07 February 2010

Can You Be Stabbed With a Knife and Not Know it?

A remarkable news story unfolded recently. A Russian woman, Julia Popova, aged 22, was mugged and had a 6 inch knife blade lodged in her back. She was so traumatized that she did not realise it was there until she walked home and her parents saw it!

Details of the actual mugging are unclear but it is the image above which is being widely spread around the Internet. There is some speculation as to whether it was faked but it seems at this stage that it is genuine.

This story prompted me to examine if this is a common occurrence. The examples below indicate that it may be.

Extreme Stress and Adrenaline

So is this possible? The human body is a remarkable organism. It can adapt to extreme stressors with some amazing adaptations. Some stories have emerged which involve knife attack victims being unaware they have been stabbed until after the attack. Some samples are provided below.

Punch/Stab in Leg
I remember a story told to me by a friend some time ago. Yes, he'd had a few drinks and was waiting with a friend who was at an ATM nearby. A male in his late 20's walked up to my friend and a disagreement or argument began. The man walked right up to my slightly intoxicated friend and the discussion continued face to face. The man then punched my friend in the leg, turned around and walked off. My friend thought at the time, "Who punches people in the leg? What a weirdo." It wasn't for another 30 seconds or so that he realised blood was on his leg. It was not a punch, but the man had stabbed my friend in the leg. He felt no pain, just a punching sensation. He almost died as the knife severed his femoral artery.

Stabbed in Back
Ron Kosakowski wrote at a Stick Fighting Forum, that when he was stabbed in the back, that he did not feel it right away but could barely move for 4-5 days afterwards. Also, one of his students is a doctor at an emergency room at a local hospital. The doctor says that people come in all the time, unaware they have been stabbed.

13 Days in Hospital
In another case, a man was stabbed on New Years Eve for 2009/2010. The victim, Adam Weaver, was stabbed in the chest and abdomen at 2am. Weaver spent the next 13 days in hospital recovering from a punctured and collapsed lung and abdominal wounds. During an altercation, Weaver said that he stepped in front of one of his friends and was knocked to the ground. He didn't realise he had been stabbed until he got back to his feet and the attackers had fled.

Statistics and Research
An interesting read on the subject is by Darren Laur called Edged Weapon Tactics and Counter Tactics. It contains some brief insights into statistics from government bodies and research conducted by the author. Some of the findings include:

  • Many people seldom saw the edged weapon that penetrated their body. They failed to recognise the danger cues due to faulty perception.

  • Knife attacks were found to be exceptionally accurate, to penetrate deeper that some bullets, creating remarkable permanent cavities and rip through numerous organs in one stroke.

  • Of subjects stabbed, 30% die from their wounds.

  • In the US, the majority of "street" type people carry some kind of edged weapon be it legal or illegal.

  • In the UK, edged weapon assaults are the most commonly used weapon for killing people (7 in 20).

  • Typical depth of a stab wound in homicide cases is 1 inch to 1.5 inches through the rib cage.

  • In most edged weapon attacks the victim received multiple knife wounds. The usual cause of death are usually the last few wounds of the overall attack.

  • In most edged weapon attacks, the defender is already involved in the physical encounter way before he or she even has time to realize that a knife is being used.

  • Most defenders see a thrust or slice with a knife as just another punch or kick and not an edged weapon assault.

  • It was difficult if not impossible for the defender to differentiate between an attack with an edged weapon or an attack using hands of feet. This was especially true when the defender was not aware from the start of the assault , that the attacker had a knife.

  • On Twitter, RomeZa shared with me an account of a knife attack on a friend of his. His friend got in a fight and was stabbed in the back with an ice pick. He didn't realise he had been stabbed until a few minutes after it had happened. The ice pick was lodged close to his spine but he eventually made a full recovery.

    Brent Sharp - Knife Attack Victim

    The final example is a terrible attack where a 22 yr old victim, Brent Sharp, was savagely attacked as he walked home from the pub at 2:20am on a Wednesday morning. Two men inflicted multiple cuts and slashes causing a punctured lung, ruptured spleen and cuts on his face. The attack appears to be for no reason as the two attackers made no attempt to steal any of Sharp's belongings.

    After the attack, Sharp said, "I thought I had just been bashed and didn't know I'd been stabbed." A common situation it seems.

    Shark Attack Too?

