knives across america
August 11, 2011 6:14 AM   Subscribe

Should I carry a concealed knife for self defense? If so, what kind? Are there classes that educate proper knife usage?

It's been a violent summer in Chicago, from numerous shootings to new trends in iPhone snatching. I live in a diverse neighborhood of Chicago, so I see lots of thug-types and druggies around my block. I often feel threatened just walking to the grocery store and many friends have been mugged in the area (for Chicagoans: Rogers Park area).

If I were to have a knife, how would I carry it? In my pocket? Tied to my leg like an assassin?

What type of knife would be appropriate? Are switchblades legal?

Could I be trained to properly use my knife in self defense?
posted by Jason and Laszlo to Grab Bag (52 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Read this first.
posted by tel3path at 6:15 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

So...what's the plan when they snatch your iPhone? Pull the knife and chase them down? Pull the knife and defend your iPhone? Honest question, and just something you need to think about.

Yes, there are knife self defense classes.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:16 AM on August 11, 2011

Switchblades are illegal in Illinois.
posted by rtha at 6:17 AM on August 11, 2011

Really bad idea.

Just give them the wallet/iphone and call yourself lucky. If you have a knife then all the stakes are raised VERY high. Are you really going to stab someone? Do you really thinking potentially killing someone is worth protecting your valuables.

If you feel this strongly, you should find a new neighborhood.
posted by Murray M at 6:19 AM on August 11, 2011 [20 favorites]

this is a really bad idea.
posted by thelonius at 6:20 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh god no, no, no. Training or not, you will have it taken away from you immediately in a fight. Plus, the second you bring that thing out, you turn a mugging into a free-for-all on your ass.
posted by griphus at 6:22 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't ever pull out a weapon you're not prepared to use. Are you ready to stab someone? Do you think you'd succeed? And more importantly, perhaps: Are you really so sure if you pull out a knife, they won't pull out a gun?
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:27 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

The op is not talking only being mugged. They currently don't feel safe, and for the sake for argument, let's say finding a new place to live is not feasible right now. They want to feel safe.

A knife might not be a good idea, but you should consider other self defensive classes. Basic self defense classes would give you a better idea of what to do.. and if things like the knife are reasonable.

googling "self defense classes in Chicago" brings up a ton of results.
posted by royalsong at 6:29 AM on August 11, 2011

Unless the knife is a Crocodile Dundee kind of knife, most people are not going to be terribly intimidated by a pocket knife (though they should be - it's entirely possible to die from a stab wound from a small knife). Pulling it on a mugger means you've just escalated the situation; if you drop the knife, or it gets taken away from you, what's your backup plan?

Regarding knife-fighting classes: don't know about Illinois, but the for the various dojos I had passing familiarity with in MD, you were in training for years before you got to touch a bladed weapon. Chicago dojos/self-defense studios may vary.
posted by rtha at 6:33 AM on August 11, 2011

See this. But seriously this is not a good idea. Unless you are prepared to use a weapon do not carry one.
posted by alfanut at 6:34 AM on August 11, 2011

See this previous thread.

Seriously, defending yourself with a knife is a pretty bad idea.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:38 AM on August 11, 2011

Two things:

One, when you brandish a weapon, you raise the stakes of the situation by telling the other person, "I'm equipped and willing to harm or kill you." It puts the other person in a mindset of needing to react and protect himself--even if he threatened you first. It's no longer about getting your wallet, you've changed the confontation into something else.

I know that it seems reasonable that if another person is threatening you, being able to reach for your own weapon would make you safer. I don't think it does. Even if someone wants to mug you, he probably doesn't want to kill you or even use his weapon on you. Threaten his safety or his life with a weapon, and his instincts for self-defense will kick in. (I'm not saying that muggers are really misunderstood souls who are forced by circumstance to commit crimes; I'm not saying that you should be ok with getting mugged; I am saying that the average mugger wants to get your wallet and move on rather than actually fight you and since you're concerned about your physical safety, it's worth pointing out that it's safer to be mugged than to be stabbed or shot.)

Two, when you use a knife as a weapon, you will get cut, even if (and this is a big if) your opponent doesn't manage to disarm you. Your aim in a knife fight is to be the bleeder rather than the gusher. Personally, I wouldn't carry a knife because unless you're like CIA-level trained, it's probably more of a danger to you than anything else.

So, instead of a knife, if you want to feel safer and more confident walking around Chicago, I'd recommend self-defense training. Krav maga might fit your interests. My friends who do it say it's very practical and also a ton of fun.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:38 AM on August 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

You could: Go to self defense classes, actively plan activities such that they take place during daylight hours and in well trafficked areas, arrange to always walk with a friend through bad parts of town/the neighborhood, introduce yourself to your neighbors so you feel like they have your back, get a dog, leave home with only an ID, one credit card, and no cash so that a robbery is little more than an inconvenience, add police non emergency and 911 to your phone's speed dial, put a tracking program on your smartphone if you have one, look into whether your personal data is encrypted on your phone, and if not how to make it so, assess your wardrobe and match less flashy clothes with outings that you feel might be more dangerous...

