Force Science News #22:

“Bread & Butter” Tactics Work Best Against Spontaneous Knife Attacks



At the first break at the first Force Science seminar, an attorney from Idaho approached presenter Dr. Bill Lewinski and said he’d figured out how to defend an officer he’s representing in a controversial shooting, just from what he’d heard in the program’s first



It was that kind of day!


More than 200 enthusiastic attendees were present from 6 states, ranging

from Arizona to Alaska, and 2 Canadian provinces for the debut of the day-long instruction at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Academy near Seattle (WA) on June 10.



Most were patrol officers from police and sheriffs’ departments, but the audience also included homicide and IA investigators, administrators, academy directors and

trainers, college CJ instructors, school resource officers, medical examiner and DA

representatives, probation officers, civilian reviewers, police attorneys, corrections officers and specialized enforcement personnel–all eager to hear the latest from the Force Science Research Center on the dynamics of lethal confrontations.


Lewinski, executive director of the Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato, explained in detail how FSRC’s growing body of unique research impacts LEOs’ ability to survive extreme encounters, particularly officer-involved shootings, not only on the street but in court as well. His presentation ranged from how officers best can overcome the disadvantage they suffer because of lag time to how they can protect themselves from unjust accusations of improper force in what appear on the surface to be questionable circumstances.


More than 90 per cent of attendees rated the program extremely valuable or valuable to

them professionally.


Lewinski said proceeds from the first seminar will be used to fund a

research project focused on testing techniques for officer survival against subjects with a lethal weapon (known as the Ron Avery Hit Probability experiment).


During the next year, FSRC intends to present about a dozen Force Science

seminars at various locations in the U.S., Canada and abroad. The next two presentations will be back-to-back in London, England, Oct. 6 – 11. Those programs will incorporate a second day, covering material on the psychological and emotional impact of critical incidents, presented by Dr. Alexis Artwohl, a police psychologist and FSRC National Advisory Board member.


When a schedule of other locations is issued it will be reported by Force Science News. For more information, contact


We would like to offer special thanks to Kent PD Training Officer Bill Blowers and Records Specialist Robin Gaither for their tremendous support in the registration process. Their help was invaluable!




The Mailbag is a dynamic forum where you can share your questions, comments and professional force-related experiences, with opportunities for feedback not only from researchers at the Force Science Research Center but from our thousands of readers worldwide as well. It’s a great vehicle for networking and exchanging valuable information. If you have comments or questions to share, please e-mail us at


Our recent 2-part series on edged -weapon defense [FS News #17 & #18] challenged one of the old standbys of law enforcement training, the 21-foot rule. In this issue’s Mailbag, we share how some readers reacted:


[Please note that the comments, suggestions and opinions reflected in the Force Science Mailbag are those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Force Science Research Center, its research partners or its advisors.]





There are 2 types of knife attacks that an officer can encounter: a non-spontaneous attack where the officer is aware in advance that the subject has armed him/herself with a knife, and a sudden, spontaneous attack at close range, where there is a high probability that the officer will not even know that a knife is involved. These are 2 distinctly different types of scenarios that need 2 distinctly different training solutions.


Almost every officer-safety instructor will agree on how to deal with non-spontaneous knife assaults. Gain and maintain firearms readiness, keep distance from the subject, use barriers if available and if attacked, shoot while moving off the line of attack. Where instructors disagree is on how to train an officer for spontaneous knife assaults. Some believe in a block, strike and ground strategy. Others believe in blocking the attack, seizing the attacking arm and attacking the subject until the threat is no longer present.


Lets look at some realities of spontaneous knife attacks. The problem with strategies that promote grabbing the attacking arm and engaging the attacker is the assumption that the officer knows he is being attacked with a knife and will actually stop the attack and overwhelm the subject. Rationally, this strategy fails. If a small, weaker officer cannot overpower an unarmed attacker because of physical limitations, what chance will he or she have with that same attacker armed with a knife? This is not a fatalistic attitude, simply a reality.


Some instructors promote not attempting to draw your firearm. And some trainers contradict themselves by saying expect to be cut in a knife attack, but don’t attempt to go for your firearm because you leave yourself open to being cut. Yet the only thing that can consistently end a knife attack is a bullet penetrating the subject’s body. Play the odds: What is the percentage of times officers will be able to seize the attacking arm of a subject versus going for a gun sitting on their hips?


With the time constraints on teaching skills to recruits, we must look at maximizing our training. We have to look at existing skills each individual has and tap into theses skills. Trainers and students need to look at “internal stimulus training” which involves a shift in traditional thinking. The natural “flinch” reaction to a sudden attack becomes the stimulus to the officer, not the “attack” that caused the flinch. Let the officer do what he or she is going to do anyway–”flinch”–then begin their training there.


Train them once they finish flinching to respond with what ever technique they feel natural responding with. You will find that people prone to grappling will grab and interfere with the attack, many hockey players will respond with strong side punches, etc. When they respond with their “bread and butter” technique, their goal is to gain distance, get off the line of attack and move to one of their weapons, depending on what type of attack they believe they are under.


Every officer should have a Bread & Butter Response that is an instinctive reaction to an assault. Whether you are grabbed or the subject strikes out at you, your bread and butter response will not differ. Your response should be built around a flinch. Just as you blink when someone flicks an object at your eyes you will flinch when someone spontaneously assaults you. As you are flinching, it needs to be automatic that you are moving off the line of attack.


