Jim Wagner’s 3 Self-Defense Moves to Survive a Knife Attack

by Jim Wagner

Whenever someone comes at you with a knife and you are empty-handed, you are automatically at a 90-percent tactical disadvantage. Even worse, 99 percent of the disarm techniques and self-defense moves taught today are too complicated and unrealistic to be effective in an actual confrontation. Furthermore, if you do not practice self-defense moves against attacks launched at full speed and full power and at the angle of the attacker’s choosing, any drill will be merely a choreographed pattern that reinforces a false sense of self-confidence.

After years of mulling over this dilemma, I finally discovered a way to transition from step-by-step practice to full-speed training in self-defense moves to survive a knife attack.

The “Jim Wagner Defense Rule” was born while I was teaching knife disarms to members of the Canadian army. To demonstrate that my reactions were genuine and not part of a prearranged defense that worked only when I knew what was coming, I told one soldier to attack me using any technique he wanted. He lunged immediately, and I had no time to prepare a defense.

Without thinking, I caught his knife hand. Before he could wrench the knife free from my grip and launch a second attack, I stepped toward him to deny him the space he needed to cut me, strike me, trip me or even step back. Then I took him down, moved away and drew my pistol.

Jim Wagner demonstrates self-defense moves against a knife attack in Black Belt magazine.After repeating the drill two more times with the same success, I knew I was onto something.

Since then, I have taught the same course of self-defense moves to a mix of law-enforcement officers from different units and countries. Beginners seem to catch on instantly, and advanced students seem to like the system’s simplicity. Rather than focusing on 50 techniques to cover all the possibilities of a knife fight, the course has only three components:

Jim Wagner’s Self-Defense Moves to Survive a Knife Attack — #1: Grab

If a knife-wielding assailant corners you, you must control the knife before he inflicts any damage. Grab his knife hand as if you are clutching at a person’s windpipe and do not let go. Remember that in a real attack, blood will make grabbing the weapon even more difficult. It is OK if your hands are not in the perfect position when you grab his hand — especially when training at full speed.

Jim Wagner’s Self-Defense Moves to Survive a Knife Attack — #2: Close

Once you latch on, maintain your grip and immediately close the gap by pressing yourself against the attacker and securing his weapon hand tightly against your own body. From this position, you can execute a takedown to prevent him from escaping. Although you are already in “close combat” (within reach of the opponent) in a knife fight, the attacker still needs several inches of room to swing his weapon or thrust it into you. While the blade can still cut you, the wound is likely to be superficial.

Jim Wagner’s Self-Defense Moves to Survive a Knife Attack — #3: Takedown

With your body pressed against his, force your shoulder into his to knock him off balance, then pivot your body to complete the takedown. If you feel resistance in the direction you intend to take him, immediately switch directions and force him down.

Once the person falls, disengage from him immediately. If you are a civilian, you should escape. If you are a police officer, you should get an adequate distance away from the suspect and draw your gun.

One last warning: Ground combat with a knife-wielding assailant is a no-win situation, and the idea of stripping a knife from somebody’s hand while you’re down is pure fantasy.

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