    Other stories involve shark attack victims. Many times the victim says that they felt down to their leg and it simply wasn't there. Their leg was bitten off but they felt no pain. All they felt was the overall impact of the strike. It is possible that the injury caused by a shark is similar to one caused by a knife. The shark has teeth and a knife has a blade. Perhaps the nature of the injury and the sharpness of the tool causes minimal signals to pain receptors. It is likely that a tearing of flesh or crushing injuries cause pain, where as a sharp cut or stab does not generate the same signals to send to the brain.


    One of the biggest reasons people are unaware they have been stabbed is due to them not realising a knife has been deployed at all. If people do not see a knife, they are very unlikely to consider that they have been stabbed. This comes down once again to awareness. Look at peoples hands when in a dangerous environment, time or situation. Remember that edged weapons are the most likely weapon used except in the US where they are the second most used weapon behind firearms (link to Australian edged weapon findings, UK edged weapon stats and US edged weapon stats).

    If they don't have a weapon in their hands, keep an eye on those hands as the weapon may still be concealed. This is quite common. Look for them going to their weapon. It may be up a sleeve, tucked in their pants or in a holster under their shirt. It may be fastened by velcro, a clip or simply held in place by a tight fitting. Keep an eye out for a knife or other weapon appearing DURING an encounter. It doesn't need to be there at the beginning.

    Finally, after an encounter, no matter if you "won" or not, check yourself. You may have been cut and not realise. Check thoroughly as the wounds may not hurt at all. Feel for blood. Get someone to check your back. If there is a wound, immediately apply pressure with some clean cloth preferably. Get medical help ASAP. If you don't have clean cloth use whatever is available including shirts. But stop the bleeding. And get to professional help straight away.

    Do you have any experiences with people getting stabbed and not knowing about it right away? Please share them below in the comments.

    UPDATE: Wim has found another example where a Chinese man had a knife recovered from INSIDE his head! He was involved in a robbery four years ago. That is when the knife was used against him. It has been inside him ever since. The man had no idea he had been stabbed the whole time! He went to the doctor with complaints of headaches and other ailments. An X-Ray revealed all...

    Check out Wims article at the following link, Knife Found in Chinese Mans Head

    Bookmark and Share


    1. It’s quite surprising to learn you don’t usually feel pain upon contact with the knife, especially if you didn’t realize it at first. Must be some kind of survival mechanism since it allows you to go on for a certain time period, allowing you to fight or run without immediately succumbing to the effects of the attack. In a way this is even somewhat positive news since getting cut or stabbed doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be in great pain (not at first at least) or your ability to move is seriously hampered (again at first). It is worrying knife wounds are actually far more lethal than gunshots, especially since it’s more likely the knifeman will keep pumping you with the knife (multiple injuries are common in knife related violence) while criminals usually take off in a hurry after they’ve shot someone (presumably in large part due to the noise and the alarm it raises). Of course it takes a lot more guts to kill someone with a knife (up close and personal) than with a gun so when someone actually comes at you with the damn thing it’ll likely be with murderous intention.

      I find it very hard to believe the first photo isn’t a fake: I’m not a doctor but I don’t think you can actually survive something like that, let alone just sit there like it’s nothing. You don’t see her face so it’s hard to tell it’s not some kind of mannequin and I have doubts about the source. Looked a bit too Halloween-like to me.

      If you’re confronted by an aggressive or obnoxious individual or you simply get bad vibes from someone the cardinal rule is to keep your distance: if you’re up close the party that initiates the action usually wins (action being faster than reaction), this is especially so with any kind of weapon and knives are even more dangerous since they can be easily hidden. Unfortunately in this day and age it’s hard to continually keep enough distance between yourself and others, at least not without looking like a weirdo and putting a serious damper on your social life. This is why it’s even more important to avoid potentially dangerous places and leave when it’s clear trouble’s brewing.

      Watching the hands is very sound advice (if he’s not showing his hands call him on it and if he refuses I’d attack first and then run), as is the often overlooked physical check-up after the event. First aid is a good skill to have and potentially life saving hence I feel it should be mandatory for advanced martial artists to take some basic classes so they can help themselves or others when needed. It would be a damn shame for someone to die unnecessary, especially when a few simple measures could mean the difference between life and death.



      PS: from all the weapons that are commonly found on the street the knife scares me the most and I really do hope I’ll never have to face one for real, although I do train seriously for such an event.

    2. Hey Zara, I have heard similar things about people who have been shot. Most people who have been shot (obviously unless it is fatal), have been able to continue on with the gunfight thanks to the effects of adrenaline. After the encounter is over, many people will rapidly go into shock as the adrenaline wears off. That is why most competent military and law enforcement training these days insist the trainees who have been shot in simunition serials do not lie down and scream "MEDIC!" but instead continue on and win the firefight. Once the firefight has been won, then administer rapid medical assistance.

