By Comrade D.
[The contributor of this piece is a certified Judo coach and has participated in numerous antifa-type actions. While they are an experienced comrade, this article is intended primarily to help comrades avoid serious injury from knife-attacks during actions and not as a way to disarm or overcome knife-wielding reactionaries. As a general rule, our safety and that of our comrades should always be the first concern when dealing with these situations, and this piece was written with the primary intention of listing precautions that will keep to that rule.]
These are dangerous times for leftists. The Brexit vote has shown that, within the parasitic, white nations of the first world, fascism has emerged as the primary opposition to overseas imperial ventures, displacing the left (an outcome J. Sakai predicted in his excellent article The Shock of Recognition). With the waxing of the insurrectionary right in the imperial countries has come an increased use of traditionally working class tactics by them.
There have been three major stabbings done by fascists in the past year. Although the total number of victims is around ten, none have died of their wounds as of the writing of this article. Still, any number is too many. In this article I’ll show some simple precautions comrades doing antifa actions can take to make themselves safer during actions, based on my experience doing them and my time doing self defense instruction. Note that this article will NOT cover techniques for disarming a knife. There’s no substitute for teaching from a competent instructor of martial arts/combat sports and even that can only improve your odds of walking away without serious injuries, not guarantee them. Comrades interested in that should check out a Brazilian Jujitsu, Judo or MMA gym.
Before I go any further, I’d like to cover some of the common myths about knives. These myths have spread themselves around our communities, aided by macho bragging and the wish to appear more knowledgeable than one is. Especially for male comrades, it’s important to understand the limitations of your knowledge and not present yourself as an expert if you’re not sure you are one.
MYTH 1: SINGLE STABS ARE LETHAL
This is not 100% false. A single stab in a vital area can be deadly. However the vast majority of stabbings fail to hit those spots (as they are places either instinctively protected by reflex or somewhat shielded by bone). It has been reported that around 9/10 stabbing victims survive their wounds. With proper medical attention the likelihood of fatal injury from an attack with a knife is seriously reduced. This is of course not intended to downplay the seriousness of a potentially deadly attack, simply something to keep in mind to help ease any paranoia you may have.
MYTH 2: IF YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO, YOU WON’T GET CUT
Conversely, some people, especially those who have a little training become dangerous to themselves and others by propagating dangerous myths of their own invincibility. The reality is that the physical characteristics of the weapon and the chaotic nature of the kind of group brawling that characterizes most antifa actions makes avoiding any kind of cut at all very difficult. You will almost certainly be cut at least once.
MYTH 3: YOU WILL SEE THE KNIFE
The vast majority of stabbing victims do not realize a knife is present until after they have been cut. Some don’t even realize this until after the fight/attack is over. Sometimes I think that the likelihood of a fascist using a knife and their displaying one are inversely proportional.
The one time I had to disarm a knife, I didn’t know the knife was present until after I had to disarm it. Fortunately I had tied the fascist up in clinch and secured a technically dominant position on the ground that meant he never had the chance to reach for it in the first place, where I could remove it and throw it out of the area. If i’d squared off to box with him, I might have been stabbed that day.
MYTH 4: THE ATTACK WILL BE WITH A TELEGRAPHED, OBVIOUS BLOW, OR TECHNICAL TRICKERY
Related to the myth above, people raised on diets of movies often believe that knife attacks are done with a large, thrusting stab or a kind of over the top ice-pick attack. Neither of those are likely. The most common (front side) attack uses the unarmed forearm to shove the victim, combined with the attacker’s body-weight. Quick stabs are then made at the chest while the victim is having to retreat to keep their balance. If you end up seeking training, keep that in mind.
MYTH 5: THERE ARE “KNIFE FIGHTERS”
Again related to machismo issues, there are many men who present themselves as hyper-masculine experts on the use and disarmament of a blade. Logically though, even the hardest lumpen will only have ever used a knife a few times in their life, or they’d be dead or in prison (not to mention the scarring that would be visible all over their bodies). Keep a skeptical eye.
Various gimmicky products are also available on the open market: “pressure point” batons, low-powered pepper spray, etc. I can’t recommend any of them.
That in mind, here are the precautions themselves.
1. BE AWARE
This can be a tall order in the chaos of the kind of (literally) running fights that characterize the moments in antifa actions when the two forces suddenly meet. The OODA loop can be quickly overwhelmed by all the information streaming at your head. But where possible, you should always try to keep an eye on your opponents. Watch their hands to see if they reach for something and their clothing for suspicious lumps. A person carrying a weapon will often unconsciously touch the weapon, so if you see them touch themselves repeatedly in the same spot, assume they have a weapon there…or a jock itch. This observation can be done during the long, boring time when fascists have successfully holed up behind police lines. Report to your comrades your observations.
2. TAKE MEDICAL PRECAUTIONS
Gauze and bandages should be carried by all capable of it. Basic first aid training is helpful for any squad. Designate medics before the action begins and always be sure to keep track of them throughout the action.
