Survival Tip: Gun Beats Knife. But Don’t Count On It

On May 23rd, a Chechen murder suspect being interviewed by FBI agents reportedly confessed to three murders and then drew a knife and attacked them with it. On May 26th in New Rochelle, NY, police were attacked by a disturbed man with a knife after they entered the apartment where he barricaded himself. Back in March, a Brooklyn man charged police with a knife after allegedly stabbing his roommate. Oh, one more thing: all of the knife-armed attackers died, and and all the cops with guns went home to their families. Should we be surprised by this? No, but not for the reasons you might suspect . . .

Gun doesn’t automatically beat knife, unless the guy with the knife advertises his intentions from a really long distance away.  At indoor distances, a knife can easily beat a holstered gun.

Anyone who carries a gun for self-defense had better be familiar with the 20-foot rule and the Tueller Drill. Police experiments in 1983 discovered that a knife-armed attacker within approximately 20 feet stands an excellent chance of charging and injuring a gun-armed opponent before their target could draw their pistol and shoot them. Within 20 feet, Tueller determined, knife sometimes beats gun.

Police agencies and academies took this lesson to heart. The cops’ answer to the 20-foot rule was to draw their weapons early (outside of 20 feet, if possible) and don’t let that knife get within 20 feet. They began to treat any weapon within 20 feet as a lethal threat. If an assailant is armed within 20 feet, or if they try to close to within that range, there’s no warning shots, no more Tasers, and no more pepper spray. There’s just a hail of bullets, until enough of them connect to put the attacker down.  Usually permanently.

Security-conscious types already know the saying “charge a gun, run from a knife” and this  is certainly valid advice. (Especially that second part!) In the confrontations described above, the cops had all the advantages of equipment, training, tactics, and operational intelligence.

Armed citizens can never count on having these advantages if they encounter a knife-armed assailant. Armed citizens rarely carry their defensive handguns in quick-access duty holsters, they don’t operate as coordinated teams, and they rarely have warning that a particular individual is either armed or dangerous.

Remember the 20-foot rule, and as Sgt. Esterhaus always said, be careful out there.


  1. Aharon says:

    Great post! Thanks Chris.

    Unlike the police, private citizens to include many or most gun owners, do not pay as much attention to their changing environment as they probably should. An attacker with a knife, hammer, or broken bottle requires a good second more or less for the intended target (average Joe or Jane) to consciously register and then respond to the threat. The police proceed in their calls seriously planning to respond to violence. Most citizens are not seriously planning to be attacked. I think that in a number of cases an attacker might also give themselves away by behaving or acting in a manner (stares, radical change of movement, etc) that forewarns an intended target of probable trouble.

    Yesterday, a friend who has been in a number of fights to include one knife fight sent me a link to site that teaches knife and stick fighting. It is no substitute for a realistic class and teacher yet I think some knowledge is better than none.

  2. Robert Farago says:

    A lot of gun owners don’t like the idea of getting up close and personal with a blade. I know I don’t. But as you point out (so to speak), there it is.

    Chances are I won’t have the chance to draw my gun in a close encounter of the not-so-nice kind. And so I’m practicing drawing my knife. And looking for classes/videos on close quarters knife combat.

    So much to learn, so little time to learn it. And damn that’s a funny video.

    1. Aharon says:


      A friend, who I respect as a realistic street-smart, person sent me the link below stating that the training is the most realistic video program he has found. If you can find and commit to attending a good Krav Mega or Filipino martial arts school that would be better.

      Libre Fighting Systems

  3. Mark Davis says:

    Funny video. Here’s my take on defensive knife use….

    There is no doubt that a knife can be an extremely dangerous weapon. But I think there is a tendancy to overthink using a knife for personal defense. It is simply a sharp and pointy peice of metal. A fool or an infant can kill with a knife.

    I’ve studied Kali, and while I enjoyed it, there are more productive ways to spend your time if you’re interested in self protection. Rather than devoting months or years to Kali or Escrima, I recommend practicing accessing your knife while under duress (on your back, in a fight, etc), and integrating it with other forms of combat (grappling, striking, handgun, etc.) Learn some basic knife targeting, and you’ll got plenty of bang for your buck.

    Obviously, a quality training knife is important here, and that may influence what folder you choose to carry. (Assuming you carry a folder). Many of the quality folders are also available in blunt training versions, including Spyderco Delicas, Enduras, Benchmade Griptilian, etc.

    This is not a slam on Kali, Escrima, or the other arts that focus on the balde. I like and respect them, but they spend the vast majority of their time working with weapons that do not simulate a folding knife, which is the tool in my pocket. If it was legal and practical for me to carry around two Escrima sticks or machetes, the Phillapino arts might be more relevant for me.

    In my experience, Krav is good too. It doesn’t get much respect from the MMA or traditional MA folks, but it does teach a great mindset about winning and surviving. At the lower levels it doesn’t teach you how to weild a knife, but you do spend a lot of time on knife defense, which is probably good if you’re going into harm’s way.

    1. Aharon says:


      Thanks for your reply. It was interesting to read your thoughts.

      I agree that based on my (limited) knowledge of KV it focuses more on defense use against knives rather than using one. I have heard that KV training and methods are highly in demand by police and professional-level security forces worldwide. The KV center in Portland has a large police membership. The local FMA school here (very traditional I’m told) does emphasize stick and shortly afterwards knife fighting for new students.

      I’m not into folders. I live in a place that does allow a person to legally carry fighting sticks, and a long knife provided a portion of the knife or sheath is showing. Bottom line: I’d prefer to have my Ruger LCR on me vs. any knife for self-defense.

