Is taking off your jacket still recommended as the go-to strategy for knife defense?

I’ve had many martial uncles & brothers, including several with not insignificant real-world combat experience, and, although they are all quite competent at knife disarming techniques taught in various modern systems, nearly all have advised “taking off your jacket” to use in trying to snag the knife point, and proceeding from there as is expedient.

Using loose fabric against a knife is time-honored, old school technique, but is it still relevant?

  • Is “taking off your jacket” still recommended as the go-to strategize for unarmed knife defense in contemporary martial arts?

Alternately, are some of the modern defenses realistic against an unskilled attacker? And, if so, are they truly better (i.e. less perilous) than using loose fabric?

2 Answers 2


I have not encountered this strategy in seminars or regular training of Krav Maga. This involved personnel with extensive experience in law enforcement and military training as well as bouncers who actually have been stabbed. Therefore, I would say that it cannot be counted as "relevant strategy" taught in contemporary self-defence as far as my experience goes. The probable reason is that modern self-defence focuses on keeping it simple and using as few reaction patterns as possible for a great variety of applications, ie. the same basic approach to all weapon attacks.

An additional rationale which explains the omission of this particular strategy is the experience that for basically every relevant situation where knives come into play, you simply will not have the time to take your jacket off. It's just not happening that people who want to kill you will take their knives out, shout "I'll kill you" and make circles around you flailing around. Ok, maybe this happens, too, but these are not the people you really have to worry about since they probably are drunk and lack real intent to kill - show-offs and bigmouths, basically.

But the dangerous truth is that if people mean it, you either are stabbed before you even notice it or the attack is immediate the moment you notice that they have a knife in their hands. That is the nature of the reality of knife attacks. Additionally, the common "sewing machine" stabbing from close range makes it very hard to apply such things.

That being said, disarming techniques are not reliable. Everyone who is not delusional and has some real-life experience will admit that. Without breaking bones or at least hits to the body and/or head which disorient or incapacitate the attacker, you will not get that knife out of their hands. It is the centre of their attention and efforts, the focus of their intent. It also does not matter whether the attacker is skilled or unskilled since a knife is more or less a natural instrument when it comes to hurting and killing others, it is a direct extension of the hand.

Therefore, it is all about mitigating damage while going all-out versus your attacker, both physically and psychologically. This is knife-defence. As it basically is the defence strategy against any weapon. It is just harder against knives since they are so elusive and getting hold of them involves serious endangerment like deep cuts or losing a finger or two. So what you learn in modern self-defence are ways to take as little damage as possible while freaking out and hurting the other one under extreme stress levels, as well as awareness and identification of incoming attacks.

Thus, if you have the time and ability to use loose clothing for damage mitigation, it will surely help. But I would not make my bets on that chance, nor should it be the focus and centre of training knife-defence.

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    Even if a guy only threatens you, this means a) they don't intend to kill you - which obviously helps loads - and b) that you still have trouble finding the time to take off your jacket. Nov 12, 2020 at 6:28
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    @DukeZhou re backhand: Let's face it: it's flashy, it's cool...and SEAGAL!!!11!! - Been there, too. The main advantage of the grip is that you are able to block/parry with your forearm - IFF the blade is big enough. At the same time, your fingers are more open, you lose range, you have to use diagonal movements, which obviously are more dangerous when someone wants to control the arm and simply hit you. IMHO, this is a defensive approach in a martial art where you use life blades - but everything else is forbidden. In other words: It's pretty useless for self-defence. Nov 12, 2020 at 6:34
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    Oh, and every kind of clothing is enough to fend off deep cuts. Really. Cuts are not that dangerous since you will not have enough force in direction of the body. Even if the blade is razor sharp, a t-shirt is basically enough. If you want to use your knife to kill, you stab deep and rip diagonally from there. Or the throat, but that is only practically possible if you come from behind and can cut towards your body, ie. have a counter-force to make that cut dangerous. Nov 12, 2020 at 6:41
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    There has been a case where someone cut the throat of a guy from the front like 13 times. But because of how the body is built (vital things enjoying some level of protection, skin being elastic) and because you typically don't lean into these attacks, he survived. Just to illustrate how much cuts are overestimated. You don't feel the pain with all that adrenaline in your body, and if you don't lay there for 10 minutes, bleeding, the blood loss is manageable, even though obviously the main problem. Nov 12, 2020 at 6:49
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    @DukeZhou Re:PS Swords have always been slashing and stabbing weapons (knives stab only, or cutting throats from behind). Using them in a grip that reduces the weapon to cuts or stabs in a biomechanically unfavourable direction (backwards, out of centerline) is completely idiotic. In dual wield I could imagine one hand in backhand as a guard following the leading attack hand may have some sense to it. But I'm not deep into sword fighting, so that's mere guesswork here. Nov 14, 2020 at 18:48

ANY level of protection in a knife fight is more apparent. Because those cuts hurt. If you ever saw the movie "Under Siege" Tommy Lee Jones and Steven Seagal enage in a knife fight, Jones' character sustains many cuts but a leather jacket kept serious damage at bay. A hard metal watch, jewelry, gauntlets, anything that can protect you

  • I love that particular scene. As I recall, but Seagal and Jones were using the backhanded grip exclusively, and there was a lot of blade-to-blade contact. Although fantasy, I think you make a good point about protection of jewelry and leather sleeves. See also: buff coat
    – DukeZhou
    Nov 12, 2020 at 0:43
  • Think of it this way, Knife fighting is notoriously dangerous to do and study/practice. Even a someone Well trained in martial arts is not stupid enough to get into a fight with a guy with a knife. Don't believe me? Get a marker, take the cap off, give it to a child and tell him to pretend it's a knife. NOW try and take it from him.
    – LazyReader
    Nov 12, 2020 at 5:41
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    @DukeZhou Against cuts, a simple t-shirt provides a sufficient protection. Seriously. It's...been tried 😉 Nov 12, 2020 at 6:37
  • Or, at the least, the t-shirt mitigates things as well as a leather jacket would, mitigating slashes but largely not doing much against stabs other than soaking up blood. Nov 12, 2020 at 22:18

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