Luciano wrote: There are many so-called “gurus” who claim to be able to teach either knife fighting or defense against a knife. Most of them are just teaching regurgitated martial arts, usually from some Phillipino or Indonesian knife/hand fighting art. I have respect for the martial traditions of other people, but the truth is that we live where we do. We are not in a “blade culture.”

Even in Brazil, the knives are not a weapon, it is a tool (lethal tool of course). Some knife fight professors teaches toe-to-toe, with the same weapons, trying to hit/cut each other like gentlemen. They are teaching dueling even if they start practicing like freak monsters!
My ex-wife (one of my early students) was attacked with a knife.
I had talked to she:”If you want to survive, you don’t go in with a “fighting attitude” to any possible violent event.”

Happly she know that was not a fight: it was a try of assassination. The bad guy was not going to want to stand there with she and hack it out. This is exactly the fantasy that many so-called knife fighting experts promote. The absolute last thing I want to do is to try to “fight.”

A sharp knife in the hands of one attacker makes him an instant 50th degree Black Belt. Despite all the martial arts mythology and movie-making, there is no completely effective defense against a knife, I presume. Some people can improve your odds slightly but there’s a million ways they can be hacked up with a knife.

What are your vision (and fight experience) about and against the knife fighters? How you deal with a knife attacker? What are your advices in this deadly topic?

Steve replied: Luciano, I’ve often scanned You Tube etc. to see how other martial artists from the traditional Chinese, Japanese, Okinawan, Filipino, Indonesian and more modern combative disciplines go about dealing with a man armed with a knife. Irrespective of their performance or their claims as to the effectiveness of these traditions/systems or personal methods, or even my own opinion (which is usually ‘what a load of bollocks’), there is one simple fact that remains. And that is, whatever they’re doing isn’t worth shit unless it’s been tested on the streets or in training.

By ‘in training’ I don’t mean in some live blade choreographed karate/aikido/tai chi demonstration against some well-rehearsed stooge, or in drills against an equally compliant training partner. I mean tested in some form of reality based conditional and dissimilar/aggressor training in which even with a training blade, marker or rolled-up newspaper, the intent of your training partner is to butcher you like a piece of meat in one way or another in the shortest possible time. His objective should not be, as is so often the case, to fulfill the illusion of the effectiveness of your tradition, system or personal method by feeding you those stabs, cuts, and slashes you are familiar with in some choreographed, pre-determined way.

For example, if the teacher claims that you should respond in a certain particular way, then test it. See if it works. It’s easy to do this. Ten to one, it won’t work. And, if he’s a non-violent type and he says forget knife defence and run, then try that and see if you can get to the door before your training partner cuts you to ribbons. Try it. For real, try it.

Whatever mindset, physiological response, or physical skills you acquire through your training for dealing with a man armed with a knife, they must be the consequence of working with a training partner who is able to replicate someone who is seriously trying to kill you. Even with a training knife, marker, or rolled-up newspaper, he must be able to replicate your worst nightmare and not one of your fucking daydreams.

And here’s the thing. If you can’t deal with somebody attacking you in a violent and random way with a training knife, marker or rolled-up newspaper, how the fuck are you going to be able to deal with someone armed with say a butcher’s knife who is attacking you in a totally unpredictable way?

On another thread some while back I think it was Rob Mac mentioned live machete practice as a route to the ‘aggressive mindset.’ I don’t really see it that way, unless you’re using it for real and I assume that’s not the case! Sure, engaging in live blade choreographed displays or live blade drills might seem to be the real deal. But the mindset, physiological response, and necessary skills to take on someone with a knife are based on compliance in this case. If either of the parties get it wrong as to what they have to do, and when and where in such an exchange, somebody could end up dead, crippled for life, or blinded. Such exchanges are never free, because the consequences of making a mistake in a free exchange could be deadly. And both parties, being fully aware of this, are naturally cautious when engaging in such drills. That clearly shows up when you watch clips of live blade exchanges.

We learn from our mistakes. Training with training blades, markers and rolled up newspapers allows you to go at full power in an unpredictable way. And here’s the important thing. You get to learn from your mistakes, over and over again, until you get it right. Training with a live blade doesn’t allow you to train at full power in an unpredictable way. You can’t afford to make mistakes. That’s why the routines are overly prescribed and controlled. They don’t prepare you for the reality of the fight.

Not that there aren’t problems when using training blades, markers and rolled-up newspapers; there are. But providing you use your imagination with regards to a realistic encounter, and keep it real—don’t turn it into some fucking stupid game of tag with a blade, or something that resembles a fight on the set of Zorro—training with training blades, etc. can produce more reality than training with the live blade.

There are, of course, occasions within training when you need to work with a live blade to gain familiarity with it; for example, doing solo stabs, cuts and slashes. But again, you’d first want to start with a training knife because of the possibility that you could even cut yourself. Also, if you’re working a knife blade you need to be able to work it against a target, again, with a replica knife before moving on to the real thing. Until you’ve tested your grip, particularly when the handle is slick, you could very well slip and cut your own hand, sever your own tendons. Also, you can get used to the experience of the live blade by standing at a safe distance and allowing somebody to cut, slash and stab at you so you can get used to the sense of being in the presence of a live blade, and how you might respond psychologically to the reality of the knife. You can also get a sense of the movement of the blade and how you might have to connect or disconnect with it. But all of the real close contact/entry drills would actually have to be performed with training knives, etc. for obvious reasons!

