“The bigger they are, the harder they fall” sounds great—in theory. In reality, the larger an attacker is, the stronger, more dangerous and more deadly he can be. And depending upon your own physical size and strength, it’s very possible that you can run into someone who’s virtually immune to your empty-hand fighting skills. When that happens, your only choice might be to use a deadly weapon against an unarmed attacker.

The legalities of self-defense are very situation specific and well beyond the scope of this article; however, in simple terms, you are the only person who can determine when you are in fear for your life or in fear of suffering serious bodily injury. You are also the person who must convince the police and a jury that your actions were justified and reasonable. With those criteria clearly in mind, let’s consider what it takes to use a typical folding knife to defend against a larger, more powerful attacker. For clarity, let’s assume the attack is a chokehold from behind—a potentially lethal threat that could easily render you unconscious or damage your trachea badly enough to be life threatening.

How to Escape a Chokehold

Obviously, awareness, avoidance or prevention of the attack are your first choices. If you miss those opportunities and find yourself being choked, you may only have a matter of seconds to react.

First, turn your head into the bend of the attacker’s elbow to make the sternocleidomastoid muscle on the side of your neck stand out and hopefully buy you a little breathing room—literally. As you do, draw your folding knife from your pocket and open it with two hands. Yeah, I know you practiced your high-speed, one-handed deployment, but you want 100-percent reliability on this opening. You also want to change your grip on the knife so the blade extends from the little-finger side of your hand (“reverse grip”) and the cutting edge faces in toward your forearm (“reverse edge”). It’s a lot easier to do all that with two hands.

With the knife open and oriented, insert the blade into the bend of the elbow of the choking arm; be careful to avoid your own face and eyes. Short-bladed knives actually work best for this, as they also prevent you from extending the point and edge past the thickness of the choking arm and cutting your own chest. With the blade in place, use your back muscles to pull the elbow of your weapon hand down and simultaneously hang body weight on the blade. The goal is to cut the bicep—the muscle doing a lot of the choking—to disable the arm. As you do this, hook your free hand on the wrist of the choking arm. Then pull down with the same mechanics you used with the knife arm.

When the choke begins to loosen, maintain your pulling pressure and turn your body into the choking arm to “unwind” it from around your neck. Continue to turn, and as soon as you can see the front of your attacker’s body, jab the point of the knife hard into his sternum to cause pain and get him to back up. Immediately escape or, if that’s not possible, be prepared to use the knife again if he renews his attack.

The best way to practice this tactic is with a folding trainer that accurately replicates your actual carry knife. Even with a trainer, the power generated with proper use of your back muscles is impressive—but only if you have the composure and skill to draw, open and position your knife under stress. Train hard and stay safe!

This story is from the spring 2018 issue of Ballistic Magazine. Grab your copy at

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