From your flinch your Bread & Butter Response should revolve around your strengths. In confrontations there are strikers and grapplers. Your goal for either will be to create distance to allow you to escalate force options. If you are a striker you build your response around striking. If you have a background in grappling (i.e.: judo) it will revolve around a simple throw to gain distance. If you are a soccer player you’ll make a response around using your legs. Instructors will work with you to determine target selection.


The Justice Institute of British Columbia Use of Force Unit in September 2004 ran a knife scenario with 70 recruits that trained in controlling the delivery system (arm). All recruits were told simply that a scenario was going to unfold and they were to act accordingly. When the recruit turned from facing a wall to begin the scenario, an assailant immediately ran approximately 6 feet directly at the recruit with the knife held in his right hand and started to stab the recruit in the midsection.


Four recruits attempted the arm control principle and one recruit was successful. Just that fact alone indicated that if the recruits were not employing the technique under a spontaneous and dynamic circumstance that we needed to “change the way we do business.” Even if the technique worked 100 per cent of the time, if the recruits were not using the technique it is not going to be effective.


Of the 70 recruits more than half indicated that they did not know that a knife was involved until after the scenario was finished. The ones who were successful were the ones who created distance by either getting off the line of attack by striking or simply dynamically moving.


Another group of 22 recruits was not taught the arm-control principle. They were taught to initiate their Bread & Butter move and get off the line of attack or to fight to gain distance and escalate force options. Again the recruits who did best were the ones who created distance either immediately or upon striking.


In this group of 22, 14 were able to create space and either go to their baton (if they did not see the knife) or gun (if knife was observed). Eight recruits were not able to get off the line of attack, and ended up in a clinch situation. Nine recruits indicated that they knew a knife was involved upon being stabbed while 13 did not.


The one aspect that is evident is that the successful recruits were those who immediately went into action to create space and/or get off the line of attack!


One very important aspect of a system built around creating space is that it is easier to train, more realistic, gives you time to make a better force decision and is a proven entity.


Insp. Kelly Keith

Atlantic Police Academy

Prince Edward Island, Canada

(Assisted by Sgt J. Quail, Winnipeg Police Service, and Sgt J. Irvine, Justice Institute of British Columbia, Vancouver)




During firearms training when I worked as a Law Enforcement Ranger in Yellowstone National Park, we tested the 21-foot rule, from the holstered position (snapped) to being on target. In most instances the subject running at you made it to you. This was used to show that if we saw someone with an edged weapon within this distance and it went sour, we’d better be prepared to make adjustments.


We did our training in sagebrush with large rocks around. It made it pretty interesting, especially when you fell and landed in cactus. Even if you fell, you were still expected to win in your situation. Our trainer did not allow any of us to accept failing for any reason.


Dep. Thomas Totland

Park County Sheriff’s Office

Livingston, MT




Scott Reitz of ITTS (International Tactical Training Seminars) and lead firearms instructor for the elite Metro division at LAPD, has created a knife attack simulator and has been preaching for several years that the 21-foot rule, based on his observations of student performance on the simulator, is antiquated. Over and over again, officers are defeated when the attack comes from 21 feet.


Reasons vary but include poor/slow holster work, missed shots due to no front site picture, etc. Increases in distance show the shooters beginning to get hits on target before being stuck or slashed by edged weapons.


Scott’s research and training philosophy fall into place with the good work your organization is putting out.


Patrol Officer Shannon Jay

National Park Service

San Francisco, CA



Officers are in an imminent life-threatening situation whenever a person with a knife or club is noncompliant and advancing toward the officer. Shooting even at close range will not guarantee the assailant is incapacitated by bullet wounds before inflicting a fatal injury on the officer.


Two things we know: Officers often miss the suspect entirely (even at close range) and when they do hit, many bullet wounds are simple soft tissue through-and-through wounds, not incapacitating.


Best defense for officer: Retreat if possible. Make suspect come to you–much clearer proof of threat.


Reece Trimmer

former North Carolina Justice Academy legal instructor

Salemburg, NC


In Transmission # 20, Force Science News reported a study that linked red uniforms to athletic success, but we cautioned against projecting that favorable finding onto police uniforms. Readers who responded agreed.




As the researches have pointed out, red is already aggression/confrontation-driven and does not augur well with the professionalism and image of the policeman. The police in many instances are already a problem for the community to relate to and red does not generate “friendliness.” Red means “halt,” “stop,” “dangerous,” “problematic,” “warning to indicate some sort of trouble ahead,” etc. Yellow/amber/orange are also bad because they generally predict some form of warning and to be cautious ahead. Green and grey are good but they seem to be “militaristic.”


Colors like maroon, beige-brown or dark purple are generally better.


Executive Officer Dominic Chan

Human Rights Dept.

Bar Council Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur




I wonder what the gangbangers would think of cops in red uniforms? Red is Norteno [Northern California] color while blue is for the Sureno [Southern]. And then there are the Crips and the Bloods. Not to mention the Asian gangs. Anyway who wants to be that visible?


Coordinator Tom Huff

South Bay Regional Police Standards & Training Council

San Jose, CA



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Written by Force Science Institute

June 27th, 2005 at 4:00 pm

© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.