Or you could buy a weapon and increase your odds of getting hurt when mugged or involved in an argument. Having a knife on your person would also make any encounter with the police more problematic than otherwise.

I think it's a bad idea.
posted by jsturgill at 6:39 AM on August 11, 2011

Yes, there are classes. No, you should not carry a knife. If you have to ask on the internet, you aren't at all prepared to draw a blade quickly, conceal it, deliver a series of incapacitating/killing blows, and get the hell away before you're disarmed, shot, or killed yourself.

If and when you did reach that point, you would find yourself arrested and very likely convicted of assault and battery with a deadly weapon and illegal possession, at minimum. A mugging does not provide sufficient threat to respond with lethal force. If you're really so concerned about the "diverse" people coming for you, you should consider moving to a suburb -- it's not likely, given that you live in a city with 2,600,000 people that you are going to be singled out and mugged/attacked, but if you do happen to defy the odds, your plan is suicidal (and immoral).
posted by ellF at 6:39 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also, check out this from tel3path's link above, as well: it specifically addresses knives.
posted by griphus at 6:40 AM on August 11, 2011

They want to feel safe.

This isn't a kid's safety blanket we're talking about here; this is an adult asking if they should carry a weapon. Whether or not this action makes them feel safe is almost irrelevant if they are not actually made safer by it. Worse, in this case it's likely that however they feel, this action will make them much less safe.

OP: You are much more likely to get badly hurt in a fight involving a knife, and doesn't matter much if you brought that knife to the fight or the other guy did.
posted by mhoye at 6:40 AM on August 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

No. A knife is a nice thing to have for practical reasons, but when are you going to use it against a human being?

When someone is holding a gun to you, you're outmatched.

When someone threatens you with their fists, stabbing them instantly makes you the bad guy in the eyes of the law.

When someone threatens you with a knife, you need to run. It's pretty common knowledge that no one "wins" a knife fight. Everyone goes to the hospital with horrible, horrible injuries.

Move, get a concealed carry permit if you're really prepared to kill someone, or carry some pepper spray.
posted by pjaust at 6:41 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'll echo the "don't".

I'm sort of troubled by the way "diverse" seems to be code for "people of color" and "poor people" in your question, and the way those things translate into "likely to rob me with violence". I'm sure that's not how you intend it to read, though.

I moved into a poor, heavily policed and socially-troubled neighborhood back in 1998 out of poverty and sheer ignorance of the city (and liked it so well - for the lack of segregation, presence of little kids and everyone-not-hiding-inside-all-the-time-ness) that I have stayed here ever since. My first few years here, my racism and my inexperience with the neighborhood led me to overestimate the dangers of the neighborhood (which are, yes, real) and really stressed me out. I was certainly scared at night a lot and sometimes felt shut in.

Honestly, I'm a huge introvert, so it's not like I've buddied up with my whole block or anything. But I've walked around a lot and biked around a lot and just gotten a better sense of the neighborhood, which has led to a greater ability to assess danger when it really happens. Also, I'm present in the neighborhood - I may be "that weird white woman who doesn't mow her lawn enough", but I'm a local.

I've also had a friend who got mugged down the street, a friend who got jumped and knocked off his bike plus a few scary interactions with local teens, all over the period of about 12 years. These things were very unpleasant, but they were not as bad as I'd expected. The scariest one (where some young guys were pushing bike riders and could have pushed me into traffic) was mitigated by the fact that I knew I was biking by a bad spot (an underpass which is narrow and dark, and where people hang out) and I knew that sometimes folks get pushed off their bikes, so I was paying very, very good attention to the group of guys on the sidewalk. I knew what a group of guys looked like when they're just walking along going somewhere; I knew what a group of guys looked like when something was wrong. So I saw them step out off the curb and I biked with the push and rode away. I did not try to escalate; I tried to leave. If folks really are in a gang - and there are gangs around here - you don't want their buddies looking for you.

If I were you, I'd take an ordinary self-defense class (just to get into a better head space) and spend some more time being in your neighborhood. Walk around or bike around in the daytime and/or with friends.

My neighborhood is such that people get shot to death, sometimes by police and sometimes by others. One year we had four public homicides within about a six block radius. I have never seen anyone get shot (knock on wood). I have seen very, very little violence. In a crowded neighborhood, four incidents isn't that much and doesn't boost your risk as much as you think. It's easy to hear of four muggings in a short period and think that everyone is getting mugged, but that's not the case.
posted by Frowner at 6:43 AM on August 11, 2011 [9 favorites]

FYI: knives are considered "deadly weapons" in most states. This means a few things.

First, using one in an assault can automatically make it "aggravated," increasing the sentence. So, not cool.

Second, if you are threatened by someone who is unarmed, pulling a knife on them represents an escalation of the conflict. This can eliminate a claim of self-defense as a justification for using physical force, i.e. you aren't justified in pulling a gun in a knife fight or a knife in a fist fight. This is bad because of point one, i.e. not only might you get charged, but it's going to be a bad one.

