The need for wrist-grab defenses makes a lot of sense—put a knife or any other weapon in your hand and your attacker will try to grab your wrist to try to keep you from using that weapon against him. Like many other skills, there is a significant difference between practical, combative wrist-grab counters and “martial artsy” methods. While aikido-style wrist rotations and locks are fun to practice and look impressive, they often don’t work against an unexpected grab from a highly motivated training partner or a real attacker. Just as importantly, they fail to take into consideration the reason you’re probably using a knife in the first place—your attacker also has a weapon. And keeping him from using that weapon against you has to remain a top priority.
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HIT HARD, HIT FAST
The simplest method of countering a wrist grab is to hit your attacker hard enough—or, more accurately, effectively enough—to cause him to let go. As soon as he latches onto your wrist, use your non-weapon hand to strike him in the face, or, even better, poke him in the eyes to change the game and cause him to release his grip. Done quickly and decisively, this defense can be very effective. However, it is also risky because you are not doing anything to control the attacker’s weapon-wielding arm.
Another strike-based defense against a wrist grab is to use your non-weapon hand to slap or hit the inside of the attacker’s wrist. A sudden, forceful impact on the inside of the wrist can shock the flexor tendons and cause the hand to involuntarily open. You are also working against the weakest part of the attacker’s grip—where his fingers and thumb come together. A similar tactic is to use the forearm of your non-weapon hand to “shear” his hand off your wrist. This is a push-pull action that consists of driving your forearm forward as you jerk your knife hand forcefully to the rear. Again, however, you must be quick since you leave your attacker’s weapon-wielding hand free to strike.
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The safest way to break a wrist grab is to first control the attacker’s weapon arm to prevent him from striking or stabbing you. Although it’s tempting to grab his wrist as well, this puts you on equal terms and allows him two joints of mobility— his elbow and shoulder. A better solution is to drive the web of your hand into the pocket of the elbow of his weapon- wielding arm; drive your arm to full extension, locking the elbow and pushing his arm away from you. Since you are using the full length of your arm against the middle of his arm, “yours is longer than his.” It’s also stronger because, when it’s fully extended, you can rely on skeletal strength instead of muscle. Nevertheless, it’s only a temporary advantage, so you still need to be quick.
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One of the simplest and easiest ways to break the attacker’s wrist grab is to use your body weight. While maintaining your control of his weapon hand with your free hand, extend your weapon hand straight downward and lock your elbow. Then, quickly bend your knees and drop into a squat so your entire body weight works against his grip on your wrist. This movement should be as explosive as possible and should feel like you’re trying to pick both feet up off the ground, rather than just bending your knees. Even the strongest attacker won’t be able to hold your entire body weight up with one hand, so breaking his grip is virtually guaranteed.
Once your knife hand is free, take advantage of the opportunity to finish the fight by immediately cutting across the quadriceps muscle of his nearest leg within the first few inches above the knee. This muscle is responsible for extending the knee joint and allows the leg to support weight. Severing it instantly cripples that leg and will typically drop an attacker to the ground. This “mobility kill” should allow you to escape.
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This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Fall 2015 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.