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Choosing a knife for defensive purposes

Both of the above knives meet the author's requirements for a practical defensive knife.
Both of the above knives meet the author's requirements for a practical defensive knife.
Courtesy of Dave Prosch

NOTE: This article is written for information purposes only and the author does not condone the use of force of any kind except in cases of lawful self defense.

Occasionally, I get an email that asks something to the effect of "what is the best knife for defensive purposes?" First of all, let me state that a knife is definitely not my first choice when it comes to self defense. Should I need to use force to defend myself, I would much rather have a less than lethal device such as an aerosol irritant, a blunt instrument or, if lethal force is required, a firearm. The three tools listed above typically incapacitate their targets quickly and allow you to keep your distance from the threat. Knives offer neither of these advantages.

Furthermore, knives occupy a rather awkward niche in the legal aspect of self defense. Like firearms, knives are considered lethal force. However, unlike firearms, knives require the defender to engage in bloody, close quarter combat which seems better suited to offense rather than defense. It is these characteristics of knives that have led to edged weapons becoming associated with street thugs and other nefarious types. So, whether we look at the situation from a legal or a practical standpoint, either way the knife is a weapon of last resort.

So, why should the law abiding consider carrying a tool of such ill repute? Carrying a knife is an extremely common activity. Every day we use knives to do countless mundane chores so carrying one should not attract much attention. And while we might not like to think about it, the worst case scenario does happen and, when it does, the last resort suddenly seems like a very good idea. In other words, that same innocuous folder you use to cut open boxes may prove to be your salvation should you find yourself beneath a meth addict intent on pounding your favorite head into the pavement with a brick. You need a knife because everyone needs a backup plan.

So, what should you look for in a knife that may be called on for defensive use? Whether you choose a fixed blade, a folder or some other category of edged tool, the design of your knife should adhere a few guidelines.

1. Legal: Before obtaining a knife, check your state and local ordinances for laws related to edged weapons. Do not carry anything prohibited by law or you may forfeit any chance of claiming self defense should you have to use it defensively. Don't get too caught up on the size of the weapon. Many places regulate the size and type of the knife you can carry. And while bigger may seem better, even tiny knives can cause serious wounds and smaller knives are less likely to attract undue attention.

2. Deployment: Regardless of the type of knife you carry, you should carry it daily. That means choose a knife that you can comfortably tote around all day. However, a knife is useless unless you can deploy it quickly and without undue exertion. Your knife should exit a sheath or pocket as easily as it enters it and deploy with minimal effort. If you can't get your knife into action smoothly, by the time you need it, it might be too late.

3. Ergonomics: Everyone's hands are different. Fortunately, knives are made in an amazing array of designs in order to accommodate different tastes. A knife should feel natural in your hand; as if it is an extension of yourself. In addition, the knife's grip should be positive and even a little sticky when wet. This will prevent it from being dislodged under harsh conditions.

4. Blade: The design and size of a blade is mostly a matter of personal preference. And while the debate of single vs. double edged and serrated vs. straight edge will probably go on as long as there are knives, my personal preference is a bit of a hybrid. I prefer single edged knives that are both serrated and straight edged. The single edge allows the thumb or hand to ride upon the spine of the blade for more control while the hybrid serrated/straight edge works well for both precision and heavy cutting. This design is extremely versatile for both defensive and utilitarian use.

5. Guard: Like the boxer's fracture is to fighters, a common injury among regular knife users is the so-called "counting your fingers on the floor" cut. This is caused by forward moving knife that stops suddenly causing the hand to make a fist around the blade resulting in deep lacerations to the fingers. If you wish to avoid this type of injury, choose a knife with a functional guard.

6. Graphics: Avoid knives with over-the-top themes and accompanying graphics; particularly those associated with macabre or violent subjects. What do you think a police officer is going to think when he asks to see your pocket knife and you dutifully hand over a vicious looking blade adorned with skulls and a caption that reads "Widow Maker"? In the world of knives, low profile is the rule. Anything else is courtroom drama waiting to happen.

So, while the knife should be considered a weapon of last resort for those concerned about their personal safety, the ubiquitous nature of knives means that the defensive tactics student should have at least a basic knowledge of their use. Choosing a knife suitable for defensive use is an important step towards staying safe and legal.