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Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture
Martial Arts and Knife Crime

A senior police officer has said the best way to deal with a knife attacker is to "run away as fast you can", after a Tory MP suggested youngsters should learn Martial Arts to defend themselves.

Sir Christopher Chope said youngsters who got fit and learnt Judo or Tae Kwon Do would be better able to deal with a knife attack.

But Dave Thompson, the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police warned against relying on unarmed combat, and insisted that the best advice was always to run away.

Mr Thompson was appearing at the Home Affairs Select Committee, alongside Met Commissioner, Cressida Dick, to answer questions from MPs on serious violent crime.

They both said the current knife crime epidemic was the worst it had been in their long careers.

Sir Christopher, who is a member of the committee, said: "One of the ways in which people can be prepared is by doing Judo or Tae Kwon Do, being physically able and taught how to deal with a situation when you are threatened with a knife."

Mr Thompson replied: "The best knife prevention technique is to run away as fast as you can...I would probably not advocate a strategy of increasing combat readiness through martial arts of young people generally, but there is some attraction in those sports, they are hugely popular and they take young men off the streets."


I find myself learning towards the view on the Chief Constable (Mr Thompson) on this one. “Take up martial arts” strikes me as a very simplistic idea; from someone who has obviously never done martial arts or considered the reality of a knife attack.

It’s beyond the scope of this forum to discuss political and social issues. The self-protection side of things is in our wheelhouse, and I’m sure most would agree that escape (which is more than simply “running away”) and avoidance are the “best” options. Martial arts and combat sports don’t cover these things and can be downright harmful if false confidence results. I agree with the Chief Constable that martial arts can be part of more positive lifestyle choices though.

All the best,


Anf's picture

I agree more with the politician on this one. But not for the reasons he says.

Young person gets advice from copper. To believe that young people take advice from police is as much a fantasy as believing 10 minutes per week of choreographed knife defence is ever going to be effective.

We know that knife defence as often taught is only any use for play fighting. But what it does do is expose the futility of such practice. It doesn't take a genius to work out, when doing their choreographed drills with a compliant partner holding a rubber or wooden knife, that if it came at full speed, from a different angle, by surprise, or any number of other nuggets of realism, your chances of getting the technique on are about as close to nil as you can get.

Even during choreographed play, it's not uncommon to hear a little chuckle followed by 'can I try again'.

This practice has immense value. It dispels fantasies. People may have seen cool tricks on TV or YouTube and believe they know it. If their first ever test of that belief is against a genuine aggressor with a real blade, they are stuffed. If their first test of their knife defence skills is in the safe and slow motion gentle environment of a safe dojo with a friend armed with a fake blade, and they still fail more times than they succeed, maybe then they'll take the coppers advice and run if it happens for real. Not because the copper said, but because they're better placed to understand its their best chance.

All that said, if they're in the dojo practicing and working towards some goal, they're not out on the street in the first place.

AllyWhytock's picture

Interesting article by John Carnochan, former deputy chief of Strathclyde Police -> 50% reduction in knife related murders.


A snipet:

In Glasgow, around two people are killed for every 100,000 in the city – demonstrating that statistically, you are still around twice as likely to be killed in Scotland’s biggest city than in London.

But Glasgow is still a damn sight safer than it used to be, which is why Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn came to Carnochan and his former VRU colleagues for help to ameliorate London’s concerning homicide figures.

“They seemed a little startled by the scale of it,” says Carnochan, suggesting the London delegation came looking for a magic tartan bullet rather than a complex and potentially uncomfortable multi-agency response.

“Everybody knows why violence is rising in London – it’s the gangs, the cocaine, masculinity, lack of policing, everyone has an answer,” he says, derisively.

“I said to them, you need to get past the crime figures. Stop talking about knife crime and talk about violence, and try to understand the patterns.

“It’s great that crime in Scotland is at an all-time low, but one of the things that we drove home was the crime figures are only a small measure – and not a great one at that – of the levels of violence.

“In Scotland, we found that only one third to one half of people in accident and emergency as a result of violence report it to the police. So, if we had 500 reported attempted murders, the actual figure would be between 750 and 1,000. If we had 1,500 reported serious assaults, it was actually between 2,500 and 3,000.

“The ones that didn’t report it to us had resolved to deal with the matter themselves, which led to more violence.