      Whether shot, stabbed or king hit, continue on and win the fight first! Then check yourself and others and apply rapid first aid. It does seem from real cases that injuries will not be felt during the encounter. So like you say Zara, that is indeed a good thing to know.

    3. I heard of a case of a police officer and his partner who was in a gun fight with an armed offender. They shot the suspect dead. They proceeded to check each other for injury as it was at very close range. His partner noted that his shirt was shredded where a bullet had apparently passed through his shirt missing him. When he saw that, he relaxed knowing that he was not injured. At that point the vasoconstriction released and the bullet wound in his shoulder began to gush blood. He had not felt it because of the adrenaline and the vasoconstriction had prevented the bleeding until he made the psychological distinction (which then resulted in a physical response) that he was out of danger.
      Great article.

    4. Great lesson there Phil, thanks for sharing!

      The physiological effects of stress during combat which is being discussed in this post, are very beneficial for the human organism when it is in combat as it allows the body to continue fighting until the combat has ended and the threat has stopped.

      The body can and does endure damage during mortal combat, as can be seen in your comment Phil, and post combat checking (as these Police Officers did), is absolutely ESSENTIAL to minimise the damage done.

      If he had just gotten in his car and driven back to the station, he may have bled out quite a bit as he probably would not have felt the wound for some time, even though he may have felt the warm liquid after a while.

      Good lesson Phil, thanks again!

    5. I remember the old lady in the news, who got stabbed in the head by the robber, she was already shopping in the grocery store when somebody notices a knife in the back of her head.

    6. @chase: I also remember the news. It was televised here in our country. It was on The Amazing Stories. The old lady don't noticed that she got stabbed at her back. She taught she was just bumped by the guy at her back. She went to a convenience store and the security dept.watching the surveillance camera saw there is a knife at the back of the old woman. Really amazing, she was not hurt until she noticed it.

    7. Thanks for the further info Chase and sherlyn! It seems this is quite a common phenomenon.

      NOTE: There is now an update to this article with a link to another martial arts site where a Chinese man was stabbed four years prior in a robbery attempt and had the knife surgically removed. The man did not even know he had been stabbed that entire time!!!!!!!!!!

      He just went to see the doctor due to discomfort! It was inside him the whole time!

      Link here,

    8. Those are scarry pictures man,even if you know how to defend a knife attack it is still very hard!

      Martial Art Training

    9. They are scary but never forget you always have a chance against a knife attacker, no matter what. Never think you will be doomed. Fight for your life!

    10. I think your line that reads:

      Typical death of a stab wound in homicide cases is 1 inch to 1.5 inches through the rib cage.

      Is meant to say "depth" instead of "death".

    11. In 1991 I watched a massive fight breakout in a basement night club. When the dust settled a man was standing upright unaware that he got stabbed. His friend lifted up his shirt and his intestines were hanging out. He immediately went into shock, collapsed and died in hospital later that night. All over a $50 watch. The man who did the stabbing got 2 years in jail and that was only because he opened his mouth, else he would of been free due to lack of reliable witness testimony (dark club, loud music, small space). He cleaned up his life and was haunted by the incident for a number of years until he died unexpectedly last year. He ran into the man's widow some time later, since they ran in the same circles. She forgave him, but it destroyed her family.

    12. That's a sad story. What a needless loss of life. All too often, these sorts of incidents are over trivial matters. It again highlights the dangers of an edged weapon in close quarters and that the possibility of being stabbed and not knowing it is very real. If you ever are in an encounter or witness one, check the people involved for stab wounds, even if they don't think they have been stabbed. And be prepared to apply first aid and call an ambulance immediately.

    13. Nice post!

      Made think of this video by Paul Sharp, who's a SWAT police officer and has been associated w/ Straight Blast Gym and ECQC(Southnarc/Shivworks.) He did this quick look a knife defense and he also mentioned that based on his experiences in the field many times the person under attack didn't know they were stabbed.


    14. Maybe because of trauma that often endorphins flow block the pain receptors. On that case, is an isolated one. One will feel a sharp and painful one on with the knife.

    15. I was on a bounty hunting team in Los Angeles for some years, and one of the lead operators shared a story from his own life: He had been walking along a path towards a friend's house in the night when he got into an argument-turned-fight with someone.

      When he was able to get free, he ran (sprinted) about a half-mile to his friend's house ... and they had to tell him that he had a knife sticking out of his thigh!

      He had been full speed running, and didn't notice a knife stuck in his leg (which he obviously needed for running)!

