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I Brought My Calm to a Knife Fight and Won with These 5 Steps

January 10, 2019

I have professionally always advocated for bringing one’s calm to situations or persons in distress. In bringing our calm we are less likely to escalate a situation or person and more likely to generate more and better solutions for resolution.

I think though, in my private life, I have mostly been this way too.

I remember in high school being approached in an empty hallway by a known thug. He was brandishing a knife. The kind of knife he was holding is called a flick-knife. It is called a flick-knife because with flick of the wrist, the blade is exposed and with another flick, the blade returns to the sheath. This guy was approaching me flicking the blade in and out in a threatening manner, his eyes fixed on me.

I remained calm, although intimidated.

Before he could draw near to me and knowing that I could not outrun him. I called to him, “Wow, nice knife. How do you do that?”

With that, I walked briskly towards him, my eyes focused on his knife whilst I carried an inquisitive and admiring look for his expertise in managing the knife.

When by his side and still gazing at the knife, I said, “That’s amazing,” and added, “Can you show me how to do that?”

He proudly handed me the knife and explained how to expose and retract the blade.

I tried unsuccessfully and awkwardly, intentionally, and handed him back the blade saying, “Wow, I guess it really takes practice and you’re good at it. Thanks for letting me try.”

The fellow thanked me for my praise, pocketed his knife and walked on.

I too walked on, although I felt like I needed to change my pants. However, I reflected upon my choice of action and was pleased with myself. I felt I had won.

With my calm, I changed a threatening situation around and got past it.

That experience has served me well in my professional work with dangerous youth, high conflict parents and even in my private life with kin who can be challenging.

Here are the steps to surviving a knife fight and winning:

  1. Recognize when you are threatened (the trigger);
  2. Remain calm;
  3. Generate a number of alternative responses in your mind and think them through considering likely outcomes;
  4. Implement the response considered most likely to contain and resolve the situation peacefully;
  5. Afterwards, reflect on the entirety of the situation to either learn some lessons or reinforce your good response.

Managing and winning a knife fight doesn’t mean you aren’t scared. I sure was. Terrified in fact. Winning is about managing oneself to minimize risk of escalation, harm or other bad outcomes.

We do this by bringing our calm.

Next knife fight, bring your calm.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship, divorce or separation issue or even help growing your practice. I am available in person and by Skype.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW for counseling and support – to build your successful practice


Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America. He consults to mental health professionals as well as to mediators and collaborative law professionals about good practice as well as building their practice.

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