How To Hold A Knife For Self Defense: Proper Use & Techniques

Being attacked can quickly escalate to a life or death experience and there are rare occasions when using a knife for self defense can be your only option.

If you’re a prepper or survivalist who owns a survival knife, it’s essential that you know the right way to wield it and defend yourself and your loved ones. Although you will obviously hope to never have to use your knife to protect yourself, you need to always be well prepared for any situation.  

One of the worst things that could happen to you in the event of an attack would be to be unable to defend yourself simply because you don’t know how to use your knife properly for self defense. This could lead to you and your loved ones being harmed or possibly killed. 

We’ve understood you may be concerned about the legalities of defending yourself with a knife so we’ve done the research to give you peace of mind in case you ever have to protect yourself. 

We’ve also studied the top techniques that you need to know to be able to defend yourself using a knife. 

Ready to go? Let’s find out everything you need to know. 

Can You Use A Knife For Self Defense?

It’s really important to know that using a knife for self defense should be a last resort when you’re in a life or death situation. 

You should never ever use your knife for sport or simply to harm someone intentionally. A knife can cause extreme damage or even death to another person and you need to keep this in mind in any attack situation. If there is a way to defend yourself without causing harm to the attacker, you should opt for this instead of using a knife.

The laws on carrying and using a knife vary between different states and different countries. It’s essential that you check that you are legally allowed to carry a knife with you to avoid being charged with a criminal offense. 

What Is The Purpose Of Using A Knife For Self Defense?

The purpose of using a knife for self defense will be to save your life. You must be in a situation where you feel as though your life is under threat and that you need to injure your attacker in order to defend your life and protect yourself or your loved ones. 

When Is It Appropriate to Use Your Knife For Self Defense?

It is only appropriate to use your knife for self defense if you feel it is your only remaining option and an essential move in order to save your life or the life of your loved ones. 

A knife is considered a deadly force weapon so you need to be sure that you only use it in situations where you consider the danger from the attacker to be great bodily harm or death. 

This is certainly a gray area in many cases and you’ll have to use a significant amount of your own judgment to make a call on whether it’s appropriate to use your knife. 

You should always consider whether you can de-escalate the attack in another way. 

How To Properly Hold A Knife For Self Defense

In the event of an attack, you’ll probably feel panicked and scared. It can be hard to think straight and so you shouldn’t get too caught up in memorizing set grips for your knife as this can lead you to delay your actions which need to be quick and decisive. 

The best knife grip for self defense will often be the one that you feel most comfortable with and the one that allows you to move in the most agile way possible. 

One example of this could be using a Sabre grip over a Hammer grip. With a sabre grip the muscles in your forearms and biceps will remain more relaxed so that you are able to move more fluidly than if you tense them such as with the hammer grip. 

With a more relaxed grip you’ll also experience less muscle fatigue which means you’ll be able to grip the knife for longer and survive a prolonged attack. 

It’s likely that you may not have time to stop and think about a specific grip or method when you’re being attacked. 

However, some of the things that are useful to bear in mind when it comes to properly holding a knife for self defense include: 

  • You should always keep the tip of your knife pointing towards your attacker. Never allow your knife tip to point directly at you as this could allow the attacker to simply step forward and stab you with your own knife. 
  • Always make sure that all your fingers are fully wrapped around the handle of your knife. Avoid all grips that allow fingers or your thumb to sit on top of the knife or move away from the handle. This is the only safe part of the knife for your fingers and thumbs to be in contact with. 
  • Know your knife and practise in advance. The best way to hold a knife for self defense can vary depending on the size, style and design of your knife. Work out the best grip for you and your knife in advance so that you’re confident using it in an attack situation. 

If you’re struggling to visualize the different types of knife grips, there are lots of great online resources with images and videos which you can follow. Here you can find an excellent summary of the best (and worst) ways to hold a knife for self defense

Unsafe Knife Grips 

Let’s take a look at some of the knife grips you’ll want to avoid when you’re holding a knife for self defense. It’s important to be aware of any dangerous grips that could actually hinder your efforts to defend yourself. 

Filipino Grip 

This grip is a forward grip where the thumb is placed on the spine of the blade with the rest of the fingers gripping the knife’s handle. 

Many people turn to the Filipino grip which is flexible and offers a wide range of motion especially with smaller knives. 

However, this grip requires your thumb to rest on the spine of the knife and there is a real danger that you can cut your forefinger too. 

