Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Knife Training: The Basics of Blade Design, Carry, & Deployment

History of the Knife

The knife was humankind’s first tool and has been a part of nearly every culture.  As humankind's technological skills grew, the knife, as a utility tool, was replaced by a number of other tools and machines; the blade, as a weapon, also became secondary to ballistic weapons.

That said, the knife has remained with us, in part due to its size and in part due to its adaptability; it is a good tool when we lack better ones at that moment. As a weapon, it is still highly effective.  In a previous article, we described CSAT founder and SOFD/D (“Delta Force”) MSG Paul Howe’s theory of a layered offense: the layered offense training theory states that the system of fighting with a rifle, pistol, edged/impact weapon, or empty hand should be fairly uniform such that transitions in either direction are seamless, adjustments from force option to force option are minimal, and training for each force option is complimentary to the others.

At the Academy, our students' edged weapons education is rooted in Filipino Martial Arts (FMA), Japanese and Chinese martial arts, and modern day combatives training. Tactics and techniques are continually vetted through traditional training as well as in the modern/current application environment. As a result of these influences, Seizan Ryu, the teaching methodology used at the Academy, has an advanced edged-weapons curriculum that is constantly evolving while the basic curriculum lays the foundation that has been proven effective through the generations.

Understanding the Purpose of a Fighting Knife

One of our teaching tenets at the Academy is that ‘purpose dictates process’; at a basic level, Academy teachers discuss the purpose of an edged-weapon as a starting point to edged-weapons training.  While a skilled exponent can use a weapon to create varying degrees of effect, the use of an edged weapon should always be considered deadly force and the level of conflict resolution required should be appropriate to using this level of force. 

Our first definable purpose for the edged weapon should be that it is capable of effectively delivering this level of force as efficiently as possible – the basic assumption when one is resorting to the use of deadly force is that it is a defensive response to deadly force already being used by the aggressor(s).

The use of tools for physical conflict resolution, like the knife itself, is as old as human history.  Tools gave humans – anatomically poorly designed for physical survival without claws, fur, keen night vision, etc. – an advantage over their base physiology. One of the primary limitations of any physical conflict resolution tool is that it has an optimal range of effectiveness. The edged-weapon is most effective at what the Academy defines as “close contact” range. This provides our second definable purpose for the edged weapon: to provide utility at “close contact” range.  

A study of human weapons reveals an interesting correlation between edged-weapons and range: as man evolved, larger edged-weapons, such as swords – which could be effective at “mid-range” - developed since they had a decided "range" advantage over the knife.  A knife wielding combatant would have to pass through “mid-range” (where the sword was effective) to get to “close contact” range (where the knife becomes effective) - that gave the sword wielding combatant has an earlier opportunity (at “mid-range”) to take action/seize the initiative.  The sword was also more efficient than the knife since its longer length leveraged the user’s physical strength more effectively.  And while spears and bows were part of every culture’s fighting arsenals, it was not until the advent of the firearm, which effectively penetrated armor and did so from “close contact” to “non-contact” ranges, that humans put down the sword in favor of the firearm.  It is interesting to note, however, that while swords are out-of-the-norm, the knife survived the transition to firearms.  While the sword lost some dominance at the “mid-range” when compared to the firearm, the knife – to this very day - remains useful at “close contact” range.

Building a Fighting Process

One of the greatest factors that influences the utility of a “fighting” knife is its design. Today many people carry folding knives, spring loaded/spring assisted knives, or specialty blades such as the karambit or push knives, for example. While these knives have some utility, it is imperative to remember that defensive/counter-offensive use is the primary condition of our force application – that means that the defender has been confronted with deadly force and is responding with deadly force. Knives that require high dexterity movements just to bring them into the fight put the defender further into “reaction” – in light of everything just mentioned, the Academy advocates the use of a single-edged, full-tang, straight-bladed knife as a fighting knife.

After one decides on what type of knife one will use, the next part of the “process” is to decide how the knife will be employed. The two factors to consider are: how the blade will be gripped and which hand the weapon will be used with.

At the Academy, our students build their basic edged-weapons skills around gripping the weapon in a “reverse/icepick” style grip with the edge of the blade facing forward and the spine of the blade facing the wielder’s forearm. The blade is also used primarily in the non-dominant hand (blade in the left hand for the right handed practitioner, for example). There are a number of reasons to use the blade this way, not the least of which is that it allows the user to cut and thrust with the blade while also minimizing leverage against the gripping thumb (the weakest part of the human grip). This grip also allows the knife wielder to strike and grapple without adjusting the weapon; where firearms are concerned, it also allows the practitioner to employ a firearm without discarding the edged-weapon.

CRKT Kasper knife mounted on a
VTAC Brokos Battle Belt
Knife design and employment method(s) dictate the optimal location of the knife - location of the knife is the final part of the basics of edged-weapons utility. Since the directional draw is the most efficient draw stoke, at the Academy our practitioners learn the advantages of storing the blade on the non-dominant side hip with the edge somewhere between facing forward and facing down depending on individual body types, clothing, and lifestyle requirements. The photo (right) shows a set up for a right-handed pistol shooter where the edged weapon is set to be drawn with the left hand into a "reverse" grip.

Under these conditions, the average practitioner can deploy a blade and deliver deadly force faster than even with a firearm (or in conjunction with a firearm if appropriate) as demonstrated by former Navy SEAL and firearms instructor Kyle Defoor in this video.

Training Tips

At the time of this writing, I have been studying, practicing, & teaching edged-weapons combatives for over 3 decades. One of the most important training “tips” I can pass on to anyone who is serious about improving their edged-weapons skills is to train with the weapon in the non-dominant hand. In most training venues – martial arts, military, and law enforcement – students train with both partners having weapons in their dominant hand (both partners with weapons in the right hand usually); at the Academy, we call this alignment ‘matched’ (training partners right-right or left-left). Very few instructors are versed, knowledgeable, or skilled in the alignment we call ‘mirrored’ (training partners right-left or left-right), however, if you consider that most people are right handed and attack using their dominant hand, the most important training alignment to develop is with the defender using the blade left handed and the attacker attacking right handed. Unfortunately, this alignment is usually neglected as it is the most challenging for instructors and students and least gratifying for their egos…but that's a topic for another discussion.

Contact the Academy for information on viewing/registering for our Weapons Training Program.