You'll probably do better with a taser and some self-defense classes. Easier to use, less likely to kill or seriously injure someone, and less likely to get you in legal trouble.
posted by valkyryn at 6:44 AM on August 11, 2011

Never bring a knife to a gun fight.
posted by killdevil at 6:50 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

When considering self-defense weapons, its important to realize that they almost all escalate the fight. The best defense is really just running away. In situations where you can't you're much better off with a can of mace than a knife. A knife has limited range, is a "kill" weapon, and may not incapacitate like pepper spray or a taser does.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:50 AM on August 11, 2011

Also, its worth mentioning tactics muggers use. In the movie they stand right in front of you and demand your wallet or money. In real life they run up behind you, hit you in the back of the head, knock you over, and go through your pockets. A lot of self-defense and weapons really don't amount to much when you're surprised like that and quickly knocked to the ground. Street smarts/situational awareness can be very effective if they help you avoid the bad neighborhoods/bad block/bad intersections.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:57 AM on August 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

I want to join the chorus and mention that I've read of two prominent murders where just *shouting* at a would-be mugger with a nervous trigger finger has escalated a robbery into an execution.
posted by availablelight at 7:00 AM on August 11, 2011

Never carry a self defense weapon that can be used to kill you if it is taken. If you have to carry a self defense aid, opt for mace spray or a tazer instead.
posted by samsara at 7:01 AM on August 11, 2011

Give the mugger whatever the hell he wants, and let him feel in control.

It's generally a good idea to have a contingency plan for losing your wallet/phone anyway, so you might as well do that. Have all of your credit card numbers and other information that you carry around in your wallet written down at home (photocopies are even better). Your phone can be replaced very quickly. If you have an old phone that still works, keep that around, and you can have it activated in just a few minutes.

Losing your wallet sucks a whole lot less than being stabbed. I'm sure there are others out here who will disagree with me, but self-defense is only useful if the person attacking you has no motive other than causing violence. This does happen from time to time but is exceedingly rare. Mace should be your go-to "weapon" for that kind of situation, and I'd be hesitant to use it if somebody was only trying to steal my wallet, or showed obvious signs of being armed.

Also, as the above comment noted, a mugger generally isn't going to attack you if you're aware of your surroundings. Generally speaking, here in my city (DC), we tend to have bad intersections or blocks, rather than entire bad neighborhoods. I live in one of those "Oh my god, don't go there at night" neighborhoods, and consider it to be exceedingly safe as long as you obey one or two very basic rules:
Stick to more populated and well-lit areas.
Be mindful of your surroundings.
Know which intersections are problem spots, and avoid going there alone at night.
posted by schmod at 7:05 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nobody wins a knife fight. One person just loses less.
posted by Etrigan at 7:08 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Anecdotal: My grandfather had a knife pulled on him in a barroom brawl in the 1940's, and the attacker died in the ensuing tussle, when he fell on his own blade.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:13 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

just walk around looking slightly crazy or disturbed. Junkies/thugs pray on the scared and vulnerable they'd rather not approach anyone who might react in an unpredictable way. Get really good at spotting trouble before you have to react to it. A bunch of kids loitering on a corner in front of a store should be spotted from blocks away so you can change your route before they notice. Get eyes in back of your head, peripheral vision is your best friend. A mountain lion's best weapon is the element of surprise, if they know you know they are tracking them they'll look for different prey - thugs are no different. Don't avert your eyes when they stare at you - don't stare back - but if you show no fear you might just be a cop or black belt.
posted by any major dude at 7:17 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I took karate for several years and we were always told that you don't use it unless you absolutely have to. Which means if someone says, "Give me your wallet," you give them your wallet. You don't hit them. Whatever is in your wallet is not worth losing your life over which is a genuine concern if you find out that the person demanding your wallet is carrying a gun. I was almost a black belt and we never learned how to use a knife, just how to attempt to defend ourselves from knife attacks.

Pepper spray or mace would be a better choice than a knife. If you're attacked by a junkie or even someone amped up on adrenaline and you cut or stab them, there's a reasonable chance that they will just become angrier rather than seeking treatment or running away. Mace or pepper spray, on the other hand, will disable them temporarily without injuring them permanently. And if your pepper spray is used against you, you'll be unhappy but you'll live.

I think taking a class like Krav Maga would be good because it would make you feel more confident and generally more aware of your surroundings but it will not turn you into Jackie Chan and I doubt they will teach you how to use a knife.

If you do consider pepper spray or mace, check the local laws and see if you need to have it registered. They might also offer a class on how to use it properly. Test it before you carry it.
posted by kat518 at 7:31 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you choose to carry a knife, the words are "assisted open". These knives are designed to be flicked open with one hand. Go to an outdoors store if you have one, and try the feel of a bunch of them. You'll quickly learn what works for you. I always carry a knife, but it's for doing/fixing/opening things, not because I live in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in California.

