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Knife Attack at Museum of Modern Art: Watch What She Does Right

Let’s take a look at a vicious stabbing attack in New York City at the Museum of Modern Art and how one of the potential victims ended up successfully defending themselves.

What we are going to see in the video above is the full attack which shows a man jumping over the counter and start stabbing three employees who worked at the museum.

The good news is that the two who were injured survived the attack and were successfully treated at Bellevue hospital.

New York woman loaded into ambulance after knife attack at Museum of Modern Art.
Knife attack survivor being transported to Bellevue Hospital. (Photo credit: William Miller for NY Post)

To start, this isn’t exactly a random attack. Unprovoked? Violent? Yes, but not random. The attacker was a member and patron of the famous museum. So it would be reasonable for him to be there and it would follow that he is familiar with the facility. Rather than an random attack, it's more of an example of workplace violence.

Reportedly the man became angry when he was denied admission and told his membership had been revoked. And it turns out that the employees know the man and recognized him at the time. The reason his membership had been revoked was the result of two separate incidents involving disorderly conduct at the museum in recent days. In addition, he is said to have been known to be known to local police because he is currently under investigation for two prior incidents in the area.

Photos of suspected knife attacker at the Museum of Modern Art.
Suspect identified as disgruntled Museum of Modern Art patron Gary Cabana, 60. (Photo: DCPI)

Bottom line…individual with mental health troubles.

Knife Attack at the Museum of Modern Art

I would note that this knife attack should be considered graphic material. The employees are blurred in the video, but the video shows the chaos and the actual knife strikes, even though we can't see any details.

In the video, we show the whole knife attack then come back to break it down and talk about the things that you can do to save yourself when no one else can.

One of the employees does a remarkable job in her initial reactions. We'll talk about what she does right and show it in the video.

Here are the main takeaways we want to consider for our self-defense:

Recognize the attack early

The earlier we can realize we are under attack the more time we have to prepare our defenses.

Some people might say you would recognize the attack once the adversary is climbing over the counter. I assert the attack is actually started when he is running towards the counter. Our brains are very adept at interpreting signals and behavior from human beings. When you look at the video you can tell that this is someone who is mission oriented and is committed towards the counter. If we can avoid the natural tendency to deny the reality of the situation and immediately prepare to defend ourselves, we are way ahead of most people.

In this case, the three employees behind the counter do turn towards the threat as he begins to climb the counter.

You can see the shock and confusion of the employees when they are watching the man climb up on, and then over the counter. Observing how he climbs over the counter and then has difficulty keeping his balance once he jumps down to the floor, my first thought is he is on an intoxicant which is affecting his balance. After knowing more about the story, it could be because he is 60 years old. Although he has a record of disturbing at the museum and is known to the people there, this incident has happened so quickly, and his face is covered with a mask so the employees behind the counter might not realize who is attacking them. Based on his physical behavior it might be true that he is on medications. Or off his medications. Either way. His behavior is violent, and the knife is clearly visible. This guy should be considered a homicidal maniac right now and you MUST move to defend your life. Right now!

Use a barrier to create distance

This is one of our basic principles of self-defense. If we keep something in between us and the attacker, it creates a barrier that keeps him at distance until he can figure out how to breach it. This distance gives us time and time gives us more options.

The rolling chairs are a choice of something that can be put in between you and the attacker in this situation. Think like a lion tamer here. I have seen barstools used in a way to effectively pin a violent subject against a wall when pepper spray was having no effect on him.

We highlight in the video the quick thinking of one of the employees who does roll one of the office chairs in between them and the attacker so he has to push them away to continue his attack.

Look for an escape route

This is a tricky one here. Ordinarily we would say to look for an escape route to create distance. It’s a fancy way of saying run away.

But you can see the sudden, tumultuous nature of this attack and the narrow confines of the counter has corralled the employees into the corner.

One obvious choice is the counter itself. Can you climb up and over? Probably yes, but can these employees climb up and over in the short time frame they have AND while trying to avoid being stabbed? I am setting myself up for a difficult choice – do I turn my back to the knife-wielding attacker so he stabs me repeatedly as I try to climb up the counter? Or do I turn and face him to try to avoid or block the stabs?

In this case I think the employees had very little choice and I happen to agree and believe the most prudent action would probably be to turn and face the attacker. But to make this work we need to have training and a realistic concept of what to do when defending against a weapon.

The actions of the three employees makes for very different results:

  • The employee we call "Defender 1" in the video tries to rush by the attacker. He simply blocks their way and stabs them as they try to squeeze between the attacker and the counter.

  • The employee we call "Defender 2" has been exposed during the melee a couple of times and appears to have been stabbed in the upper chest during one of the attacks. Another employee of the museum, who might be an unarmed security person, distracts the attacker by throwing things at him. As the attacker lunges towards this person located on the outside of the counter, Defender 2 takes advantage of the distraction and escapes.

  • The last employee, who we label "Defender 3", is forced under the counter. She stays there and what she does next makes the difference.

Keep your strongest weapons between you and the attacker

Let’s call this attack what it really is – it’s a lethal force encounter where we are facing death or serious bodily injury at the hands of this attacker.

You are morally and legally able to respond to this kind of attack with a weapon of your own. If you are armed and you are the other employee on the outside of the counter who threw something at the attacker to distract them, you are also morally and legally able to respond with lethal force to protect the other employees being stabbed.

But…no one here is armed. We only have our bodies and our wits.

Before we go on, it’s critical to note that the most difficult thing that any martial artist could attempt is to face a deadly weapon barehanded. It is an exceptionally dangerous and challenging mission.

That makes this even more critical for our museum employees.

None of the employees are armed. Yet – one of the employees ends up solving this self-defense problem. Be it by happenstance or critical decision, you’ll see Defender 3 fall backwards underneath the countertop and raise their boot-clad feet towards the attacker.

Defender 3 is keeping their strongest weapons between them and their attacker. Your legs are stronger than your arms and your legs are always longer than your arms. This means we can hit the attacker with our feet and they cannot reach us to hit us in a critical area.

You’ll see in the video the defender actually does lash out and appears to connect with the attacker around the knees at least once. The defender does not give up this advantageous position until after the attacker leaves or is driven off. The very last few frames of the video show the knit cap of Defender 3 coming out from underneath the countertop --- uninjured and safe.

We teach precisely this defensive position in all of our modules. It is extremely useful for stopping a rapist to try to take us to a more private area. It’s also extremely useful to break away from an attacker so we can get up and escape. We’ve also found that it’s one of the few positions where one can defend themselves if you are holding a small child in your arms.

Where it really shines is in our Defense Against Weapons module. Now you have a tactical solution for defending yourself against someone trying to stab you or hit you with a club.

You’ll be seeing more from us on the Defensive Position and also announcements when the Defense Against Weapons video instructional curriculum is finished.

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