Grappling when Weapons are or May be Involved

Grappling with weapons opens up another dimension to Low Tech Combat. The above image is from a real incident where a Law Enforcement (LE) officer was attempting to apprehend a suspect. You can see that the suspect juuuust has a hold of the pistol grip and is actively going for the weapon. The magazine is out of the weapon and on the ground. Even someones sunnies are on the ground. It is on.

But seriously, this is a dangerous situation, caught well in this image. Apparently the suspect was out of jail in just a few months. Many LE officers are shot with their own weapons. This means that the suspect got up close and personal. They probably got the weapon while they were grappling/wrestling with the officer. A tough situation where hormones would be racing freely through the arteries and veins.

It is not only LE officers who need to deal with worrying about weapons whilst grappling. Recently we came across a case where a fight went to the ground between two women which resulted in one woman being stabbed in the back of the neck whilst grappling. Numerous people have discussed this very subject and we will have a look at what their thoughts are as well. We will finish with a couple of videos of how we can train for this possible eventuality.

Knifed During Groundfight

The incident was in Windsor which was the scene of two women fighting outside a bar. One woman (34 yrs old) grabbed the other (27 yrs old) in a head lock and wrestled her to the ground where they continued to grapple for a while.

Friends eventually broke the fight up and only then realised that the 27 yr old had been stabbed in the back of the neck and was bleeding.

Nobody saw the knife. 

The 27 yr old was rushed to hospital and received surgery for the non life threatening injury. This case again highlights that people can be stabbed with a knife and not know it. I bet the other girl, and the bystanders did not expect a knife to be used. Most people would not think about it. When people see two people fighting on the ground, they assume it is a fist fight so to speak. This is not always accurate as we have seen.

Preferred or Not, it May Happen

I don't think anyone would like to be rolling around on the ground with an attacker who has a knife. But sometimes, as in the case above, it may just happen. Brian VanCise pondered this very possibility:

I do not really want to be grappling with an opponent on the ground with a knife in their hand.  That is simply a difficult task to deal with and since your mobility is restricted you will have a harder time dodging a knife thrust or slash.  Certainly I would like to be standing up and mobile.  However, we do not always get to choose the battleground or whether we will be vertical or horizontal.

Is Grappling Bad Against a Knife Wielding Attacker?

Marc "Animal" MacYoung has strong thoughts on the matter as well when he discusses what he calls "knife fighting lies". In that article, of particular relavance to this post is what Marc calls "Lie #10 - Grappling with a knife". In that piece Marc explains:

While demonstrating an empty-handed with one of them, he tackled me and took me to the ground... Anyway, when we hit the floor I realized that there was no way I could contest this guys strength, he was a bull, full of muscle and grappling skill. The thing was I had landed next to a practice knife that I calmly picked up and dragged it across his throat.

and goes on...

Do not attempt to "grapple" with a knifer. Once on the ground, you are not guaranteed to be able to control his knife arm well enough to prevent him from carving you up. If it were a barehanded fight, then you can often prevent him from being able to generate enough power to effectively strike you, but a knife doesn't need power, it just needs to touch you. And if you are attempting to control his arm while on the ground, he will wiggle free and repeatedly cut you until you can no longer continue to resist.

Now Marc has some good points here. I agree that it is bad to 'tackle' someone with a knife. Very bad. However, I think his point of view ignores a couple of things.

Immobilising on the Ground is Easier than Standing

Yes, when trying to control the attackers knife bearing limb on the ground, the knifer may 'wiggle free' and cut you. But seriously, trying to do the same thing standing is MUCH more difficult to do. A knifer can more easily move around and thrash whilst standing.

On the ground, with good control, there are far fewer opportunities for the knifer to wiggle free. Immobilising the knife bearing limb on the ground has a much higher percentage chance of succeeding than doing the same thing standing. So while I agree that tackling a knife attacker is a stupid thing to do (not so bad against a stick), it is a better place to immobilise a knife bearing limb. Once a knife is immobilised, a counter can be applied of your choice, whatever that me be for you.

But How do we get Safely to the Ground?

Working in reverse order, how do we get a knife attacker to the ground safely and securely so we can immobilise the knife bearing limb? You may not have to worry about this one. You may just end up on the ground without meaning to. It happens. Not preferred but a real possibility. And you probably won't have control of that weapon...