Reverse Knife Grip (2 Options: Edge In or Edge Out)

With this grip, you will grasp the knife with the blade facing downwards. For this reason it is often used for a downward stabbing motion with maximum power. 

However, this grip requires a lot of practise and expertise which means it may not be the best knife grip for those simply using a knife for self defense. 

There’s a real risk with a 2 option grip like this that you could seriously injure your hand, making it impossible for you to carry on defending yourself. You can also easily lose your knife with this grip which may give your attacker the option of moving in and taking your weapon. 

Whittling Grip 

With a whittling grip, you are required to hold your hand in a fist grip with either your fingers and thumb wrapped around the handle, or with your thumb on the spine of the blade. 

You should avoid using a whittling grip as this is not appropriate for holding a knife for self defense. In fact it raises the chances that you will cut your hand and it’s much harder to hold on to your knife with this grip. 

The Correct Motion Techniques To Use When Defending Yourself With A Knife

As we’ve discussed, an attack situation is likely to be chaotic and it may be hard to think clearly about how to move efficiently and correctly. 

There are some set motion techniques you can use when defending yourself with a knife, but the first priority will be to simply stab straight out if you can and to continue to move so that the attacker is unable to grab you or your knife. 

Let’s take a look at some of the motions you might use: 


This helps to penetrate clothing and is a good technique to use when targeting the quad muscles which will inhibit your attacker’s movements. You need to apply considerable force when thrusting to ensure you can get through thick clothing like coats and jackets. 


This can be a good option if you are concerned about seriously hurting your attacker. Slashing will only create surface wounds (as opposed to longer lasting injuries) and it’s a good motion to consider if you simply want to stop your attacker and stay safe long enough for help to arrive. 


If you use a stabbing motion, make sure that you stab straight out instead of downwards as this will make it harder for your attacker to grap your arm. Avoid swinging your arms too so that your knife stays firmly in your grasp. Stabbing is a good motion to use if your attacker is wearing thick clothing. 

Where To Aim When You Are Defending Yourself With A Knife

You will need to quickly assess the level of danger you are in when it comes to deciding where to aim with your knife. 

Most cases of self defense require you to simply stop the attack and stay safe. In these cases simply making a surface cut on the attacker’s body may be enough to make them reassess their actions and run away. 

If you are in need of stopping an attacker who is threatening your life, you can aim at three key areas: 

  • The inside of the forearm and wrists (to stop the attacker’s movements if they are carrying a weapon)
  • The triceps or biceps (to prevent the attacker using force with the weapon they are carrying)
  • The front of the thigh right above the knee (to access the muscles that allow someone to hold weight up with their leg)

When To Disengage From A Fight With An Attacker

It’s always preferable to disengage with an attacker before you get to a point where you need to use a knife for self defense. This should always be used as a last resort and only in extreme circumstances where you feel that your life is threatened. 

If you are unable to de-escalate an attack situation, you should always try to disengage before you are forced to defend yourself. 

There are some basic disengagement moves that are useful to know about when it comes to self defense. These include: 

  • Taking a Supportive Stance and keeping your weight distributed on both feet with your hands up and ready. 
  • Learning to break free from an arm grab by swinging your arm down towards the weakest part of their hold (the thumb and fingers)
  • Learning to break free from someone grabbing your clothes by pulling your clothing back and pushing their wrist away 
  • Knowing how to break free from a neck grab by always aiming for them to stay far enough back that they can not make contact with you. If they do reach your neck, you can raise your arms straight above your head to try and squash their hands which will then loosen their grip and may allow you to twist away. 

What Knife Should You Use For Self Defense?

You need to check the legality of carrying a knife in your area and state as there may be specific requirements on the type of knife you are allowed. 

Typically, a knife for self defense will be one that is small enough to fit in your EDC bag and one that you can easily access when SHTF. 

You need to strike a balance between a knife that is as long as possible (this is useful in an attack) with one that can be concealed and is relatively compact. The same balance needs to be considered when you choose between a fixed or folding blade self defense knife. 

A self defense knife should have a good grip that is comfortable and non slip in order to avoid any accidents. 


No one wants to think about a situation where they are forced to defend themselves using a knife. However being fully prepared is essential in order to gain the peace of mind that you will know what to do and how to act in a situation where you are defending your own lives or the lives of people you love. 

Having a good level of background knowledge about how to hold a knife for self defense will give you the confidence that you’ll be able to act quickly and efficiently in the event of a serious attack.

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