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Recent discussions have me thinking about possible holes in my training. In particular, I have been looking at my defense skills against edged weapons. It only took a few minutes of watching youtube to get good and scared about knife-wielding assailants. The videos at the bottom of this post give an excellent sense of the realities of knife attacks (warning: some rude language). There are lots of “experts”, on and off the internet, telling us about the importance of defense against knives and offering sophisticated techniques to counter the weapon. But I want to offer a different approach because, the more I have thought about this threat, the more I have questioned how much of a threat it really is.

Play the odds. This is talked about a great deal in my training circles. People tend to be right-handed. People tend to swing for the head. A recent series of burglaries in my neighborhood have tended to happen when no one was home. We can’t ever be ready for any and all possible scenarios but we can play the odds and prepare for the greatest likelihoods. So, what are the odds of getting attacked with a knife? As part of an aggravated assault, the odds in the US in 2010 were 1 in 2180. Knives figured into only about 20% of all aggravated assaults. How do those odds compare to other statistics? I have been researching a few different sources including the FBI, National Safety Council, (a second chart from the National Safety Council), and Centers for Desease Control. Each has provided some interesting statistics on crime and mortality and I encourage you to explore these for yourselves (especially on the FBI site).

Your one year odds of dying from a knife attack are 1 in roughly 2000 but your lifetime odds of this happening are 1 in 152,524. Every year you live, the odds of survival get better. Compare this to being shot to death where the one year odds are 1 in 331 and lifetime odds are 1 in 25,489. It is 6 times more likely you will get shot so you may want to consider gun defense a larger priority. However, none of these statistics take into mind how many of these crimes were gang-related or domestic violence, circumstances in which most of us can, and do, avoid by our unrelated life-style choices. My odds should be much better and I hope to illustrate that more clearly in future posts (once I have found the statistics to back up my claim).

Consider this as well: your one year odds of dying in an automobile are 1 in 77 (lifetime odds are 1 in 5,889). The leading killer in America right now is heart disease which kills 1 in 6 people. Cancer takes 1 in 7. The best way to protect your life is to eat right, keep off the extra weight, exercise regularly and, if you can, give up driving. Everything in our lives comes down to playing the odds so why shouldn’t we take that same logic into our martial arts training.

It is easy to get caught up in imagining the worst. And, I do think we should train techniques to work against the biggest, strongest, most dangerous opponents possible. However, if we divide up our limited time and spend too much of it focused on specifics of countering a single weapon that, statistically, we will hardly ever encounter, we are succumbing to the fear mongers who are making a living keeping us scared. Instead, see the value in what you already do. Strong fundamental skills can protect you in a much wider array of scenarios, including those with knives.

In other words, play the man, not the board. A defensive technique that debilitates an assailant should work whether they are holding a weapon or not. If you do still want to train for the knife (or any specific weapon) look at your source carefully. Since the odds are that you will never need these techniques, the “expert” can pretty much tell you anything without being held accountable.

Having said all that, understanding the dangers that a knife represents is important and the mental imagery can galvanize your training. Here are few videos to get you thinking. Thanks to Sensei Tim Blake for bringing them to my attention.