Whether or not you choose to carry a knife, you should carry pepper spray. Be sure to try shooting a can of it once in an open place like a field. I was once in a situation where somebody used it and they held the can right up by their face while they did. It's a natural thing to do when someone is attacking you, but it meant that she maced herself as well as me and the assailant. Buy two cans and go empty one. It can be very effective stuff.
posted by fake at 7:37 AM on August 11, 2011

I'd recommend Krav Maga, because it's a practical defense style with a focus on realistic scenarios. Along with basic defense skills, they usually do knife, bat and gun defense. You get basic use in there, and all of the healthy respect that weapons deserve. They'll teach you to defend yourself, and if you're serious about this, then you should be willing to do the work to get there.

I would very strongly discourage arming yourself, for all of the reasons listed above.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:46 AM on August 11, 2011

I carry some type of knife ALL THE TIME. It's not intended for use on human beings, however. My choice of knife is usually some sort of non-tactical utility blade (Kershaw Skyline or Leatherman MUT). I do occasionally carry a larger, "scary" knife like a Cold Steel Recon 1, but that's not going to be for cutting people.

As far as self defense goes, there are two basic situations. One, where my life or limb is in immediate grave danger. The other, where it's not.
My defense against the first type of situation is a firearm, two permits to carry, and an exceptional level of proficiency which includes quite a bit of training. If I'm in danger of loss of life or limb, I sure as shit won't pull out a knife. I won't pull out a knife to intimidate someone, either. When something catches fire in the kitchen, I'm getting the fire extinguisher, not a glass of water.
For the latter type of situation, any type of non-violent or non-escalating solution is preferred. As someone who carries a gun, it's my responsibility to reduce the likelihood of having to use the gun. If someone wants to pick a fight with me or snatch the phone out of my hand, a gun has NO PART Of resolving that situation. Leaving the area or de-escalating the situation is best for everyone.

But, you live in Chicago where you can't get a concealed carry permit. I guess the state doesn't think your life is worth defending. Good thing their gun ban is reducing crime against people like you and making you feel safer, right?

Your other alternative is something like this. The Kimber Pepperblaster. It's a pepper spray device that reduces the chance of blowback on the user.
posted by Jon-o at 8:07 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

As a quick aside about martial training: go for it because it's awesome and exhilerating (12 years of Aikido, 2 years of boxing and MMA training, spar 3x/week), but realize that it's not going to save you in a street-level confrontation. You won't be magically able to stop a bullet, a knife, a club, or the guy's friends. Don't believe the macho posturing bullshit.
posted by ellF at 8:16 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

In most cases, a trained knife fighter can close the gap on a person with a gun across a space of about 25 feet before the person with the firearm can ready/unsafety/aim/fire. However, you are not a trained knife fighter. I personally carry a blade at the edge of the legal limit (it's just a folding pocket knife (albeit a nice one), I've got several, and I carry it as much for rescue/utility as anything else.) I would use it if I needed to, however I also wouldn't just pull it out.

So---don't carry something you can't safely handle and haven't been trained to use, and if you're concerned do look at self defense/Krav classes in your area. Krav will kick your ass, but it will make you as safe as you can be when you decide to physically engage another person or are physically engaged by another person.

Things like Kubatons and pepper may be a better option for you, however not all pepper is created the same and you must expect to get it on yourself when used.

I think the mistake that many people who are anti-gun/self defense/physical fight make is in assuming a) that your attacker will simply demand something of you without touching you and that b) while their life isn't worth your stuff to YOU, your life may be worth your stuff to THEM. How's that line go? Failing to prepare is preparing to fail? Something like that.

Look at Krav or Tai Kwon Do or a Jiu Jitsu or a Self Defense class and learn to protect yourself as best as possible. I used to help teach a class was part TKD part JJ part Kickboxing but w/o any rules----street defense---fun to learn and practice.
posted by TomMelee at 8:16 AM on August 11, 2011

Don't do it. In all honesty, no weapon, be it a knife, CEW, or chemical spray, will improve your situation. Remember that any weapon you add to a confrontation will either cause the confrontation to escalate or turn it into a battle to control the weapon, during which you are highly likely to suffer its effects.

If you want to train yourself to survive a confrontation on the street, buy some good shoes and take up running. I say this in all seriousness.
posted by Sternmeyer at 8:30 AM on August 11, 2011

It still requires a fair amount of training and in the eyes of the law it is about the same as a big fixed blade knife but an extendable baton is a very effective weapon and you can choose to use it in a lethal or non lethal matter. A cop is going to consider it just one step below a firearm as far as a weapon goes and you will probably be arrested if you are caught with it without a permit (I don't know how chicago/illinois will view it or what permit might be required).

It has several advantages over a knife in a fight, it has a conisderably longer reach, you can vary the force and location you hit with it and if you are really good you can disarm and disable and immobilase your opponent with very little lasting damage (and assuming your opponent is unskilled in such things-and street thugs are NOT unskilled). Being effective with this kind of weapon does require a lot of practice and training.

It is just as likely to escalate a situation but if someone is willing to threaten/perform violence on me for my stuff I have no garentee they will not do more just for fun or if my stuff is sufficient or whatever (I know it is they way to bet, but this is my life we are talking about-I side with TomMelee and Jon-o on this one).