The real key, though, to learning to deal with someone armed with a knife is your training partner, who for obvious reasons in technical drilling and even some forms of conditional fighting, shows a certain compliance while you’re in this learning process. But he doesn’t do so during dissimilar/aggressor training. In that form of training, he’s out to kill you, and to prove to you that whatever defence or counter you have, it isn’t worth a shit. That’s his objective. He isn’t there to prove that what you’re doing works. He’s there to prove that what you’re doing, doesn’t. And that’s where he gives to the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. From a personal perspective, you have to learn what works for you and what doesn’t, irrespective of what your trainer might be demonstrating.

Because it’s so dangerous to get real experience against a knife—you can’t go out and pick fights like you might as an unarmed fighter go out on a Saturday night looking for a scrap—this is where dissimilar/aggressor training is critical. Also, within dissimilar/aggressor training you need to practice starting this fight for your life as if you’ve already been wounded, or you’re in a bad position, say on the ground in a compromised position. You have to sometimes start the fight at this disadvantage and seek to overcome it.

This is an area where working on your mind is very important. Like an actor, you have to be able to get into this state where you vividly imagine that you’ve been wounded and it’s serious. Because that’s a strong possibility with a knife; you could get cut or stabbed before you even saw the knife, as well as within the exchange.

If you’re doing this dissimilar training with markers to show where you’ve been hit, then don’t stop when you win the fight. Afterward, you also need to check yourself for wounds, seriously, and be able to self-administer first aid in such a circumstance. Otherwise you could bleed to death before any assistance comes.

The greatest problem with this kind of training, as I’ve already intimated, is finding training partners who are able to replicate the natural born killer types who will kill you without batting an eyelash. Some of them will laugh while they’re doing it. And the reason this is difficult is because the greater percentage of martial art practitioners are non-aggressive types who haven’t a fucking clue what real violence is. Therefore they have a problem with expressing themselves in a violent and destructive way that would come naturally to the natural born killer.

If you cannot replicate that violence, then the only person you’re good at fighting is a non-violent type, and it’s unlikely that he’s the guy you’re going to maybe someday run into. It’s a real Catch-22. What do you do?

The majority of martial artists have no psychological/physiological/physical template to work from, either by their own experiences or by drawing on the experiences of their masters, trainers, or coaches, etc. Indeed, some of these masters, etc. see violence as abhorrent and the domain of the psychologically flawed. Trouble is, it’s the psychologically flawed who will kill you if you are in their territory, step into their personal space, say the wrong thing, or move in the wrong way. Or, indeed, some will kill you purely for the gratification of doing so, for no rhyme or reason.

From my experience, the best people at dealing with those natural born killer types, the so-called ‘bad guys’ are other bad guys. And the best guys at training the non-aggressive types, the so-called ‘good guys’ are bad guys who have a handle on the source of their violence and understand how they have successfully expressed it in many violent encounters. They’re not good guys with the morality of a saint, riding some fucking white horse, or good guys trying to pretend to be bad guys. They are bad guys, who for whatever reason, are willing to teach you what they know.

Computer security firms often hire hackers to sort out their problems, because it’s the hacker they have to defend against. No different here. Knowing your enemy isn’t just about being able to recognize killer types and deciding how you might then go about dealing with them at a verbal or physical level. It’s about being able to get inside his head, having a sense of what he is feeling and thinking and realising the implication of his behaviour and actions. You are able to do that because on some level, you are one of these guys.

Now the thing is, how do you become a bad guy when you are in reality a good guy? Most people are not comfortable with being the bad guy, so they’d rather remain the good guy and run the risk, hoping that they never find themselves in a situation against a seriously hostile opponent. Or they entrust themselves to a ‘good guy’ instructor who claims you’ll be able to solve the problem without compromising your psyche. This is very common in the martial arts.

If I tell you that you’ve got to adopt the mindset of the natural born killer in order to replicate him in training and give yourself and your training partners any hope of surviving against such an individual, most of you will leave the room forthwith! But that’s what’s got to be done. Now having said that, it doesn’t mean you go off to an NLP course teaching you how to be a sociopath, or that all your training is done in a red fury of blind violence. There’s a process, and it’s integral to my method.

To view the world as the dangerous guy, you have to change those neural networks (i.e., recognition, strategic/generative, afferent/limbic networks) by which you interact with the world. There are many ways to do this, but some of them are highly controversial, and not something I would personally put up on the site. Though, as I explained to Ken Milling (who’s a psychologist) this weekend, you can actually go about making these changes in your daily life if you are so inclined.

But the simplest way is to be involved in a reality-based training method that isn’t bullshit, and which is supervised by somebody who is one of these bad guys. There’s a discussion going on over on Shi Kon about whether your trainer needs to be able to fight.

Their arguments in favour of the trainer not needing to fight are OK for boxing or any other contact sport, because the athlete is already aggressive and wants to fight and the trainer is there to provide technical help. But that’s not the case in 99% of the martial arts. The guys who are coming in to the typical dojo or gym don’t know how to fight and expect to be taught how. Where’s their representation of that? Not only doesn’t their teacher fight, but they never get to fight, either. In sport, the athletes are already athletes and the coaches can be fat and old and washed-out, because the coach isn’t the one performing, the athletes are. Even at the lowest level of competitive sport, the guys on the field are playing the actual game. They’re not academically debating it or practicing certain aspects of it in demonstrations or in isolation of the game. They’re doing it. And that’s how the martial arts should be. But aren’t. Unfortunately.