When it comes to self-defense applications, there are many parallels between the gun world and the knife world. One topic that has always been the focus of intense gun-guy discussion concerns the real effectiveness of “pocket pistols”—small caliber, easily carried handguns that definitely function like their large-bore brothers, but don’t hit nearly as hard.

The logic behind these guns is that they are so convenient to carry, you will never have to do without and can ensure that you’re armed at all times. Forward-thinking shooters supplement this logic with weapon-specific tactics that make the best of the limited capabilities of these guns, focusing on close-range shooting at precise targets.

The edged-weapon equivalent of the pocket pistol is the typical neck knife. Although there are definitely some very capable exceptions to the rule, the average neck knife emphasizes small size, light weight and ease of carry over defensive function. Unfortunately, in many cases this means that it is carried more as a placebo than as a truly useful defensive tool. Truth be told, a false sense of security is the last thing you need in a real self-defense situation.

If you or someone you care about is a fan of neck knives, you owe it to yourself to really validate the full potential of your knife, your capabilities with it and the full scope of what you need to use one effectively in self-defense. With those goals in mind, let’s go through a reality checklist.

Most neck knives have small blades and less-than-ideal edge geometry. They also typically have very small handles, which make them difficult to grip. Together, these shortcomings severely limit the cutting and puncturing potential of these knives and therefore limit the damage that they can cause.

All knives require some degree of skill and commitment to use them effectively. The smaller and less capable the knife, the more skill you need to have to use it when situations get hairy. Just like shooting a tiny pistol with miniscule sights into very specific anatomical targets, fighting effectively with a neck knife requires a significant investment of time and training.

Although it is possible that a single stab or cut may deter an attacker, it is not likely. “Stopping” an attacker by inflicting pain or obvious, though not serious, injury is a psychological effect and totally unreliable. To physiologically stop someone, you must damage him so badly that he cannot continue to pose a threat to you. Accomplishing that with a very small knife alone is extremely difficult, so you need to “back up” your knife tactics with things that will reliably stop an attacker, like disabling low-line kicks or a transition to a more potent weapon.

To be able to use your neck knife at all, you must have the skill to deploy it quickly and positively in a life-threatening situation. That takes a well-planned carry strategy and dedicated practice in deployment skills.

Got What It Takes?
Now that we’ve got a better grasp of what we really need to use a neck knife effectively, it’s time to invest some time in quantifying the capabilities of your neck knife and investing in your skills. The first step in doing this should be to take a hard look at the neck knife you’ve chosen, how it fits your hand, and what the blade is really capable of. In doing this, you must remember that in a life-threatening situation, gross motor skills take precedence. That means you need to be able to grab your knife tightly in your fist and be able to cut and thrust with full force. If the design of your knife doesn’t allow you to do that without endangering your own hand, it’s time to shop for another knife.

Even if your knife’s design does allow full-force cuts and thrusts, you should realize that those tactics still have little chance of disabling your attacker. As such, your next step should be to augment your knife tactics with some sound, low-line kicking skills. In simple terms, your goal is to develop a system of tactics that begins with high-line cuts and thrusts with your knife and finishes with knee or ankle-breaking kicks that put your attacker down and allow you to escape.

Finally, you need to invest some practice in drawing your neck knife. This practice should take into consideration tucked or untucked shirts, jackets, multiple layers and any other variations you typically practice in your daily dress. It should also include some type of fending or guarding actions with your hands to survive the initial attack and create the opportunity for the draw.

The neck knife—like any other weapon—is not a self-defense cure-all. However, a well-designed knife and carry system combined with a sound, well-practiced set of tactics can significantly increase your personal defense capabilities.

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