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There’s an old saying in the self-defense biz: “Never bring a knife to a gunfight.” That’s good advice—if it’s an ‘either/or’ question. It isn’t. Carrying a tactical knife with you—even when you’re carrying a concealed handgun—is not only a good idea, but it’s one that can save your life.

When you undergo self-defense training (as opposed to simply learning how to shoot a gun), the first thing you learn: force is rarely the answer. Truly effective self-defense stratagems are built on the principle that not fighting is your go-to tactic. Done properly, avoidance of one sort or another is usually effective. And it’s a hell of a lot safer than fighting (a.k.a. “cooler heads usually prevail”). Yes, the “first mover” in a fight gains a tactical advantage, but preemptive force—any kind of force—always escalates a bad situation. As does reactive force.

If you find yourself in a confrontation, the last thing (literally) you should do is to brandish your handgun and/or threaten the other guy. “You and who’s army,” may be the stupidest words in the English language. No matter who started things, the minute you unholster your gun, you become the aggressor. Emotionally, tactically and legally.

Flashing your gun is like a red rag to a bull for some people; a mere glimpse triggers their fight or flight response as dramatically as if you pointed it at their head. These are not the type of people you want to fight. And if you do, these are not the kind of people who should know where and what kind of weapon you have at the ready.

Depending on how things go from there, flashing a gun (even a legal weapon) signals the police and their lawyer that the perp as the one who faced life-threatening danger. Not you. If you live in a part of the world where cops and bureaucrats do their damnedest to keep guns out of the hands of “civilians,” they will err on the side of caution. Even if you’re bruised and battered, they’ll arrest you and revoke your concealed carry permit.

With the proper training, you’ll know that you really don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you’ll risk lawsuits or arrest. A much better idea: try and diffuse the situation, either verbally, or by walking away. (The best way to avoid trouble is to not be there when it starts.) “Oh c’mon, it’s OK. Let me buy you a drink,” are some of the smartest words in the English language.

But what if you find yourself in a no-win situation, where you can’t walk away, and you must defend yourself? Your first rule of thumb is to be situationally-aware. Experts call this Condition Yellow.

Never mind what he’s saying. Read the other guy’s body language. If he’s girding for battle, he’ll be in the fight of flight mode. His breathing will become rapid and shallow. His pupils will dilate. His muscle will tense (clenched jaw or fists). If he’s been there before, he’ll line up for violence (usually a boxer’s stance: half-turned). He’ll stop talking in complete sentences. His eyes will fix on yours. He’ll move into your personal space.

Again, the best thing to do is to use soothing words and back up. Whether consciously or not, most aggressors want to get as close to you as possible, to avoid the possibility of a blocking move or your GTHA (Getting the Hell Away). Turn slightly sideways, moving your strong shoulder back. Drop into a stance, any kind of stance, that indicates that YOU are ready for action. If soothing words fail, bark commands. “STOP!” “ENOUGH” “SERIOUSLY. IT’S OK.”

Hold your weak hand up with the palm facing the potential attacker. Put your finger between his eyes and yours (extremely important: messing with his range-finder). Keep backing up. Relax your mind. Get ready.

Note: you may have already undergone some kind of martial arts or self-defense technique. The above is not meant to ignite a debate about these systems. Use what works for you. BUT HAVE SOMETHING READY. Equally important, discuss your gun and knife with an expert on your technique to incorporate the weapons. You need to know when and how to switch from non-armed defense to armed offense.

Let’s say all the signs are there for an imminent attack. That ratchets things up to Condition Orange. Now you have some thinking to do—and very little time in which to do it. Is your opponent bigger/stronger/faster than you? Is there more than one? Is he/they armed? With what?

Your next decision comes down to using what’s referred to as “reasonable force.” Don’t swat a mosquito with a sledgehammer. If the guy comes at you bare handed, pulling/using your gun is gonna make defending your actions difficult, unless he outweighs you by a hundred pounds, is a martial arts expert, or has made you fear for your life. A better idea: meet whatever force he brings with a tactical response that is at the same time measured, prudent, and only slightly more forceful than his force.

That’s all well and good, but when the adrenalin is pumping and you have but only a couple of seconds to set a course of action, the right thing to do may not be obvious.

Let’s say the guy comes at you bare-handed. If you’re well matched physically, you’ve got to decide if you want to take him on, hand-to-hand, or show that you are armed, in the hopes that he’ll back down. For instance, you can simply reveal you’re armed, and that might—might—be enough to get him to back down. Showing your weapon is defensive in that situation. Unholstering it and aiming it at him, is taking things up several notches.

How do you know when flashing a weapon has ceased to be ill-advised and antagonistic? When you think you’re very close to using it. Judgment call. Which you WILL have to explain to the authorities. “I gave him a chance. I told him to back off. I backed towards the door. Etc.”

What about something in-between?

I carry two self-defense tools, regardless of my conceal-carry status: a tactical flashlight and a tactical knife. You can read more about the joys of carrying a tactical flashlight here. But what about a tactical knife, and what makes a knife “tactical”?

First of all, a tactical knife boasts a couple of features over your garden variety pocketknife:

  • it has a strong, sharp, well-made blade
  • it is simple – no Swiss Army “jack of all trades” nonsense allowed
  • it can be carried unobtrusively
  • it can be opened/brought to bear virtually instantaneously
  • it’s blade is short enough to be carried legally, and long enough to adequately protect you in a fight

A good tactical knife fits in your hand as if it was designed specifically for you. Good tacticals can run anywhere from $40 to thousands.

A tactical knife can be a real deterrent. IF you receive proper training. If not, don’t even think about it. Worst case: a gun is point, shoot and miss. Worst case for knife fighting: you cut open your own artery and die. In most close-in knife fights, and there really is no other kind, you WILL get cut. It goes with the territory. But you can deliver non-lethal strikes that might wake-up Mr. Bad guy to the fact that things might not go his way. Or at least give you time and space to run.

[ALWAYS be the first to call the police in confrontational situations. The first to call is the VICTIM. The second one is almost always characterized as the AGGRESSOR.]

A knife—especially some wicked-looking tactical job—wielded by someone who looks like he knows how to use it, can be a tremendous deterrent. And no, I’m not talking about a pistol bayonet. That’s evil looking alright, but it’s just silly. All the advantages of a gun with none of the advantages of a good tactical knife. And I’d LOVE to see the holster for that. Or a judge’s opinion. Of course, you could just bring a spear . . .

You need to know how to switch from a knife to a gun. And when. As always in personal protection, you need to use the three Ps: plan, practice and prevention.

If confronted by a life or death attacker and you have enough time to avoid jumping to the “put a cap in his ass” scenario, and you’ve exhausted the “talking it out” path to enlightenment, then the situation turns to self-defense. Being able to show, aprés-attack, that you were armed but chose either not to use your weapon, or attempted other self-defense options instead of/before using your firearm is gonna go a long way in the judge’s eyes to prove that you’re not some trigger-happy ass clown, just looking for an excuse to go all Dirty Harry on some scumbag’s derriere.

When you’re in the thick of it, there’s nothing macho about self defense. If you’re thinking it is, then you have the wrong idea. Self defense is NOT an chance for you to show who has the biggest dick in the room. By giving yourself more options to employ other than using a firearm, you may be able to walk away from a confrontation without having to kill another person (and avoid a Grand Jury inquest, possible trial, et cetera). Bringing a knife to a gunfight isn’t a bad idea at all. Just make sure if the other guy is pointing a gun at you. That you’re not relying on a knife to level the playing field.

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