Using a knife for self-defense is difficult at best and deadly to the wielder in the worse case.
Training is essential, and not your friendly TKO/Americanized karate instructor either. I firmly recommend if you decide to carry a knife for self-defense get training from someone who has experience using one.
Personally, the recommendation for bladed defense will always be the same until something truly better is invented.
Escrima, Arnis or Kali are hands down the best knife fighting practices available at this time. Each of these approaches has variations that exist. The basic approaches embraced within these arts are taught to most major armed forces and embraced by tens of thousands of advanced martial artists around the world.
When discussing self-defense it is essential to understand that there is only offense and counter offense, I am not sure where I heard that once but it is true! For legal purposes, there is self-defense against initiated aggression by others. This is, however, a legal term the reality is we are offensively countering an offense against us.
Over the years I have sustained many cuts and even punctures in practice and in actual incidents. Obviously, I suggest avoidance is the primary goal, however, because there will be a time when avoidance is not possible there is a need to train and understand your blades.
A dull or poorly manufactured blade is far more dangerous to the holder than it is to the attacker. A properly sharpened blade regardless of length makes a great slashing implement, however, the real damage is done by puncturing a target in places that bleed allot.
Remember, just like with firearms it is rapid and substantial blood loss or exsanguination that stops a threat fastest. Your other option is breaking support structures of the body, and knives simply are not designed to break bones.
Next, you need to understand the 21-foot rule, this is a simple concept taught to every single modern police officer in the United States and most first world nations around the world. Without solid training using a firearm, knife, taser or pepper spray could put you in more danger than simply fleeing if you have the ability to do so.
As a fully disabled individual who cannot run and can barely walk on the best days, I train regularly to be able to quickly counter any threats presented.
One of the things I train with and understand completely is the 21-foot rule. This means that the average assailant regardless of physical condition can cross 21 feet within 1.5 seconds. I have tested this personally with dozens of people in classes. 1.5 seconds is not enough time for most individuals to understand an attack is occurring and prevent it by drawing and engaging with handgun, knife, taser or pepper spray.
Situational awareness is absolutely essential in every location regardless of your belief that you may or may not be safe. Know your surroundings, at the very least be ready to get off the X by moving one step minimum to the side or even forward if in a wheelchair.
Folding knives regardless design will never be as strong as a well-made sheath or belt knife. This said there are a few folding knives I can recommend highly for defensive purposes. What follows are my recommendations based on use, testing, and overall effectiveness. Cost is not taken into account, neither is the brand name.
Whether you disagree or agree, what is recommended has been tested to the breaking point by myself and those I surround myself with. I will be listing them based on the overall effectiveness in no particular order, it is important to understand that each is mass-produced which means it is possible to get one that is not up to par.
Used properly all of the recommended knives work well by themselves or with others depending on training. As I cannot give you the best folding knife for defensive purposes I am going to list a few of my favorites and daily carry blades.
First, we have my personal favorite folding knives for personal carry. Spyderco ParaMilitary 2 (click here to check the current prices at Amazon.com) is in my estimation one of the finest folding blades on the market today. This blade offers an easy to use locking system that has stood up to some of the toughest tests I have thrown at it. The blade is made of CPM S30V steel, a relatively newer crucible steel.
There are other steels that can be better or worse, this is for defensive purposes a solid steel and holds its edge well while being relatively corrosion resistant. The Spyderco PM 2 has a 3.4-inch blade with a nice sharp point that is very resilient and has worked great over the years. I have owned 3 to date and never lost a tip, of course, I do not pry with my defensive tools.
Next is the Spyderco Endura 4 (click here to check current prices at Amazon.com) is hands down my wife’s favorite folding blade to carry. It is lightweight and extremely durable with a solid lockup. The blade is made of the fantastic VG10 steel which holds a brilliant edge and resists corrosion well.
Unlike the CPM S30V steel, it is easier to put a mirror edge on this blade, both can be made very sharp, the Endura is able to cut paper by dropping the paper across the edge versus slicing. With both of these Spyderco blades are amazing, however, they both cost quite a bit so if you are on a budget and still want Spyderco goodness, go with the Spyderco Byrd Cara Cara.
This blade is made from 8Cr13MoV steel, similar to 440c steel in its tolerances and ability to hold an edge decently this blade is extremely strong the knife as a whole is very strong and would work very well as a defensive tool. The Endura 4 has a 3.75-inch blade with a very solid point that again with normal use has never failed.
My wife owns one and I own one as well. The Cara Cara has an almost identical blade pattern and shape. Additionally, the Cara Cara runs around $23 shipped from numerous locations which is a significant savings though the steel is not as good as the others.
Karambits are favorites of mine for fighting, defensive purposes. Fox 478 and Fox 479 are amazing blades with the Emerson wave featured for quick drawing and application. I firmly recommend training with a solid instructor in the use of a karambit.
The blades are curved to promote greater slashing effectiveness, made with N690 Stainless Steel they are 3” in length and more difficult to sharpen than a straight blade. You can easily stab and slash with these blades which is why I carry one as much as possible in my support hand side.
I will say that the tips are NOT extremely strong, the steel lends itself to being very corrosion resistant, but not as strong as the Spyderco blades above. I own two and one of them is missing the last millimeter or two of the tip due to a training incident. These blades cost around $130 shipped.
Benchmade is my next favorite blade maker for defensive tools. The Black Class by Benchmade houses some of my all time favorites. I own and carry the Benchmade CqC7 and the Benchmade Griptilian and the Mini Grip all of these are extremely well made, strong and come in a couple different steels.
The best steel from Benchmade is the 154CM version, this is a very tough, edge retaining steel that works well regardless of situation and conditions. I have had some rusting over time, however, to be fair my oldest blade is from 1993 and still rides in a pocket much of the time so some degradation is fully expected.
The blades are between 3 and 4 inches in length and come with sheepsfoot, tanto and drop point profiles. I prefer a tanto or drop point profile on these blades. Benchmade knives commonly run between $120 and $250 for their better ones in 154Cm steel.
Lastly, a personal favorite of mine is the Kershaw Grid (click here to check current price and availability at Amazon.com) which is a lower cost very solidly built blade. I recently had this on me for a trip and some whitewater fun. It weathered the rapids run well and even stayed in my pocket during an interesting capsizing event. The blade is 3.7” long and has an assisted opening system which lends itself to faster deployment as needed.
It is built using 8Cr13MoV steel and aluminum handle for durability. While the steel is not as good as the super steels mentioned above, it is very sharp and when used for dinner through cutting twine it functioned well.
I will say that this steel is more prone to chipping and rolling, that said, all lower end steels are a trade-off for what you get versus what you want. I can and do trust my life to this blade and firmly recommend it. The cost is around $25 shipped from numerous locations.
There are my top picks for defensively orientated folding blades. If you have any questions or additions please comment below! Remember, a sharp knife is a safe knife. Learn to sharpen your blade or cheat and get a mechanical sharpener, but be careful these are not always better than hands-on sharpening with a good set of water stones.
Free the mind and the body will follow…
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