      1. Mark Davis says:

        Aharon – I’m in full agreement on the LCR!

    2. ChuckN says:

      Sambo and Systema are two more MA that incorporate knife
      use, though more systema. Like Krav Maga they haven’t had
      much exposure in the US yet but they’re growing. I wouldn’t
      discount escrima though. A healthy adult may not find it
      particularly useful because, as you say, carrying around sticks
      will get you noticed. It can, however, be of great use for the
      disabled, particularly those that need a cane.

      You are definitely correct about practicing. Practicing by
      yourself is great but sparring definitely shortens the learning
      curve. I don’t generally use blunted versions for sparring
      because they can still cause injury. Instead I use a soft plastic/
      rubber or a soft wood covered in a layer of foam. Cold Steel
      makes a fair assortment of poly trainers. When sparring I coat
      the edge with lipstick or paint. This makes a strike instantly
      noticeable. Works great with new students.

      1. Mark Davis says:

        I agree with you about the blunted steel knives – not good for full-blown sparring. However the blunt steel folder is invaluable for practicing accessing the knife and deploying it under stress. Try grappling with someone and see if you can reach and open your knife. Now try it with your support hand. The results may be surprising. For both of you!

        I have one of the Cold Steel plastic training knives. I like it and yes, it is less likely to hurt a training partner. But the one I have has a 6 or 7-inch blade, much longer than my typical edc folder. Extensive training with it can breed bad habits with respect to range and targeting. I experienced this while drilling – I was dialed in with a trainer with an 8-inch blade , but I started missing the target when i switched to a 3-inch folder.

  4. jwm says:

    That video was meant as comedy relief, right? “Attack me with the banana!” right? Please tell me that guy wasn’t taking himself seriously.

    1. Aharon says:

      100% serious. It’s real.

      1. jwm says:

        No mirrors in that childs house?

        1. Aharon says:

          Everything on the Internet is 100% real and serious. Everything.

  5. chuck k says:

    Check out this gruesome video. A bit long (13 minutes) but worth watching. Guy with knife stabs 3 cops and kills one of them. Guess they never heard of the 20 foot rule and it sure didn’t look like it was the killer’s first time at the rodeo.
    Cops should use this as a training video.

    1. Out_Fang_Thief says:

      That’s an example of the improper use of a gun, more than it’s an improper defense against a knife. How long was that cop standing there just hanging on to the gun with it pointing into the air? FAIL! Whatever the situation was, and whatever the cops were trying to do, if you have a gun, and it’s not being pointed at the guy with a knife until he drops the knife, you will forever be remembered as the guy(idiot) who brought a gun to a knife fight, and lost! Duh! This is an example of the grave consequences of not treating a life and death situation seriously.

      In my 53 years, and only a handful of fights, the unwillingness to do the necessary damage to your attacker is what gets you injured or killed. It’s tragic, but most normal people are uncomfortable hurting other people, even when it becomes absolutely necessary to defend their lives. If your will isn’t in the fight, you WILL lose the fight. I’ve had some perf/sev training, and I dearly hope I never have to use what I know. I have no interest in seeing the life leak out of someone as I watch them die from my hand. I feel much more confident that I can shoot to wound if the rare opportunity presents itself. If I’m forced to use a knife, one thing is certain. Everything I do will be for maximum lethality. You can Krav Maga, or Kali yourself till the cows come home. If you can’t muster the will to kill without any mental reservation, like the guy with the knife in this video, then almost anyone, even a cop with a gun will lose. Here’s an important tip. Never, ever underestimate the ends that a crazy person is willing to go. In many incidents, it’s usually more than most people can possibly fathom.

      1. Pat says:

        That was a large knife the perp had. The cops were INSANE in the way they were dealing with that big knife. They didn’t even have their guns out of their holsters, aiming at the perp.
        If you have a guy with a knife bearing down on you, and your gun isn’t drawn, you should at least fall on your back and use your feet to keep the guy away and slashing at the soles of your shoes.

        1. Chris Dumm says:

          Excellent advice! This maneuver is known as the ‘New York Drop’ and it’s sometimes taught in advanced defense classes. I’ve practiced it, and it’s a high-risk move for an extreme-threat situation. If you draw while you throw yourself backwards you risk losing the gun as you hit the ground. Once you’re on your back with your feet up and aimed toward the attacker, you also need to avoid shooting yourself in the foot.

  6. scubamatt says:

    @Mark Davis – You say you’ve practiced Kali, but you don’t specify what form. Kali is as broad a term as ‘karate’, in FMA. Perhaps the specific ‘flavor’ you studied didn’t address folding knives, but I can tell you that Pekiti Tirsia Kali absolutely does. It also covers grappling, striking (empty hand) and the use of firearms at the advanced levels. PTK techniques are applicable to any form of blade you choose to carry, and I haven’t seen a ‘more productive way to spend time’ when it comes to self protection. (And yes, I have a concealed carry permit, and I practice regularly with handgun and shotgun. Learning techniques for edged and impact weapons covers the very large gap in any firearms based personal protection plan – which everyone has unless they are a federal officer allowed to carry all the time, everywhere.)

    I was amused by the ‘fool or infant’ comment in regards to knives. The same can be said (even more truthfully) about firearms, too.

    1. Mark Davis says:

      scubamatt – I do not mean to marginalize or discredit FMA. As I said, I like and respect them. It sounds like Pekiti Tirsia Kali is well rounded and meets your needs.

      I agree it is important to have other defensive tools than just the firearm. I think too many guys say “well, if X happens, I’ll just shoot him”, without understanding that shooting may not always be possible. (Or practical, or legal.)

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Survival Tip: Gun Beats Knife. But Don’t Count On It

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