How to Defend Against a Knife Attack

Three Parts:Trying to De-EscalateDisabling Your AttackerDefend Yourself

Knife attacks can be very unpredictable and are extremely dangerous. When wielded by muggers or would-be attackers, knives can cause more damage than a gun, and are much easier to get ahold of. When dealing with a knife attack, you’ll want to stay calm, be rational and defend yourself if needed.

Part 1
Trying to De-Escalate

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    Stay calm. If an attacker approaches you, you need to stay calm. Any sudden moves or actions may startle them and escalate the violence. Take deep breaths as you size each other up to stay relaxed and focused.[1]
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    Size up your attacker. There are different types of attackers and they are all motivated for many different reasons. The person may be a mugger or a criminal looking for something “fun” to do by harassing you. They could be mentally unstable or under the influence or drugs or alcohol. You may have caught them in the act of some other crime, and now they feel the need to “get rid of you”. Either way, try to figure out what kind of person you’re dealing with.[2]
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    Ask them what they want. Engaging with the person and talking to them may help. Ask them why they are attacking you, and if there is anything that you can do to prevent the attack.[3]
    • If they are a mugger, they will ask for your valuables. This will be easy enough to deal with: all you have to do is give up your things. While it may be hard to part with some of your valuables, it will be worth your life. Phones and jewelry can be replaced, but your life and health cannot.
    • If the person is looking to pick a fight, let them know that you have no interest in violence. If they are especially menacing or threatening, talking may not be an option, but try it anyway.
    • If the person seems mentally unstable or under the influence of a substance, they will be far too unpredictable for you to deal with. These are often the most dangerous kind of attackers because it is very hard to judge what they are going to do next. Try talking to them in a calm, soothing voice while backing away.
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    Yell for help. If you're in a public place where others may be able to help you, yell for help. Often, people on a city street or a parking lot may not realize that you're in trouble unless you make it very obvious. Yell: "Stop!" or "Someone help me!" Use your voice to make it clear that you're in trouble and someone may come to your aid.[4]
    • If you're in a more remote location, like a hiking trail or an empty field, try yelling anyway. While you might not be able to see anyone nearby, people may be close enough that they'll be able to tell that something is wrong. If you hike often and are afraid of being attacked, carry a loud whistle. The sound will carry further than your voice alone.[5]
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    Run away if possible. The best way to defend against a knife attack is to run. Even if you know martial arts disarming tricks or you are very strong, a knife is still an unpredictable and deadly weapon. Running may seem cowardly, but it is your best chance of survival.[6]

Part 2
Disabling Your Attacker

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    Make an opening to run. If you're attacked by a person with a knife, you should always try to run before fighting. Often, however, you may seem stuck. You may be cornered or your attacker may be blocking your only exit. You'll need to disable your attacker to create an opening to run away.[7]
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    Strike at your attacker's throat. Going for the throat is one of the best ways to disable an attacker. With a hard strike to the throat, you'll damage the person's trachea, disrupting their breathing. They're very likely to stop attacking you after a hard strike to the throat.[8]
    • Get close enough to strike. If your attacker isn't close enough for you to strike at their throat, move in a bit. You'll want to be an arms-width away.
    • Use your elbow and forearm. The harder the part of your body that you use to strike, the more effective and painful your attack will be. Your elbow is solid bone, and you'll be able to get a lot of power by striking forward with it.
    • Push through their throat. Using your elbow as your weapon, strike your attacker's throat. Strike as hard and as fast as you can, using the element of surprise to your advantage.
    • Run. If you've struck your attacker hard enough, they'll lose their ability to breathe. When they double over, run away.
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    Kick their groin. If your attacker is male, a kick to the groin may immediately incapacitate them. Use your knee or shin to strike them in the crotch to create an opening to run. This technique can work with a variety of distances between you and your attacker.[9]
    • If you're close to your attacker, use your knee. A shorter distance between you and the person attacking you means that a knee will be sufficient enough to make a connection. Force your knee hard into their groin.
    • If they are an arm's length away from you, use your foot or shin. Using your shin is better, because there's more surface area to cause more damage. Extend your knee and snap your leg up into their crotch.
    • Run. Once your attacker is doubled over or on the ground, run away as fast as possible.
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    Go for your attacker's eyes. The eyes are an incredibly sensitive part of your body, and any attack focused on the eyes is sure to cause your attacker a lot of pain. Only use this if your attacker is very close, such as in situations where they've grabbed you and have you in a hold. Keep in mind that this technique is extremely dangerous and can be gory, and is only to be used in life or death situations.[10]
    • Extend your fingers to reach their eyes. Most people flinch instantly when they see an attack directed at their eyes, so you'll have to move very quickly. Snap your arm out towards their face in one swift motion.
    • Press your fingers hard into the eye socket. Simple scratching or light pushing will not be effective. These light attacks will cause pain, but may only further enrage your attacker. You'll need to use your fingers to push hard into the eyes, pressing them into the skull.
    • Push down. As you push your attackers eyes, press them down towards the base of the skull. Again, this technique is not for the faint of heart, and should only be used in the most dire of circumstances. It can cause blindness and even death.
    • Run. Once your attacker is incapacitated or unconscious, run away.

