Here’s What I Learned When I Took a Defensive Knife Course

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Author of The Blackout Book and the online course Bloom Where You’re Planted

The last trip I was able to take before Covid-19 erupted in the United States was to Columbus, Ohio. I went there to take a defensive knife course from a fellow blogger, Greg Ellifritz of Active Response Training. I’ve been enjoying his articles and his posts on social media for years, so when the “stars aligned” and there was a course within a few hours of where I was staying, I jumped at the chance.

Why did I decide to take a defensive knife course?

When I told friends about the course I was taking, a lot of them asked why I wanted to take that instead of another firearms course to improve my skills. Firearms courses are great, and I’m a big fan of guns, but the fact of the matter is that there are more and more places you can’t take your gun these days without risking federal felony charges. As well, I travel internationally quite a lot (when there isn’t a pandemic going on) and I wanted a quick-to-learn option for overseas, too.

More than that, I had a personal experience that made me realize I wasn’t at all prepared to use the knife that’s always in my pocket.

One day late last summer, I was enjoying a cool day in a beautiful shaded park in a safe part of the city. It doesn’t matter where the park was because a situation like this could happen anywhere.

I sat on a bench with a book, splitting my time between reading and people watching beside a beautiful fountain. When a young man who appeared to be in his late 20s or early 30s came to sit beside me, I’d already seen him.

He began to talk with me and I instantly felt uncomfortable. I said, “I’m sorry but I’m just waiting here for my boyfriend. He’ll be here any minute.” I hoped the man would leave when I said that, but he wasn’t at all put off by it. After the de-escalation course that I took from Dr. Tammy Yard-McCracken of 500Rising I knew that this was a bad sign.

I got up to leave the situation. He also stood up and began swearing at me and making obscene comments. He grabbed my left arm and began to pull me away from the bench.

I had my knife open in my pocket and in my right hand as I struggled to get free and then I froze. “Oh crap!” I thought. I had no idea what the most effective way to use it would be. Did I cut his arm that was grasping my wrist? Did I try to stick the knife in his eyeball? Should I randomly slash away at him? He was a lot bigger and stronger than me, and I knew whatever my choice was I needed to make it count because I was unlikely to get another strike if I failed to make enough of an impression with the first one.

It sounds like I stood there frozen for 5 minutes pondering this but the thoughts rushed through my head at lightning speed – it was probably less than 2 seconds. A group of people turned down the sidewalk where we were struggling, I managed to break his hold, and I took off running toward the group. When I reached them, a couple of the gentlemen in the group gave chase but the would-be attacker was already gone.

So…now you can see why I wanted to learn more about using a knife. I didn’t ever want to be in a position again in which I felt uncertain about what to do or how to use the weapon at hand. The more defensive skills we can add to our personal arsenals, the more likely we are to be able to defend ourselves in a wider variety of situations.

What I learned in the course

I showed up right on time to the Blackwing Shooting Center just outside Columbus in Delaware, Ohio. It was a large, bright sparkling clean facility with several classrooms. I found the room with the class and sat down, surrounded by mostly guys. There were 3 other ladies in the class so I wasn’t totally alone.

Greg, the instructor, was friendly and obviously very experienced at setting a class full of nervous newbies at ease. In no time at all he had everyone feeling very comfortable. He was professional and respectful throughout the class but it was definitely not stodgy or boring. In fact, it was a lot of fun.

We learned a wide variety of things, such as how to choose our defensive knives. He was very open to a variety of choices for all the different reasons we had to make our choices. Greg knows I travel a lot and had a recommendation to keep me on the right side of at least some European knife laws.

I liked the fact that although a fixed blade is definitely better for fighting, often it’s just not an option to carry without the risk of criminal penalties, so we did a great deal of work with folding knives. We used practice knives which you can find on Amazon, to go through the motions in a way that nobody would get hurt.

The course was focused on “defensive” knife training – so scenarios that aren’t necessarily “knife fights.” This is pretty realistic because often we face attacks from someone unarmed who intends to win the altercation through greater size or force – and that is particularly the case for women. So, we weren’t squaring up to thrust and parry. We were learning how to shut down an attack as quickly and efficiently as possible.

We learned a couple of different ways to hold knives to figure out what felt most comfortable for us. (I was surprised to discover I’m a big fan of the reverse grip that Terry Trahan wrote about recently.) We learned about the different targets on the body we could aim for and the result of each. We learned how to intensify the effects of our stab or slash. We learned how to defend against specific common attacks.

About half of the class was discussion-based where we could sit and take notes, and the other half was getting up and practicing the things we were learning. This method was very helpful for reinforcing the lessons, and it also kept everyone alert and interested, rather than spending 4 hours just listening to lectures. I’ve gone over my notes several times since returning home to keep the lessons fresh. I’ve purchased quite a few knives, too, because I seem to have developed a small addiction to useful pocketknives.

