Why a knife?


Lee’s note: Here’s a great knife explainer from Michael Sheesley – a practicing lawyer, firearms trainer and lethal force expert living on St. Thomas, USVI – who shares my passion for edged weaponry.


 by Michael Sheesley, Esq.

I know, I know this is The Gunwriter.  Why in the heck am I writing about knives?  It is because I believe that a good knife is one of the most practical and versatile tools that we can have with us every day.

Many of us wake and strap on a gun either because it is part of our job or because we are concerned with the defense of ourselves and our loved ones.  How many of us throw a knife in our pocket, purse, somewhere else on our person or have one that is easily and readily accessible?

I find myself most often carrying a folding knife of some variety.  Currently I usually have a Cold Steel Recon 1 tanto point in my strong side pocket.  At any given time this may be replaced with a Benchmade or Spyderco.  I prefer folding knives for a variety of reasons with convenience, variety and availability being at the top of the list.

A knife is easy to use, efficient for a variety of self-defense uses, has multiple uses, is socially acceptable and is relatively inexpensive.

In order for a tool to be an effective self-defense tool it must become part of the user’s daily life.  In most of the world today knives are in very common use.  Knives are on tables and are used at every meal.  All of us have been using knives long before we thought about self-defense.  Most people are already well ahead of the curve on training with a knife by virtue of their prior life experience.  Conversely, in order to become safe and proficient with a firearm the majority of people need a fair amount of training.

One of the primary reasons I carry a knife is for use as a self-defense tool.  If you carry a firearm for self-defense you are relying on bullets to inflict a wound.  Bullets cut, plain and simple.  When a bullet enters flesh it doesn’t explode and it doesn’t do anything magical, it merely cuts a wound channel.  A bullet will cut a wound channel around ½ inch in diameter (a 9mm and .40 bullet are both around 4/10 of an inch in diameter, add in expansion of a good hollow point and you have approximately a ½ inch diameter projectile).  The folding knives that I carry will cut a wound channel around 1 inch wide if put straight into flesh in a point first stab.  A good sharp knife can be absolute devastating as a weapon.  Insert the knife into flesh in a point first stab and withdraw using a slashing motion and the result will be a very large wound.  The use of a knife is very intuitive.  Stab or slash with a knife; that is pretty much the basics of knife fighting.  But this article isn’t about knife fighting.

Knives have some potential advantages over firearms as a self-defense weapon.  It takes a minimal level of training for a knife to become useful as a self-defense tool.  A knife can be used in situations where the use of a firearm isn’t prudent, in a crowd for instance where over-penetration and innocent bystanders may be a concern.  A missed shot with a firearm may result in a bullet striking an innocent bystander.  Likewise a bullet may penetrate through the bad guy and hit a bystander.  As long as a knife is used prudently the risk of striking an innocent bystander is greatly reduced and over-penetration is practically non-existent if you are carrying a folding knife or any practical fixed blade knife.  While disarming someone who has a gun is no simple matter; disarming someone with a knife generally involves grabbing a sharp piece of metal and is infinitely more difficult.  I don’t know many people, even those who are highly trained, who are willing to attempt a knife disarm.

A knife does not need to be reloaded and short of breaking the blade or catastrophic failure of the locking mechanism a knife does not malfunction.  A knife can defeat soft body armor.

Knives have some disadvantages when compared to firearms.  Knives are contact weapons.  You must be able to touch the person with the knife in order to effectively utilize the knife.  This means you will be defending yourself at absolute contact distance, but this is where many self-defense situations occur.  Forget about throwing a knife, the only people who throw knives are circus performers and action movie stars.  Firearms allow you to defend yourself from a distance while properly utilizing cover and concealment.  Utilizing cover and concealment properly while defending yourself with a knife is difficult, if not impossible.  While a bullet will shatter bone, a knife in the hands of an average person will be stopped by bone.  Likewise heavy clothing may minimize the effectiveness of a knife, while heavy clothing does not drastically affect the ability of a bullet to perform effectively.

