Knockout and Concussion Statistics for Violent Encounters

by James LaFond

Editor’s Note: Because it’s impossible to defend yourself when you’re unconscious, knockouts play a critical role in any fight, whether it takes place in the ring or on the street. In our September issue, we explored the physiological effects of a knockout and why head trauma is such a controversial topic in combat sports. Now it’s time to look at the concussion statistics for violent encounters so you can avoid getting knocked out.

Analyst James LaFond studied 1,675 acts of violence that took place between June 1996 and May 2000. At the request of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, he then analyzed the incidents in his study that led to a knockout. To make his discoveries easier to digest, we’re presenting his findings in a Q-and-A format.

—Jon Sattler

How often was someone knocked out by an open-hand martial arts blow?

Twice. A palm heel to the chin and a double palm to the chest. One other such blow was attempted (a knifehand to the throat), but it failed. Although 30 percent of KO situations involved a trained fighter (law-enforcement officer, boxer, wrestler, martial artist, kickboxer), the attempted use of open-hand blows was statistically insignificant.

What are the most effective one-strike-knockout methods?

  • 100-percent success with a sucker punch by a competition-level boxer, delivered to the jaw of an individual male who is usually taller and talking.
  • 98-percent success with a surprise come-from-behind strike executed with a heavy blunt weapon to the head of an intoxicated male.
  • 95-percent success with a poor-leverage throw effected by a larger male against a smaller member of an aggressive group or against an individual participant in a match fight.
  • 90-percent success with a punch thrown by an average-size athletic man against an unprepared member of a poorly organized aggressive group.
  • 90-percent success with a kick thrown by a competition-level kickboxer against an unprepared person.
  • 80-percent success with an elbow strike to the head or face executed by a male wrestler, boxer or kickboxer.
  • 75-percent success with an attack effected with a moving vehicle on a pedestrian.
  • Note that 73 percent is the typical rate of success for aggressors, with the vast majority of the incapacitations stemming from multiple strikes.

    What’s the most common method of avoiding a knockout?

    This study defines violence from the point at which it’s physically initiated by the deployment of a weapon, by the closing of the distance by an aggressor, or by a violent or controlling touch. From this perspective, a defender has little opportunity for avoidance (because that time has typically passed), and flight is a viable option in less than half of violent situations.

    In situations in which violence of an incapacitating nature is imminent (when facing a group, an extremely powerful man or an armed person), KOs are avoided by the following methods listed in order of increasing effectiveness:

  • minimal aggression (pushing, slapping, holding)
  • defensive techniques (blocking, ducking, etc.)
  • escape and flight
  • verbal dissuasion
  • serious grappling (throwing, wall slamming, floor fighting)
  • brandishing a weapon
  • toughness and poise (the ability to take it)
  • power striking
  • How do specific fighting arts rate?

  • 19 percent of karate stylists who hadn’t kickboxed knocked out their opponents in violent situations. This is identical to the worldwide kickboxing KO rate of 19 percent.
  • 20 percent of boxers knocked out their antagonists, compared to the 34-percent worldwide boxing KO rate. These fights were often urban street encounters that featured groups, weapons and indecisive resolutions.
  • 90 percent of boxers involved in drunken brawls knocked out their opponents, with 10 percent sustaining hand injuries. Not one of those boxers jabbed.
  • 36 percent of martial artists who had kickboxed knocked out their antagonists. These encounters reflect a wide variety of circumstances and correspond to the worldwide boxing KO rate. The side kick was the dominant KO strike.
  • 47 percent of identified noncombat athletes scored KOs in brawls and self-defense situations. They were primarily large throwers (football players) and small punchers (rugby, softball and soccer players) taking the fight to low-cohesion groups of smaller males.
  • How did the various weapons perform with respect to knockouts?

    The incapacitation rates were as follows:

  • Folding knife: 19%
  • Fixed-blade knife: 38%
  • Pencil: 13%
  • Pointed tool: 44%
  • Prison-made shank: 64%
  • Razor: 5%
  • Sword: 33%
  • Stick/baton: 37% (for law-enforcement officers), 20% (for escrimadors), 28% (for untrained persons), 27% (for groups)
  • Bat: 58%
  • Board/club: 70%
  • Pipe/bar: 36%
  • Sap/blackjack: 47%
  • Stone/brick/trophy: 56%
  • Blunt tool: 42%
  • Machinery/furniture: 42%
  • Everyday item (bottle, etc.): 20% (used by the defender), 7% (used by the aggressor)
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