Rather trying to resolve the sympton, the best approach is to resolve the underlying cause - violence shoud be seen as a sickness and all factors contributing should be addressed - alcohol, drugs, gangs, poverty and lack of opportunity etc.  

As the Accident & Emergency Room (ER, Casualty) is an initial point of contact and more violent attacks go unreported, this group is invovled in violence reduction


Kindest Regards,


John Van Tatenhove
John Van Tatenhove's picture

The positions of Sir Christopher Chope and Dave Thompson as stated, provide a false Dichotomy. 

Many people survive knife attacks. Turning your back on a determined attacker could actually decrease your chance of survival, as your natural inclination to protect your vital parts can no longer come into play. Simply running in some situations may be perfectly valid.

Training in combat sports such as Judo, Taekwondo, or Karate, could provide you with technique, and fitness, which is a plus; but it could teach you the incorrect mindset and tactics to survive. For example you may be so focused on defeating the opponent; you could completely miss an opportunity to escape. This type of training, alone, may actually decrease you chances of survival as well.

I believe that a third option would be to train physical skills with a focus on Objectives, mindset, and tactics, as well as soft skills. It is reasonable with complete training to mitigate some of these risks.


Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

John Van Tatenhove wrote:
Training in combat sports such as Judo, Taekwondo, or Karate, could provide you with technique, and fitness, which is a plus; but it could teach you the incorrect mindset and tactics to survive.

That would be my worry. The article states:

Sir Christopher Chope said youngsters who got fit and learnt Judo or Tae Kwon Do would be better able to deal with a knife attack.

Fitness, maybe. Overall, it’s terrible advice. The assumption that training in combat sports / martial arts makes one more able to deal with knife crime is demonstrably false.

I’ve never trained in Tae Kwon Do, but I never once did any knife work during my time in Judo. And even if I had, the “knife defences” we see in the Goshinjutsu no Kata and Kime no Kata have innumerable faults. They cause more problems than they solve to the point where I believe they will actually diminish the ability to deal with weapons.

Sir Christopher Chope seems to be buying into the myth that martial arts make one an invincible and easily able to dispatch groups of armed attackers are per the movies.

When it comes to more realistic knife work, most acknowledge that there are no “good” solutions; just better and worse ones. Escape is the best option … which should not be conflated with just “running away”. Speaking to a general audience I can understand why Mr Thompson stated to simply run away. If you have not trained in escape skills (as the majority of both the public and martial artists have not), and practiced them to the point of proficiency, then running is undoubtedly the least bad option.

I’m well into my fourth decade of training, and I would not fancy my chances of out-fighting a committed attacker(s) with a knife. I can’t see how advising others (with far less training, skill and experience) to stay and fight is a good idea. I am more confident of my ability to escape because I believe that to be a better option and it’s something I have trained extensively. I believe I can teach others to successfully escape too (because I’ve had students do just that), but that too takes time and effort. If I had to give advice to someone without training in escape skills, I’d say they are better off running. It’s not guaranteed (nothing is), but when you factor in their skills and the level of risk, then I would agree that “running away” is probably the best advice one can give.

If they want to develop some skill, then “take up martial arts” remains bad advice. They need to find a group that will cover escape skills; and most martial arts groups don’t touch it.

All the best,


PASmith's picture

When it comes to more realistic knife work, most acknowledge that there are no “good” solutions; just better and worse ones.

The dog brothers have embraced that stark reality so much their knife defence material is called "Die less often".

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

PASmith wrote:
The dog brothers have embraced that stark reality so much their knife defence material is called "Die less often".

I do love a pithy turn of phrase :-)

Weapons, multiple enemies, etc have no “good” answers. Some deny this and present fantasy (fear management as opposed to danger management); others jump the other way any deny any workable solution exists (and hence avoid having to face the limitations of their methodology; until reality enforces it upon them).

If we take the view that unworkable nonsense and “nothing helps; just hope you don’t die” are equally unacceptable answers, we are left with the conclusion that we should seek the best course of action. What is best is unlikely to be good or fool proof, but it remains what is best.

All the best,


Ian H
Ian H's picture

I start with the premise that most "knife attacks" fall into two broad categories:

1. "first you see the knife", and

2. "first you feel the knife".  

In the first category, the knife is a threat display intended to get you to comply with a request ... "gimmie your wallet" ... "you better leave, now" ... and so forth.  The attacker is probalby hoping to accomplish his goal (namely, something other than you lying on the ground dying in a pool of your own blood) without having to actually stab you. So compliance and de-escalation are potential options.  The knife may startle you, but it is presented to you and you are given a period of time in which to do whatever it is you ought to do to avoid getting stabbed.  

