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?


7 Answers 7


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.

  • 1
    +1 solid advice, and I like the "classic prison shank manoeuvre" link - cheers!
    – Tony D
    Jun 4, 2014 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, 2014 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, 2014 at 15:17
  • 2
    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, 2014 at 12:35
  • 4
    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. Jul 8, 2014 at 16:41

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


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.


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.



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.

  • 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, 2014 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, 2014 at 15:14

Unless you have an enormous hand about the size of your pelvis, I don’t believe you can protect the R) and L) Femoral veins simultaneously using only one hand.

  • Well yeah, you protect them with leg angles. Like you'd know if you cared to watch the (still stupid) video or read any of the better answers here. Sep 10, 2022 at 16:50


Those who have some non knife-specific martial arts training and who are unlikely to properly drill any of the knife defence advice they glean from Youtube or other sources.


When faced with the immense stress of a knife attack, a person is very unlikely to be able to perform or use un-drilled movements with success if they differ greatly from movements they have already trained to perform.


The video linked in the OP shows a stance that is simple and achievable, but highly unusual (and extremely dangerous in the absence of follow-up movement and strategy). If a person was to respond to a resolute knife attack in this fashion, they are prioritising defence of the vital organs over counter-attack/active defence. The likely outcome is that they will suffer serious (fatal?) injury as a result and - if they survive the initial onslaught - will find themselves in a position in which they are now forced to fight whilst injured and less capable.

A person who has trained to respond to threats with a version of a fairly generic, approximately 45-degree, bladed stance, in combination with a corresponding high hand position (a stance common to many martial arts), may very well cause themselves to hesitate - fatally - if they burden their mind with a new, un-drilled, passive guard which in some ways is the polar opposite of how a boxer, or practitioner of muay thai, karate, (other) krav maga style, or grappling might ordinarily respond to a threat.

If running is not an option, and you are forced into knife defence, you probably have a much better chance of survival/minimising injury if you react in ways which align with your most drilled responses.

Example 1: Boxers do not train against knives, but a basic boxing stance (albeit with open hands) lends itself to very relevant avoidant/counter-attacking movement patterns. This potential strength is almost entirely sabotaged in an instant if when attacked, you suddenly ask your body and mind to do things it has never trained to do.

Example 2: The following example works from the assumption that most knife attackers a person is likely to face will be untrained and likely unconcerned with leg attacks or with attacking a leg artery. Admittedly of course, this may not be the case on some occasions.

A person who has learned to front kick well possesses a useful initial defence against a knife attack if initial range is sufficient (See here). The forward weight of the extended leg allows for a defensive torso lean away from the knife. If you possess this skill already, but sacrifice it in order to employ a technique you've never or very rarely practiced, you may well be inviting a worse outcome.

In short: If you already have some good fighting skills and are interested in exploring the many and varied knife defence strategies available on the internet, consider selecting those techniques which build upon movement patterns with which you are already familiar. In this way, you minimise the risk of 'freezing' or hesitating when attacked and maximise your chances of taking control of the situation, whether this be by overcoming your opponent entirely, or merely sufficiently in order to escape.

To finish up: This is a useful video, less because - if the instructor is telling the truth - it represents an evidence-based approach to an (incomplete) defence against one particular form of knife attack, but because it explains the role of cognition and gross motor skill in combat. Fine motor skills can be trained sufficiently to be of use in combat, but in circumstances where training desire and/or opportunity is minimal, gross motor skills should be prioritised.

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