Knife Fighting

Knife fighting

Knife Fighting is one of the most dangerous forms of combat and it is also known as knife combat or blade combat. In essence, knife fighting is a violent confrontation where both you and your adversary are armed with knives or some close variation of an edged weapon.

Please keep in mind that the information featured in this online article is just a fraction of what is discussed in my War Blade Knife Fighting Program. I strongly encourage anyone who is interested in learning realistic knife fighting techniques to purchase and study this program. It’s a relatively small investment that may very well save your life or that of that of a loved one. Moreover, if you want more knife fighting information and training resources, please see our knife fighting resources link.

Let’s begin by first addressing what a Knife Fight is not. A Knife Fight is not what you think it is. It’s not some glamorous heroic encounter that is often portrayed in movies or television shows. Knife Fighting is a brutal, bloody and deadly business that usually sends someone to the city morgue.

Knife Fighting instruction

In most cases, its almost a certainty that both you and your adversary will get cut during the knife fight. If you have the opportunity to run away from a knife fight, I strongly encourage you to do so.

Most importantly, never use a knife to threaten someone. If you pull out a knife you better be ceratin that you are legally and morally justified to use it.

What follows are some tactical knife fighting guidelines from my book Knife Fighting: A Step-by-Step Guide to Practical Knife Fighting for Self-Defense . It’s my hope that these suggestions will improve your odds of surviving an edged weapon encounter.

These tactical guidelines will benefit the soldier who wants to dramatically enhance his or her military combat training. It can also be used by law enforcement officers as well as law abiding citizen who might one day be faced with life and death situation.


Knife Fighting: A step-by-step guide to practical knife fighting for self-defense

If you truly want to master knife combat you need to approach it from three different avenues: academic, instructional and training. Like the links in a steel chain, these three training methodologies are unique, yet they are interdependent and must synergize into a unitary methodology. They include: academic study, qualified instruction and training.

Academic Study – you need to study the subject of knife fighting in depth. Yes, you actually need to have a strong intellectual understanding of what you are doing and what is really going on. Just like a professional fighter who studies his adversary, you too must study.

Reading articles and books as well as studying instructional DVDs are vital. Be careful, there is a good amount of garbage out there that is being sold to the public. So this is where you need to be smart and look at what you are reading or watching from the looking glass of common sense and practicality. You can also learn more about practical knife combat instruction, see my War Blade: A Complete Guide to Tactical Knife Fighting.

Knife fighting training

Qualified Instruction – you must find hands-on qualified edged weapon instruction. This can be especially difficult considering the few people who can really teach you. See the end of this article to learn more about finding qualified knife combat instruction.

3. Proper Training – the final ingredient necessary to master the art of blade fighting requires you to find, train and practice with a trustworthy partner. This may be available to you through your instructor or through proper networking. At this point you should your combat instructor should have equipped you with a wide variety of real world knife drills that will develop and refine your fighting skills. Many knife fighting drills are dynamic and will require you to purhcase a rubber training knife so you can work on both offensive and defensive techniques. 


While any knife can be used in a knife fight, there are fighting knives specifically designed for the purpose of blade combat. Generally speaking, fighting knives have balanced stout blades designed for both slashing and stabbing movements and they are ergonomically designed to provide comfortable and stable knife grips. Keep in mind that a fighting knife is different that a tactical knife.

The ideal knife for knife fighting

Knife Fighting should not be confused with knife defense (which means your adversary is armed with a knife and you are unarmed). These are two completely different self defense scenarios that require much different combat skill sets.

Here are a few important points to consider when purchasing a knife for knife fighting.

  • Make certain your fighting knife fits comfortably in both your right and left hand.
  • Choose a fighting knife that is designed for both slashing as well as stabbing movements.
  • Avoid all combat knives with finger grooves as they will limit your grip when fighting.
  • Choose a fighting knife that is sharp and large enough to penetrate the criminal assailant’s vital arteries and organs.
  • Choose a fighting knife that is light enough for you to manipulate it easily and quickly.
  • Use either a lock blade or fixed blade made of high-carbon stainless steel.
  • Never use a standard folding knife for knife combat. In many cases, the knife blade will fold on your hand when you need it the most.

Avoid using spring blades (i.e. switchblades, stilettos or other novelty knives) when engaged in knife combat. Spring blades inherently dangerous when knife fighting for some of the following reasons:

Switchblade knife
  • The internal spring can malfunction in a time of need.
  • The structural integrity of the knife is usually poor and will not hold up in knife combat.
  • The hand grips are usually too thin and often slippery for real world combat situations.
  • They look menacing and have a criminal stigma attached to them. 

Remember, if your edged weapon altercation is later taken to court, the jury will not look unfavorably at you even though you may have been justified in killing your adversary.