But for techniques if you choose to... this is largely dependant on what techniques you use. At Low Tech Combat, we tend to avoid prescribing specific techniques, just overall tactics, strategies, perspectives and viewpoints. Any technique that facilitates you closing and entering safely against a knife attack is good, particularly if escape is no option and there are no other weapons around.

Instead of staying standing and trying to maintain control of the knife bearing limb and then countering, do some form of take down from here. The best option is when the close, enter, immobilise and take down happen all at once. This gives the knifer less chance to struggle free from the immobilisation. As the take down is finished, it should end up with the knife bearing limb immobilised, you free to stand up if you need to quickly and also where a counter of choice can be applied. Juggernaut provides just one good example of how this can be done with an explanation and video.

What Do Other People Think?

There is lots of discussion out there about the whole matter of maybe having to grapple/wrestle someone when weapons may be involved. In a Filipino Martial Arts forum some time ago, there were some interesting comments. There is a wide range of opinions out there proposing different tactics and views on the subject matter. Some are as follows:

...nerver ever fight knife with empty hand..Ruuuuuuuuuuun! If a person really wants to hurt you with the be bleeding before you even know it...sinawali will give you that empty hands move you need for practice...just my opinion!

Fair enough on that one. Hopefully we can run.

You probably don't want to close on a guy with a knife... There is the simultaneous block with one hand/thrust to the eyes with the other hand, which is tricky, or the crossing parry and pass, which kind of assumes the other guy's free hand won't come into play. Also the double-handed control of the arm holding the knife, which is also dicey. Of course, if you don't do something, maybe you die. Other thoughts?

We have covered that one already. As can be seen, trying to control the knife bearing limb whilst standing is a 'dicey' approach. The commenter has no real reason why closing is bad. This is actually a common view. When we look into it, we can see that being on the ground can be advantageous, though still overall bad. If you do not close and immobilise that knife bearing arm, the knife will continue to be a threat and it can be slashed and stabbed into you any number of ways, really fast.

...Even worse is the effect of the UFC on the MA newbies, who think shooting for a takedown is the strategy that beats everything even on the street. Going for a double leg takedown without being totally sure that the attacker is unarmed is just suicidal.

Agreed. I am sure there are instances of double legs working quite well on the street (I have seen some awesome footage of that actually some time ago), it is high risk when the possibility of a knife being inserted between the ribs next to the spine is considered. But again, this does not mean we should not train grappling or wrestling with weapons. Particularly knives and sticks. These things happen and we need to have familiarity with such situations to better our chances of surviving them.

...I worked as a bouncer in a Strip Club and while taking an unruly patron out for being a numb skull his buddy ambushed me from the side burying a blade into my right pectoral area, puncturing the me waking up to the taste of a cold respirator bit taped to your mouth sucks!

Another good example of how two people can be in a normal grappling situation where everyone thinks it is just someone being escorted out of a club. And then a knife appears from somewhere else... Something to consider.

At close quarters, sensitivity training is also useful, since one may be too close to see the blade. Here we tend to grab the weapon hand and hang on, while using the other hand to apply a beat-down if possible, but this is theoretical, since I haven't ever been attacked with a knife.

Sensitivity training certainly sounds worthy of consideration. It also raises the important point that we need to be actually aware there may be a weapon that can be drawn later on, mid rumble.

Unfortunately, there is a risk of having to defend a knife while rolling on the ground. It is as simple as gettiing in a fight, falling or being brought down and the guy pulls a knife. Paco's point of improvised weaponry is well taken especially for those who have no general experience in grappling. Use what is available.

Exactly. If you do somehow end up on the ground and a weapon is drawn or you think the attacker may have one...

Look for an improvised weapon of your own!

Great advice.

Lets Have a Look at Some Videos

Not a bad drill. Obviously, both of these people may have died a couple of times each. However, they were just drilling. They were on the ground wrestling with the new dynamic of a knife being involved. Also, not many knife wielders attack like they were but regardless, the video provides some good food for thought.

Stepping up the Tempo a Little Now..

This type of training is a little closer to reality and is a step up from the last video where the training was more at the drilling level. This is a bit more intense.

So yeah, weapons can be found in real fights on the ground, you need to be prepared for that. Hopefully this post has gone some way to aiding you in your training and mindset.

Opening Image by 7mary3