How to Use a Knife for Self-Defense | Knife Handling Guide

This may not come as a surprise to you, but knowing how to properly handle a knife can possibly save your life one day if you ever find yourself in a self-defense situation.

is essential if you plan on using one for self-defense.

But how do you properly use a knife for self-defense?

It’s important you know how to properly handle a knife if you plan on using one for self-defense.

Whether in the packed city or the sparse, sprawling country, there is no telling when self-defense will come in handy. Where you are, there is always a chance of meeting the wrong person, being in the wrong situation, or both. In these cases, having an easy-to-carry weapon like a knife can improve your chances of surviving a tough situation.

To effectively use a knife for self-defense, one must carry the right knife with the right grip, possess a basic understanding of anatomy and its weak points, and realize how to quit while you’re ahead.

How to Hold a Knife in a Fight

If you’re going to use a knife for self-defense then you need to learn how to hold a knife correctly. There’s nothing more devastating than losing a knife in a fight.

Here are some of the main ways to hold a knife during a fight:

  • Forward grip: blade extended up, thumb nearest the blade. Good for speed and distance.
  • Reverse grip: blade extended down, thumb nearest the butt of the knife. Stronger when slashing downward but requires closer range.

Of the two grips, there is also the position of the fingers on the knives to consider. For the forward grip, the most common positions are:

  • Fencers grip: Mostly used for locking pocket knives, the fencers’ grip is when the thumb is opposite the second knuckle of the forefinger at the top of the knife handle.
  • Finger grip: Mostly used for skinny and small weapons like pencils, pens, and non-locking folding knives, the finger grip is when the forefinger supports the back of the blade.
  • Hammer grip: Mostly used for large and heavy knives, the hammer grip is when the thumb locks the forefinger down, or how you would look holding a hammer.
  • Thumb support grip: Mostly used for lightweight knives with thin handles, the thumb support group is when the thumb is pressed against the back of the blade to support a cut.

The reverse grip has less variety with only two positions:

  • Forearm grip: Mostly used for very long blades, usually longer than your actual forearm, the forearm grip is when the back of a single edge blade rests against the forearm.
  • Ice Pick grip: Mostly used for shorter blades, an ice pick grip is when the blade is 90 degrees to the forearm, with either the edge of the blade facing the wrist or the opposite direction. For beginners, it is recommended that the blade face away from the wrist.

Practice Self-Defense

The best way to learn how to use a knife for self-defense is to sign up for self-defense classes. Local colleges and community centers frequently offer self-defense classes and if that’s not available, then YouTube has some tutorials that can be practiced at home.

The important thing is body memory. One wants to have the correct body memory while in a stressful self-defense situation. Practicing, even at home with a knife substitute like a marker or a ruler, can help for the real thing.

Other tips for defending yourself are:

  1. Don’t itch for a fight: There are a lot of steps that have to go wrong for knife fighting to be necessary. You want to avoid these scenarios, even running away if you have to. Most of the time, the act of pulling a knife out itself can scare someone away. Back it up with a firm warning, and try to back out of the situation.
  2. Hide your body behind your knife: No body part of yours should extend past your knife. The arm holding the knife itself should not be extended fully, because it makes it an easy target. You want to make yourself as small a target as possible, so you should stand arms near your chest, with your shoulders and head tucked in.
  3. Don’t stand still: If you’ve ever seen a nature documentary, then you’ve probably seen animals circling animals. This is because standing still makes one a target. You want to constantly move, either circling, moving backward, or moving forward, and you want to position yourself into a space with a large moving room.
  1. Protect the essentials: Your vital organs are the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and spleen. Along with the carotid and trachea in your neck, you need to protect the chest, stomach, and solar plexus. One can do this by backing out of striking range or blocking any oncoming attacks with your knife or arms. Preferably, your knife, as using your arms as a shield will cause injury.
  2. Attempt to disarm: If your assailant attacks, try to counter it and disarm them. If they slash toward your stomach, take a step back and to the side as they strike. Bring your knife over their forearm, with blade pointed down, and slash at their wrist so they drop the knife.

