*Coach Helder may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.
There is a lot of talk these days about the importance of not only being able to use a knife offensively, but also to have the ability to defend against the blade. Even many of the traditional martial arts are implementing an edged weapon component to their curriculums. These days, all that you need to do is to turn on the news and you will see why the importance of knife training, for self defense, has become a precedence. Criminals and terrorists are not only attacking the general public with edged weapons… They are even targeting law enforcement with machete’s as well as other blades.
I was first exposed to various methods of knife training in the United States Marine Corps. We practiced with bayonets as well as our Ka Bar fighting knives. These were two of the blades that were standard issue and always out with us in the field. We heard many war stories from our instructors about the value of being proficient with an edged weapon. Not only was it valid in trench warfare during World War I and II, but it has also been utilized by modern day special forces that are fighting terrorism.
Once my active duty tour in the Marines was over, I continued my education on utilizing a knife for self defense. My focus was on FMA (Filipino Martial Arts) and other methods coming out of Eastern Europe. Pulling movement patterns from both systems allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of how and when to deploy a blade during a combative situation. There are many similarities to any good knife fighting system. Finding one that you will stick to and practice often is the advice that I give anyone who is beginning their training.
Please keep in mind that there are no winners when it comes to most knife confrontations. Hollywood and even YouTube martial artists demonstrate applications that look amazing on video. But in real life, things are much messier and devastating than what most people realize is the truth. One of my teachers explained it to me this way…
“In most knife fights there are two outcomes, one fighter goes to the hospital while the other goes to the morgue.”
Folders Versus Fixed Blades:
Just like most things in life, we all have different preferences and needs when it comes to the type of blade that we choose to carry. We have those that prefer a folding knife that they can easily conceal in their pocket. There are others that feel the only true fighting knife is one that features a fixed blade. The arguments on both sides are usually quite valid. However, there are laws and regulations, depending on your location, that will limit your choices to either one or the other.
I am currently based in New Jersey. Here, I am allowed to carry a folder as long as they meet certain specifications. If I were to get in my car and drive just 40 minutes away to New York City… My folding knife would be illegal but a fixed blade would be fine to carry. My point here is that we may not be able to carry our preferred blade so it is always best to continually train with both types of knives.
Gripping The Knife:
There are two main grips when it comes to the knife. There is the forward grip and the reverse grip. With the forward grip, the knife is usually tip up. With the reverse grip, the opposite occurs and the tip is down. There are different schools of thought as to which grip is best. It is true that we may have a prefered grip for wielding a knife but in a self defense situation, that choice may not be available.
In an ideal scenario you will be able to deploy your blade in your preferred grip. But when SHTF during a combative encounter, your ideal grip may not be an option. In a struggle, a blade may end up on the ground. When you retrieve that blade it may be in either a reverse or forward grip. Knowing that we can not always get to our ideal grip, it is imperative that you train with both positions in mind.
There are four main ranges when it comes to combative applications with the knife. The varied ranges are:
- Close Range- Within this range you can elbow, knee and headbutt your attacker.
- Mid Range- In mid range, your empty hand can touch your opponent during an encounter when fully extended.
- Long Range- In long range, your empty hand is unable to touch your opponent when extended.
- Floor or Wall- This last range comes into effect once one plane of motion is removed. This occurs when up against a wall or on the floor.
The way that we attack and defend against the knife has a lot to do with the range that we are in. As an example, when I am in mid range, I will need to use my empty hand to “check” my opponent’s strike. If I do not, I will get cut during their follow through with the knife because of our short distance from each other. If we are in long range, there is no need to use my empty hand to check because my opponent will be too far from me to actually cause damage
To my vitals.
Attacking With Eight Angles:
When it comes to teaching offensive movement with a knife, there needs be be a certain language spoken between the teacher and the student. Instead of using complicated language to convey a movement, we use angles numbered from one to eight. Some teachers choose to utilize more angles while other instructors opt for less. Neither option is superior to each other, it is completely up to the teacher’s discretion.
If we were to use our neckline as an example, a knife strike coming diagonally from the right would be called an angle one. A backhand coming to the right side of the neck on a diagonal would be an angle two. Utilizing a simple number system not only simplifies the learning process but it allows allows much less processing time in order to speed up their movements.
Defending Against The 8 Angles Of Attack:
In order to try and bode well during an attack, We need to implement a defensive strategy. I do believe that in a knife encounter, offense is your best defense. But as we discussed earlier, the range that you are operating in has a lot to do with your approach to defending an attack. If I am in mid and close range, the most popular distances when it comes to knife fights, I need to use my checking hand to stop the assailants momentum.
If my opponent were to throw an angle one, while in mid range, I may be able to cut his arm by throwing my own angle one. But even if I slice their arm open, the momentum of their strike will still continue towards my neck. If I do not use my empty hand to check or nullify his momentum… Let’s just say that I will lose the battle.
Each angle has it’s own counter in order to defend against it. Nothing is ever foolproof but what we are trying to do is increase our chances of getting out alive and home to our families. The more that we practice against these angles, the better that we will fair in this unfortunate situation.
Practice Knife Alphabet:
One way to develop good attributes with the knife is to, mentally, write out the alphabet utilizing your knife. Think about your opponent being directly in front of you as you trace the alphabet on his body. Think of the tip of your knife as a ballpoint pen. You can then trace the letters in the air as you go through the whole alphabet. Some of the patterns may feel a bit awkward but it gives you a good reference point as to which movements or angles, feel the most comfortable for you. You can use both a forward and reverse grip for this exercise.
Once you feel proficient tracing the letters of the alphabet in a static position, begin moving your feet around as you continue your practice. Tying your breath, to the tracing of the alphabet, to the movement of your feet… Will allow you to flow in an uninterrupted movement. This takes continual and steady practice. But if you devote the time, the Dance begins to become a natural part of you.
Practice With Feedback:
Free- Flowing with your knife, while only cutting through the air is valuable practice. But once you feel comfortable with the dance, it is important to get feedback from the angles that you throw. In order to achieve this with solo practice, use a tree or heavy bag to throw your eight angles at. You will quickly notice that you are getting completely different feedback than you were when you were just throwing your angles in the air.
During a self defense application, you will have to actually, strike a target. The way that your knife will react to that strike is something that you need to learn to control. Devoting plenty of time to practicing your angles, while receiving feedback, is imperative if you hope to bode well during the battle.
Practice With A Partner:
Practicing your angles with a partner is one of the best methods to developing your knife skills. You will not only be getting direct feedback from a moving target but you will also work both offensive and defensive applications of the knife. It will be a rare moment if an attacker remains in a static position during an attack. Being able to move with him or her is a crucial to utilizing a blade in self defense.
Just like most skill building endeavors… Adding a partner makes things a bit more fun. The motivation level tends to go up and you also have each other as motivation for those days that you do not feel like getting off the couch. The more time that you invest into training with your edged weapons, the more viable that the blade becomes in real world scenarios.
I see many people carry a knife with intents on using it for self defense. Unfortunately for them, the time devoted to training is usually, minimal, at best. I tell newer students that it is best to leave the knife at home if you choose not to practice with it. The knife has to be an extension of your natural movement. When it is not… It is more of a liability than an asset to you. The “bad guys” are out there training to be malicious. If you are not well versed with your knife, they can easily disarm you and use your own blade to cause your harm.
As I mentioned earlier, there is rarely a good outcome when it comes to a knife encounter. We need to train in order to give ourselves more options to get home safely. The world is getting a bit uglier each day. We need to prepare to not only keep ourselves safe but also to protect our loved ones. Train as if your life depends on it because some day… It Just Might!