3. ARMOR UP
The right clothing can reduce your risk. We’ll go over that body part by body part.
Head and Face: There’s not much that can be done here, unless you’re willing to go in wearing a full motorcycle helmet, possibly risking more from heat exhaustion than attacks. The standard t-shirt mask provides some protection from slashing attacks but almost none against a stab. Fortunately successful attacks at the head are rare because of hardwired reflexes to defend it. Almost all knife attacks at the head from the front end up actually hitting a hastily thrown up forearm or hand instead.
Torso and Arms: For the purpose of armoring here, a thick leather biker jacket increases your safety (thin leather/pleather is not as helpful). It provides near complete protection against slashing attacks and some (but not guaranteed!) protection against a stab. Kevlar offers very good protection against a stab but is expensive. Various home-made substitutes are inefficient and not recommended. Also, try to secure the jacket to your pants (most biker jackets have some sort of strap for that purpose), to prevent it slipping up, exposing the bladder (which can cause sepsis if stabbed).
This can get hot. To mitigate that, ice packs can be stuffed in the secret pockets such jackets often have or duct taped to your torso.
Hands: Thick leather gloves offer some amount of protection and should be worn if feasible, both for physical and legal protection. Cut resistant gloves, designed for industrial workers, are even better. Keep in mind that any glove can slip up, exposing the underside of the wrist. Use hairbands or string to secure the button edge of the glove if you can.
Legs and Feet: There’s not much that can be done there. Thick jeans also offer some protection against slashes but almost none against stabs. Cuts of the femoral artery can lead to lots of blood loss. Deep cuts of the thighs should have a tourniquet applied immediately for that reason.
Cup type protectors can also protect the groin. Knee pads are also useful because of the frequency of grappling, which often causes knees to be dropped hard on the pavement. This rarely leads to immediate breakage of the patella but can be painful in the long run, especially if you have to stand around afterwards. The priority for shoes is comfort while running. Badly fitted shoes can cause problems after the action too; I found this out after an antifa action that was successful but left me with a Jones Fracture of one of the small bones of my instep caused by rapid changes in direction while running. Learn from my mistake.
4. USE NUMBERS
Antifa almost always outnumber our adversaries. A knife brandishing fascist should be circled by two or more antifa immediately. Again, due to the shove-and-stick method of most knife attacks, pincer movements are an obvious counter. This is not advice exclusive to knives, but should be used in every confrontation. Do so preemptively if you see a verbal confrontation happening, by casually strolling to the side.
5. CONTROL DISTANCE
Knife attacks are almost always done with between 2 and 5 feet between the victim’s body and the knife (again, the shove-and-stick attack). That’s the danger zone for an attack. Knowing this, it’s possible to prevent an attack before it occurs by controlling the distance. At the far distance, flagpoles are invaluable (roll the flag up or turn it upside down before striking; otherwise it will act as a sail/air-brake, robbing you of power). They can’t prevent a determined attacker from closing the distance, but they will make that rushing so much slower and more obvious that comrades at your side should be able take them in pincer.
Conversely, extreme closeness is also invaluable in that it makes the knife more difficult to draw and stab with. It is almost always better to rush the wielder, especially from the side, than to retreat from them, unless you have a weapon that works at long range, such as a pole. To go too much further into that subject is beyond what can be shown in a written article, but even an untrained person can control a bonehead they’ve clinched with from behind.
It can be helpful to play this kind of thing as a kind of sport/sparring. Use white t-shirts and dry erase markers, have different teams square off and fight for specific goals. Keep the safety of your comrades as your first priority, but do this with intensity. If you decide on this course and wish for guidance, contact the author of this article (via the RAIM email) and we can set up some observation of it over skype.
7. PSYCHOLOGICALLY SELF-CARE
Knives, due to the gravity of their use and their association with male violence in popular culture, are stressful topics to talk about for most people. While this is a serious topic, don’t let its seriousness lead into psychologically unhealthy behaviors: excess paranoia, PTSD flashbacks, fear, overcompensation for fear, etc. Take time to take care of yourself and manage your exposure to the subculture of settler men around weapons of all kinds carefully. It’s a deeply unhealthy place that brings to mind Dale Gribble, from King Of The Hill: insecure white men in camo pants, hair trigger to defend their down-home, folksy, parasitic way of life with an arsenal of gimmicky weapons, forever engaged in games of one-upmanship.
As the insurrectionary right fights for supremacy with the neoliberal right and the left fights for its existence and relevance, we can expect a general escalation in the severity of tactics used by all sides. I hope this article can keep comrades somewhat safer in the coming months. If you have questions, feel free to contact me, via the official RAIM email.
- Studies conducted at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania showed that of those rushed to emergency rooms with stabbing wounds (showing signs of life at the time) 92.3% survived their injuries. (http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/news/news_releases/2014/01/band/)