4 Reasons You Shouldn’t Get in a Knife Fight

Knife Fights are Like Venereal Diseases: They Should Be Avoided Whenever Possible

Knife fights look cool in movies. I get a little flutter in my heart when I see two people in a movie pull bowie knives and spend the next ten minutes cutting each other up in the woods. That’s pretty much the only reason I ever re-watch The Hunted (because it sure as hell isn’t for the writing).

I’ve spent a fair amount of time studying knife fighting in my adult life, though, and pretty much every time I pick up a practice knife with my brother and we take turns disarming and flipping each other over, I think “oh my God, knives are terrifying.” The reality of a knife fight is brutal and gross and nothing like a scene from a Tommy Lee Jones Movie, a Stallone movie, or even a Jet Li movie. There are a lot more fluids involved in real life, and nothing ever looks cool. Most things happen too fast to look like anything except horrifying.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Boker Valkyerie fixed blade knife

Boker Valkyerie fixed blade: The best knife to not get ahead of yourself with.

Okay, first reason you’re an idiot for thinking a knife fight would be cool-

You’re Going to get Cut

Have you ever watched anyone get in a fistfight? Or seen boxers go at it? You know what you’re really watching?

Two people getting punched a lot.

Now picture knives in their hands. No matter how good you are, it’s nearly impossible to avoid getting hit at least once in a fight unless only one of you is really drunk.

It’s the same rule for knife fights. You’re in very close proximity with another person, which means they don’t have to be a good aim, or even that fast to get a knife edge onto you. If you have a knife and he has a knife, you’re both about to start painting in a lot of red, and all it takes is a glancing cut at the tendons in your wrist or the arteries in your neck, arms, and legs to leave you with permanent or fatal damage.

Ontario RAT-5 Fixed Blade Knife

Ontario RAT-5 fixed blade: Best when not pointed at you.

It’s Really Really Gross

Since cuts are a given, blood becomes a major factor because it’s not just going to stay in one place.

Two people moving around a lot while losing blood is a recipe for blood spatter, and you’re going to be front and center at the water show. You’re going to get the other guy’s blood on you, which means whatever weird stuff he’s got in his blood is going to end up on your face, in your mouth, on your clothes, and in your own cuts. Even if you survive the encounter, you won’t just be going to the hospital for stitches. You’re gonna need to get every test in the book.

If you want to get a better idea of how all that fluid is going to fly, fill a milk jug with water, dye it red, then swing a knife into it. Also be sure to keep a towel handy.

It’s a Bad Way to Ruin a Good Knife

Some knives are better than others for fighting. That’s partially what tactical knives are for (but it’s not their sole purpose, despite popular belief). But even if your knife is designed for it, it’s going to get dinged up and covered in blood, pus, and whatever other weird stuff is pumping around inside a person. And if you thought water was bad for steel, try leaving human plasma on that carbon blade for a while and see what happens.

Of course, you could always clean the knife afterwards (if you’re still conscious), but there’s another danger: human bones. If you’re lucky (and being in a knife fight is a good sign you’re not lucky at all) you’ll only nick the blade and move on.

But odds are you’ll get your knife snagged on the bone, and if you have a fine tip, odds are even better that it will snap off (by the way, the possibility of a knife tip snapping off inside you is also a really good reason not to get in a knife fight). I’m not saying your 7” KA-BAR isn’t up to the task. It’s just that you’d both be better off avoiding the situation entirely.

The Cold Steel SRK Survival Knife and sheath

The Cold Steel SRK Survival Knife: Looks great when not in your intestines.

It’s a Tricky Legal Area

It makes a simple sense that if someone attacks you with a knife, you can defend yourself with a knife. It’s part of the American ideal (or was) that when you get punched you punch back, or stab back. Or shoot pack. Or launch missiles back.

Like anything that goes tit for tat, though, the aftermath is never as simple as the confrontation. This might be America, but it’s still something like a civilized society. You have to justify your actions. If you survive a knife fight and the other person doesn’t, then you have a dead person to explain. Even if they only end up hospitalized, you better hope you have witnesses to back you up when you say it was self defense, otherwise you’ll be looking at a backlash of questions centered around the fact that you’re still standing while the other guy is getting his stomach stitched closed in ICU.

Don’t Be a Sissy; Just Run Away

Cold Steel Leatherneck rubber training knife

Cold Steel Leatherneck training knife: Fairly safe to run with.

This isn’t to say you should never defend yourself with a knife, just that you should always consider it a last resort. You’re not Rambo or Donnie Yen. You’re so many pounds of squishy organs stacked on top of each other that keep pumping away just praying you’re not doing something stupid that will tear them open. Because your organs really work best when they don’t have a big knife hole in them.

That being said, there are some rules of thumb that can help minimize your risk of injury. Stuff like keeping your elbows down and close to your body, holding the knife in your forward hand to keep distance, etc. But there’s really only one tactical tip that can almost guarantee your safety every time: running away.

It doesn’t sound glamorous, but if you give it a minute, feel the wind in your hair, the blood pumping freely inside your veins, all your organs working properly, you might even find that you really like running away from a knife fight. And if you find yourself thinking back on it with regret, take a moment to appreciate the fact that you can still think about it.

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Avatar of Andrew North

Andrew has been a commercial writer for about a decade. He escaped from a life of writing mundane product descriptions by running away to the woods and teaching himself how to bake and chop stuff up in the kitchen. He has a background in landscaping, Filipino martial arts, and drinking whiskey.

3 thoughts on “4 Reasons You Shouldn’t Get in a Knife Fight”

  1. Probably the best fact based article I’ve ever read. Took a class called surviving edged weapons 30 years ago and the main lesson was if your in a knife fight you will be cut

    • Yeah, that’s pretty much the scope of it. I had a teacher that would make us chalk up the edges of practice knives before we sparred so we could see all the places we would’ve gotten cut. By the end of those classes our clothes were almost completely different colors. It was humbling.

  2. I train Atienza Kali and we emphasize distance versus staying in a strike zone which is where you will get cut, but i am not against running unless this is not an option, especially against mass attack.


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