    If they aim for your face or higher, take a step back and to the side as they strike, and then slash at the underside of their forearm and wrist so they drop their knife.
  3. Don’t try anything fancy: Twirling knives, throwing knives, or otherwise changing knife grips midair like in the movies is a no-go.
  4. Don’t try to finish the fight: If an assailant is running away, don’t try to ‘finish the fight’ and pursue them. Then it turns from self-defense to purposefully seeking a fight, and will be used against you in any court of law or similar situations.
  5. Tend to injuries: The chances of coming out of an actual knife fight without one injury is low. Once the fight is done, you should immediately stem any bleeding you have by putting firm and consistent pressure on the wound. Seek medical attention quickly.
  6. Be prepared for the consequences: Brandishing a knife isn’t to be done lightly. There are a few consequences depending on the scenario, and some of them include getting stabbed, getting arrested/questioned, being disarmed, getting shot, dying, etc. Really think through carrying and brandishing a knife during a confrontation.

Knife Carry Laws

Before choosing a knife, it’s important to know knife carry and knife concealment laws. In America, there are two major knife laws: ownership law or laws against the ownership of certain knives deemed dangerous, and carry laws, or laws against the carrying of knives of a certain length or type. Usually, these knives are longer than three to four inches or are considered dangerous — like the butterfly knife.

There are two main types of knife carry laws: Open and Concealed Carry. Concealed carry is the carrying of a weapon on one’s person or in one’s proximity in a concealed manner. Open carry is when your weapon can be openly seen in public view.

In California, openly carrying a Bowie knife is permitted, but concealed carry can result in a misdemeanor or a felony.

Regardless of open or concealed carry, knives aren’t allowed in places of federal business including hospitals, schools, courtrooms, etc. Remember to remove any weapons you may have when entering these locations and check your local, state, and federal laws to ensure you choose the right knife for you in any situation.

The Best Self-Defense Knives

In a scenario that warrants quick self-defense, there’s nothing more frightening than fumbling for your weapon. Therefore, knives that can be summoned quickly and firmly are a priority.

For example, knives with fixed blades are fast to take out and easy to grip at the cost of being harder to hide. Automatic and assisted-opening knives can have the same speed but will need a little more maintenance to ensure that it unfolds properly.

Whichever knife you choose, fixed, automatic, or assisted-opening, you want a knife you can properly grip. The knife’s handle must fit your hand, and to ensure that, you’d want to measure your forefinger’s second knuckle to your pinky’s second knuckle and buy a knife with a handle close to that measurement.

You also want to ensure that sweaty hands don’t accidentally slip on the handle while thrusting forward, cutting yourself on the blade. For that, it’s recommended to get a knife with a bit of a hilt, or quillon, at the front and rear.

For maximum gripping, a knuckle or trench knife would be ideal, whether it be all four knuckles or a knuckle for the pointer finger at the front or rear of the knife, but the chances of fast retrieval or that it be legal to carry by state laws are very low.

As for the blade itself, sometimes intimidation can help you in self-defense more than any defensive fighting could. A large, easily spotted blade can signal to others that you’re not to be messed with. However, it can also make you an easy target for someone with a firearm.

Always remember to check your local knife carry laws before purchasing.


Using a knife for self-defense can be risky from both legal and practical standpoints. If you don’t have the right training, it can cause injuries, but if you have the right training, it still doesn’t guarantee safety.

And yet, sometimes a knife can be a great deterrent to potential assailants, but it is nowhere near the best deterrent on the market. Pepper sprays and tasers are both deterrents that are both easy-to-use and require less training than knives.

Before you consider the use of a knife for self-defense, ask yourself: Can you legally carry a knife? Do you have enough training to use it effectively? Do you have enough resources to learn how to use it effectively? What are the pros and cons between knives, pepper spray, and tasers?