Knife in Chinese man’s head

Here’s something you don’t see every day…

A Chinese man living in Yuxi, Yunnan province, had a knife removed from his head after it had been lodged there for four years…

He suffered from headaches, had difficulty swallowing and so on. He self-medicated for years to live with the pain but eventually, he went to see the doctors. Imagine their surprise when they took an x-ray and saw a knife lodged in his skull…

Knife in Chinese man's head.

X-ray of the knife inside the Chinese man's head.

Turns out the man fought a robber four years ago and remembered being struck in the jaw during the fight. I guess you could say he was pretty lucky to survive it…  But that’s not what I wanted to point out, this is:

The man didn’t even know he got stabbed, let alone have a blade still inside him.

Which only goes to show that fights are unpredictable and things can happen so fast, you don’t know what’s going on until it’s too late.  He clearly didn’t see the blade because he never even considered a knife wound as the cause for his medical issues. Had the knife struck a few inches to the side, the Chinese man wouldn’t have survived it. So he got real, real lucky.

This is one of the biggest issues I have with people who claim sports fighting techniques are great for self defense. It’s not that they can’t work in that environment, that’s not the problem because they sure can. But you typically don’t train knife defense when you’ll be fighting in the Octagon, simply because there won’t be a knife-wielding opponent there. And defending from a knife attack is very different from defending against a double leg take down. Which seems common sense to me but apparently it’s not for many devoted combat sports practitioners. Because if you claim otherwise, they say you’re a dumb as brick traditionalist.

Knife blade in Chinese man's head.

The knife, after removal form the man's head.

The weird thing is this: go to any MMA or muay Thai gym and ask if they agree that the way you train will be the way you react. Most of them will agree. Then ask them if you have to train for what happens the most in the Octagon instead of preparing for some sort of traditional art’s concept like fighting on an ancient battlefield.  I’m pretty sure they’ll agree again.

But if you then point out that outside the Octagon, people use knives and other weapons, especially the criminals who are most likely to attack you, they don’t see the disconnect: sports fighting is not self-defense because it doesn’t address what happens most in real-life violence. It’s similar, I absolutely agree with that. But the differences are just as important as the similarities (Thank you Randy!) and it’s the differences (he’s unarmed vs. he has a knife) that can get you killed.

“Yeah but how about defending against unarmed attacks?! MMA is the shit for that!!!”

I don’t think that’s true but I’ll not dispute that sports fighting can be devastating in unarmed self-defense situations. Being able to punch, kick, knee, throw, etc. with a lot of speed and power is a crucial skill to have there.  But here’s the rub:

Just like with our poor Chinese man here, you might only find out weapons are involved when it’s too late to do anything about it. Chances are, you won’t be as lucky as him so perhaps it’s not the best idea to count on luck here and prepare accordingly.


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  1. Nice one Wim!

    I have found numerous other examples where people have been stabbed and not realised it. It seems to be quite a common thing. This post here just adds to the evidence trail. I have added this page to that article.

    The link is here,

    Feel free to delete this if this in inappropriate. Just thought it would add to this article. It seems to be quite common… More people should know about it.

  2. Hi Wim,

    I totally agree that sports fighting techniques may get you hurt or worse on the street. But, my question is, can you really train to “fight” or rather defeat a knife wielding thug who is intent on hurting you bad. I have seen all kinds of unarmed techniques taught as SD against a knife from Chinese systems to Japanese systems to now Krav Maga and I am still not sure any of those will work. Also if, in the heat of the moment, we dont even come to know whether we were stabbed or just punched, then what happens to all those cool moves that are taught as knife defense.

    • Hi Kamal,

      I don’t think there are easy answers when it comes to knife defense. I really doubt if there are techniques that are foolproof here. Personally, I train as best as I can and hope for the best, that it will be enough. But there is no sure thing in SD, you just have to accept that.
      Cool moves are often only that: cool. :-) What not knowing if he’s armed means is that you assume he will be. If you’re right, you’re a step ahead of the game because your defense took that variable into account. As in, a guy swings at your head and you don’t do a standard MMA shielding block. Because if he has a knife in his hands, that would get you cut big time. If you’re wrong and he’s unarmed, no problem: you still handle the attack.

  3. Hi Wim,

    I agree with you completely. Even though we have an MMA class as one of the course offerings of our school, I teach a segment simply called, “MMA Will Get YOU KILLED Against The Blade!” This is very eye opening for the participants. We then teach the principles of shielding, distance and movement.

    Keep up the great articles.

    Mick Jolly

  4. Damn. Nice find and good example.

    There are big issues with traditional knife defense techniques and there are also big issues with MMA sport fighting against weapons.

    A lot of the TMA is based on a battle field situation where opponents wore armor on their forearms. This makes rising blocks and many more TMA knife disarms plausible. Problem is this was at least 500 years ago! Also, I’ve not seen many TMA systems that deal with wild slashers. Most of it seems to be telegraphed thrusts or the horror movie Michael Meyers overhead stab.

    Sport martial arts has problems too: My current instructor demonstrated putting a senior student in the classic Spike TV UFC armbar. As he was doing it student helper pulled a wooden dowel (aka simulated knife) from his pants and proceed to slash and stab the shit out of teacher’s legs. Yes, if it were the “the street” the attacker might end up with a broken arm. However, defender would likely bleed out.


  5. S. Omar Ahmad says

    The first rule of knife fighting is that everyone gets cut. If you see the glint, run like hell.

  6. That is so true. I used to get in a lot of trouble when I was younger and studied FMA getting an instructor rank in several “styles”. I have been in and seen numerous knife fights as I grew up and still live in the Philippines. One of the things people do not realize is that training for MMA DOES NOT prepare you for any bladed attacks. Knife attacks happen very fast and usually by surprise. I have been cut several times by a knife and on those occasions did not feel a thing until after the altercation. In one particular incident a guy cut my arm just above my elbow and I had to get 25 stitches. I thought every thing was good and dandy but after the fight while I was on the way home my arm felt really wet. As soon as I looked I had this huge gash and the wet feeling was my blood all over.

  7. The first rule of knife fighting is avoid it at all costs. If you can escape run away! Sometimes this is not an option, and you should certainly prepare to be cut or stabbed. 9 out 10 knife fights will likely result in you taking some sort of injury. Once in safe place when the fight is over, you will need to get these wounds checked out immediately. Time can be crucial, and finding help fast can be extremely important to your survival. depending where you’ve been stabbed. My advice for the fight it’s self, depends on if you have knife or are unarmed. If you are unarmed, I suggest keeping as much distance from your attacker as possible. If you are armed then I suggest striking your opponent fast and hard, multiple times until he is no longer a threat. Sometimes it’s kill or be killed.

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