The reality of knife attacks

What do we need to know about real knife attacks.  (viewer discretion advised) 

Based on the excellent study of Patrice Bonnafoux  "self defense against Knive - The Ultimate guide", summarised, updated and adapted by us hereafter.

This article is based on a serie of 3 articles written by Patrice Bonnafoux,  Krav Maga Instructor (Urban Krav Maga, UK) - and accessorily PHD in Archeology -  who tried to highlight some of the dynamics of the knife attacks, their consequences and the most effective ways to deal with them.

The author highlights the key points of knife attacks based on more than 150 camera footage of real knife aggressions, after months of work.   



As we have been constantly advocating during our classes and workshops at  Jeet Academy KL, lots of "instructor" are teaching non-sense techniques, based on ignorance or worst:  self-proclaimed expertise, "the appeal of self-authorities" to re-quote the author who raises an interesting question : When do we become an expert? Does the fact we have been attacked twice by a knife during our life makes us an expert of knife aggression?   

During our martial journey,  we tried - and continue as much as possible - to learn and explore different practical efficient techniques to deal with knives aggression, applying them on full speed/full power strikes, under stresses scenarios and with different profiles of people.  We realised that lots of what has been taught to us, even if it has a base of practicality, is not really adapted to real-life aggression. From the comfort provided by the gym environment, to the "kindness" of our training partners in their way to simulate a knife attack, many factors biases our real capacity to deal with knives attack.

Everybody wants to be Jason Bourne or Donnie Yen while dealing with knife attacks. But there is a huge difference between a classy choreographed movie scene and the real life aggressions. 

One way to deal with these problems is to analyse real footages of knife attacks, caught on camera ( Mobile, Security camera and CCTV, etc...), which offers valuable real life lessons. 


A short compilation of choreographed cinema scenes of Knives attacks/defences.                       


Data for this research has been gathered and compiled from 150+ knife incidents caught on surveillance and phone cameras. You can find all these videos on the youtube channel of the author over here: Knives Attack CCTV 

Here are the key highlights:

  • 71.1% of knife attacks are led with the empty hand

" During a knife attack, most commonly, aggressors usually lead with their free hand, while keeping the knife close to their side"  as shown in the following video.  There is barely a " dead hand" .  The hand which is not holding the knife will often be used to shield the knife, to grab or even strike the victim.   We constantly insist on this at the academy. 


  • Most knife attacks are ambushes, not duels

As we always highlight during our teachings: Blade are meant to be felt, no to be seen.  And beyond that, an aggressors looks for easy preys,  not for a fair fight. There is only one rule in the street:  NO RULE at all.  Deception, speed, out-number, violence, every things can be used against the victim. There is no " chivalry " in the street violence, no ethic, no mercy. 

Very often, the victim will be ambushed, surprised by the attack, stabbed before he even realises it or starts to defend.   That changes totally the dynamic of the Self defense techniques taught and applied in the calmness of the gym, with a peaceful state of mind. 

The author adds  this interesting point : " In a typical way, the victim is 1) distracted, 2) cornered, and 3) the attack is launched at close quarters ". (P.B.)


  • 70.6% of knife attacks are launched within less than 1  meter ( 3 feet ) of the victim

Knives being short-range weapon, 70.6% of knife attacks start at conversation range ( or one straight arm distance ).  It makes it extremely difficult to react or to stop the first stab, it s often "too late", you get touched already when you start reacting. 


  • Knife attacks are fast and furious

Things go fast in the street. Very fast.  And for instance,  it appears that 55% of the victims tend to fall as they move backwards trying to escape their aggressor, their balance being compromised.

Moreover, Agressors will charge you, and wont stop because you felt, they will continue to stab, slash and strikes. Don't forget  : Aggressors are looking for easy prey. And falling on the floor makes you even more vulnerable. 


  • Knife attacks don't last long

In his article the author uses some graphics to demonstrate this point : The average of the analyses of knife attacks, from the moment the attack is launched to the moment it stops, is 23 seconds with a chance to get stab at a frequency of  5 to 7 times every 5 seconds!

- 25 percent of the attacks length less than 7 secondes, and 80 percent of all the studies footage demonstrate that 80 percent of the attacks length less than 32 secondes.

- This is most probably due to the fear of getting caught (for the aggressor),Obviously, the longer an attack is carried, the more likely someone -including the police- will intervene " said M. Bonnafoux. 

- It is also interesting to note that "55.9% of all attacks are stopped by the intervention of a third party."  (P.B)

  • Knife attacks are more often performed with quick, short, repetitive stabs at different angles

"The more you get cut or stab, the more chances a vital organ, such as the heart, or a major blood vessel, such as the carotid artery, will be hit which would result in a quick death" (P.B) Usually there is a first wave of stabs and strikes,  followed by others, spaced by 5 to 10 seconds each.    As we constantly insist  : react as soon as you can ! The longer the aggression the more chance you have get critical injuries threatening your life. 

And the author to add:  "many people have survived a greater number of cuts and stabs. But the unavoidable truth is that you only need one to die!  This is an important point because most attacks are not a 'single straight thrust' (i.e. bayonet thrust type of motion) or a 'wide sweeping stroke' (i.e. slash) "  

Knife attacks are predominantly executed with quick, short, repetitive stabs at different angles (e.g. switching from low, upward, stabs to the chest, to high, downward, stabs to the neck).

- Also, 58.8 % of the analysed attacks are done with the normal grip, 29.9% are done with the reverse grip ( Icepick Grip ), and in 6% only of the cases the aggressor change grip.  There is no case where the aggressor change the hands holding the knife in the analysed footage! 


In the following video, instructor Richard Dimitri demonstrates the reality of knives attacks versus what is taught in gyms.



Knife attacks are fast, violent, dirty, and often ambushed, carried with determination, mercyless . The aggressor will often use his free hand to shield the knife or grab the victim, and the violence of the aggression is so intense that often the victim falls of on the floor while trying stepping back. Knife attacks don't last long, and are often performed by quick ,short , repetitive stabs at different angles.  They often launched at less than 1 meter of the victim. 

And the author to conclude :

  1. you will be taken by surprise and you will be overwhelmed by fear and aggression

  2. you won't see the blade before the attack is launched

  3. you very likely won't be able to run away and avoid the attack

  4. you will have very little time and space to react and deploy a counter-attack

  5. you probably won't be able to stop the first stab(s) so, you will be cut and stabbed a number of times but you might not even realise you've been stabbed

  6. you probably won't have time to draw your own weapon (gun, knife, kubotan keychain, pepper spray, etc); at least not before being stabbed a couple of times

  7. you will be likely moving backwards, your balance will be compromised, and you'll probably fall to the ground

  8. your movements will be restricted, your fine motor skills will be gone, you won't able to access the knife bearing arm easily

  9. any technique that is based on smooth arm deflection and manipulation has very little chance to work

  10. any technique that rests on the assumption of a single straight thrust ('full-stop one-step zombie attack') or a wide sweeping slash has very little chance to work

In our next article, we will teach you how to react while we get stabbed:  How to deal immediately with the injury caused by the knife. We will be guided by doctor Ennaji Meriem, a Belgian surgeon. 

Stay tuned! 

Feel free to have a look at Urban Krav Maga Website : and Pascal Bonnafoux, author of this excellent study:  Self Defense against knive - The Ultimate Guide

Ben Abbes