My weapons for carrying around is an 24" extendable baton, and a big can of bear spray. I am fairly proficient with a firearm but a gun is ALWAYS lethal force and I can't carry one to work with me (policy at work) regardless of permit. In over 10 years of walking to work/dinner etc in fairly sketchy areas i have had zero need to use any weapon. I am aware of what is going on around me all the time and am not too proud to cross the street or make an extra block or duck into a business or whatever when things are looking to deterioate quickly. It has serverd me well as far less hassle in my life than actually doing, even justified, harm to another person.

Most people are not well equipped physically, mentally or legally to defend themselves. WE (thankfully) lived shelter, safe lives here. And our society is better served by having our violent instincts surpressed by lawful society. Fights are never certain, chances are your opponent in a street crime situation is far, far more experienced than you at it and far more willing/used to taking physical damage and finishing the fight. These all matter way more than what your weapon is (unless it is a rifle at 50 yards+, than it matters a lot, but you are not in afghanistan and you are not going to be carrying around a long gun). However if someone chooses to threaten or visit violence on you than you have every right, and I believe as a law abiding free citizen of a republic my duty, to resist that violence and fight back if that is only viable choice left to me. Good luck and keep your chin up. Predators seem to be able to sense the willingness and ability to fight back and this alone can quite often back the situation never come up in the first place.
posted by bartonlong at 8:43 AM on August 11, 2011

I posted the previous askmefi about carrying a knife a little while ago, and the answers fell into mostly 2 camps "Oh no it will just escalate a conflict don't carry a weapon you naive person" and "Oh no a knife is useless compared to a gun so don't bother you naive person". A lot of people like to pontificate about martial arts and whatnot and assume stuff about you so make your own decisions. Yes a knife can be a big liability if you're clueless. No, you can't use it to scare people off or prevent a robbery it's for using to hurt someone if there's no other choice. Learning about them is tied up with defending against them as well. Yes they are useful as a weapon sometimes, let's get real a knife turns your hand into something that can cut someone up. However it won't give you a sense of security or real safety in your area especially as I assume your muggers will have guns.

I disagreed and still disagree that it's not worth it and will do you the favour of not assuming you're naive, but there are some big caveats. Time to take a reality check with yourself about how mature you are and how you think you'd deal with things. Do you get fighty when you've had a few drinks? Are you unused to dealing with conflicts? Do you honestly think the knife will be a liability for you? It's life and death stuff and not a quick solution. You should go to a class that addresses real issues like this. Don't just buy a knife off the internet, ffs.

No offense but I would run a mile from anything called a martial art. Krav maga is sold as being really practical but I haven't seen it, and from what I read on forums a lot of 'reality based' self protection teachers haven't seen it either. I'm not saying I'm some hard man that can beat up any Krav maga guy, or karate guy for that matter just that you need stuff that's pressure tested for street defense and I've been kicking round forums for a while where no bullshit guys talk about this stuff.

Yeh, you need a class in 'reality based self defense' or 'combatives'. You can't learn it all from a book and never go to a class. A lot of the class should be about how not to get in a conflict, how to spot danger and avoid it, how to deescalate a conflict, when to submit and when not to (because as a previous poster noted it doesn't always work to give in.) Then you're going to need hand to hand combat or you won't be able to handle yourself, and you're gonna learn how to defend yourself against a knife. Which means what to do to have a 30% chance of survival, because it's probable you'll get cut to shreds. See why a lot of the class should be about how not to get in a conflict?

So decide if you want it or not, but it's obviously not a magic solution. Start thinking now about what you can do to avoid the bad neighbourhoods, where you can run to, how can you make yourself look like less of a target, no obvious iphones etc.
posted by Not Supplied at 8:45 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to add, a flashlight can be VERY effective. Especially something LED over 130 lumens. If someone starts to hassle you, thinking your an easy mark, you become a much harder target when you shine an unbelievably bright, blinding white light in their face and ask, "Can I help you, sir?"
Many of these lights have a nauseating and disorienting strobe setting, too. EVERYONE shields their face and looks away when you shine this kind of light on them. It's also so bright that their eyes will NEVER adjust to it at night. If they can't see you, they can't attack you.

Look for brands like Streamlight, 4Sevens, Fenix, etc.
posted by Jon-o at 8:55 AM on August 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

FYI, Krav is about maximum violence and force of action to end a confrontation in the shortest amount of time possible. It is fast, violent, and destructive. There are elements of judo and a few other balance/position-sensitive techniques involved, but there are no katas or forms or belts. It's fast and you must accept going in that you may have to break, maim, or kill someone to protect yourself. This isn't the video I was looking for, but it's an idea.
posted by TomMelee at 8:55 AM on August 11, 2011

Do some legal research before carrying a knife. I'm not sure how well McDonald vs. Chicago is being enforced at the moment. I've read that the city has passed various laws to try to thwart it.

