Under the Blade

Rocky R

The knife came up again in conversation this past week with some colleagues. Some of them think of me as a “knife guy,” though I don’t think of myself as such, and don’t think the “knife community” of martial artists and makers would consider me much of one, either.

Not that I am uninterested – blades are a critical piece of gear, and I take personal and professional interest in them – I carry one every day next to a pistol. Two or more when working, fixed and folder, depending on assignment. I believe that edged weapons demand particular attention from a defensive standpoint, especially in these times.

And it’s not that I haven’t trained the knife: over the past three decades I’ve done of course the requisite “police knife fighting” courses from several vendors, some Chinese stuff, a smidgen of Filipino stuff – with Ray Floro for a bit; but spent more time with short blades in early Japanese traditions.

I own one book on fighting with a knife. Though it suffers from its own tough-guy bravado, that one book says really all that needs said. All the other videos and books ended up sold or traded, because the writers didn’t know what they didn’t know, and in a few cases were simply selling outright fetishistic fantasy.

Now I’ve never been cut or stabbed, though I’ve handled many edged weapons incidents over the years where others were cut up, seen people bleeding like stuck pigs, handled folks with knives, and taken edged weapons away from a few. I’m privy to first-hand accounts from many others who have been cut or stabbed. I don’t need to read about it in books.

And in terms of the practical, tactical, legal and likely use of the knife, I have come to depart quite a bit from the knife community at large.

You won’t find me doing much in the way of sparring with a knife, or promoting the use of the knife in a pugilistic or duelish “knife fighting” manner. That kind of thing misses the point, if you’ll pardon the pun; It just doesn’t go down like that from a defensive or counter-offensive standpoint, and I believe training like that encourages some unsafe habits and patterns in students.

Some make the argument that “if you want to know how to defeat a knife, learn how to use one.” I don’t disagree. But it’s in how we learn to use the knife – and knife-sparring etc. is not that way. Knife dueling to learn practical use of the knife is the equivalent to taking taekwondo to learn how to wrestle, or doing paintball to learn how to gunfight…some shared attributes are not necessarily shared applications.

You’ll not find me advocating the use of a knife in any way as a “less lethal” tool – an incredibly misguided idea that had some popularity a while back, but has hopefully been put to bed.

And you won’t be repeatedly slashing and stabbing an unarmed attacker when training with me, unless other situational factors justifying lethal use of force can be articulated.

Those might be present: An attacker attempting to take your firearm that is clearly capable of doing so; An attacker overwhelming your ability to handle him physically, or reasonably perceived as capable of such due to an asymmetry in attributes, with a threat of serious bodily injury or death at hand; Or you are beset by multiple attackers that intend to cause you serious injury.

It’s situation dependent.

The use of knives can be justifiable for defensive purposes, and the answers above are perfectly reasonable. I’ve had one instance where I almost, just about, coulda used a knife due to factors above: but things hadn’t quite got there yet and then they changed and the knife ceased to be an option.

But few people seem to ever ask these questions when training, or they are dealt with only perfunctorily so that the “fun stuff” can begin… …and that fun stuff is usually “knife fighting.”

We don’t train with firearms that way – at least I hope not. So why completely disregard the sober reality of the lethal tool when the weapon is a knife?

If someone asks me “how, then, should we train knife?” I’d say:

If you are learning to grapple properly, standing and on the ground, in a sense you are already training to use the knife.

If you are training how to hit hard with a few basic strikes, to a few basic places on the body, to create space to get away, you are training the practical use of the knife.

You  will be doing some things in grappling and clinching and striking that you shouldn’t do when a knife is involved, but that can be addressed by…training  with a knife involved.

If you are training so that a fight often goes on, even after multiple cuts and stabs, you are training properly with the knife.  The opposite: that cuts and stabs are always “disabling,” or that they are “fight stoppers,” and that people will stop at those things?

Be aware many people won’t. 

How’s that? …the reader might ask. Are you seriously advocating grappling with a person armed with a knife?

Of course not. The appropriate way to deal with a person armed with a knife is with a lot of backup, lethal cover, containment, and less lethal options. Absent those things? Create distance, maybe with your own weapon or maybe not, and flee.

But the reality is, time and time and time again, you won’t even be aware the knife is in play until after its begun, or after it’s over. If it’s not already too late.

Or you just might pick up on the fact that the guy has a blade when you’ve already been hit, or grabbed, or he’s already on top of you, which he has to be to stab you. And then your goal may no longer be “don’t get stabbed” but “don’t get stabbed again.” Or even “don’t get stabbed a lot.”

And then – yes, I do advocate learning how to grapple when a knife is involved.

When it is real, the way it is far more likely to happen than the notional knifely-dance-of-death – the grab-n-stab, close up, bloody minded struggle  – you’ll find that the hand control, and body control, pressure and off balancing and toppling that comes with a good close-in fighting discipline is a much more realistic way to go.

And what are you really interested in training for?

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