I am working on a piece of fiction with a knife fight and I would like the action to slowly escalate rather than the first stab ending everything, even though that is most likely in real life. Therefore I would like to get a general idea of areas of the body where a knife stab would allow the injured to keep on fighting. The knives would be small knives if that helps eg. like a standard steak knife. I am guessing it would be important to avoid all the major arteries and organs, but looking at the diagram below I cannot see much "real estate" to work with.

I look forward to your suggestions.

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4 Answers 4


Erm...it is really hard to stab someone once so that it is lethal within, say, 30 Minutes. People can go on fighting with 10+ stab wounds for quite some time and the rib cage is quite a good protection.

In other words: Your assumption is flawed. It is hard to stab deeply in a fight. It is hard to get by the ribs. It is hard to inflict a lethal injury. Stabs generally are not used to end a fight with a knife instantly. If you want to end it fast, you stab, turn, and rip the knife out at very specific areas in very specific ways and angles. Seriously, it is quite common that people go on fighting and realise they have been stabbed only after the adrenaline levels go down and the shock sets in.

That does in no way mean that stab wounds are to be taken lightly, they will require medical attention as fast as possible. And there can be cases where, say, the liver or kidneys are ruptured or lungs, heart, or major blood vessels are punctured. This can lead to unconsciousness or death within minutes due to massive internal bleeding and asphyxiation. This is more common when using a relatively thin, yet stable and long knife like a filleting knife, not so much when using standard pocket or steak knives. In any case, it's not like in the movies where a single stab with a small knife will cause people to stop fighting, make a surprised expression, and go down dying. Just like people won't die because of 10 or even 30 seconds of strangulation.

That being said: Don't even think about using a knife in a fight. It will cause legal problems. It will cause others to use knives and guns. It will escalate towards lethal violence. There is no rational reason I can think of to carry a knife for self-defense purposes. Whenever you get yourself into a knife fight, you basically have to accept that you will end up in a hospital or a grave. A knife is a tool, even if a comparatively dangerous and naturally handled one. But since they are also widespread, they seldom give a significant advantage. Swords, spears, bows, and guns are weapons which give you a significant advantage in combat.

As of a story telling perspective, I recommend starting with swinging motions, ie. cutting. Cuts rarely go through simple shirts, but feeling the pressure of the edge can be pretty intimidating. Followed be superficial, bleeding (but relatively harmless) cuts on exposed body parts like the arms, this can be a mess without being even remotely lethal. Only after that I would recommend alternating cutting and stabbing patterns which lead to deeper wounds which eventually wear out the physical abilities of the fighters. Maybe even with severing eg. a shoulder or chest tendon/muscle which renders an arm useless and forces the fighter to change the hand etc. Depending on whether one outskills the other or they are evenly matched this opens more than enough time and escalation steps for storytelling like inner or open dialogue.

  • Very helpful insight thank you
    – FrontEnd
    Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 11:08
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    To add to this I have heard that muggers in the uk prefer to stab to the buttock. Basically because that way they know they can intimidate the victim but hopefully not have to face a murder investigation.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 13:05
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    @FrontEnd Added a bit more constructive feedback as for storytelling purposes in a knife fight. Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 13:23
  • @HuwEvans Interesting. Hurts and bleeds like hell, makes pursuit impossible. Is hard to imagine in a knife fight though. You would have to be surprised, severely outmatched and/or outnumbered for this to happen. Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 13:40
  • @PhilipKlöcking exactly right. They tend to work in groups and the one who is going to stab tried to get behind. (according to the policeman I was training with)
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Apr 17, 2021 at 14:42

For superficial cuts, the easiest answer is to go outside. There are arteries running through all of your body but for the most part, they are protected by bones. Outside of the arm or leg, a slice across the ribs (not a stab through the ribs,) or cuts to the back, can be painful but won't do long-term damage or slow down a fight. The neck, inner arm or leg, or organs, would all cause much heavier bleeding and slow down or stop a fight.


You would be really surprised by the durability of people. Especially with something like a steak knife, in the heat of combat people can survive crazy injuries. One great example of a knife fight is in Last of Us Part 2. "SPOILER WARNING"

In Ellie and Abby's final confrontation, Ellie fights Abby using switchblade. While I think their fight is just a little dramatized with their wild swings and movements, the amount of punishment Abby endures I think is very realistic to a knife fight. The only reason the fight stops is because Abby bites off Ellie's finger and she cries(?)


A blade larger than 3 inches can puncture an organ. Most people will collapse after being stabbed even once. The only person to be the exception is Mark 'Chopper' Reed and that's it. People proficient with knives also know that cutting takes less effort than stabbing. Slicing open the brachial or radial artery is going to be far easier than trying to stab a torso. Arms are often going to be in contact with you as they are, naturally, the thing people use to defend themselves. A persons focus is also usually on defending centre mass as all of their vital organs are there.

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    Empirical reality disagrees. Sorry but this really sounds a lot like some [put in art name here] narrative trying to sell non-existant effectiveness. Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 15:47

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