The Realities of Gun and Knife Defense

Most martial arts schools in the world, no matter what style, will teach some form of self-defense against a gun and a knife.  The problem is a lot of what is being taught is fantasy based, meaning that it’s not realistic.  In other words, it won’t work unless you got really lucky.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to gamble with my life.

One reality is how can you learn to defend against a gun or a knife if you don’t know everything possible about each particular weapon? For instance, for a gun: how to grip it, how to load it, how to fire it, what it sounds like being fired off without wearing ear protection, what it feels like, how to draw it while under pressure, how to fire it from seated positions and all other positions, the time it takes to draw it, the possible things that could go wrong with it (jamming, backfiring, etc), and what you would do in those situations, and more.

If you don’t know everything you can about a pistol, the odds of you defending against it are slim to none.  And defending against a pistol is not the same as defending against a shotgun.  If you are not taught about the pistol, and you don’t go out and consistently fire it at different targets from different positions, then learning how to defend against it is going to be a fantasy.  Many instructors will attempt to fool you, so beware.  For instance, if your instructor is against the carrying of firearms it’s safe to say do not listen to a word he says if he is teaching you how to defend against one.

As for a knife, there are different lengths of blades, different shapes, one sided and two sided blades, different grips, different ways to draw it, etc.  If you’ve ever had your instructor teach you about defending against a knife did that instructor warn you that anybody who is good with a knife will slice you on the draw?  Did your instructor tell you that anybody that knows what she is doing uses the knife for only one thing – KILLING, and that the person probably won’t show you the knife?  Did your instructor tell you that you should never attempt defending against a knife if you are empty handed unless the person was coming at you trying to kill you giving you the only option of fighting back attempting to get out of there alive?  Probably not.  She probably taught you some fancy kick or fancy disarm she’s never used.

You will NEVER be able to defend someone who knows how to use a knife attacking you if you are empty handed.  I know how to use a knife. I’m no expert, but I have trained with it quite a bit and will continue to do so. I know that in a matter of 2 seconds I can slice you multiple times in multiple places.  I also work with firearms.  And knowing what I know about both, I would much rather be attacked by a firearm than a knife.  The only problem with being attacked with a firearm is distance.  The enemy doesn’t have to be right in front of you to shoot you.  With a knife he has to be right up within arms reach of you. Some say, “Yea, but he could throw it at you.”  He could, but probably won’t because he doesn’t want to risk missing you and you picking up the the knife.

The smart thing for you to do is have a weapon on you at all times.  The smarter thing is to also have a back up weapon or two on you.  If you have ever read “A Book of Five Rings” you may remember that Musashi mentioned that they always carry two swords at their belt: the sword and a companion sword. There are several reasons why you should have a weapon and back-up weapons. In the martial arts world people fantasize about learning a traditional move that was taught thousands of years ago, used in numerous movies, and are told by their instructors that the move will work every time.  So they take the instructors word for it and think that because they are black belts they can take on anybody, anywhere, anytime, no matter what weapon the attacker has.  That is completely ludicrous.  The sad thing is so many people believe that trash.

The reality is that even if you are a great black belt (and in my opinion many black belts aren’t), if you are empty handed and the attacker has a weapon, the attacker will ALWAYS have the advantage.  If you have a weapon and the attacker has a weapon you are now on an equal playing field.  Know the laws, and when you can and can’t use the weapons and abide by them, but if you are empty handed and can’t find an environmental weapon (car door, keys, sticks, rocks, etc.) in time, you’re doomed.

Keep in mind, if you don’t learn how to use a knife effectively and a gun effectively learning to defend against them is an oxymoron.  You can still learn the moves and play around in the Dojo and feel like you are Jackie Chan, but in a real world weapon attack, you won’t be able to make those moves work.

Let’s say the moves were practical.  Maybe your instructor is one of those experienced people who has been training in realistic knife and gun methods for several years.  Maybe he’s been a Marine for years and actually did a lot of killing in battle.  If he’s teaching you how to defend against a knife or gun, but you never learn to use them, his experience, knowledge and skills will not matter for you.  It would be like teaching you how to surf without first teaching you how to swim. You may think you can surf, but once you’re put in the water you are screwed.

Let’s say you did learn how to use the knife and firearms, and your instructor does have that knowledge and experience of how to teach you to defend against them.  Everything is in your favor now.  You know how to use the weapons and you were taught practical disarms of the weapons.  That is good, but still not where you need to be.  You must also have realistic training methods where you are put under pressure.  You should do mock scenarios of situations you may find yourself in.  You should do 100 push-ups as fast as you can then shoot your pistol at a moving target.  Put your body in a state that isn’t so calm and train from there.  That’s realistic.  Axe kicks to disarm a knife is not realistic.  Just because you saw Chuck Norris do it on Walker Texas Ranger doesn’t mean it will work.  That’s a television show. That’s acting. And remember, the square root of Chuck Norris is pain. Do not try to square Chuck Norris, the result is death.

This article is not intended to put any instructors or styles of martial arts down.  It’s intended to challenge you to think realistically.  You don’t learn how to be the next NBA star from someone who didn’t make the high school basketball team during tryouts.  It’s obvious that wouldn’t be practical. Always analyze, dissect, question, and research all that is being taught to you.  If it doesn’t make sense to you realistically take it for what it is worth and go from there.

About the Author:

Michael Miller is a real world self-defense and fitness expert who holds a 4th degree black belt in American Kenpo (a modern reality based system of self-defense based on logic and reason), an ex boxer, a Joe Lewis Fighting Systems student under Joe Lewis, a Gracie Barra No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu student, and a Mixed Martial Arts  (MMA) and boxing trainer/coach. He operates his full-time school, Miller’s Kenpo Karate Dojo, in Bradford, Pa. He is also a writer who has been featured in Inside Kung-fu and Black Belt magazines several times as an authority in his field and is the author of the Legends of Kenpo biography series.  He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh in writing with a minor in sociology.  He can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 814-368-3725.