I used to think that an untrained person couldn't do much with a knife against someone who's stronger than him, but recently I heard about the case which Jodi Arias stabbed Travis Alexander 29 times and slit his throat and shot him in the head (I'm sure you've heard about this case). After Travis was stabbed, he was still able to walked to the bathroom sink, bleeding, then got hit from the back of his head. He was then dragged out of the bathroom and killed.

We know that Jodi stabbed him standing in the shower, and he resisted. I find it very difficult to imagine the scenario that she can stab a relatively fit male to death. Even if she walked to him with a knife unnoticed, if his body didn't shut off after one or two stabs, I don't see how she can win the fight after it. From the autopsy, one of the 1.5 inch wound did reach the heart (penetration of superior vena cava).

How well can the rib cage protect the heart from untrained knife attacks? Was she really lucky to penetrate the ribs? Surely without this wound, Travis would be able to win the fight in my mind.

I couldn't find any detailed description of what happened exactly when she first attacked with the knife. If a knife expert can explain to me how this could possibly happen, or a knife attack is just much more dangerous than I thought, that would be much appreciated.

2 Answers 2


Knife fighting is something a lot of people don't really understand, both being the one with the knife and the one defending against someone with a knife.

Someone with a knife, whether they're trained or untrained, is one of the most dangerous people anyone can face. That's because it's very easy to flail a knife around and slash and stab people. Someone that attempts to grab the arm of an attacker with a knife will end up having that arm slashed several times and still not be able to grab that arm. That's because hands are the fastest moving parts of the body, so they're very hard to target and grab a hold of, especially in struggles like this. Instinctively, we flail our hands and arms around the moment we see anyone reaching for our arm.

Knives and all weapons are "force multipliers". One of the problems most people have in assessing their ability to deal with someone with a knife is that they often give too much weight to their own physical attributes in comparison with the attacker with a knife. If you're a man, 6 foot tall, and weigh 240 pounds, you might think you'll just be able to walk up and take that knife if the attacker is a woman, 5 foot tall, and weighs 120 pounds. You'll end up getting stabbed and slashed a dozen times before you get the knife. And yes, you can easily die from loss of blood due to this.

It doesn't really matter how big and strong someone is when they have a knife. How much deeper will a stab go if the attacker is 10 times stronger? Right, it goes just as deep no matter how strong that attacker is. Stabbing someone is really easy with a pointy knife.

As for slashing, how many more slashes can someone do who is stronger? It's about the same. They might be able to slash through clothing more easily, though. But chances are that a smaller, weaker knife wielder can do enough damage that you'll end up dead due to blood loss.

The scenario the original question posed involved multiple stabs first, followed by slashing the throat. And the victim in this case was still able to walk after getting stabbed. Here's the thing. Blood loss takes a minute or two before they begin to pass out. Being stabbed that many times assures that a major artery was hit.

And you may wonder how a weaker individual can get off 29 stabs without being stopped. The thing is, most people can easily pick up a knife and just start stabbing and slashing violently. It takes no training to do that. It's just instinctive. If you have a knife in your hand, and you're insane with anger and want the guy in front of you to die, you will probably be successful at it. But on the other side, the defender would have to be so amazingly skilled in knife defense to be able to avoid getting any damage. The best trained escrima / kali fighters can't even do it, so there's no chance an untrained person can.

You might be interested in my answer to another question on this subject: Targeting arteries / tendons in knife fights?

A typical defender who's barehanded against someone armed with a knife will not know how to deal with that situation, especially not quick enough. At no point should a defender engage a knife fighter directly in close range. They need to keep their distance and create obstacles to shield them while trying to run away. Or they need to use a gun. That is, if the attacker actually allows it. In most cases, someone with a knife isn't going to give you time to assess the situation and get some distance. Knife fights go down fast.

So imagine you're in an enclosed area like an apartment, and someone pulls out a knife on you. You won't even be able to process this mentally. The first stab will happen, and you'll be like, "What just happened?" You'll just be standing there. Then a dozen more stabs happen, and you're barely able to turn around and start walking away, trying to get to a room with a door you can use to shield yourself from them. That's what it's like.

