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Copyright © 2003-2004 Phil Elmore, all rights reserved.
Carrying and Concealing Knives
By Phil Elmore
WARNING!Knife training is an inherently dangerous activity. The Martialist disclaims any liability resulting from injuries sustained while training using any concepts contained herein.
Check and obey all applicable laws regarding the carry and concealment of knives and all other forms of weaponry. The Martialist disclaims all liability arising from the legal repercussions of carrying or concealing any knife.
A self-defense knife can be carried and concealed on your person in countless ways. Some types of knives are better suited to certain modes of carry than others. Your body type and size may also play a role in what you can carry comfortably. For example, you cannot carry a full-sized hunting knife around your neck. You also cannot comfortably carry a knife inside your waistband at the front if you have a protruding stomach. These are the types of individual-specific concerns that make each person's needs different.
The two most important factors that must be considered in carrying a knife are comfort and concealment. Will the knife cause you physical difficulty or irritation? Must it be visible to be in compliance with the law? If you are permitted to carry it concealed, will you choose to do so? If so, how? Does the method of carry you have selected completely conceal the knife, or will the knife show itself at inopportune moments?
Many of the modes of carry I will list here could be "open" carry -- visible to all -- or concealed carry depending on the garments worn over them. The task is yours to determine what works best for you and what is most legal where you live and operate. This article focuses on the major methods for carrying a knife, but there are other means I have not listed. Do your homework and don't be afraid to explore unconventional options.
In the article on knife fighting I touched briefly on this topic, but I will again recommend Michael Janich's Street Steel: Choosing and Carrying Self-Defense Knives. Another useful book is Andy Puzyr's Concealed Carry Revealed. Jerry Ahern's CCW book has some material on knives as well.
Any knife small enough to be placed in a pocket can be carried there, though a knife at the bottom of a pocket is slow to retrieve. One way to do this properly is to carry the knife in your back pocket (flat against the bottom of the pocket), oriented so it will be facing the correct direction when you reach in and grab it. Try this a few times to make sure your draw is consistent and the knife is "right side up," whichever side is "right" for you.
A better option (in terms of access to the knife) is to choose a tactical folder and clip it to your right front pocket (assuming you are right-handed). If you carry a knife clipped to your pocket, do not carry anything else in that pocket. Items in the pocket could interfere with grasping and deploying the knife. Loose change could scratch the blade, too, if you care about such things.
A knife carried clipped to the pocket is fairly discreet, though anyone aware of such knives will know immediately that you have one when they see the clip. Make sure you check your local laws to see if this mode of carry constitutes "concealing" a knife -- and find out, if you can, whether this is legal.
POCKET KNIFE LIABILITY?
A reader of the original version of this article opined that a police officer told him that carrying a folder clipped to the pocket was a liability. He cautioned that someone with whom you come into conflict will see the clip, know you have a knife, and could conceivably claim you pulled it and brandished it in the absence of witnesses, thus causing you difficulty.
Such a person might even have such an overwhelming knowledge of knives that he or she could describe your knife in exquisite detail, thus proving to the officer beyond a doubt that he or she was telling the truth, while you are a bloodthirsty Rambophile bent on flaying alive the neighbors and their pets.
Well, defeatist scenarios of this type are easy to construct. It is up to you to weigh the risks versus the benefits. (One wonders why, when building these hypothetical situations, the builders are so eager to assign to all opponents a level of knowledge and skill that is always vastly superior to your own.)
Be careful, do your best to stay within the law, and be aware those who mean you harm may also lie to the police about you. Your demeanor and your ability to communicate with law enforcement officers will be important factors. Treat LEOs with respect and conduct yourself in a polite and positive manner.
Belt carry is very common and can be done in several ways. Large fixed-blade "sheath knives" can be worn openly on a belt, though this attracts a great deal of attention. It's certainly a simple method. I've seen people wear belt knives openly like this when hunting, while visiting gun shops, and in a particularly bad neighborhood in my city.
I have also seen straight knives of this type -- what we would typically consider hunting knives -- worn on the belt over a back pocket. The sheath is tucked inside the pocket and some sort of concealing garment is worn to cover the portion of the knife protruding from the pocket. I spotted this mode of carry in a Thruway rest-stop restaurant, once. The fellow carrying the knife was wearing a vest, much like one you'd wear with a three-piece-suit. The vest was caught on the handle of the knife, exposing it.
Small fixed blades may be worn in horizontal belt sheaths. There are a number of special harnesses and holsters for fixed blades, including rigs that imitate the "Crocodile Dundee" across-the-back position for large knives.
Folding knives can also be carried in belt sheaths. The two most basic types are the vertical sheath and horizontal sheath.
Belt sheaths for folding knives are also commonly made of leather with snap closures on the flaps. Some prefer to carry vertical leather belt sheaths upside down, in what is called the "upside-down dump" position, because releasing the closure allows the knife to fall free into the hand. I don't recommend this method because it's too easy for the knife to end up falling out and getting lost.
