If you’re looking to dedicate yourself to a system, then please see this page on the Seven Best Knife Fighting and Defense Systems. However, if you’re looking for information about defending yourself against knife attacks or violent encounters in general, then this is the page for you. These are more about methods than combat systems, and some might be for you while others aren’t.
Regardless, these are the best books and DVDs that I’ve encountered about surviving knife attacks.
Table of Contents
Put 'Em Down, Take 'Em Out! Knife Fighting Techniques From Folsom Prison
Author: Don Pentecost
Put ‘Em Down, Take ‘Em Out! Knife Fighting Techniques From Folsom Prison is a short book that gets to the point and avoids a lot of fluff. The book isn’t much bigger than pamphlet, yet it manages to convey the dark reality of knife violence regardless.
This book is largely about psychological conditioning, so it doesn’t have photos or illustrations of moves or techniques the way other books might. This is because to survive an attack, you must sometimes be willing to perform violent acts yourself. As I’ve said in the post 6 Reasons Why Knives are Terrible for Self-Defense, carrying a weapon, threatening with a weapon, and actually using the weapon to cause untold damage to another human being are very different things. You have to be in a certain mental space and, for many of us, willing to set aside your own moral standards in order to survive a dire situation.
If there’s one fault I find with the book it’s Don Pentecost’s narrow attitude. He’s convinced that he’s the only expert you’ll ever need and holds a rather dismal view of any other viewpoint, especially regarding martial arts.
I’ve said elsewhere that most martial arts aren’t good for knife defense, but that doesn’t mean all of them are. Filippino martial arts in particular are quite effect against knives and don’t spend their time wallowing around in ineffective moves that look great but will get you hurt or killed. You can see some of the better systems on the Seven Best Knife Fighting and Defense Systems page.
That being said, I still recommend this book. No book or DVD is going to be perfect, and Don is great at presenting the harsh reality of actual knife attacks and fights. If you can get over his contempt for any method other than his, this book will make for a good teacher.
How to Survive the Most Critical 5 Seconds of Your Life
Author: Tim Larkin
I’m a huge fan of Tim Larkin, and if you want a preview of how he works, you can sign up for a masterclass at his official site (although he’ll try and upsell you once it’s done; just a heads-up). This book doesn’t disappoint at all.
This book serves as a teacher, not bogging the reader down with techniques or tacts to employ during an encounter, but as an understanding of violence.
How does violence occur? What situations lead up to violence? Moreover, how do you avoid violence so it doesn’t break out to begin with?
This book is like a light introduction to his Target Focus Training (TFT) system, which nearly made it onto my 7 Best Systems post. Instead, it’s here because it’s a system taught by one man. The beauty of this system is that he doesn’t shy away from how brutal violence can be and how even a single blow with an unarmed fist can be enough to kill.
One piece of advice that stood out to me was that you should always treat every violent encounter as though there are multiple attackers. Statistically, very few knife attacks have multiple assailants. However, this book goes beyond knives, and you should absolutely take his advice to heart.
Tim Larkin is also good at reinforcing why carrying a deadly weapon as self-defense is a good way to invite trouble instead of deterring it. In fact, just possessing one can give you a false sense of security.
All in all, this is an excellent book on how to build the mental fortitude to survive violence. That doesn’t mean it’s without any technique at all, though. There are some diagrams of strikes and whatnot in this book, so you know what you need to be prepared to do.
Survive the Unthinkable: A Total Guide to Women's Self-Protection
Author: Tim Larkin
More Tim Larkin here, as I can’t quite overemphasize how fantastic he is when it comes to self-defense.
But first, time for some real talk. 1.9 million women are assaulted physically in the United States each year. That’s a lot of women falling victim to acts of violence.
This book, much like his others, is about mindset over moves and tactics. However, this time it’s geared toward the female sex and helping them understand how they can survive a violent encounter regardless of their size or strength.
To that end, he writes about how predators think and points out that, even if you’re armed with something like a gun, you probably won’t have time to grab it before the attack starts.
He also teaches how to recognize situations that could lead to violent escalations and avoid them. This advice is well worth it.
I also appreciate that he takes the time to talk about the legality of your actions. The law isn’t always favorable to self-defense, and you could find yourself in legal hot water for the ‘crime’ of surviving an assault.
Again, another book that I highly recommend.
Knife Fighting: A Practical Course
Author: Michael Janich
If Tim Larkin is all about self-defense in general, then Michael Janich is all about knife defense and knife fighting. Michael has trained with police, special forces, and even street fighters. He’s also a practitioner of Filippino martial arts, so he really knows his stuff when it comes to knife violence.
And because he knows the dismal reality of knife fights, his first piece of advice is to avoid them completely. I concur.
Unlike the previous books in this list, Michael talks techniques. He goes into footwork, strategies, targets, grip, and loads more. Because of this, it’s got tons of photographs so you can see just how to move. He also emphasizes the legal implications of fighting back as well as pointing out that you should use these techniques to do only enough damage to escape.
Michael is also superb at teaching how to hold a knife yourself if you’re in a fight. Namely, your knife isn’t a sword with dwarfism; you cannot wield it as such.
If I have a criticism of this book it’s that you should probably practice with it to see where some of his stances are impractical. He often leaves his arms too far away from his body, in my opinion. However, I’m not the expert in these matters.
I recommend this book if you’re interested in dueling and in understanding how to debilitate an assailant so you can escape a deadly situation.
Also, for anyone who goes against my advice that you shouldn’t be carrying a knife for defense, this book will at least teach you how to make good use of it.
Make Ready with James Williams Continuing Solutions to Edged Weapons
Author: James Williams
James Williams is a rather traditional martial artist and self-defense expert. That being said, he trains police in self-defense tactics and really knows his stuff. He even has an online dojo where you can learn his Nami Ryu Aiki Heiho.
This DVD is more for traditional martial artists than for cutting-edge modern knife defense. As such, be aware of this before you dive in.
That being said, James Williams focuses a lot on muscle memory. He’s a very wax-on, wax-off type of instructor, which is both good and bad in a real encounter. The good is that you can instinctively use some effective moves; the bad is that it can leave you rigid and inflexible in a situation.
There’s also quite a bit of marketing in this DVD. Many of the books on this list are already pushing other courses and programs, but James Williams does more than the others.
I should also point out that it feels like an old karate VHS tape. When I was a kid, I was a little obsessed with Jason David Frank’s karate tape, and this feels like that. It doesn’t bother me, but some people might be turned off by it.
If you’re the type who likes traditional styles as well as some more workable techniques for fights, then this is good for you. Remember, James Williams has trained police and military, so he does know what he’s doing.
These aren’t definitive systems, for the most part (Larkin is the exception), but they’re good for rounding out your knowledge and getting you to think critically about knife attacks. Let me know in the comments below if I’ve missed something!