Knife Defense

Congrats to everyone who tested! Andover and Amesbury students tested more than 20 requirements in total, with material ranging from 1st to 6th stripe. Testing in front of a crowd takes courage and some rise to the occasion, while most people like myself get nervous. When I don’t perform well, I’d rather fail so I have another chance to prove myself. If you didn’t perform well or failed, keep it up. Pass or fail, there’s always more to work on.

Thanks to my teacher for doing what he does.
Thanks to Tai for taking the time to be on the judging panel. It’s always good to see him and learn from him. He borrowed my shoes and I’d like to think that that gave me good luck. Special thanks to Scott of Amesbury for being a good training partner, teacher, and friend. Reaction and sparring were/are some of my weakest areas and I’ve learned a lot from you.

Barehand vs. Knife II – Counterattacks (空手入白刃二) (5th Stripe)

Our curriculum is progressive, so 3rd stripe knife defense requires you to perform 10 Qin Na (擒拿) techniques, 4th stripe requires you to evade but not counter 7 out of 10 attacks, and 5th stripe requires you to counter 7 out of 10 attacks. (Edit: see comment for detailed descriptions)

If the counting system sounds simple, it isn’t. This is how I understand it: The defender has to intercept the attacker’s hand or seal the arm and counterattack (if it makes sense). Or if you don’t intercept or seal, if the attacker tries to cut you and you only use your foot kick them (and you don’t get cut), it counts as a successful counterattack. If you only evade, it doesn’t count as a successful attack or counter (null). If you intercept but don’t counter in time, it’s null. If you kick the attacker first and you don’t get hit, it’s null. Needless to say, during testing you’re going to get way more than 10 attacks, and by multiple partners.

What a big difference a few months makes. In the spring, I was terrible. After 5 months of consistent training, I suck less. I’ve learned so much by trial and lots of errors. I want to offer tips for other students, however vague they might be. You’ll know when you start training for it. You’ll know :)


Countering Tips:

  1. Techniques. (Obviously). Learn from people and DVDs (like YMAA Knife Defense) and take notes. But theory is useless without practice. Get as many different types of attackers as you can, and lefties. Slow it down. Find the open door. Be aware of your options and vulnerabilities as you and the attacker switch lead hands/feet. Use your second hand.


  1. Footwork. This ties into 3rd stripe knife defense by evasion. Do solo speed training for legs. Be quick. Hop in and out. Be aware of becoming vulnerable if you seal, kick, stop moving, or have to get out of a corner by angling. Be aware of the angle you chose for escape and whether your attacker is a righty or lefty.

  1. Kick. My arms are short so sometimes I’ll kick to keep attackers at a distance. Usually it’s better to be sliced on the leg than on the torso (unless they get the femoral artery in which you’d have 15 minutes to live). Kicking someone hard will make them think twice about attacking you. Kicking the knife out of their hand has worked for me, until it became too predictable. But it’s fun to do to someone who doesn’t expect it :)

  1. Consider training gear. Glasses, shin pads, and maybe knee pads for both defender and attacker. I’ve been cut right on the eyelid. As an attacker, I’ve had a belt snap at my eye. I had a bruise on my shin that was the size of my hand. Shin conditioning is necessary, but there’s a difference between pain and injury. You know what your limits are.

  1. Make the attacker think twice about stabbing you. For 4th stripe, you could have someone stab at you wildly and they wouldn’t have to worry. For 5th stripe, you can hit back. Make them think twice about attacking you. This requires you to flip the switch and go into survival mode. I don’t see my training partner or friend, I see someone who wants to hurt me. This is really difficult if you can’t tap into that side of you, but what makes it even more difficult is if you know your attacker isn’t flipping his/her switch (usually because they haven’t had enough training). If you’re caught in a bad situation, sometimes the only way to survive is if you hurt the other person. It’s hard to hurt someone if they don’t flip their switch. Good training partners will help you with this.

  1. Keep fighting. I used to “give up” after being hit in a vital area because realistically, I’d probably be a goner. To paraphrase Ken’s comment about mental response: “Assume the weapon hit nothing vital and keep fighting as if nothing is wrong. If the attacker is still the priority, then he must be dealt with.


As an attacker, you’re (usually) at an advantage. Test them with different strikes and see how they react. If you see a pattern, bait them and use it against them. Get in their heads. You have the weapon so it’s generally easier to dictate the pace. For 4th through 6th stripe, don’t forget that you can use your hands and feet to attack or fake. A good defender won’t be taken so easily. It’s your job to help make them good.


Beware of a defender in survival mode. Your fake knife won’t do much damage, but their real punches and kicks will.

It seems that we have improved at attacking at a faster rate than counterattacking

So, while we’ve improved at countering, it doesn’t always feel like it because we’re also better attackers. Scott and I improved enough to pass our requirements. Next, I’ll prepare for 6th stripe. You’re required to counter 7 out of 10 attacks with a belt. If you can’t use the belt as a weapon, it becomes more of a hindrance than an asset. Another skill to learn.

This is some of what I’ve learned so far. More to come in the future.

Now who wants to be stabbed? :)

One thought on “Knife Defense

  1. More detailed descriptions of knife defense in the YMAA Curriculum:3rd Stripe: Ten pre-selected Qin-Na techniques. It's encouraged to think about others as well, but you're only tested on these 10.4th Stripe: Evasion only, no countering. Main objectives are knowing proper distancing and angling. The most common natural habit of people evading is backing up in a straight line into a corner, which is dangerous.5th Stripe: Evasion with countering. Everything in 3rd stripe (when applicable) and 4th stripe but with countering. You aren't required to intercept the hand, but it's usually in your best interests, as secondary attacks are allowed. 7 counters are required.6th Stripe knife: Everything in 3rd, 4th, and 5th stripes, but with a belt. Catching/trapping and showing a valid counterattack are required. 7 catches are required.Question:If the defender immediately attacked so the attacker would have to react, would the defender have the upper hand due to the element of surprise? Or would it not be worth it? Is it even allowed?Answer:Short answer – Yes, sometimes.The defender can attack first, but it doesn't count as a successful counterattack because you're being tested on defense, not offense. Sometimes the defender may want to attack first to 1) create space and safety and 2) make the attacker think twice about hurting you.Sometimes it will surprise the attacker, but don’t do it too often. You'll become predictable and that's when it becomes even more risky, especially if you only have your limbs and no belt. With a belt, you can snap it at the attacker, but at that moment, you're also leaving yourself vulnerable. As an attacker, I would probably strike about half the time a defender snaps the belt at me (cloth belts used in tests don't hurt enough to stop me, but a leather one in real life would hurt a lot more). If I do it all the time, I become predictable. It's tricky and definitely a mind game when you know your partner well. It will be a different experience if you train with or encounter someone you’re not familiar with.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s