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Carrying a Knife – Cosiderations & Protocols Part II: SMEs Weigh In

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For the second installment of this “Carrying a Knife” series, we recruited three subject matter experts to answer questions. Specifically, Clint Emerson, a former DEVGRU SEAL Team 6 Operator and CIA contractor, owner of Escape the Wolf, author of the 100 Deadly Skills series. Self-defense expert and Fit To Fight co-founder, Ryan Hoover; and Craig Douglas, ECQC (extreme close quarter combatives) expert, trainer, former LEO, and one of the minds behind Shivworks.

Craig Douglas

In the comments of the preceding piece, there was a lot of chatter about the efficacy of a fixed blade vs. a folding knife. While some of this was rooted in legal concerns (i.e. carrying a fixed blade knife over “x” inches were a surefire way to get in trouble with Johnny Law); some thought that carrying a folder was fine so long as you train with it.

Fixed Blade vs. Folder

However, Clint Emerson thinks that “fixed blades are faster on the draw, and more reliable on the strike. A folder is essentially a broken knife.” To put it another way, Ryan Hoover stated that, from a self-defense perspective “carrying a folder is like carrying a firearm in condition three.” (For clarity, this is empty chamber, hammer down, full magazine in place). Hoover went on to warn that he’s aware that many people carry a folding knife, but he has seen it fail early and often during scenario training.

HR1 Trainer and Live Blade

“In a self-defense situation, I am likely already being choked, punched, tackled, retaining my firearm, or the like, so in order to get my concealed blade and get into the fight, having one hand free to deal with immediate danger, is vital,” Hoover commented via email. When you break it down, the fine motor skills needed to clear a garment, draw a folder, open said folder, and getting it ready for use in the fight by orienting oneself and the weapon, are pretty cumbersome. While there are plenty of auto and spring-assisted knives out there, Hoover warns people to “get a training version and put the reps in…but understand that mechanical things fail.” Craig Douglas echoed all these sentiments, and adding that if “you’re using a knife, you’re already behind the curve.”

Key Features

The jury is split on retention rings. Hoover prefers them for fighting, incorporating them into the way he teaches self defense. To him it adds “peace of mind” perspective, as he wants to be able to strike, slash, clinch, wrestle, draw a pistol, all without being “overwrought with concern of arming the bad guy with my knife.” Douglas says that he is “retention ring neutral” but personally thinks that adding the need to thread a finger through a retention ring before getting it into the fight poses just another potential weak point. At the same time, retention rings are ideal for knives carried on a plate carrier.

“Know your laws, but also, know yourself. Train with someone that understands self-defense, use of force, and violence. Taking a piece of steel in your hand, and plunging it into skin, muscle, bone, and tendon, while getting someone’s blood on you, and feeling the life leave them, might just not be for you, and the time to find that out is not when you are between two vehicles with your ten year old child.” – Ryan Hoover

The Clinch Pick has the blade on the “wrong side” (reverse edge) due to the way it’s meant to be used. In a clinch, someone can exert more power using the large muscles of their back and biceps by pulling back toward you, rather than the slash-stab method most knives use. But, as Douglas explains, this makes sense when you look at combatives as a holistic system. “The point of knives, in general, is to create space so you can either make a hasty escape or get to a better weapons system – like a pistol – that can cause a physiological stoppage,” Douglas commented. “But also, if someone is being attacked with a knife, the instinct of the person being attacked is to grab the knife. With the reverse edge blade being ‘on the wrong side’ [of the clinch pick], this allows you to pull back and break that contact and inflict damage,” Douglas continued.


Shivworks Push Dagger and Trainer

Blade Length

When asked about blade features, Emerson replied – “overall blade size and how utilitarian [the knife is] is a consideration, but also ensuring the grip fits my hand, and ensure the blade fits my fighting style.” If you’re a striker by nature and trained in that domain, perhaps a push dagger might be the way to go. If you’re a wrestler or grappler, consider a Clinch Pick or HR1. Douglas added that regarding size, he thinks the knife should be between five to nine inches overall, relatively comfortable, and worn in the 10 to 2 o clock position (i.e. in front of your body). Douglas also is a proponent of relatively small blades and noted that the clinch pick has a roughly 3-inch blade. This, as an aside, is legal in pretty much every state – but of course, check your local laws.

Retention Factor

Make sure the sheath, whether it is a clip or belt loop, has a solid form of retention.  “It doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘comfortable,’ but it should not be such an inconvenience that you opt not to carry it more than you do,” Hoover commented. At this time, most experts advocate for “appendix” or just to the left or right of your belt buckle. Emerson thinks it has the shortest draw stroke, and it’s easily concealed by an untucked shirt.

Many SMEs are proponents of keeping the blade up front, close to the centerline, regardless of where one carries a pistol. And, as Hoover and Douglas put it, “training matters” so make sure you have a trainer version of whatever you carry. “Training any combative is just a simulation. We can simulate pressure, but it’s not life-and-death, it’s not the real thing. But, you should train like it is and use an analog of your knife,” Douglas remarked.

Ryan Hoover

Steel and Materials

If it’s sharp, retains an edge, fits all of the above – including your fighting style – and works as it should, you shouldn’t be too concerned if its 4040v or AUS8 or carbon steel. “Odds are, if you have to use this knife, it’s going to end up in an evidence bag indefinitely,” Douglas said offhandedly. “But I’d look at edge retention, and making sure it has a solid construction,” Douglas said that one should not get too hung up on the details. “Hopefully, the knife is not going to get much use, so paying a few hundred dollars for a high end steel just does not make much sense to me (I did not always think this way),” Hoover echoed Douglas with the comment, “Plus, if I have to use it, I am likely not getting it back. As for any other features, I like simple. I want a blade that I can easily conceal, easily handle, easily maintain, and that will not break my bank if I lose it.”

Toor Knives Darter and Trainer

Finding a trainer version of your knife is getting easier. Recently Toor Knives and Travis Haley collaborated to make the Darter, which ships as a set.

Training & Legality

And last but not least, when it comes to why or why not carrying a blade, Emerson remarked “Regardless of political environment, chaos in the streets, or potential crimes you could face; you should always have a blade on you even if it's just to open up your most recent Amazon order.”

Hoover echoed these sentiments, but also added some real-world context to his answer: “Know your laws, but also, know yourself. Train with someone that understands self-defense, use of force, and violence. Taking a piece of steel in your hand, and plunging it into skin, muscle, bone, and tendon, while getting someone’s blood on you, and feeling the life leave them, might just not be for you, and the time to find that out is not when you are between two vehicles with your ten year old child.”

In summation, while the experts differ in the subtleties, they are united on key points: fixed blades trump folding knives, know your laws, train how you fight, find something that is both comfortable and concealable, and don't get too hung up on the minutia – like steel type. One integral assertion is that if you're going to carry a knife, you must train with it often and get the reps in to be effective with it, especially under pressure. Since a knife is typically a secondary or tertiary defensive tool, odds are things will not be going your way when you need to deploy it in a self-defense scenario; make sure to train, as that's how you'll fight. Classes by Craig Douglas and Ryan Hoover drill this into students, and usually when you're doing knife work, you'll be in a compromised position – on your back, against a wall, multiple attackers on one, etc. Training is just a simulation, but the more real that simulation it is, the better equipped one is when the real thing occurs.

This series served to prove as an informative piece about selecting and carrying a knife for EDC and defensive purposes. While there is no one right answer, there are many of wrong ones. Self-reflection is the starting point, where one honestly considers their level of training, current carry set up, and fighting style. Speaking of training and skill, if you do decide to carry a knife, get some training. Be effective, be smart, and stay safe.

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