum or he's disemboweled. Other targets are the achilles tendon and the back of the knee. Kali fighters are not afraid to go low. That's where you're least expecting to get cut. Bottom line: You cannot protect all viable targets. The only way to do that is to control the knife itself.


In empty-hand versus knife, use defense by position and don't worry about a guard. Get to where the knife is going in a direction where you're not ASAP, either by completely disengaging, or by engaging 100% and controlling the knife-arm.

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The only effective stance against a knife attack is the Usain Bolt stance, i.e. run.

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I found a better stance:

Left leg back. Keep your left arm bent at a 90 degree angle, your elbow at shoulder height, fingers pointed up. Take your right arm, and slowly reach that behind your body. Go into your back pocket, and remove all valuables. Drop wallet on floor in front of you. Put right hand in same position as left. Smile.

Original post:

Right leg back.

Follow the knife with your right hand, just follow its movement.

Keep your left hand palm up, protecting the veins in your legs. I forgot there names. They are right below your crotch. So basically keep the back of your hand planted against your leg in that spot.

Any knife combat skilled personnel know about this weak point. It just takes one slash, and you will 100% guaranteed bleed out.

If someone could add in the name of the vein, it would help me sleep better remembering it.

Source- hapkido (Korean martial art) training.

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I'm guessing you're referring to the femoral artery? 100% bleed out doesn't seem to match medical studies ( sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0741521401700912 ), although granted these injuries probably were not "skilled personnel" inflicting them, but with 46% being gunshots and 12% being blades, you'd think there'd by a much higher rate of death or at least amputation if it was that bad overall. No, it's not good to get cut there, for sure, it's just not 100%. –  Bankuei Jun 15 '14 at 8:45
Yes, that is its name. Thanks. I suppose I was a little dramatic with 100%. It's just you have a large chance if loosing too much blood if cut there. –  coltonon Jun 15 '14 at 15:14

I've used this here to survive my own knife attacks.

situation: attackers left hand on shirt, next to neck, right hand knife, against neck.

If at all possible you want to avoid a strength battle, where it comes down to this guys brawn v.s. yours, cause chances are, if he's trying to gut you, he's confident he'll win. or on drugs.

defense: My right hand comes across and grasps his knife hand; important for hand to come across in between bodies. his instinctual response was to try to slit my throat. next, duck chin to protect neck, (receive flesh wound on chin.. optional)

take the ever-present option in a male attacker, knee to crotch. when his body recoiled away from mine, bend his elbow away from my neck using both hands.

Here's the complicated part. attacker is now hunched with right arm up in 90 degree angle. I have both my hands on his knife hand, with right on wrist and left on back of his hand. Apply pressure to bend wrist forward, fist will naturally loosen. Slide left hand down and remove knife from offenders control.

after that its up to you; the knife is in your control, the attacker is injured, possibly grounded.

i booked it.

This all to say, that when someone intends to mug you, they often don't announce it quick enough for you to adopt a defensive stance. keep your center of gravity low and your arms free. in the case that you do become freed, you need to be in a stance that allows you to turn quickly and run.

A Chung-Do-Kwan Back-stance (two shoulder widths by two shoulder widths, knees bent, feet pointing perpendicularly away) works well for this while still allowing you mobility to convert to a more aggressive fighting stance.

Practice being able to adopt a stance that is comfortable for you quickly, and while someone may be restricting your movements.

the lower your body's center of mass ans the comfort of the stance for you are prime factors for defending yourself properly.

as for guarding major arteries, ducking your chin and lifting a knee to deflect are good things to be able to do on instinct.

you can take a knife to the thigh if needed. only hurts for about a month.

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Welcome to the site. While an interesting story (+1), it remains anecdotal (-1) and thus not evidence for general cases. Plus, it does not really answer the question... We are a question and answer site, not a forum. Could you edit your answer to focus on answering the question, maybe using your own personal experience? –  Sardathrion Oct 14 '14 at 15:19
Yeah sorry had to rush to class. updated now. –  Vince Scalia Oct 14 '14 at 17:16

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