Part 3
Defend Yourself

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    Throw off their guard. If you can’t run and defending yourself is your only option, you will want to do something unpredictable. Spit in your attacker’s face, or drop suddenly to the ground. If you have a backpack or a purse, throw it at their head. If this gives you an opening to run away, do so. If not, you’ll still have thrown them off and given yourself a chance to fight.[11]
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    Try to look for a weapon. Being unarmed against a knife attack is a dangerous position to be in. Look around your surroundings for anything that you might use as defense: a metal pipe, a solid tree branch, a chair or a lamp. Anything that puts some distance between you and your attacker is good.[12]
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    Wait for them to make a move. When your attacker lunges for you, they will be off balance. If you found your own weapon, now is the time to ram into them. If not, strike out at them to throw them further off with a kick to the groin or the legs. Just make sure to steer clear of the knife.[13]
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    Try to disarm them. If you are lucky enough to have a weapon to use, strike at the person’s hand, keeping as much space between you and them as possible. This will weaken and damage their hand to the point that they’ll no longer be able to hold the knife.[14] If you don’t have a weapon, you will need to try to grab their wrist and disarm them instead.
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    Grab their wrist. While any grab near the knife is incredibly dangerous, grabbing your attacker’s wrist may be your only choice. Grabbing their wrist firmly will give you control of the knife’s direction and give you a moment to punch or strike them.[15]
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    Keep punching or striking. You may be able to wrest the knife from their control, but using both hands to try to take the knife leaves them with an opening to headbutt or punch you instead! Keep them on the defensive by continuing to attack them.[16]
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    Fight them to the ground. If you’re able to, continue to hold their wrist and strike at their head and legs until you can get them on the ground. Once they’re on the ground, continue to keep the knife pointed away from you.[17]
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    Don’t feel bad for your attacker. If and when you get the upper hand, your attacker may begin to beg for their life. Do not be fooled by this! Most likely, they are trying to get you to lower your guard so that they can attack you again.
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    Kick or throw away the knife. Throw it as far away as you can, onto the roof of a building, into the bottom of a dumpster or deep into some woods. This will give you time to get away and prevent your attacker from grabbing the knife easily and coming after you.[18]
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    Enroll in self defense courses. While online how-tos can give you pointers on how to defend yourself, knife attack are extremely serious and very dangerous. Most flashy moves and practice scenarios are not at all like the real thing, and you’ll need to get serious self defense training before you even think about staying to defend yourself in from a knife attack.[19]


  • Hold up your hands as your attacker approaches, and use other body language that shows submission. This will let them know that you’re not interested in fighting
  • Study martial arts forms like Krav Maga, Aikido or Kali/Escrima. They all focus on knife fighting, defense against knife attacks and weapons disarming.
  • Keep good posture. Attackers aren't going to jump someone who seems like they have a chance of fighting back. Walk and stand in a dignified manner.


  • While you may be angry and prepared to fight back if you gain control of the knife, do not stab or slash your attacker. While some states have self defense laws that may protect you against injuries to your attacker, in other states, you may go to jail.
  • Do not go into a knife fight unless you are prepared to get cut, because you will. Even if your defense is flawless and you have many years of martial arts experience, it is still likely that you’ll be badly injured defending yourself.
  • Always surrender or run first before attempting to fight.

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Categories: Self Defense | Martial Arts