By Major Rex Applegate


The proper grip permits freedom of move­ment in making
any type of slash or thrust.


Curiously enough, little has ever been written about the history or practical use of a knife for close-in fighting. And in those nations or racial groups in which a bladed weapon is often used, little has actually been done in teaching its use. The knife has been considered merely a weapon characteristic of that particular area and race — each individual used it as he saw fit.


Professional fencing instructors have lately tried to lay down programs for the training of individuals in knife work, but most of them visualize a situation from the fencer's viewpoint, where two men approach each other from a distance with drawn knives. Thus they have tried to develop a system of knife "fencing" instead of close-in knife fighting.


The knife is the ideal weapon for close-quarter work, but in most cases, the victim will not see it coming until it is too late. It will usually be used in total or semidarkness. Because it is noiseless it may be used when silence is desirable, or it may be used when your ammunition is gone. In any event, the proper approach in close combat utilizes the element of surprise.


Carry the knife in the right hand and a handful of dirt in the left. Throw the dirt in the opponent's eyes and stick him in the stomach. Such tactics are certainly not orthodox, but anything to disturb your opponent's mental and physical balance, distract his attention, or confuse his vision, is certainly the thing to do when he can see the blade coming. Draw your knife when you intend to cut somebody. Don't use it as a pencil sharpener or to open a can of tomatoes.


The proper stance for an attack from
the crouch.
Note the grip.


So far in this war the fighting knife has had two main uses, one as a reserve weapon to be used when all else fails, and the other for specific missions such as sentry killing, or in any situation where silence and quick killing efficiency are desired. That it is an important weapon has lately been evidenced by the reports from the Pacific theater where our enemies have put it to good use. In the European theater, commando-type troops also have used it with success, and in certain battle areas knives have played an important part in hand-to-hand combat. Yugoslavs, Greeks, and other natives of the Balkans, the Finns, and some Russian units are reported to have made good use of fighting knives. Moreover, most of the armies — both Allied and Axis — have adopted and issued some sort of a knife, although little real training seems to have been given in knife fighting.



This grip is wrong. It can be used for
a downward thrust only.


Before taking up actual knife-fighting technique, you can discard the idea of knife throwing as a practical method of combat. There are a few — too few to count in a war — people who can pick up a knife, throw it at a moving object at an unknown distance, and hit a vital spot. Knife throwing is an art that belongs in vaudeville and side-shows. In order to throw a knife properly, the exact distance from the thrower to the target must be known because the knife turns end over end as it travels through the air. The thrower therefore must know his distance to control the number of turns the knife makes so that it will hit the target point first. There are some methods of knife throwing at close ranges in which the blade does not turn over in the air, but when one considers the agility of a military target, heavy clothing, and the fact that if you miss you are without a weapon, it is easy to see that knife throwing is impractical.


There are definite psychological considerations in regard to knife fighting which apply to both the user and the enemy. In the first place, unless the knife is considered a personal weapon by the soldier, the untrained user will have a noticeable aversion to thinking of the knife as a weapon to use in combat. This is especially true of the ordinary American soldier who would much rather use his fists in close contact fighting because the knife is so little used as a weapon in civil life. This gives us a good reason why it is important to train our men in how to use a knife.



This grip is wrong. It can be used
for an upward thrust only.




This psychological barrier must be overcome and the soldier must achieve skill in handling the knife as a weapon, just as he does his bayonet. In the preliminary stages of bayonet training the same aversion is present. But once the infantryman has run the bayonet course and has used the bayonet on dummies, his knowledge of its deadliness and of the fact that he can handle it bring him to the point where he has confidence in it and is no longer averse to using it. The same result will be obtained in knife training if the men are taught to use the knife properly and dummies which can be slashed and cut are used in the course of instruction.


An excellent example of the psychological effect of the knife was seen during the early days of the British Abyssinian campaign against the Italians. The native troops on the Allied side were particularly skilled in the use of the knife. They were also excellent stalkers. It was their practice in a certain sector to slip out into the desert and crawl into the ranks of the sleeping Italians and use the knife to slit the throat of one of the group. Upon awakening, the other soldiers seeing a dead comrade with his throat slit would be extremely shaken and this contributed to a general lowering of the Italian morale.