      I've heard it before, and I agree completely: your training can't change if there's a knife introduced in a drill/kata ... because you probably won't know there's a knife introduced in a fight/assault!

      My Guardian Angels team trains that way, and we've taken a few weapons away from folks we've arrested. Luckily, we don't have any horror stories of our own so far - hoping to keep it that way!

      Peter Steeves
      Patrol Leader: LAGuardianAngels.org

      1. At a surviving edged weapons seminar and film I once took part in. Police were given their service weapons charged with blancs and kit (automatic and revolving side arms holstered)placed in the dead center of an enclosed (solid walls on all sides unable to see through) basketball court, and told to be ready and aware to respond with deadly force if needed to any event.
        It was then Dan Inosanto charged from a hiding place armed with a knife, with the premise being that if he reached the officer before he drew and discharged his weapon, he was to all intents and purposes, considered to be dead.
        Out of 25 such trials I witnessed, not one got off a shot.The guys with automatics didn't even get one chambered. A two inch hole anywhere on the thorax and being more than 30 minutes from a medical facility and the odds your not in a heap of trouble are very very slight. It won't hurt a great deal, but where your going you wont be coming back. You be very very careful dealing with criminals armed with edged weapons. They terribly underrated by those that have not seen many sunrises or the plain stupid.
        If you disarmed a knife wielding attacker, it was because you had psychologically defeated his fight premise and he gave it to you, no other skill. If you ever get into a knife fight and the guy still has some fight in him, you will be cut, no two ways about it.
        Be very very careful your training doesn't train you to be a fit,well choreographed corpse. Get a bunch of those wide nibbed felt tip marking pens. Then practice taking it away from a guy not told where and when to to attack and how, but given full license to randomly hack stab and punch with it and see how many guys don't have ink on em once ya done, then think twice about disarms, suit up if you must but do it. I'm not saying there are no disarms that work, just that even a nanogram of bullshit here will terminate lives. If your going out into the streets of LA as a Law enforcement authority without a sidearm (and I respect your ideals honestly) your days are numbered. Join the force. I respect what the angels stand for, but thats why I say join the force.I don't want to see your youthful idealism get you into something your ass cant get out of.
        I am light years away from being an amateur when it comes to this stuff.Please heed my advice.We need as many unbrainwashed idealistic honest brave and idealistic cops as we can get.

    16. Hi Peter, Thanks for sharing this story. Crazy stuff! Ran full speed with a knife in his leg! I am not really surprised about it any more after researching and writing this post then hearing many peoples similar stories. It really goes to show, you will probably not feel it. I am now thinking you are more likely to NOT feel a knife stuck in you than you are to feel it.

      Goes to demonstrate yet again, watch the hands! Watch for someone reaching around to get to a secreted weapon. Look for that triangle forming in the arm as they reach behind them.

      Peter, I'm glad to hear your guys have not had any horror stories so far. I hope it stays that way for you all.

      1. I'm a bit off context here, but it is subject pragmatic somewhat indirectly. In your post the "improvised weapons" the top of the page was a picture of "the hand". Now there is nothing wrong with this, as in your post, to which this is in reply, keep your eyes on em (hands that is)and never take em off as coppers are trained is extremely important, but the its whats in "between the ears" that sprang into my mind as the most dangerous weapon, so as Stephen Hawking, if so inclined could wipeout an entire continent from his wheelchair.
        The human mind, can definitely be trained to prescience bordering on the miraculous or what seems magical.
        The fact that this aspect is neglected, ridiculed and or distracted is by design (and i'm not referring to you here), but ironically, your amythical, direct, no nonsense self defense dialogue is its seed.
        The government here (govern=control mentis=mind, by definition government is mind control), didn't give out free TVs on the digital change over because they have our best interests at heart.They are operating according to an ancient agenda where an unarmed, poorly informed populace is fundamental. Anyone not aware of this is in for a dreadful shock. There is no value in an invalid premise just because it is ones personal property.This may just be the most dangerous and difficult hurdle anyone has to leap.

      2. Oh, and just for the record Adam, your doing a great job and service for people otherwise ignorant or poorly informed, and I know a trick or two regarding this subject believe me.
        I been stabbed twice, the only really noticeable sensations were, it felt like a punch (and thus the associated concurrent pain temporary), and the cold. They don't call it cold steel for nothing.

    17. I've been a paramedic for twenty years, and I've seen it several times. Nothing quite as dramatic as the photograph, but probably a dozen instances in which people had deep stab wounds of which they were utterly unaware. I've even gotten burned by it once or twice, when I overlooked a serious wound because I trusted the patient's word that they had no other injuries. (Once this happens to you, you really learn to perform a thorough assessment!) Surprisingly common.