But if you can legally proceed, go and get a concealed carry license for your knife. Then buy a gun instead of a knife. The first rule of gun fighting: bring a gun. That's also the first rule of knife fighting.

The NRA has an excellent training program. They'll start a student out from complete inexperience with firearms to proficiency.
posted by John Farrier at 9:11 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I studied martial arts as a teenager, we were taught that someone who means business with a knife will hold it with the blade pointing away from the thumb, Norman Bates style. Someone who isn't really sure what they're going to do with their knife will approach with the knife pointing in the direction of the thumb, Wendy Torrance style. The Norman Bates approach results in a much more forceful and less easily-blocked stroke.

I'm giving you this advice assuming that you may well end up buying a knife anyway, and will possibly be tempted to brandish it at some point, in which case you probably want to at least look like you might know what you're doing. Of course you should listen to those above that advise against getting yourself into that situation in the first place.
posted by milk white peacock at 9:12 AM on August 11, 2011

A knife can be a viable self-defense weapon. However, it does not sound like a good solution for the situations you describe. A lethal weapon should only be used if you're in probable and imminent danger. Do not brandish it or threaten with it. It's not a magic wand it's a weapon. Pull it out and use it until the threat is neutralized or you can safely withdraw. If you're not prepared to do that, don't use it.

There are classes on this sort of stuff. A good one will discuss awareness, avoidance strategies, mindset, the use of force continuum, legal implications as well as actual tactics.

That said, the kind of people who've trained for this kind of stuff -- and have a knife as a last resort backup weapon to the gun they carry -- carry folding knives, with a clip that they attach in their pocket. Check out Spyderco for a common brand of this type of knife.
posted by jefftang at 9:29 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

A knife is a viable weapon. However, it's a last ditch weapon when you have absolutely no choice left whatsoever. You cannot retreat and your attacker is already too close for any other option. The point when you already find yourself pretty well fucked. As many pointed out, a knife isn't for brandishing. It makes a terrible security blanket. The best bet is to avoid confrontation. Which leads to the ultimate solution here. I hate to sound glib, but what's really called for is relocation to a less violent area. I know that's easier said than done. However consider this: if your neighborhood really is as dangerous as you say, do you really want to tempt fate? Even if you are armed and trained, you still make a target. No matter how much defensive preparation you might take, it's still entirely possible for you to be attacked and incapacitated (or worse) without you ever knowing what happened. In short, thinking about a knife is missing the forest for the trees.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:58 AM on August 11, 2011

Not to derail, but here's an interesting article about Chicago's Interrupters and their dealings with violence that I'd just finished reading before clicking over here. This line came to mind when I read your question: "Yet the truth is that we know there is behaviour that increases disease risk, and sometimes, in places like Englewood, arming yourself can seem less like a choice than a necessity." Which brings me to the answer I've been pecking away at between putting away groceries, as I think about it.

I am in no way an expert on this subject - but I am someone (you know - a woman) who's been taught defensive behaviour as a means toward protecting my personal safety; something that's supposed to be practiced on a daily basis. Because this is a world where "don't get raped" is taught, rather than "don't rape", forget about being mugged - I want to avoid violence, diseases and a lifetime of emotional distress. iPhone snatchings? What are people doing? You don't take something expensive out in an iffy public place and get distracted, unless you're taking a call about something pretty damn important. A friend's iPhone was snatched on the subway, and she realized "Derp, I was just holding in my hands loosely and staring dreamily at Mike Ness...stupid me." And it's been an exhausting twenty-whatever years of being conscious of all of it after being rudely awakened with a sexual assault on an empty subway platform, where thankfully my young, fast reflexes allowed a shot to the soft parts and I was healthy and fast enough to just RUN. If you're only experiencing unease about your personal safety now, due to your neighbourhood and the current climate, I say "Welcome to my world - how fast can you run?" I don't walk around all paranoid, really - I mean, now I live in a gentrifying area of Toronto where there's more property crime than anything - but I've had scares here over the years.

In any classes or lectures or readings or cheesy Woman's Day articles, it usually comes up that no, you shouldn't carry a knife for self-defense. Some things are for attacking, some things are for defense. Knives don't defend you, your behaviour does. All that's been covered above.