To the untrained man, the appearance of a knife in the hands of an enemy may bring on panic, which can be heightened by the use of a bright, flashing blade instead of a blade of blued steel. There is a definite moral advantage to the attacker who uses a bright blade instead of a darkened one. The blued blade is in reality not of much advantage because the coloring wears off in a short time, leaving it bright.


In instructing a soldier in the use of a fighting knife, there are certain initial steps and explanations to give him the general background of the use of knives in combat. This should be followed by simple demonstrations.


At this point, it is well to enter into a discussion on various types of knives the student has seen and how they have been used. This discussion will show that in general knives with spikes on the butt, brass knuckles for the hilt, and any other additions are none too practical, for operationally they do not justify their existence. However, this discussion will arouse interest and a good many questions will come up which the instructor otherwise would not have mentioned.


Here is the place to stress again the instances in which the knife will be used and hammer home the point that the knife is a reserve or last-ditch weapon to be used at extremely close quarters after firearms can no longer be used. After the student has had this preliminary indoctrination lecture, allow him to feel and handle various types of knives and let him demonstrate to himself the three fundamentals in the use of the knife — the thrust and the slash, and manoeuvrability.


In your next session point out that the fighting knife is ordinarily used in darkness or semidarkness but show also the proper method of attack in the open where an opponent can see you by demonstrating the attack from a crouch with the left hand forward and the knife held with the handle across the palm of the right, close to the body. The left hand guards or parries to make the opening for the slash or thrust. Point out that when the man is in the crouch with his left hand forward to parry he is in a position of extreme mobility, and in perfect balance. He is also protecting his vital midsection and throat area from possible thrusts from an opponent who has a knife. He can also deal with an opponent who is armed with a club, or any other object which can be used to strike or throw.


At this point, give the students dummy knives and let them practice thrusts and slashes on each other. If dummy knives are not easily available, tent pegs will make a fair substitute. After a preliminary round of this, take up the vulnerable spots of the body which are particularly sensitive to knife attacks of both the thrust and slash type.




A man attacked from the front with a blade instinctively tries to protect two spots. These are the throat and the stomach area. The psychological effect of the threat of a knife wound in these areas — regardless of whether the threat is serious or not — is so great that the victim is usually momentarily mentally out of gear. The throat area is vulnerable to either the thrust or the slash, the thrust being most effective when driven into the hollow at the base of the throat just below the Adam's apple. A thrust there into the jugular vein or a slash on either side of the neck, cut ting the arteries results in extreme loss of blood and quick death. Thrusts in the abdominal area which can be combined with the slash as the knife is withdrawn have a great shock effect and usually incapacitate the victim to the stage where another blow can be given with the weapon before he has a chance to recover. A deep wound in the abdominal area will usually kill, but is much slower than a good thrust or slash in the throat area. The heart is, of course, a vital spot for the thrust, but the protection of the ribs makes it more difficult to hit. In some instances, knife thrusts aimed at the heart have been stopped by the ribs which have also broken off the point of the knife without causing a vital wound. But usually the blade will slide off the rib and go into the vital area. The heart thrust is, of course, fatal at once.


The noiseless attack from the rear.
The blade should pierce the area of the kidneys.
The left hand should cover the nose as well as
the mouth to shut off all possible noise by the victim.


It is possible to get an ineffective slash across the sides of the throat from the rear, but one of the most effective knife blows in the rear of the victim is delivered in the kidney or small of the back area. A deep thrust here will cause great shock, internal haemorrhage, but not necessarily death. This back or kidney thrust is best used in attacking a sentry. It will be explained later.


The vital areas are the throat, heart, and abdominal sections, and all other knife thrusts and slashes should only be preliminary to the vital killing stroke delivered into these areas. The slash can be effectively used to sever the tendons on the inside of the wrist and this is most effective against a person who is trying to protect himself from the knife and has his arm outstretched to do so. This slash renders the hand useless. A slash across the large muscle of the biceps has the same effect. A slash on the inside of the thigh or arm will cut various veins and arteries and if left unattended, will cause death from loss of blood.