There are a lot of knives on the market advertised as "boot/belt" knives. This is because they are fixed blades with sheaths bearing metal spring clips. Such a sheath can indeed be secured inside a boot, but a blade carried in this manner is a deep-cover backup only. (It simply cannot be reached quickly enough in case it is needed.) The best use of sheaths of this type is as IWB (inside (the) waistband) carry systems.
I prefer IWB carry over other methods for small to medium fixed blades. It is fast in deployment, secure, concealable (under the appropriate clothing), and simple.
The two best places for carrying a knife inside the waistband are the "appendix" carry -- basically in the front of your beltline off to the side -- and behind the hip. Some carry IWB knives directly over the small of the back (pistols are carried in this manner too), but I don't recommend this. Avoid placing a hard object directly over your spine. You could fall on it.
Tactical folders (or any knife with a built-in clip) can be clipped inside the waistband without sheaths. For those who like to keep their pockets uncluttered with folding blades, this is a good option.
Shoulder harnesses are normally used for fixed blades. Such harnesses generally consist of an elastic loop or strap that fits over the right arm (assuming you are right-handed), while a strap connected to the knife sheath runs behind the neck or across the back and over the left arm. The knife is thus positioned more or less under the left arm, as would be a shoulder holster for a firearm. Some shoulder harnesses place the knife more on the chest than under the arm, but the idea is the same.
I've heard it said that you should avoid shoulder harnesses because the motion of drawing your knife could be seen as the motion of drawing a pistol, escalating the situation and possibly getting you shot. I don't see this as the issue. If you're drawing a fixed blade knife from concealment you're planning on applying potentially lethal force anyway. No, you should avoid shoulder harnesses for knives for the same reason you should avoid them for pistols: they are difficult to conceal unless you're dressed for Winter.
Expedient shoulder harnesses, particularly for very large knives, can be made using the thigh tie-down straps that come on many fixed blade sheaths. By threading the knife through the belt upside down and then using the tie-down as a shoulder loop, you can mount the knife under your arm. More cord tied to the thigh strap and looped over the opposite arm secures the rig, but the whole affair isn't very comfortable.
I am not a big fan of forearm sheaths. I have seen ordinary sheath knives strapped to forearms using Ace bandages, tape, and rubber bands. There are also plenty of forearm rigs on the market, usually packaged with inexpensive self-defense blades. In all cases, though, the basic logistics are problematic. If the knife is concealed properly, it is too buried under clothing to be accessible. If it is accessible, it is probably going to become visible at precisely the wrong time.
"Fury" triangular self-defense tool and Nylon sheath.
The Velcro-bearing forearm straps are elastic.
Neck knives solve a variety of problems. If you don't have a pocket in which to carry your knife, and you don't want to carry your knife clipped inside your waistband, you can always sling it around your neck on a chain or cord.
Worn under a shirt, a neck knife is very well concealed. If the strap is visible, those around you will assume it is part of a pendant of some kind.
Simple neck knife.
Neck knives have certain limitations dictated by their position on the body. A neck knife cannot be too heavy or it will hurt your neck. It cannot be too long or it will "print" against your shirt, especially when you sit down or if you have a less-than-flat stomach. It must be relatively rustproof, as it will be exposed to your perspiration when worn under the shirt. It generally will have to be worn under the shirt, too, unless you don't mind displaying to the world that you have a knife around your neck.
Drawing the neck knife with the right hand.
The knife must be positioned for a proper
draw -- in this case, with the blade edge
pointed to the left side of the body.
Drawing a neck knife worn under the shirt presents a few minor challenges. You must either haul the knife up on its cord and out of the neckline of your shirt, or untuck the shirt to reach in and grab the knife from below. If you are wearing a button-down shirt you can pull the buttons apart and reach in to grasp the knife, though if you do this under stress you'll end up looking for a needle and thread when it's over.
Neck knives are, given these limitations, very small. If you wish to carry a large knife, neck carry probably won't suit you.
Some knife sheaths are specifically designed for static cord draw, while others are simply neck knives adapted for this mode of carry. The static cord carry involves looping a cord or chain connected to the sheath -- in the examples shown here, this is the neck cord of a neck knife -- to the belt. The knife is then placed in a back pocket.
Drawing a static-cord-carried knife is easy. Reaching back, you pull the knife from the pocket still in its sheath. When the cord is pulled taught, the knife is pulled free, leaving the sheath dangling from your belt and the knife deployed in your hand. When using this method, experiment with different cord lengths until you find the one that works best for you.
Static cord carry (left) being deployed (right).
Finding the legal mode of carry that works for you can be challenging, but it does not have to be unpleasant. Experiment with what you find most comfortable and easiest to use, carefully weighing all the factors relevant to your decision. Like any person who owns guns or knives, you will accumulate a drawer full of carry systems and sheaths that seemed like a great idea but didn't work out in practice. Don't be discouraged by this.
It happens to all of us.