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Street survival: 5 do’s and 5 don’ts for surviving an edged-weapon attack

Edged-weapon assaults are unpredictable, dynamic and deadly dangerous


An impending knife attack is often predicated by a suspect with an arm straight down at his side with the back of his hand and knuckles forward.

Photo/Dan Marcou

This article is part of a series by Lt. Dan Marcou. Click here to access all of Dan’s street survival lessons.

In recognition of the release of “Street Survival II: Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” I am writing a series of articles on street survival designed to turn the tables on the current generation of cop-killing criminals. In this series I will share the tactics I acquired during a career dedicated not only to ensuring my own personal survival but assisting other officers in their quest to survive as well.

FBI statistics show that 9,652 police officers were assaulted by knives and other cutting instruments from 2008 through 2017. Since these are weapons you will undoubtedly face during your career here are some edged weapon do’s and don’ts to ponder.

The don’ts of edged-weapon survival

1. Don’t believe a knife can easily be twisted or kicked out of a suspect’s hand without consequence.

I conducted an extensive practical study with Master Larry Klahn (both police officers, martial artists and defensive tactics instructors trained in the specific skill of disarming) to see if a lifetime of training could guarantee success against an edged-weapon attack. This study is described in detail in “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters.”

We conducted 16 hands-on sessions each containing 15-20 real-life scenarios. During the scenarios, we alternated between being the knife attacker trying to realistically attack while the police officer attempted to disarm. We discovered that:

  • We were clearly murdered while attempting to disarm 25% of the time.
  • We were at least cut nearly every time during the 75% successful disarms.
  • We achieved successful disarms by using empty-hand techniques that arguably rose to the level of deadly force. In other words, we might as well have shot the attacker.
  • We successfully disarmed without injury when the attacker in the scenario was nearly incapacitated by age, alcohol or was first distracted.
  • We were only 100% successful at disarming when the attacks were choreographed as done in martial arts demonstrations.

Street-edged weapon assaults are unpredictable, dynamic and deadly dangerous. If two martial artists/police self-defense instructors had such checkered success at disarming it should be concluded that a disarm should only be attempted either as a last resort, or when circumstances are such that you truly believe success is assured.
A firearm is your best defense against a knife.

2. Don’t believe an edged weapon is less lethal than a gun.

Throughout human history edged weapons have been used to kill more human beings than any other instrument of death devised by man. Study your history and do the math.

3. Don’t believe the shorter length of the blade renders it less dangerous.

Just take two fingers and find your own carotid artery. Calculate how long a blade would have to be to sever that artery.

4. Don’t believe a dull blade is a harmless blade.

Any edged weapon, like a decorative sword for example, swung or sliced with velocity can cut and tear the skin. The only difference between being lacerated by a sharp blade or dull blade is the wound created by the dull blade will be uglier.

5. Don’t believe the “21-foot rule.”

In 1983, Sgt. Dennis Tueller of the Salt Lake City Police Department showed that a man with a knife could travel 21 feet before an officer, whose duty weapon was holstered, could draw and fire. What became known as the “Tueller Drill” was never meant to become a rule of thumb for shooting a suspect armed with a knife, but a demonstration to re-enforce that an officer facing a man threatening them with a knife should have his duty weapon at the ready.

The do’s of edged-weapon survival

1. Do utilize a visual scan and control the hands.


The knife a suspect used to attack Officer Bill Gray, who survived the assault.

Photo/Dan Marcou

Before making contact with a suspect, visually scan the suspect’s hands and then his outer clothing for a knife on the belt or clipped to a pocket. Look for indications in outer clothing that the suspect might be carrying a weapon such as an outline, bulge or lump in the clothing. Control and pat down when you have reasonable suspicion to do so. After making an arrest, handcuff the suspect, then search thoroughly at the scene and again before entering the jail (always double-check your work). Search thoroughly anyone turned over to you for transport.

2. Do practice “plus one.”

If your legal pat-down or search uncovers a weapon, begin the search for the next weapon, then the next and then the next. Don’t assume because you found a weapon that it means you found the only weapon.

3. Do detect the “knuckle tell.”

When a suspect shows you his knuckles he is telling you he is considering attacking you as an option. An impending knife attack is often predicated by a suspect with an arm straight down at his side with the back of his hand and knuckles forward. Additionally, you will note the second joint of index and middle finger extend downward, while the top of the thumb is bent at a 90-degree angle inward, folded behind the hand.

4. Do maintain your distance and utilize barriers when an edged weapon is involved.

The greater distance between you and a man with an edged weapon, the more reaction time you have. A barrier between you and a suspect armed with an edged weapon impedes and even discourages an attack.

If circumstance allow for covering a suspect during negotiations with a less lethal munition’s platform, or a TASER, a deadly force option must be at the ready as well.

5. Do practice a sudden assault draw.

If a suspect suddenly launches a deadly assault with an edged weapon it is critical you have prepared yourself with a pre-practiced reaction. A viable option is to block-move-draw-stop the threat. These four steps must be practiced until they become one seamless movement.

The block is merely the act of getting a tool or appendage that can survive a cut between the weapon and your vitals. Don’t reach for the knife though. For your practiced sudden assault movement choose either a draw with a lateral side-step, or the draw with a pivot (my preference). Both will take you (momentarily) out of the line of the assault.

Purchase your own red or blue nonfiring training gun identical to your duty weapon to practice your sudden assault draw safely and often. Without a practiced option there is a natural tendency to either freeze or move backward away from a sudden frontal assault. You can’t move backward faster than an attacker can move forward and doing so will often lead to you falling.

Also practice your sudden assault draw with live fire on a range.

During an actual deadly sudden knife assault, in one pre-trained movement, get your guard up to protect your vitals, pivot (or step laterally) off the line of attack, while drawing your duty weapon to stop the deadly attack. As soon as your weapon clears your holster and your muzzle is directed at your attacker, if the attacker still poses an imminent deadly threat, fire until the deadly threat is stopped.


The best way to prevail against a cutting edge is by being cutting edge!

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.