In the second category, the attacker's intention is you, dying on the ground.  This may be to make it easier to get your wallet and watch, this may avenge his honour for you bumping into him or talking to his girlfriend, or what have you.  The attacker's intention is for this to be a surprise attack.  So, "when you see the knife, do *this* ..." defences misunderstand the situation on a fundamental level.  Proper self defence here is about sensing the impending threat and avoiding, de-escalating, &c, well before you find out IF the guy has a knife.  

Marcus_1's picture

Stabbed 18 times in 25 seconds: https://news.sky.com/story/jury-shown-video-of-dad-lee-pomeroy-stabbed-18-times-in-25-seconds-on-train-11749504

I do not condone the actions of the guy who did the stabbing in the slightest, he is obviously a violent individual carrying a knife specifically to use it to inflict pain and suffering on people.  My concern having watched the video on this report (it doesn't show the attack), is that the victim had so many opportunities to leave the situation, let the violent thug leave the carriage.  Unfortunately, he did the absolute worse thing he could and actually followed the guy!

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Marcus_1 wrote:
Stabbed 18 times in 25 seconds: https://news.sky.com/story/jury-shown-video-of-dad-lee-pomeroy-stabbed-18-times-in-25-seconds-on-train-11749504

This case is still being deliberated upon. All we have are the relatively sparse details that are reported. I’m also acutely aware that a man has died, and many people will be suffering as a result. It can therefore be seen as distasteful for people to “Monday morning quarterback” about such events. That said, it is wise to learn what we can from real life events such that all advice given has a solid grounding in the real world of collective experience. Good advice and guidance can help keep others safe. However, I do feel it needs emphasised that:

1) We are not aware of all the facts. Any comments made are based solely on what little we do know.

2) A person died. People are suffering. All comments therefore need to keep that in mind.

3) It is up to the courts to determine exactly what happened. We are in no position to reach any conclusions on the specifics of the case.

With those caveats in place, here are some initial thoughts:

One key part of self-protection is being aware of the things that can “push our buttons” and mitigating against any potentially dangerous activity that can result. Sometimes situations can escalate (The Betari Box) to the physical due, in part, to our own attitudes and actions. In some instances, criminals can deliberately manipulate us into dangerous and illegal action. A key part of de-escalation is being able to de-escalate ourselves first and foremost.

Here in the UK, carrying weapons is illegal. Not talking about this specific case here. However, we can imagine a situation where a claim of self-defence could be made if we had tried to remove ourselves from a heated situation only for the person to follow us and continue to act in a potentially hostile way. If illegal weapons were used, it would seriously undermine the claim of legal self-defence. All self-defence advice needs to be in accord with the law of the land; and I’m sorry to say that’s not always the case. I have seen illegal weaponry presented as a legitimate option. The legality / illegality of weapons is a political issue, and one I’m keen to keep off this forum. Whatever your views, the law is the law and it can’t be ignored.

In this case it is alleged the defendant shouted, “Leave me alone!”, but witnesses also report that “I saw them holding each other by the collars. They wanted a fight." It is also alleged the defendant told his girlfriend, “I'm going to kill this man. He'll be dead." The video shows both sides acting in ways that can be perceived as aggressive and threatening. Lots to untangle there but, based on what little we know, and accepting that’s going to be incomplete, it does seem a claim of self-defence, if one has been made, is unlikely to be seen as legitimate by the courts.

For those of us interested in legitimate and true self-defence, ensuring all action is legal and perceived as such by third parties is of great importance. Worth mentioning again that some criminals may try to deliberately manipulate us into dangerous and illegal action. It can help them minimise their own legal risk if we are seen as being contributors to the situation.

Watching the video, it is noticeable that the defendant spends most of the time with his right hand in his pocket as the left hand flails around. Such “one handed gesticulation” is not natural looking and may provide a cue that the right hand is potentially holding something.

All the best,


Anf's picture

I would add a point 4 to Iain's post.

4. This is an ongoing case, and to discuss it publicly can be construed as contempt of court. There have been cases in the past that have been affected by public discussions, including on social media. Its not for me to suggest what others should do, but personally I like to avoid commenting on case specifics, even if it's just speculation, until after a verdict has been publicly released.