Whatever you choose to do, you should pay attention to what jsturgill said. That's being smart, and truly defensive. Risk management and risk avoidance: It's how "the weaker sex" learns to live. You don't listen to your iPod or walk while texting or pull out your new iPhone and get chatty, because that makes you vulnerable and lets people know you have shit to steal. You don't use the ATM at night, and don't put everything important in a purse (you can carry a bogus wallet - and run). After you minimize whatever damage could happen, you learn how to call for help so that people will actually do something. (The Kitty Genovese case reminded everyone there's nothing you can do to guarantee that someone will call for help for you - and growing up in Buffalo right after Moseley's subsequent attack didn't help). You get off at the boring bus stop that's closer to home instead of the one before that lets you cut through the park; and you walk the long way down the block (the busier block, not the quieter block) instead of taking the laneway. You look to see whose lights are on for when you're being followed down the street by a pantsless screaming man so you can knock at the door and pretend to know them in order to get away. You check the bushes by the door, the one that if you don't keep trimmed, people have been known to hide in so they can rush in to take your purse off the table by the door, according to the previous resident (so you don't keep anything valuable near the doorway). And you're glad for thin walls, knowing that the neighbours can hear you yell "Go away - I don't have any money!" when the neighbourhood scam guy follows you onto your porch as you're regretting that your arms are full of groceries. I don't know if the police do it there, but here in Toronto we have neighbourhood safety audits. We can arrange to have a police officer walk around our neighbourhood, pointing out their concerns and answering ours. They'll tell you things like "Your kitchen window is an entry point just by standing on that garbage can and cutting the screen. Or, you know, that ladder that you're storing there makes it even easier!" It's all stuff that's only minutes or seconds of your day, but you do it. You probably already do a lot, but people get careless. Up your awareness.

There's a million things that you do, so much that they're just ingrained in you. You don't need a knife - you need street smarts. From the article, something I knew already - hmm, group of people gathered in the summer, drinking and laughing and having fun...yup, stuff could happen. Cross the street in case of stray bullets. Though, it seems upon a quick glance, that Rogers Park is relatively okay. And, holy crap, what a great way to be aware is the Chicago Police Department's Map of Crime Incidents and is EveryBlock ever a good resource to either feed your fear or assuage it. In our neighbourhood, we just use a newsgroup to communicate with our division and let our neighbours know to keep an eye out. I could look at those sites and see that the most recent sidewalk incidences were strongarms, and adjust my behaviour accordingly. I wish we had that here! I think, really, that there's nothing you can do to protect yourself from random violence, and a bajillion things you can do to minimize being a target. Carrying a knife will do nothing, except possibly instill a false sense of security or confidence, when really you actually need to feel vulnerable and alert in order to let your instincts work to their full capacity.
posted by peagood at 10:23 AM on August 11, 2011 [9 favorites]

Carrying a knife will do nothing, except possibly instill a false sense of security or confidence

I wish I had the link for you but I saw a video of a guy about to get into a fight with a group of other men. What the other men couldn't see is that he had a broken bottle behind his back and because of this he had the false confidence to taunt this group (or at least not just run away). Well, he goes ahead and stabs one of the guys with the bottle, the glass mostly breaks, and doesn't do much damage, but it enrages them to the point where they beat him half to death.

Oh, here's the video. Almost gave up, but found it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:56 AM on August 11, 2011

peagood knows her shit. As I said in another thread, street smarts are what you need. A can of pepper spray is only for when you've fucked up on the former.
posted by RedEmma at 11:37 AM on August 11, 2011

iPhone snatchings? What are people doing? You don't take something expensive out in an iffy public place and get distracted, unless you're taking a call about something pretty damn important.

A can of pepper spray is only for when you've fucked up on the former.

Ugh. I think it's pretty important that people recognize this is just 1/2 step from victim-blaming. Strikes me that there are a few emergent takehome lessons from this thread -

1. A knife is a poor defensive weapon, but better than nothing if things get dire.
2. Pepper spray is a more publicly-acceptable option that may afford more protection.
3. Nothing will reliably protect you from someone willing to kill or maim you for whatever reason, particularly because you may not see them coming.

OP, carry a knife because it is a useful object - a knife that you've seen and handled and feel comfortable with. Carry pepper spray because it can deter and mark an attacker. But most importantly, carry your wits about you -- senses tuned to your environment -- and you will be as safe as you can be in your current situation.
posted by fake at 11:54 AM on August 11, 2011

I was recently mugged. Also, in 2007, I was brutally attacked with a 2x4 on my own property.

After that attack, in which I sustained a mild concussion, I read one of the MeFi favorites, The Gift of Fear. I also read some books on self-defense and watched some videos. Hands down, the more useful resource was The Gift of Fear.

I learned how I had permitted the attacker to control the situation and eventually to corner me. I was on a porch where I felt safe, but he moved onto my property with no compunctions, then onto the porch, then blocked my presumed escape route. If I had reacted much sooner I would not have been in a situation where he could have injured me.

In the mugging, similarly, I was approached by someone who engaged me in a strange and threatening conversation (which started out by him accusing me of racism). I headed for home and safer ground immediately, but in my attempts to brush him off I essentially gave him permission to have a conversation with me. I probably didn't have many options, as he was a bigger guy with (likely) lots of fighting experience from prison. In the end he pulled a bump-and-run, grabbing my wallet while he held me off balance. I wasn't sure it was a mugging rather than an assault, actually, until he was running into the dark.

But the lesson I draw from these incidents is that avoiding them is more important than anything you do once the incident is, so to speak, upon you. The first guy knew he was going to beat me before he found the 2x4, before he even crossed onto my property. The second guy knew he was going to steal my wallet. I was his mark. Everything else was to keep me psychologically uncertain. As the victim, I had the disadvantage of not knowing until it got really bad that it was, in fact, going to get really bad. I mean, I guessed, but I didn't really know and relied on my experience with less violent persons that they would, you know, respect boundaries. These were criminals for whom boundaries are nonexistent. They use that against you.

