One of the recurring features of the weekly “I Carry” video series here at Shooting Illustrated is spotlighting some other piece of gear besides a defensive pistol and a holster. More often than not, that other piece of gear is a knife of some kind, because knives are useful for so many things, especially self defense. However, opportunities to learn how to use a knife as a part of the concealed carry lifestyle are few and far between. Most knife defense classes are taught as part of some kind of formalized martial art, or they omit any references to other gear you might carry with you, such as a pepper spray or a defensive pistol.
That’s why I was very interested in taking the “Knife Skills for Concealed Carry” class from Greg Ellifiritz of Active Response Training. Ellifritz is a recently retired law enforcement officer who also taught ground fighting and similar courses at the Tactical Defense Institute for 17 years. His approach to the defensive knife was eclectic, bringing in techniques from Shivworks, Mike Janich, Steve Tarani and a host of other instructors. The result was a one-day class that empowered the attendees with simple techniques they could practice themselves and provided a pathway for further growth.
The Basics Of Knife Defense
Greg started off the class by stating that in all his years in law enforcement, he never once saw a knife fight where each combatant had a knife in their hands. In his experience, knives were used by armed citizens for firearms retention or for defense against sexual assault. The biggest issue he found with armed citizens using a knife as a defensive tool was accessing the knife and deploying it when the fight was in progress. Once the knife was in play, people seemed to know what to do with it. It was getting to the knife out in the first place that was the problem.
Which makes a lot of sense. A close quarters, entangled fight can be a confusing, chaotic situation. We practice our pistol draw for hours on end, but how often do we practice deploying a defensive blade? Also, what kind of blade and where we carry it makes a big difference. I found, based on my experience in other classes, that a small, fixed-blade knife carried on the front of my body was a good way to get a knife into an entangled fight. However, during Greg’s class, I found that there were times when I couldn’t reach my training knife that was carried at that position. However, I could access a folding training knife that I had clipped to my strong-side pocket, and could bring that to bear on my (pretend) attacker.
Greg’s knife defense class was focused on techniques based on the three ways that knife fights come to an end, either with a psychological stop, where the attacker quits once he or she is confronted with a knife, a stop due to blood loss or a biomechanical stop, where the knife is used to against the muscles and tendons of your attacker. A psychological stop is the obviously optimal outcome, as that involves the least amount of risk and effort, but we can’t rely on that. A blood loss stop is effective, but it takes time to occur. A biomechanical attack that impairs movement or muscle control may not always work, but it can stop the fight faster than blood loss will.
Greg also talked about the role of a defensive knife in retaining your firearm. It’s not uncommon for crooks to attack police officers in order to steal their service pistol, so it makes sense than bad guys would also attack an armed citizen who is displaying a firearm, for the very same reasons. Greg showed how the Harries Technique, a common method of holding a flashlight with a pistol, can also be used to hold a defensive knife while your pistol is out and on display. We practiced all of these techniques for hours, and then had a discussion on what makes a good defensive knife for people who carry a defensive firearm.
Folding knives, Greg said, are ubiquitous and are well-suited to many different tasks. They don’t appear to be all that dangerous, but they can be difficult to open in a fight and can break easier than a fixed blade can. Fixed blade knives are easier to get into the fight and are safer for the user, as there is no risk of injury as they are being closed. However, for the most part, a fixed-blade knife a single-purpose fighting tool, is harder to conceal and it might cause undue attention if used for other purposes such as opening packages.
When it comes to the design of the knife itself, larger folding knives with blades that are four inches or longer are harder to open, limiting their usefulness in a fight. Serrated knives, Greg said, are great for everyday tasks, but not something you want in a fighting knife as they can hang up on clothing.
The techniques I learned in this knife defense class were very relevant to people like me who carry a defensive pistol and a blade of some sort. I don’t see a knife as my primary defensive tool, but I have a better understanding of how it works in conjunction with my pistol, pepper spray or tactical flashlight. A knife may not be my “go to” tool of choice, but it might just be the tool i need to save a life, and knowing how to use it more effectively is a very good thing, a very good thing indeed.