Before you ever encounter a embark on your edged weapon journey, take the time and familiarize yourself with the different types of knives that are used by street criminals. In my Contemporary Fighting Arts system, we have seven different classifications of fighting knives. They include the following:

  • Gravity knives
  • Spring blade knives
  • Lock blade knives
  • Folding blade knives
  • Fixed blade knives
  • Ballistic blade knives
  • Makeshift or improvised knives


Knife Fighting Grip
Pictured here, the Hammer Grip.

One of the foundational elements of effective knife fighting is proper grip and there are two primary knife grips that you must cultivate and ultimately master. They are the Hammer and Ice Pick knife grips.

The Hammer grip
is generally used for long and mid range combat. Both slashing and linear thrusting movements can be applied with this grip.

The Ice Pick Grip is generally used for close quarter knife encounters when one is fighting in a cramped area. Both tight slashing and angular stabbing movements can be applied with this type of knife grip. I should mention this grip does promote limited hand and wrist movement.

While there are many other grips (saber grip, scalpel grip, Filipino knife grip, etc) the Hammer and Ice Picks grips are your bread and butter and must be mastered for knife combat survival.


When involved in a knife fight, its vital to select the knife grip appropriate for your range of engagement. To accomplish this there are three ranges which you must be aware of. They include long, mid and close quarter knife combat.

Long Range Knife Combat
– At this distance you are able to touch your assailant’s hand with your knife but you cannot make contact with his body. The hammer knife grip is ideal for this range of knife combat.

Mid Range Knife Combat – At this range you are able to cut and stab the assailant’s body with your knife but you are too far away to connect with close quarter strikes. The hammer knife grip is still the most preferred grip for this distance of blade combat.

CQC Range Knife Combat – At this range of knife combat you can cut and stab the opponent with your knife and you are close enough to attack him with other close quarter striking techniques. The ice pick or modified ice pick knife grip can be used effectively in this range of knife combat.

Contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, never throw your fighting knife at your assailant when engaged in a knife fight. This is the real world with deadly consequences if you’re not smart! Throwing a knife is both dangerous and stupid for the following reasons.

A fighting knife isn’t made to be thrown at a person. Even if the knife was designed to be thrown in knife combat, it’s extremely difficult to actually hit a moving target in the real world. Finally, if you throw your knife at the adversary and your knife misses its target, you will automatically arm your adversary with your weapon. Now he has two knives in the knife fight and you have none! The bottom line is – never throw your knife!


When using a knife, never forget that you have numerous secondary street fighting techniques at your immediate disposal. Actually, these are several natural body weapons that you can use in conjunction with you knife techniques.

Head – used for butting your adversary at close-quarters.
Teeth – used for biting your assailant at close-quarters.
Elbows – used for striking your assailant at close-quarters.
Knees – used for striking your adversary in close-quarter range.
Legs – used for kicking your assailant at the mid-range of knife fighting.
Hands – used for striking your assailant at the mid-range of knife combat.


Tactical knife fighting requires you to possess three essential requirements: knowledge, skills and attitude. Knowledge means knowing and understanding the elements, nature and characteristics of knife combat and know how to apply them to any self defense situation.

Skills means possessing the technical proficiency, facility and or dexterity necessary for effective combat. Skill is developed through systematic knife training and experience and it is perfected through consistent practice.

Attitude refers to your immediate state of mind or disposition toward fighting with knives. The bottom line is, you must always possess a positive mental attitude when engaged in knife combat. Avoid all negative thoughts as you cannot afford to entertain the idea of death.

“Maintaining the right attitude in a knife fight is vital.”


Knife Fighting Stance
CFA’s stance provides maximal mobility, minimal target exposure and permits you to immediately counter cut your adversary. It’s the most advantageous body position and posture for edged weapon techniques. 

It may sound paradoxical but successful knife combat requires you to be both offensively aggressive and singularly defensive at the same time. Anything less and you are playing with fire.

Blade combat requires you to attack your enemy with aggressive and precise slashes and stabs while protecting your vital targets at the same time. It is of the utmost importance to protect your face, throat, hands, forearms, chest and stomach organs.

The only way to effectively accomplish this task is for you to use a practical stance and posture. Please don’t confuse a knife fighting stance (you are equipped with a fighting knife) and a knife defense stance (your adversary has a knife and you are empty handed).

CFA’s stance provides maximal mobility, minimal target exposure and permits you to immediately counter cut your adversary. It’s the most advantageous body position and posture for edged weapon techniques. 

When fighting with knives, hold your combat knife in your front hand at all times. Avoid the urge to hold your fighting knife in the rear hand! Holding the knife in your front hand (also called a knife forward stance) is critical for two reasons.