I left feeling pretty confident that while I might not be some kind of pro, I could definitely put up a pretty good fight, and likely inflict lethal damage, if I had a blade in my pocket and no option to leave the situation.

How to get this kind of training

I strongly recommend the instructor I used, Greg Ellifritz, and luckily, he travels around the country to give classes. You can find his schedule here to see if he’s offering any courses near you. I drove several hours and got a hotel for the night, and it was worth every single penny.

As with learning any skill, the instructor really matters.

I remember the difference between my first firearm instructor and the second one. The first one was a blustering braggart who was downright scary. I’d never held a gun in my life and when he was explaining how not to sweep the room with a loaded weapon he said, “If you do, I’ll shoot you for my own protection.”  Lovely. That really sets a learning kind of mood. I never went back and it was a couple of months before I tried again. My second instructor was warm, friendly, and calming. She had me completely comfortable using my firearm safely at the end of the first hour and instilled in me a love for shooting in the first lesson.

Greg is the kind of instructor who makes learning enjoyable and safe. He creates a group dynamic of fun, while the lessons he provides are very serious. Every person in the course I attended left happy. I strongly recommend taking a course from him if you can at all.

If you can’t, look at the reviews for the instructor you’re considering. Look for words like “safely” and “enjoyably.”  You don’t want a teacher who is boring or who treats students in a way that makes them feel embarrassed.

Next, look for a course that is pertinent to you. I didn’t take a knife fighting course because it’s relatively unlikely I’m going to find myself in a knife fight. This doesn’t rule out taking that kind of course in the future, but learning to use a bladed weapon defensively is a good way to break down the knowledge into smaller pieces.

Think about what is a more likely scenario for you. In my case, it’s far more likely that I’d defend myself with a knife from someone who tried to grab me than it is that I’d get into some kind of duel with a knife-wielding attacker.

This was the cherry on top of the other courses I’ve taken in the last few years. In the past year, I’ve taken a hardcore women’s self-defense course, an urban survival course, and a violence de-escalation course. In previous years I worked on honing my firearm skills in both live-fire environments and simulated ones.

No matter what your desired method of self-defense is, every additional skill you add makes you a harder target. Whether you carry a gun, regularly practice a martial art, or have a can of pepper spray attached to your keychain, adding one more method is just another layer of safety.

And in these crazy days, we need every layer of safety we can get.

About Daisy

Daisy Luther writes about current events, preparedness, frugality, voluntaryism, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. She is widely republished across alternative media and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, Daisy is the best-selling author of 4 books and runs a small digital publishing company. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

Picture of Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

Leave a Reply

  • Good on you for getting proper, formal instruction from a professional.
    I see way to many people, the usual Rambozwannabes (sounds like your first firearm instructor) that “learn” from YouTube vids and then talk like they are experts.
    Avoid them!

    Concerning your would be assailant, what is it with guys who think they can just walk up and expect something from a woman? Especially if they are creepy!
    Glad you got away safe.

  • You were not “carrying” at the time? This would be the perfect time to display the 9mm (or 380) and empty the mag into the SOB.

      • Glad you escaped injury. I work in a liquor store and our weapons policy forbids CCW without risk of firing. So not worth it. So I get the knife carry option. Then again a proper knife is also forbidden. Also seems to have a hard time in court from what I have been reading. Knife laws are very grey areas. I am leaning towards pepper spray and or a palm heal strike to chin to break a physical assault if de escalation fails. There is no right answer that fits all. I have noticed an ever increasing boldness of criminals nowadays. I carry when I can and avoid states where I cannot . Its ridiculous as for me in my workplace I have the greatest risk of encounters. Have a plan for likely scenarios is all I can say.

  • For a while I lived in a creepy, dangerous town (San Francisco) where concealed carry is for all practical purposes illegal and open carry results in danger from crazy snowflakes, so I took to carrying knives. Even there, I carried folding knives that could be concealed in a hand while walking, but have a lug on the blade so I can flick it open with my thumb to a locked open position (they’re not switchblades). That action limits the angle the blade faces for immediate action. I keep the blades razor sharp.

    Fortunately, I never had to use them.

    Knowing what Daisy now knows from the class would have been calming when I had to go through more dangerous parts of town, especially as it often was after dark.

  • re: backup defense methods

    I have a can of streaming wasp spray nearby……it is legal to have….it damage eyes….and causes other harm to folks and many critters….

  • An expandable metal Asp is a handy tool, pepper spray, knife and of course a firearm. My primary weapon is a firearm with a Airlight 38+P as the backup. It always amazes me how a person gets a “feeling” when something is wrong. Never fails, but people tend to reason the feeling away which usually ends in a bad way.