Before going further, it is best to show how the handle of the fighting knife contributes to manoeuvrability when gripped properly. The length of the handle or hilt of a fighting knife of ideal proportion is roughly five inches from the end of the butt to the cross guard. The diameter at its largest point is almost one inch. This point is approximately one and one-fourth inches from the cross guard. The handle tapers in both directions gradually and its diameter at the cross guard is five-eighths of an inch. Tapering in the other direction toward the butt at about three-fourths of an inch from the end it reaches a diameter of one-half inch. From this point the handle flares out to form a small knob on the end. The point of balance in the overall length of a knife (six-inch blade) with a handle of this type is roughly one inch from the guard, toward the butt. The handle is checkered or knurled to give a good grip, and the small knob on the end makes it easy to pull from the sheath.




When properly gripped the knife lies across the outstretched palm of the hand diagonally. The small part of the handle next to the cross guard is .grasped by the thumb and forefinger. The middle finger also lies over the handle at the point of largest diameter. With the knife held in this fashion, it is very easy to manoeuvre it in all directions by controlling the direction of the blade by a combination movement of the fore and middle fingers plus a turning of the wrist. When the palm is up it is possible (holding knife in the right hand) to slash to the right. When the palm is turned down, it is possible to slash to the left. The thrust can be executed from either the palm up or down position. At the time of contact in the thrust or the slash, the knife is grasped tightly by all fingers, the initial controlling grip of the fore and middle fingers has not changed and the blade has actually become a continuation of your arm. Knife manipulation is easy, and skill can be acquired after a few hours' practice.


Showing how the proper grip is used in a slash to
the left side of the neck.

After the student has been shown the vulnerable spots, let him take a real knife and practice on a dummy. A dummy is easily made from an old pair of coveralls filled with straw. Make him practice slowly at first executing thrusts and slashes, always from the crouch. Speed up the tempo as the practice goes along and point out spots to hit as he practices. About six hours of such practice will give the student a good deal of confidence in his weapon and a skill which will place him well above the average knife wielder.


Where is the best place to carry a knife? The simplest answer is a place where the bearer can withdraw it with the least possible effort and with the most speed. This place may vary greatly owing to racial and local custom and the type of garment worn.


Knives have been carried successfully in a sheath at the side, down the back of the neck, up the sleeve, in the top of a boot or legging, under the coat lapel, in the crown of a hat, between the belt and the trousers, strapped to the inside of the thigh beneath the trouser leg, in a sheath sewn diagonally across the chest on a vest. Any place that combines concealment and the element of surprise in using it is satisfactory. There is really no one best place. Everyone has his own ideas, but once a place has been decided upon, he should always carry it there and practice the draw from that place. Then he will be able to use it with the greatest speed and the least effort.




In sentry killing, the approach is from the rear and is naturally noiseless. At the time of rising a few feet in the rear of the victim, the knife should either be taken from the sheath where it has been during the approach crawl, or taken from the teeth where it may have been carried. The attack is launched from a distance of not less than five feet and is initiated as soon as the attacker has arrived at that spot. This swift and sudden attack is important because of the animal instinct which usually warns the victim that someone is approaching or watching him. The upward thrust of the knife into the middle of the back or the right or left kidney section is executed at the end of the leap. At the same time the free hand is clasped over the mouth and nose of the victim, pulling him backward off balance. The thrust into the kidney area has initially a great shocking effect and there will be no outcry if the free hand goes over the mouth and nose at the time of the thrust. Press the victim back upon the blade continually and after a few seconds pull the blade from the back and while maintaining the same grip on nose and throat, lift the head up and slash the jugular vein.


One method of using the knife in assassination is as old as history and is practiced throughout the occupied countries today. The chief victims have been members of the Gestapo and local Quislings. The assassin marks his victim in a crowd and approaches him from the front. His knife is held in his hand with the hilt down and the blade lying flat along the inside of the forearm or concealed up the sleeve. The handle is, of course, concealed by the fingers. The assassin with the knife in this position passes the victim walking toward him, and as he reaches a point directly opposite, a simple movement of his wrist frees the blade and a short arm movement plunges it into the kidney area of the victim. The knife is either left sticking in the wound or is pulled out and the assassin walks on through the crowd, his movement undetected.


Recent reports from our forces in the Pacific theatre have shown the knife to be an important weapon, because jungle warfare is close-quarter work where the bladed weapon is particularly useful, especially in the dark.


Showing how the proper grip is used in a slash to
the right side of the neck.


Source: Infantry Journal, December 1943.