Knives are versatile self-defense weapons.  Grab a folding knife and keep it closed.  By holding it in your closed fist you have a usable, improvised kubotan.  This less lethal weapon can be used with a minimum of training.  Use the bottom portion of your hand in a hammer strike with a portion of the handle/case of the knife exposed to any of the body’s various nerve centers or pressure points.  Because knives are not round and designed to fit in a closed fist like a proper kubotan it is not prudent to throw a punch while holding the closed knife as you may injure your fingers or knuckles.  With just a flick of your wrist or thumb to open the blade you now transformed your knife from a less lethal weapon to a lethal weapon.

Photo courtesy Michael Sheesley

Photo courtesy Michael Sheesley

Practice opening and closing the blade with one hand.  In my opinion this is critical in a knife used for self-defense.  You should be able to draw the knife, open and close it with one hand.  This practice can be done almost anywhere.  This allows you to keep one hand free for defending yourself while the other hand manipulates the knife.  This skill also becomes very convenient for daily use of the knife.

For a folding knife a good locking system or mechanism is vital.  This will keep the knife from closing on your fingers if used for self-defense.  One advantage of a fixed blade knife is that it will not close on your hand.  If I carry a fixed blade these days it is a Kobun from Cold Steel.  I find this knife to have a nice slim profile which lays flat against my body.  I carry this on my weak side.  The disadvantage of a fixed blade knife is that it is more difficult to conceal because it does not collapse to half its size when folded.

Photo courtesy Michael Sheesley

Photo courtesy Michael Sheesley

Although it does not affect the functionality of a knife at all a satin or stainless steel blade may have some added psychological benefit.  The glint of a streetlight on a stainless steel blade may be all that is needed to send a bad guy running should you have to draw your knife in a self-defense situation.

I use my knife every day.  Opening letters, opening boxes, cutting rope, canvas, prying things and even as an improvised screwdriver.  My knife is probably neck and neck with my flashlight at the tool that I use most on a daily basis.  Many things in the above list may make the manufacturers of certain knives cringe.  I’m sure a few of them are on their lawyers’ lists of things not to do.  But knives are versatile.  My list doesn’t even scratch the surface of the uses for a knife.

Knives are socially acceptable as well.  In my day to day life I am required to enter secure facilities on a fairly regular basis.  When I go into courthouses, some law enforcement facilities or various department of correction facilities I have to divest myself of any weapons and am subject to a screening procedure.  While many facilities have provisions for me to secure my firearm, some do not.  For instance the Federal Court facilities in the U.S. Virgin Islands do not have a place or procedure for civilians to secure their firearms.  These same facilities will keep your folding knife rubber banded right to your cell phone.  I do not have to go through an explanation process or suffer sideways glances from other people when turning in my knife for safekeeping as I sometimes do when securing my firearm.  I can also carry my knife in United States Postal facilities where firearms are prohibited pursuant to 39 C.F.R. 232.1.

Most states do not have restrictions on knives.  It is important to check local and state laws and regulations however as many states ban knives that are automatic or spring assisted.  Some locales also have restrictions on blade length.  If you are going to carry a knife familiarize yourself with these regulations, make sure you are in compliance and be prepared to educate, in a polite way, law enforcement officials if you are stopped.  I have heard many officers and civilians state that it is illegal to carry a knife with a blade length longer than the width of their palm.  This is NOT a law in ANY locale, for the very obvious reason that every person’s palm is a different width.  It is up to you to know the law and comply with the law.

Even a good quality knife is relatively inexpensive.  Most good quality folding knives retail from $50.00-$150.00 and will last many years with proper care and maintenance.  There is a good quality knife (or two) that is within everyone’s budget.

A knife is an excellent tool for both self-defense and every day utility use.  A knife serves well as both a primary self-defense tool and as a back up to your firearm.  In my opinion, a good quality knife is a necessary addition to everyone’s daily carry gear.

Michael Sheesley is a practicing attorney, a firearms instructor and a partner in Virgin Arms, a FFL holder serving the law enforcement and civilian community in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Mr. Sheesley regularly deals with criminal matters involving the use of lethal force and is a consultant to expert witnesses.  Mr. Sheesley is a member of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors and the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. He can be contacted at: michaelsheesleypc@gmail.com


About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.

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