    • FYI in Oklahoma and many other states the ASP isn’t an option. You just be CLEET/FLETCC certified to carry one even for duty. Saps, blackjacks, knuckles etc are a no go.
      OC is legal, knives are legal and firearms.
      Always thought that was weird but it is what it is.

  • I have enjoyed your info for years and I will share this with my wife about your experience and the need to learn how to use a knife for defense.

  • It sounds like you had a great experience with the knife training. A great trainer can reset your paradigm and give you actionable steps should an emergency arise. One important warning though–most trainers area of expertise is in the technique and physical fight. You also want to have a basic understanding of the self-defense laws that govern your area. Why? A knife is a deadly weapon, so it’s legally the same as pulling a gun. IF you are not facing a deadly force threat, then you have just potentially created serious problems for yourself. In most states, that could lead to years behind bars (or at the very least the loss of your 2A rights.) At the very least, you should understand that if you pull any kind of weapon (even if you don’t use it), you need to be the first to call 911 the moment you are safe. There are many documented accounts of law-abiding citizens thinking that the problem went away, then the perp calls the police and claims YOU assaulted them. Don’t just be armed, be armed and informed.

    A resource that really opened my eyes was Andrew Branca’s Law of Self Defense course. I don’t get any kickbacks for recommending him, but his course is second to none in terms of communicating the law in ways that a regular person can understand. Plus, he has specific courses for each state. His marketing approach has gotten a little annoying with the constant self-promotion, but his content is worth every penny. Now, I carry knowing exactly when I can and cannot use my weapons. I could go on, but I’ll leave it at that! Stay safe everyone.

  • If your goal is to do lethal damage then it sounds like you’re more interested in offense than in defence. I’d rather learn with a focus on self defence. Not sure if any of them use a knife but there are many ways to incapacitate opponents without harming them.

    • If I’m in a situation in which I don’t have an option but to defend myself with a knife, I don’t care in the least if they’re harmed. It’s still a defensive tactic if someone tries to drag me away by the arm and I stab them, or if they put me in a chokehold and I stab them or if they grab me from behind and I stab them.

      Defense doesn’t mean “non-lethal” or “non-harmful.” It means you’re responding to an attack.

      • Daisy your doing right.
        Folks DO NOT let agendas turn you to anything but what you know through training to be true.

    • In the Old West, the six shooter was called “the great equalizer”. It allowed a person who was physically weak to stand up to the powerful bully.

      I am partially disabled and not strong. One mugger coming at me with a broken bottle got scared off because he thought I had a gun and I was willing to use it. One time I was knocked down from behind, but even though the mugger had a knife, he ran when he saw a knife in my hand. He didn’t want to fight on equal terms.

      With rare exceptions, women are weaker than men. It’s a rare woman who can incapacitate an attacker without harming him. If a gun is not available, a knife can be an equalizer.

      I don’t buy your argument. I agree with Daisy.

  • Kudos to you for getting trained Daisy. Formal training is almost always a plus.
    The last training session we did before the virus with my group was some of this.
    I put an old jacket over a kids punching bag and they brought the knives they thought they might use during a situation.
    I had them stab and cut the bag so they could see and feel firsthand how easy or how little it damaged the target.
    They learned slashes are way less effective at stopping and zippers are tough.
    They learned for themselves that short blades, karambits and some other types aren’t as good as true combat knives.
    We went over the features of true combat knives vs others and we finished the bag off with a battlehawk and a homemade morning star.
    That bag ran me $40 but I believe it was the best way to effectively allow them to stab, slash and do. It was well worth it.

  • I would suggest Filipino Arnis, Eskrima, or Kali as your best basis for knife fighting. You are most likely not going to find classes now. Suggest doing some home training to at least get you some basics.Absolutely don’t pick a fight with someone trained they will cut you to ribbons. When this blows over I suggest formal training for a year minimum!

  • I’m a big fan of stick shaped objects. For example, cane, umbrella, tire thumper, night stick, etc. I keep a short version within grabbing distance when driving. It’s for surprise defense to give you the opportunity to escape and evade. There are online resources for cane fighting like this one:
    Never underestimate the power of surprise plus berserker fury.

  • Women are much more likely to get accosted than men. A woman being armed with a suitable and accessible edged weapon is a great self-defense asset. She must know how best to use it in a situation like Daisy described. Carrying a knife in a purse/pocketbook is NOT accessible for what we are discussing.

    I have carried many different brands of folders over the years that I use daily for utility chores but that are also mildly suitable for self-defensive purposes should it become necessary. Currently I carry a Zero Tolerance ‘Hinderer’ assisted-opening folder with a blade just under 4″, making it legal in most places. Its quickly accessible clipped inside my right pants pocket. If I ever feel the need I also clip a CRKT Otanashi Noh Ken into the waistband of my pants where its totally concealed but still accessible. Due to the length of the blade its likely illegal just about everywhere, but……

    I also like the reverse hand position best.

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