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Any serious student of defensive shooting should be familiar with the term “stopping power.” In simple terms, the goal of self-defense is to strike your attacker and render him or her physically incapable of continuing the attack—you stop it. While some tactics, including the simple act of drawing a weapon with conviction, may be enough to deter the assailant, physical incapacitation is the true core of stopping power.

If we accept that this goal applies also to firearms, then this logically should be the goal of all self-defense tactics. No matter what weapon you use, your objective should be to apply it in such a way as to cause tangible physical damage to your attacker that, based on sound principles of medical science, will lead to predictable and rapid incapacitation. But when it comes to the defensive (or, in a broader sense, combative) use of knives, much of what is taught today is misguided and impractical. To truly understand the stopping power of knives, you need to understand the basics of human anatomy—as well as a little bit of history.

Bloody Danger Zone

One of the most common misconceptions of defensive knife tactics has to do with blood loss, or exsanguination, and its relationship to stopping an attacker. Even popular clichés like “Go for the jugular” contribute to this misconception. (The jugular is a vein and therefore not a vital target.) While it’s true that inflicting severe bleeding wounds can ultimately take an attacker out of the fight, it takes much longer for someone to bleed to unconsciousness than most people think. And the longer an armed attacker is upright, mobile and dangerous, the greater your chance of suffering a serious or potentially mortal wound.

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Any serious student of defensive shooting should be familiar with the term “stopping power.” In…