With the overwhelming number of tactical knives on the market, selecting one for a backup weapon is a challenge. As Master Po would have said, "Choose wisely."
A cursory examination of forums reveals countless differences of opinion. Debates between folding and fixed blade knives—as well as plain vs. serrated edges—are as irresolute as the 9mm vs. .40 vs. .45 rivalries. All have their strengths and weaknesses. When you seek the optimal solution for armed or unarmed combat there's no absolute answer: It depends on the situation.
Before I express my opinions, I'll relate their foundation. I'm a 30-year career cop with 20 years of patrol experience on a large urban police department; a black belt holder in three martial arts; and a lifelong, perpetual student of interpersonal combative arts. But I'm far from a grand master knife fighter.
In choosing a knife, consider all the options, limitations, and imaginable questions. Do you have room on your belt for a fixed blade? Are there department regulations and/or restrictions? What about state and local laws? Will you have accessibility problems due to body type and size? Will retention be a possible issue? And so on … Now pick the best compromise for you: the most functional, not the most "tacti-cool."
Fixed blade backup knives are becoming increasingly popular. Two built specifically as emergency backup weapons are Benchmade's CBK (above, right) and the TDI Ka-bar. They are fairly small when compared with traditional fixed blade combat knives but capable of neutralizing a deadly threat quickly.
For those who can't carry a fixed blade, a folding knife may be the only option. There are lots of considerations for folders, but I consider this paramount: Never use any emergency backup weapon as a utility knife for general cutting. You want your blade to be factory fresh and scalpel sharp when that moment of need arises. A small utility-grade folder carried elsewhere will suit those common, blade-dulling needs.
For me, a pocket clip is mandatory for folding knives. If buried deep in your pocket, a knife is hard to retrieve and deploy in a crisis. Even with training, practice, and a pocket clip, a folder will be more difficult to deploy than a fixed blade.
With a folding knife, make sure it opens easily and locks open securely . As a general rule, you get what you pay for. One of my biggest fears of a folding knife breaking is the possibility of it closing on my hand. I've never had a knife do so, but I believe such an event would seriously impede performance in combat.
Let's face the ugly truth. If you're ever forced to employ a knife as an emergency backup weapon, it's going to get very bloody, very quickly. So look for a knife that has a deeply textured form-fitting grip. The surface should provide a solid grip even when wet, and should feel like an extension of your body when you hold it. It must also provide a stop that prevents your hand from sliding forward onto the blade.
I prefer knives that are non-reflective black. To me, it's harder to detect their presence when clipped to standard blue or black uniform pants pockets.
If you want most of the advantages of a fixed blade, combined with the portability of a pocket clipped folding knife, a high-quality, out-the-front auto opener is a solid choice (like Benchmade's popular Infidel, left). They're easy to distinguish orientation by feel and the forward opening motion won't be hindered by a less-than-perfect grip.
Regardless of what you buy, it's imperative that you train. Suggestion: Get a dull training knife and use it. Just like a firearm, proper training and practice will allow you to realize the potential of the tool. The skill level of the user, developed through training and practice, is what makes it a formidable weapon. A great training resource is Kelly McCann's Kembativ Knife (Visit www.LawOfficer.com, and keyword search "Kembativ").
Take your time in researching and choosing a high quality knife. Remember: The knife is only half of the equation. Your training and practice is what will transform it from a tool to a tactical edge for close encounters of the worst kind.
Sgt. Charles E. Humes Jr. is recognized internationally as one of the pioneers of modern, realistic police defensive tactics training. He's taught seminars and instructor certification schools nationally and has trained police instructors at the international training conferences of IALEFI and ILEETA. Humes is the author, director, editor and producer of the top-selling police video training tape Dynamic Striking Techniques, used by police departments, training academies and individual officers worldwide.