Frakkin’ Knife Fighters

I’ve been doing the knife thing since I was a teenager. Being a smart, mature and capable individual for my age, I was aware of the need for protective skillsets and actively practicing them by sixteen or so. Not being able to carry a firearm, I quickly took up knives as an effective lethal-force option. Besides, at sixteen knives were cool, man.
That experience of chasing the blade, learning it, was a big part of growing up for me. It grounded me in a lot of ways, and got me started on what eventually became so much of what I do. There have been other influences, maturing factors, but just sticking to knife combatives, I’ve matured, streamlined, shed a lot of overburden in recent years.
I’ve never claimed great breadth of expertise with a blade. Yeah, I’m quick, yeah I’m accurate, brutal, and can keep it all fluid and powerful. Plenty of people can say that. I’ve trained with some good people, and good people have come to me for help with their knife work. It’s cyclical as far as I am concerned. I’ve just been paying it forward. The closest to a brag I have is, I’ve got the ability with words and to lay things out so people can understand them. A knife combatives article I wrote five years ago now is still out there and generating positive feedback. This makes me happy, but I don’t feel it proves much beyond my writing skills. I continue to be a student of edged weapon combatives, and they remain integral to my concept of an integrated platform. I say all this to dissuade the idea, or comment, that I’m engaging in a pissing contest. This isn’t that, not at all. The personalities and egos at work in this field have little interest for me – My interest is in good skills, and the danger of garbage being pushed as something valid.
I’ve been asked recently why I’m not really pushing the knife angle anymore. And I’ve been thinking a lot about the answer, and basically, it’s that knife fighting just isn’t where its at, kids. I’ve been busy elsewhere, feeling pretty good about my stripped-down aggressive knife skills, and got tired of wading in the muck with fuckin’ “knife fighters”.

Knives are a tool. They are a combative tool. The real niche of the blade is not in symmetrical confrontations, ala West Side Story. It is in non-symmetrical situations that require immediate, brutal, resolution. Knives can be carried concealed, in varied locations on the body allowing for compact, rapid, locked wrist, access. A knife can be drawn, between contacting bodies, and brought to play in a tangle. They have little to no moving parts to foul, and punishing results for anyone trying to foul them. As such, they are a very valuable tool for violent-intercourse at bad-breath-distance.
There are plenty of people, students and trainers alike, who recognize this. Yet, there are plenty who do not as well. There are those who would imply that some mystical high-art exists about the knife. They are the same people who claim that the basic brute violence of edged weapons use as practiced for millennia is somehow dirty, impure, and the untrue path. These knife fighters are approaching blade combatives in the same way many traditional martial artists approach unarmed combatives. They seek art, and refinement, that does not exist in reality. Not finding it in reality, they inject it and create a mythical structure around which they teach and practice knife work.
The resultant myths surrounding edged weapons, which are continually propagated by knife fighters, are downright amazing. They contribute to a fantasy perception, even among professionals, of what knives are for, and how they are used.
Primary among these myths is that of the duel. This is why I differentiate between “knife fighters” and guy’s who integrate an edged weapon into their encompassing combative platform. Knife fighters push, and thrive on, an image of two guys with knives dancing around in some homosadistic-flurry of lunges, checks, feints, blocks, passes, and give-and-take until one of them slips up and allows the other to plunge the blade dramatically into his heart. The mental image of knives as a duelists tool is so prevalent that it is skewing perceptions of people who could benefit from integrating edged weapons skill into their platform. Time and again when I see knives come up in discussion among armed citizens or professionals, someone will go off on the danger, stupidity or unlikelihood of getting in a “knife fight”. This comment will usually be echoed, and often any discussion of the knife as a functional close quarter tool is fully derailed at that point.
The nonsense perceptions and hokey ideas perpetrated by the knife fighter set do not stop with the common misconceptions, but go further into the ridiculous and dangerous. It is the “knife fighters” and their art that has brought us nonsense arguments on the validity, or invalidity, of reverse versus forward grips, and various strange contortions of the hand(s) and thumb on the grip of the knife. Their ilk have brought us sayings as meaningless and antithetical to knife work as “You don’t have the right to maim someone in self defense”. They have given us complicated rigs that carry multiple knives, and justified them because modern gunfighters carry similar rigs of multiple firearms and magazines, without realizing the ridiculousness of creating modern second-line gear for tools of pre-Columbian warfare. They not only pursue ridiculous extents of imaginary “art”, but seek to justify their ridiculousness by injecting manufactured validity.
That is not to say all knife exclusive trainers are fools, tilting at windmills or practicing hucksterism. Great contributions to complete fighting skillsets have been made by trainers and students exclusively in the “knife fighting” realm. I have learned things of extreme value through the pursuit of knife combatives, and even from folks who may fall into this territory I mention. There is value to be found in deception, diversion and the subtle, more artful, skills often touted by knife fighters.
There are, however, traps along that road – The point of diminishing returns is quickly reached in the pursuit of “knife fighting” as art. The knife, like all other skills, must be continually trained and refreshed to remain functional in your hands – But mastery of the knife is not in achieving some Jedi-like magicians ability with the blade. It is sustained maintenance of robust strength in physical domination, drawstroke and aggressive application of the blade to a dynamic, equally aggressive, opponent. There is little beauty or art in popping a blade in a clinch and repeatedly stabbing it into and ripping it out of your assailant, or in a ground and pound with a push dagger. Functionality, efficacy, yes. And that is the end goal. It’s a knife. Not a paintbrush. Certainly not a magicians wand.

If you choose to pursue art, do so knowing that you’re pursuing art and do it for arts sake. Don’t pursue art in the mistaken belief that art = skill. Painting naked women is not growing a pair, talking to a real woman, going to her place and sealing the deal. If you’re seeking honest skill, that integrates with your other combative skills for the real fight, look elsewhere than “high art” type programs.

3 responses to “Frakkin’ Knife Fighters”

  1. Darren Edwards says:

    Very good post, very true! We were taught in the Marine Corps to use anything we had on hand or could get our hands on, including nothing but our hands as a weapon. There is no magic knife or super duper gun that is the be all/end all solution! And i hate the term “combat knife” or “combat handgun/rifle”….whatever weapon/or object you happen to have at the time you are engaged in a violent confrontation is a “combat weapon”. We were taught to use a tent pole, our helmets, flak jacket even canteen to stab, blugeon or beat someone with…whatever you could use to your an example, I was able to defend myself and break contact with two larger, stronger Marines, one of whom had me in a bear hug, the other one striking me…with nothing but a plastic drinking cup…real plastic of course, not disposable. I struck the bear hugger in the top of the hands repeatedly causing extreme pain and involuntary opening of the hands, releasing the grip and an immediate strike to the forehead of the other attacker with the open end of the cup, caused him to stagger back and stop his attack, allowing me a chance to escape and create distance…maybe i should have called it a combat cup! Just a good example that in extreme circumstances, all that really matters is determination, thinking on your feet, brutality and a will to survive..not some magic weapon, super complex system or un-realistic training!

  2. BFE Labs says:

    Well said, Darren, and thank you for your service.
    A solid cup is a formidable tool in dedicated hands, really. Always been a fan of that one.

    There are no dangerous tools; Only dangerous people. I think thats a reality that a lot of guys miss when they buy the mostest bad-assest fighting knife, combat pistol, out there with all the super-duper killer features on it. It does not make you more capable, and in some cases will only cause more problems.
    Capability makes you capable.

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