Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Knife to Throat, A Misconception

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

A classic method of intimidation, both in movies and in real life, is for someone to put a knife to your throat. Feeling the sharp sting of the metal blade as it digs into your flesh definitely bring to the forefront of your mind the fact that you are merely mortal. For the most part criminals with weapons like to get as close to you as they can with those weapons because the natural instinct is that the closer they are the more control they have. Therefore, guns, knives, and many other weapons are often held very close to the victim so that there is no mistaking the grave situation they’ve found themselves in.

In as many ways as there are to hold a weapon to someone there are probably several hundred times more techniques to deal with the same situation. Whether it is moving out of the way, pivoting, pinning the weapon, controlling the arm, or the myriad of other tactics, the martial arts are full of answers to these situations.

One thing that I’ve noticed over the years is how people have gotten into almost mysticism when it comes to knives. The methods of using blades have nearly become almost dogmatic verging on cultish. Once person says, “the only way to stop a knife attack is this way!” and other person counters with the opposite and each guru has their hoard of followers. However, no matter how sure these knife experts are of their idea that “this” is what a knife attack looks like and “this” is how you defend against it, most of them can be disproven by watching a few hours of video footage of stabbings happen inside prisons. Prisons, of course, are where criminals learn how to be better criminals.

Earlier this morning, I watched a martial arts class held by a young man who was a black belt in some style of Karate that I’m not familiar with. This kid was surprisingly knowledgeable for someone who probably wasn’t old enough to graduate college and I enjoyed watching his class quite a bit. The only thing that really made me cringe a little was when he was showing self-defense techniques against a knife held to this throat.

The techniques he taught themselves were good; they were aggressive and straight to the point, I have no doubt they would have worked. However, he spent a great deal of time talking about the “fact” that once a knife is against your throat all your attacker has to do is make a little move and his knife will slice your jugular vein which will open up, start spraying blood, and you’ll die. This is where medicine and martial arts part ways.

I don’t know where the idea came from that a knife could easily slice through a human body but it starts to get ridiculous. Do you know why the US military stopped teaching soldiers to slice their enemy’s throats? The answer is because it is actually quite hard.

First, you need a very sharp knife…VERY sharp. Who knows what kind of knife is being held to your throat or how sharp it is. The skin of your neck is so soft even a fairly dull knife can feel like a razor. Most people treat knives very poorly so chances are that unless the knife is relatively new and still has a factory edge on it that it is hardly a razor.

Most people have carved a turkey before. Think about that; your cutting into skin and muscle, how easy is it to just go right through? Yes I know you’re cutting through the breast where the muscle is thickest, but if you didn’t slice across the breast to cut off a piece to eat and instead slashed at it how deep do you think you’d get? Now, how about it you held the blade right up to the turkey and then made a quickly slash like you were trying to cut the throat, how deep do you think you’d get?

I’ll bet the carving knife you use at Thanksgiving is a lot sharper then the knife some punk places against your throat. A knife isn’t magic, if you want the skin to open up you’re going to have to work for it.

When you cut the throat you really want the carotid artery not the jugular. The carotid artery comes directly from the heart and with ever heartbeat it delivers load after load of blood to your head and brain; the jugular vein carries that blood away from the head and back to the heart. Cutting a jugular vein can kill you it just takes longer. The blood will flow instead of pump out and it is easier to stop with pressure. The survivability of a cut or severed jugular vein is higher than a carotid artery.

NOTE: In this image from Gray's Anatomy the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle can be clearly seen along with the Jugular. The carotid artery is in back and colored red.

The problem is the carotid artery lies about an inch and a half inside the neck! First you have to get through the skin and down to the muscle. The muscles of the neck are quite thick and even with a doctor’s scalpel a quick slice won’t cut through them, especially the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle. This is the big muscle you can fell on both sides of your windpipe when you turn your head. This muscle runs in front of the jugular vein which sits in front of the carotid artery.

So, if you want to cut someone carotid artery you have to get through and inch and a half of skin, muscle tissue, and other bodily components. Anyone who has every butchered an animal or even cut into a rotisserie chicken that you buy at the supermarket should be able to tell you that flesh has a bit of resistance to it.

There are people walking around all over the work with scars on their necks from having their necks slashed and throats cut, and the reason they’re walking around is because those injuries are often perfectly survivable. Due to watching movies most people think that all you need to do is to take a little swipe at the throat and it will open right up and their victim will be dead in a matter of seconds but it doesn’t work like that.

If a criminal does put a knife to your throat and then go to cut you they’ll have instant resistance and almost no acceleration to get through it. I’ve seen many pictures of people who have had exactly that done to them and most have a nasty looking wound but it is just deep enough to get to the fat under the skin. Someone holding a katana sword to your throat may be able to severe your head with a quick movement of the sword, but some street punk with a knife is probably going to give you a perfectly survivable wound if they have the presence of mind to cut you when you make your first movement (which isn’t to say that they won’t stab you to death a few seconds after that).

Lastly, most people don’t understand how knives cut. A knife cuts by being drawn back and forth across the skin and not by merely pressing down. A lot of criminals merely press the knife into the skin and wonder why they don’t see blood.

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