    18. When i was 13 years old my mom was pregnet. One day when she was going to her doctors appointment a lady in a car asked her how many months she was my mom told her she was 8 months and that it was going to be a boy. The lady tells my mom that she is pregnent to but it was going to be a girl. She tells her that she has baby clothes and furniture, my mom believes her and gives her her number and adress. Later she calls my mom and tells her that on monday she was going to go for her to take her to get the clothes, she didnt know that i was going. When we went to her car she had gaseline in her car and some knives in a towel. To make the story short she took us to the middle of the dessert saying thats where she lived and said she knew a short cut to the place where she had the the baby things. She said the car stopped working and a cop came and told us what happend. They took her car and we had to ask this guy if he could give us a ride, he said yes and she followed us. We were in my house when my mom took my little sister to the bathroom while i was listing to music she started to stab me, all i could feel was like if she was hitting me. When i realised she was stabbing me i screamed and my mom came in and she started to stab my mom in the head. I didnt know what to do so a ran to her and jumped in top of her and started to hit her. She got the knive again and she stabbed me in the eye. I started to freak out and told her to please stop, i screamed for help and she told me that she was going to kill my mom if i screamed while she was shocking her. My mom bit her hand and broke the knive with her hand. And pushed her to the couch . She told me to run for help and thats what i dis. My mom ran out and went to her friends house. My sister little sister was still in the house where that crazy b!th was. Minutes later she ran out of the house. Someone called the cops and then i started to fell faint. I looked at my arm and it was gushing blood, i couldnt see and as i touched my face i felt something warm and slippery. Thats when the pain kivked in and i started to scream. The cops came and then the paramedics came. They took me first and took me to the ER. That moment was the most pain i have ever felt. I had been stabbed 7 times, i lost a lot of blood and kbow i cant feel part of my face and my hand. My mom and my brother survived. We got stitches and were in the hospital for 3 days. The one who stabbed use got 21 years in prison.

      1. That story made me cry, and I'm no soft wimp either. I am the same anonymous person to post the "duas uncia punctum mors" post and have a huge knowledge of warfare strategy and tactics, hand to hand combat, and edged weaponry in particular.
        I will pray you, your very brave to fight for your mum like that. It is not the place to get into the naivety of some people, usually women, hoping to see the brighter side of everything and becoming the overwhelmingly most assailed victim because of it. I lost a child to a women with the same mindset that wouldn't be told. Its tough, where do you draw the line from being the perennially cautious paranoid to the naive fool, and I bet it was a tough enough lesson for her to learn as it stands.
        I hope you fare well in your recovery, and you have my heart felt condolences. It really really upset me to hear someone had done that to you.

    19. Also a point that may be valuable here is the man that had half of his head blown off with a shotgun but killed 3 police before he succumbed to his wound.
      Bayonets are not sharped for this precise reason; the sharp edged weapon has no shocking power only hemorrhage like a broad head arrow.
      Police in the 70's as a measure to stop deaths resulting from the deployment of their service side arms, either from traveling unrequired distance into innocent terrain or to much force killing minor felons, began to put smaller charges behind the lead in the cartridges. Rather than a reduction, the resulting mortality rate it climbed while the events were trialled were less!. It has to do with the mechanics of the endocrine and nervous system and fluid dynamics relating to Hydrostatic shock, but basically which hurts more a thumb whipped by a hammer or a vice with the same surface area? Fast sharp wounds actually damage less tissue, but there is a cut off point once the tensile strength of the proposed target fails to be overcome or only slightly so.
      It brings to mind the old Roman centurions saying "Duas Uncia punctum mors" Two inches of point dead.By which they meant, slash and circular technique all day if you like but a 2 inch deep stab anywhere on the thorax your'e dead by Galen's medical standards or modern ones taking the scenic route.

    20. I was stabbed two seperate times in my life. The first time I had no idea, I felt like I'd been punched in my back and it wasn't until I felt blood running down my back that I noticed. The second is 8 years later my exfriend stabbed me but I knew she had a knife and when we clashed I only remember standing over her a I was starring at the knife. I backed away and people grabbed her. I sat in my vehicle when someone who saw her stab me ask if I was ok, I looked down and I saw blood. Never felt it till the hospital doctor went to clean it.

    21. I was stabbed in the thigh and arm during brawl. I did not notice until about 15 mins later when someone told me i was bleeding. Heck i was even running and didnt notice


    Related Posts with Thumbnails