Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

December 20, 2010

Knives, knife fighting, and nightmares – part 2

Filed under: Martial arts — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:19 am

OK, I hope you’ve read the stuff on Animal’s site I urged on you in part 1.

Now I’m going to present the case for knives as a tool of self-defense, and hope to God I’m not talking to the hormone-driven monkey-brained males he – and I, are terrified of letting loose on the world armed with sharp stuff.

When women ask me what they should learn to defend themselves, I suggest the most effective thing would be to learn how to use a knife. Guns are a bother in so many ways, and highly limited insofar as to how and where you can carry. Every empty-hand art takes a long time to master. Even longer for women and smaller men, because size does matter and it’s a denial of reality to think otherwise.

And consider, in this day and age who generally has more experience using knives? Women use knives in the kitchen every day. Men, well unless you’re a butcher or cut boxes in a warehouse all day, how often do you use a knife as a tool?

Nevertheless, the common response seems to be, “But what if he takes it away and uses it on me!”

Trust me, with a modicum of skill it ain’t gonna happen. And if he’s a psycho who likes to use knives on women – he’d have brought his own. (But I have to say, I know of an incident in Norman, Oklahoma where a woman faced a home invader with a knife from her kitchen – and had it taken away from her. She was then sexually tortured, though not with the knife. That’s all I know about the incident, and I wonder with teeth-grinding frustration what a little training might have done for her.)

Some advantages of a knife as self-defense tool are:

– A knife negates advantages of reach and strength. He’s got longer reach? So cut the arm. Strength doesn’t matter if the muscles and tendons are severed.

– A knife is potentially quicker than empty hands. The weight it adds to the hand is negligible, and you don’t have to put as much power behind strikes so they can be even quicker than a boxer’s jab.

– A knife is easier to carry and conceal than a gun – and with a modicum of practice quicker to deploy. One can generally carry reasonably effective but legal blades in the United States (countries like Sweden and the U.K. have outlawed carry of anything knifelike) and if you are stopped with something not technically legal it’s far more likely to be disregarded than a pistol – IF you are a woman or a middle-aged solid citizen and it’s not a “Rambo Killer Commando” fantasy blade from hell.

You must of course put in some time learning how to move a blade (including targeting, the yucky part) choose a method of carry that suits you, and practice deploying it.

So where can you learn how to use a knife?

More and more martial arts schools are including Filipino arts as part of the curriculum. This doesn’t guarantee you’ll get realistic training for self-defense though. What you’ll likely get is training for the kind of light recreation men in knife cultures engage in – the knife duel.

There is furthermore, a lot of video stuff available. Go to YouTube and you’ll find more stuff on knife fighting than you ever imagined. Much of it is Filipino/Indonesian. There is a lot of stuff alleged to be traditional Spanish, Italian or whatever as well. Trouble is, though you can pick up a lot if you have a grounding in martial arts, it’s not systematized.

For a systematic approach to learning, there are video courses available. Below are some examples I’m familiar with – which by no means exhausts the available resources. This is merely what I know of.

I have left out of consideration of some videos I think well of because the knife tactics you use will to some extent be determined by the size and design of the knife. James Keating and Bill McGrath have excellent videos on fighting with big knives of the Bolo or Bowie type. This is largely irrelevant to the needs of most people. Carrying a Bolo or Bowie (unless you are in costume and going to or coming from a historical reenactment event – that’s been established in the courts) is likely to be a serious bust. Not to mention it’s a knife that’ll actually make a bigger bulge under your coat than a pistol…

Some examples:

Lynn Thompson, president of Cold Steel knife comany has a video series, The Warrior’s Edge made with martial arts teacher Ron Balicki.

OK, so this is an exception to the above criterion. The series teaches Thompson’s own brand of long-range fighting with a big knife. I include it because it’s a good, comprehensive course in how to set up a training program based around a kind of sportive knife fencing.

I got my set cheap on eBay. From this, you and training partners can build a set of PVC boffer knives that’ll give you a lot of fun, exercise, and some useful moves. (Years ago in the Society for Creative Anachronism I created a knife fencing program for our shire using boffer daggers made out of old wrestling mat, cut to shape and wrapped in duct tape.)

Even more comprehensive in my opinion is Lameco Escrima stylist Felix Valencia’s Ultimate Knife Fighting course.

More comprehensive because it also deals with medium to short range fighting. Thompson dismisses this as too dangerous and favors long range. Probably true – but you don’t always get to pick. He also covers going to the ground with a knife (Yikes!) holdups, clinching and grappling, takedowns and a lot of stuff you’d rather not do, but may have to.

Libre Fighting has a three-DVD set on their method of boxing and knife fighting with a sturdy folder. Their basic six entries looks a lot like Wing Chun to me (though they don’t credit it,) which is one reason I like it. Another is the emphasis on using a more-or-less street legal knife.

DISCLAIMER: Because they’re training with smaller knives, they jettison the “defanging the snake” principle of Filipino martial arts in favor of going directly to deadly cuts and thrusts.

This falls into the category of “good tactical advice – lousey legal advice.” Google “Atienza Kali” and “homicide” – or simply “murder” and you’ll find the story of a Kali student currently doing 17 years hard for one deadly thrust given during a physical confrontation in a nightclub in NYC. (More on this later.)

It’s a bit difficult to get right now, but Aztec Warrior Princess Addy Hernandez (take a look at this lovely, fit woman and you’ll see why I coined the nickname) has a Silat-based knife DVD.

This one is very good I think because its based on different permutations of one short technique sequence. Easy to learn, easy to apply.

Also interesting because it’s based on a Silat stance where the body leans forward of the base a bit. Now in modern fencing the body is held straight up from the hips, but in a reprint of a 19th century fencing classic the master described a stance that leans a bit forward of the lower-body base. The reason I believe was, the sword protects the face and the abdomen is tucked a bit back because in that day and age before antibiotics abdominal wounds were almost always fatal.

Here you can find the Paladin catalog section devoted to knife and sword fighting. Some of the stuff I’m not familiar with so you pays your money you takes your chances.

Now for the big caveat – all of these courses are for knife dueling, not self-defense. They start out from the premise of two like-armed individuals facing off with weapons drawn. None of them devote any significant attention to carry and draw techniques. There’s no “knife iai-do.”

I trust I don’t have to point out that in the western world for good or ill (and I sometimes suspect manners and civility have suffered greatly because of this) duelling is seriously illegal?

Another thing Animal MacYoung pointed out about the Filipino arts in particular. The Filipinos like a knife fighting strategy called “defanging the serpent,” meaning to cut at the knife arm and off hand to neutralize the threat before thrusting to the deadly targets of the body and neck.

What Animal pointed out was that prosecutors and forensic examiners have another term for this. They call them “defensive wounds.” I.e. the M.E. is going to look at the late (un)lamented and determine he was murdered while frantically trying to fend off an agressor – or worse, after torture.

Animal also points out that most “knife fights” on the street are nothing of the sort, they are assaults with a knife by surprise, mostly from ambush.

All of the above can be great guides to training how to move a knife. For what actually happens on the street, get Animal’s two DVD’s on 1) Surviving, and 2) Winning a Street Knife Fight.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress