*warning, this might get gruesome*
I thought it was time for another combat related post. I was going to do one on guns but my experience with firearms is limited to gun ranges, so I’m going to see if I can get a guest blogger in to help to cover that topic.
I do have some experience with knives beyond the normal, although I’m quite happy to say I’ve never stabbed anyone. I have been cut and I have had a knife pulled on me. I’ve also studied knife fighting as part of my ongoing mission
to get beaten up by everyone I know undetake martial arts training.
I’ve also drawn on several expert sources on the subject including Ray Floro and Marc “Animal” Mac Young’s writing.
I’d like to think that it goes without saying that this is all for the education of other writers and that no one should be stabbing anyone in real life.
1. Knives are lethal
It might seem like this goes without saying, but I see knives get laughed off in fiction all the time. It’s almost a shorthand for saying “this guy’s a wuss” if he takes out a knife instead of a gun or using his bare hands. It’s also used to excuse the good guys opening several different kinds of whoop-ass on the hapless knife wielder. Almost never do you see the heroes take a knife seriously.
I can understand that if the protagonists have super powers, but all too frequently it’s just a normal human all but ignoring the killing tool that’s been presented.
In reality a knife changes everything. Brief touches can become gaping wounds and a misstep can result in a blade being buried in your gut. No matter how skilled a martial artist someone is they will never laugh off or ignore a live blade. This is even without factoring the skill of the knife user. If the knifer knows what they’re doing then the chances of even a very skilled unarmed fighter surviving against a knife fighter is almost nil.
Bearing that in mind in your fiction is important. Make your hero sneaky, powerful or just so damn good they can still win, but never let them take a live blade for granted.
2. Knife on knife fights are incredibly rare
Knife duels mostly don’t happen in real life. If a knife attack happens it’s just that, an attack with no warning and very little chance to fight back even if you have a knife of your own. Some steps out of the shadows behind you and shanks you in the kidneys, or a blade flicks out in a crowded club and the first you know of it is the pain.
The other time a knife comes out is when it’s being used for intimidation. The wielder wants you to see the blade, wants you to be afraid so you’ll do what they want. Either way, neither leaves a lot of room for a duel.
Far more common is a knife vs whatever can be grabbed. You produce a knife so I throw a chair at you and run for it. In fact a lot of my strategy involves picking up the nearest object/opponent and throwing it at the person with the knife. If you’re writing a scene where the hero is confronted with a blade, have them use an improvised weapon. They’ll still look awesome but the scene will feel more realistic.
3. Knife fights are very rarely actual fights
I want to reiterate the point that there’s almost never a fight if a blade is involved, someone just gets stabbed and a lot of the time they’ll never even see who stabbed them.
If your character sees the knife then chances are someone is trying to scare them, not kill them.
4. Disarming someone with a blade is possible…just
All this is not to say that disarming someone is impossible, it isn’t. It’s just very difficult to do without getting cut.
Most knife disarms focus on defanging the snake (controlling and then attacking the arm holding the weapon), and against someone motivated enough to stab you it takes a huge amount of force to do right. The person with the blade only needs to brush against you to hurt you.
An option if you’re writing a scene where your protagonist is attacked with a knife is have them disarm their attacker but have them sustain a cut in the process. It legitimises the danger they’re in and reinforces how skilled they are to take out a knife wielding attacker.
5. You can bring a knife to a gun fight
At close range a knife is just as good a weapon as a gun, making up for its lack of impact with the fact that it’s dangerous from any angle and never runs out of bullets*.
In fact you don’t even have to be that close, as this clip from Mythbusters shows in great detail.
6. Knife wounds are often fatal, but rarely instantly fatal
A bad cut or stab wound can be a death sentence, but unless someone gets hit in the heart, the brain or gets a major artery slashed chances are that whoever’s been hit has at least a few minutes to live.
Not that they’ll necessarily be conscious, pain and shock can drop a person just as fast as an actual injury.
Even people who get stabbed in the heart get a few (admittedly very unpleasant) moments to comprehend what has just happened. This can be important if you’re writing a death scene for a character, but bear in mind that this is one of those things where real life is a lot more disturbing than most fiction so consider the tone of your story before you put it in.
7. Killers stab, fighters slash
Someone fighting with a knife is going to use a lot of slashing cuts, trying to hurt their opponent or disarm them. There are killing cuts but they’re harder to use than most people think and require training a practice to use well.
Stabbing on the other hand is the far more dangerous method. Even an undirected stab with a knife can puncture a vital organ and cause absolutely horrific damage. Assassins or characters having to take out a sentry quietly would have far more luck stabbing than trying to slash someone’s throat.
8. Knives make grappling high risk
I love grappling. Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are my martial arts, but they both have a problem when it comes to edged weapons. Both arts are grappling based, which means that to use them you need to be close, really close.
Grappling is so effective against an unarmed opponent it can give the grappler a false sense of security when it comes to fighting and they might not notice the flash of steel in someone’s hand during the chaos of a fight.
This is not to say that a grappler can’t beat a knife fighter, but their go to game plan has to be altered to deal with it. How you use this is up to you, but I can see some mileage in forcing a protagonist to resort to a knife because they’re getting trashed by someone who knows how to grapple in close.
9. Drawing a knife takes time
In a lot of movies and books knives just magically appear in people’s hands, but it real life someone reaching for a knife is going to be occupied for a half a second while they get it clear of their clothing. The time to kick that person in the reproductive organs is as they’re reaching for their weapon. It takes training and a game plan to be able to think of this in the heat of the moment, but if your protagonist is a competent fighter, then give them this option.
I like the idea of a protagonist who knows they’re outmatched if someone has a knife, but simply doesn’t let it get to that stage by dint of repeatedly groin kicking anyone who reaches into a pocket during a confrontation.
10. It can take a moment to notice you’ve been cut or stabbed
This one is purely anecdotal, but I think it’s worth knowing. Not everyone feels it straight away when they’ve been cut or stabbed.
Marinated in adrenaline and caught up in a fight some people just don’t feel the knife go in until they’re lying on the sidewalk bleeding. A common statement from people who’ve been stabbed is “I thought I’d been punched”.
* I was going to say a knife never jams too but well made, well maintained handguns very rarely jam.