I can’t explain my sudden attraction to knife fighting, not really. The fixation came upon me, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought about it. Knives! For Halloween, I figured I’d be a little scary and go into what it’s like to face down a deeply rooted fear.
Something I’ve learned from training in self-defense is that men, women, teenagers, and children are all there for slightly different reasons. Teenagers are usually just fascinated with something they think is cool. Children are usually wherever they are because their parents put them there. Many of my adult friends are studying Krav Maga because they’ve been physically attacked, sometimes several times.
When a man has been attacked, his decision to study self-defense may seem self-explanatory. For instance, several of our students are ride-share drivers. I just talked to a guy who was mad-dogged by a drunk passenger who started punching him from the front seat. “What did you do, did you use an elbow strike?” I asked, naturally, and he nodded. Imagine fighting sideways from behind your steering wheel! The fight ended when he connected a palm strike to the attacker’s nose, sending him out the open door, and then drove to the nearest police station. The police found the guy trying to hide and arrested him. Nod, nod. Note: do not attack someone who is driving you; how dumb.
In the world of men, there are many such dumb, drunk, violent mad dogs out there. They basically look for reasons to start fights as a sort of hobby. Casual, random violence and fist fights are a part of the male world, and it starts in early childhood, and it never really stops, even when you’re a middle-aged guy just trying to get through your workday.
It’s different for women. Part of the reason it’s different for us is sheer size. I remind my male classmates that they probably don’t meet many dudes who are ten inches taller and a hundred pounds heavier, but for me it happens everywhere I go. In spite of this differential, martial arts is not a common practice for women; it seems... dangerous. For us.
The other reason it’s different for us is pop culture. So many shows, whether drama, thriller, or cartoon, have someone attacking a woman who can’t fight back. Our job is to stand stock-still and scream. There have been more murders in fiction, television, and film than there ever were in the entire history of humankind. For some reason, pop culture seems to run on women’s terror. The ultimate terrifying image? To me, it’s the killer in a ski mask, holding a knife.
That’s something true, by the way, if you’ve read about the Golden State Killer. Eff that guy.
The truth about knives is that just because you get stabbed, does not mean you die.
Another important truth about knives is that because they are considered to be objects of power, the person wielding it and waving it around probably has no real idea of how to fight with knives. My husband saw one at the end of a bar fight once. The guy whipped it out and showed it to everyone, right before running out the door and leaving. Like: “BOO!”
If you haven’t listened to the podcast Dirty John yet, go off and do that. It’s good for the soul. I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s relevant to this talk of knives.
Where does serious knife-fighting happen? In prison, mostly. According to lore, someone can get shanked a couple dozen times and live through it. It’s actually fairly complicated to kill someone with a knife. I was riding the bus with a friend one day in high school, and a bare-chested man got on the bus with a knife wound in his sternum that was over an inch long. The red sides gaped open. Blood was running down his stomach. He looked madder than hell. He sat there, his shoulders heaving from rage, and rode through several stops until the hospital, which is where I had assumed his destination lay. He walked himself in, where I suppose that deep, long knife-wound to the torso was disinfected and stitched closed.
I also saw a woman at the hospital one night, who had sliced her calf to the bone on a broken vase at her mom’s house. That cut was at least eight inches long, and it wasn’t even bleeding. She wasn’t considered an emergency, obviously, because we waited together for nearly an hour.
See? Just because some sick individual with a ski mask and a knife might show up and menace you, does not automatically mean that he wins. He’s surely built up some highly detailed fantasy where he has all the power and you just stand there, screaming, until he does whatever he wants.
We practice knife-fighting in our advanced class. I haven’t even learned all the knife disarms, but already I feel like a knife is just a weapon, not a magical artifact. You can bat the knife hand away. You can trigger-kick the knife out of someone’s hand. You can block the knife with your own knife, or any other instrument, such as a mop handle. You can press the knife hand against someone’s body, just as you can with a gun. If you learn the techniques and practice them, why, it’s not really more complicated than a dance move. It’s a thing that can be done.
The important thing is to remove the mystique from what is an ordinary household object. Think of how many knives there are in your kitchen. Think of how many times you’ve used a knife to butter your toast or dice some onions. You have an instinctual familiarity with a knife as a household object. You understand its weight, its edges and points. You may in fact have a deeper familiarity with a knife as a tool than a sicko would. You think these mental cases spend a lot of time cooking for themselves?
Fighting has taught me to value my natural physical advantages. I am small and lithe and agile. I excel at footwork. I’m very patient (and humble) about my limitations, meaning I have the focus for precision that larger people often lack. Where they can rely on power and strength, I am technical and disciplined. It also helps to know that no matter how big and strong someone is, his knees and elbows are not strong. No matter how large his frame, his blood vessels are similar to mine, and I know where they are.
If someone attacks me, I am the one with the element of surprise. He thinks he’ll win. He thinks I’m an easy target. He thinks all that I will do is stand there and scream like a ninny.
I have a right to defend myself. I don’t go around attacking people and I don’t deserve to be attacked by anyone else. More, I have a duty and responsibility to protect and defend others if I can. If someone attacks me, he’s probably attacked other people, and he’ll probably try to do it again after me. I must try my level best to incapacitate him, to get justice for his previous victims, to stop him from repeating himself, and also to save him from himself. Maybe he’s just damaged and he needs help, too. Or, at least he will if he tries to come after me.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.