  • First, it brings your closest weapon (your fighting knife) to the assailant’s closest anatomical targets and therefore provides the most direct route of attack.
  • Second, the unprotected or unarmed side of your body is kept back and further away from your assailant stabs and slashes.

Generally, lead hand knife combat will give you a tactical advantage over a rear hand knife fighter. Its worth mentioning that rear hand knife positioning is primarily used for “grab and stab” tactics that have been perfected by the criminal element.


The fact of the matter is, edged weapon combat requires you to move in and out of fighting ranges! Both hand and foot mobility are vital to your survival. Actually, hand and footwork mobility are two key components necessary for successful knife techniques and they must work as a unit to maximize your ability to attack and defend with your knife. Don’t forget, the more you move in a knife fight encounter, the less of a target you present to your adversary.

Generally, there are four basic directions you can move when engaged in edged weapon fighting:

  • Forward
  • Backward
  • Circling right
  • Circling left

Its essential that you can move in any of these directions with stability, balance and speed. Footwork drills are truly one of the best ways to develop these skills and they should be practiced on a regular basis.


Knife fighting styles and techniques

Fast reflexes are another essential component of tactical edged weapon combat. Both your offensive and defensive reaction time must be fast allowing you to take full advantage of the visual stimuli that your are faced with when fighting.

Windows of opportunity open briefly in a knife combat so you must “see quickly” and react immediately. In Contemporary Fighting Arts (CFA), we use a broad range of speed drills that will improve your reflexes and timing skills.

Whether you’re unarmed and defending against a knife attack or knife fighting with your adversary, expect to get cut in the altercation. This sobering frame of mind is critical because it prepares you for the harsh realities of edged weapon fighting while helping prevent you from going into mental shock if you do get cut in the knife fight. Finally, the notion of getting cut when fighting also acts as a deterrent to unnecessarily engaging with someone. As I stated earlier, if you can avoid a knife fight, do it!


Never threaten anyone with a knife! If you decide to pull out a knife, you better be certain that you intend to use it and you are morally and legally justified in the eyes of the law. Remember, a fighting knife is a tool of destruction designed to injure or kill, not psychologically intimidate.

A fighting knife should only be displayed when you have no other choice but to defend yourself or loved ones from immediate death! Never forget the old saying in Contemporary Fighting Arts, “The worst case scenario of a knife fight is you die, the best case scenario is you go to prison.” Avoid a knife fight at all costs!

Never forget that knife combat is not a game and should only be a last resort in a self defense situation. Remember, knife fighting is not glamorous. It is not civilized! It’s pure and simple barbarism! It’s not like the movies. It is gruesome, dangerous and above all – deadly! If at all possible, avoid it at all costs!


knife fighting targets

Previously, I stated that you must possess technical knife fighting proficiency if you are to have a fighting chance against a formidable adversary. This means you need systematic training with a qualified edged weapon instructor who specializes exclusively in reality based self defense training. Let me emphasis the word, “qualified”.

Unfortunately, you will not find him or her in commercial martial arts schools. You must remember all commercial martial arts schools are a typical business looking to make substantial profits. This means they must cater to the mainstream public and design “family oriented” programs that are socially acceptable.

For example, if a martial arts school was teaching quick kill knife targets by demonstrating the proper way to drive a tactical folder into the enemy’s subclavian artery, they would lose their precious clientèle quicker than hell. So now the owner or manager of the school is faced with one of two options. The first option is to avoid the entire subject of tactical knife fighting and never add it to their training curriculum.

The second option is to offer watered-down elements of blade fighting in their curriculum that will not raise the attention and concern of the community. This actually presents a liability to the student because they are under the false impression they are receiving genuine and authentic life saving skills when in actuality they are getting the complete opposite. The bottom line is commercial martial arts are not suited to instruct the extreme combat situations that a soldier, police officer or civilian might face one day.


Even some of those popular eclectic “weapon based martial arts systems” will not meet your training needs. To put it bluntly, they are too unrealistic and unworkable for real world knife combat. While many of their knife drills may look impressive or “cool”, I can assure you they will not work when faced with a non compliant adversary who is armed with a knife and fueled by adrenaline or pure rage. Moreover, many of the knife disarming technique will not work without getting yourself cut to ribbons.

Finally, most of these exotic martial arts will integrate both stick fighting concepts into knife fighting techniques. While killing two birds with one stone might seem like an efficient form of weapons training, its not! Contrary to popular opinion, real world stick fighting and edged wepon combat are not from the same ilk. They are different beasts requiring separate training programs with unrelated and self-contained approaches.

All of this boils down to the fact that you need to be a shrewd and sharp consumer when searching for authentic knife fighting techniques. You should search for an instructor with the same care as you would looking for a good doctor. Your life will depend on it!

Good luck in your training!

Sammy Franco
Sammy Franco
Founder & President
Contemporary Fighting Arts

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