I would drop this whole knife idea and concentrate on ways that you can look like less of a mark and spend less time in situations where the attackers might have the advantage. They're out there. They're going to be attacking someone. Just make sure it isn't you, because by that time, it's too late for you to really affect the situation very much.
posted by dhartung at 2:38 PM on August 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

Please do not carry a knife.

If your neighborhood sucks so badly that you have even considered packing a weapon, your best option is to do what thousands of your neighbors have already done: leave. We all have our own comfort zones; it just so happens that this particular neighborhood's culture and vibe are outside your own. So look elsewhere. It isn't going to get better. The neighborhood's problems are the products of deep-rooted social pathologies that are beyond your control.

In the meantime, do as others have suggested above. Carry a minimal amount of cash and cards. Don't carry expensive electronic stuff. If you get mugged, hand over the cash ASAP and just write off the money. Save your funds and make your number one priority getting the fuck out.

You are not the first person to have left a shitty neighborhood in your city. You will not be the last.

Good luck. And take care.
posted by jason's_planet at 3:50 PM on August 11, 2011

A weapon that you don't know how to use belongs to your enemy.

Even if you know how to fight with a knife, consider whether you are actually willing to kill someone just to keep your wallet.

A strategy that has worked in the past for me it to carry a second, fake wallet, with a minimal amount of cash in it, and no important cards. If you get mugged, you hand over the disposable wallet. The mugger runs off, and you go about your day.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:03 PM on August 11, 2011

The law in Chicago regarding knives is this - You can legally carry a folding knife. The blade cannot be longer than 2 1/2 inches. If you do decide to carry one, get a knife that has "assisted open" as fake suggested. This is not a switchblade or a spring activated knife (these are a felony). It has 2 nubs at the bottom of the blade that make it easy and quick to deploy.

That being said. A knife can save your life if you know how to use it. You - do not know how to use it. Take some martial arts, get some weapons training, then carry a knife. There's nothing wrong with defending yourself. There is nothing wrong with carrying a knife - it may save your life. You have every legal right to carry a knife that meets the letter of the law. Also, knives are handy everyday tools. I find a use for mine everyday. I think of it more as a helpful little friend than a weapon. I have never used it as a weapon and hope never to have to.

Being attacked. I'm hearing a lot of people saying "just give them what they want". Some muggers want more than your iPhone or money. They want to kill you. It may be no reason at all, they could be mentally unbalanced. (some parts of Rogers Park are loaded with mental outpatient group homes/buildings). If you're going to live in a shitty part of Rogers Park, develop street smarts as peagood said, learn to defend yourself and know the law. You have every legal right to carry a concealed knife in Chicago as long as it meets the letter of the law.

This is the reality - If you are ever stopped by a Chicago police officer, immediately inform them that you have a knife on you. It's not a weapon, you use it for various tasks around the house and your work. They will 99.9 percent of the time take it away from you. Do not argue, do not make a scene. Just let them have it and go buy another one the next day.

The best advice I can give you is to develop street smarts. Turn it into a game. Spot the danger spots before you enter them. Trust your instincts. If something feels wrong - it probably is.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 5:35 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

bighappyfunhouse above has good advice

some ideas:

1. you should carry a dummy wallet -- a mugger's wallet. hand it over if you're being mugged. never escalate a situation if you can avoid it.

2. be alert and aware when out, stay off the cellphone & ipod. but you already do that, right? when you need to answer or make a phone call, stand with your back to a wall and speak on the phone while surveying your surroundings. know where you're going. know what's open late in the area, if you need to get to a populated place immediately while on foot. know where the danger spots are and re-route around them.

3. i think you should never carry a weapon that you do not know how to use WELL, or are not prepared to use against someone to its full capacity. if you decide to carry a knife, be prepared to stab/cut or be stabbed/cut, because if you are in an escalating situation, you are not just going to "brandish" it & that's it. so, before you get a knife, try to arm yourself instead with a can of pepper spray or a flashlight as another posted mentioned above. a good heavy flashlight can be used as a bludgeon/baton as well.

4. in the winter, you can also wear weaponized gloves -- slim black gloves lined with birdshot, which allow you to powerfully strike with the side ridge of the hand, causing your threat much pain while not risking shattering those little bones in your hand, one of the risks of throwing a bare knuckle punch. these gloves are a law enforcement product that is not regulated like blades are. you can buy them on amazon.

5. take some self-defense classes and work on your ability to identify threats/react to threats instinctively and quickly. this is a skill, you have to learn it and practice it in order to be able to use it. read the gift of fear by gavin de becker, which will help you tell the difference between an opportunistic mugger who just wants your iphone and someone who truly means you harm.

6. krav maga can help you with unarmed self defense greatly, and kali/escrima wil help you with self defense involving knives and sticks. kali is a very good way to learn how to carry a blade and how to handle attackers who have blades.
posted by zdravo at 5:49 PM on November 27, 2011

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