In real life situations, a knife can come out without any warning. A guy in front of you seems aggravated and nervous, but he's minding his space and not acting in a confrontational way. Then he turns away a little, and when he turns back to face you, suddenly he's stabbing you. You won't even see the knife in his hand it happens so fast. And once again, that takes zero training on his part to know how to do that. Whereas for you to defend successfully against it, it would require a super-human level of skill. Nobody really can. If you survive, it's because of luck or because he didn't want to do the worst to you.

Knife fights are a martial artist's worst nightmare. Many martial arts teach a bunch of techniques to deal with people with knives, like knife disarms and such. Those techniques work in some cases where an attacker is just showing a knife and doesn't really want to use it. But they will not work in cases where someone really wants to kill you with their knife and has already started using it against you. The problem is that martial arts often leave out the second scenario and just concentrate on the first. That gives students a fatally false sense of confidence in their knife defending abilities.

Hope that helps.

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    @megaman I'm going to have to disagree with you there. Even trained fighters get stabbed and slashed repeatedly. There are plenty of youtube videos showing this. Unfortunately, this sort of debate would devolve into, "That's not a true fighter!", kinds of arguments. We have many real world examples and stuff caught on tape. My favorites are those where you get a BJJ grappler up against another BJJ grappler who has a hidden demo knife that he hasn't told anyone about. Then he takes it out mid-roll, and it's so obvious the other guy would be dead if it was real. Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 2:26
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    @megaman You can test your theory. Just have sparring matches where someone is armed with a magic marker. After the fight, look at all the marks on his opponent's body. Only 30 seconds per match. I did that. I know the answer. I think your perspective may be the result of only seeing demo martial artistry. That's where you see some amazing looking stuff within a dojo. But it's all either choreographed or compliant. The students are not there to win against each other. They're there to let each other essentially look good and demo the technique. It can give you false confidence in the art. Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 2:53
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    @megaman You know what the difference is? You believe, we have been there and done that. A knife is a simple tool, trivial to use as an extension of the hand. Everyone can do that. It is hard enough to catch a hand (as opposed to deflecting the trajectory of a punch, where it suffices to apply sideways force anywhere on the forearm). It is close to impossible to catch a hand that has a pointy and sharp thing attached to it without getting hit repeatedly. I can stay out of harms way against untrained people if I got enough space. But I tried not to get hit in range. I know. Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 17:56
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    @megaman But these situations are not comparable. With a punch, your only way to do damage is achieving a combination of proper distance, alignment, and impact angle. With a knife, a mere flick of the wrist can turn a parried attack into something that cuts arteria on the inner side of your forearm, and what would have been a glancing blow in the abdomen region can rip skin and organs. Also, for what you describe you need a) space (excluded in the question) and b) a ridiculous difference in skill. And knife "fights" usually mean you are stabbed a few times before you realise there is one. Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 9:25
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    Every martial arts instructor who teaches realistic fighting methods involving knives says the same thing: You will get cut, usually bad, even if you're an expert at knife fighting. Whether that style is Silat or Kali or JKD or MMA (some integrate stick and knife) or whatever, they all say the same thing. None have I ever ever ever heard saying it's a piece of cake to deal with an untrained person who has a knife. They all say the same thing: Don't do it. Get out of there. Put distance and shields between you and that knife. Don't think you'll be able to disarm them or knock them out. Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 22:48

The problem is that size really does not matter much ( at least not on its own )

Most people really have no ability to fight at all. If they try they are ether going to do nothing or start flinching, blinking an other nonsense and if they do manage to engage with their attacker its going to be non committed and useless.

This is so important that any fighting strategy, even one that would be super effective against the attacker, becomes void.

If this had been a case of a a 300lbs wife beater who has been violently assaulting people for years defending himself against a 140lbs woman who has never been in a fight in her life picking up a knife and rushing him in the heat of the moment he would almost certainly overpower her and be able to use the knife against her.

Frankly i have been doing boxing for years and such as person would take a knife away from me or make me drop it in an instant if i tried to attack them with a knife.

However this case was not like that

As far as we can tell Travis did not have any history of fighting of violence and so its unlikely that he would be able to do anything about any committed attack - armed or unarmed.

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