Knife fighting has always been one of the most misunderstood topics in self-defense. Although everyone agrees that the knife is a potent weapon, there's no consensus when it comes to effective edged-weapon tactics. Some practitioners swear by the traditional European and Asian systems. Others look to military combatives as the ultimate source of blade techniques. Still others regard prison-style knife tactics as the best. So which methods should you bet your life on? That depends on what type of knife you carry and what situations you're likely to face. If you're a soldier carrying a full-size combat knife in a war zone, your needs and rules of engagement are different from those of a convict armed with a sharpened toothbrush or a civilian carrying a tactical folding knife. My exploration of knife tactics began with the classic military systems. In addition to reading about and experimenting with the work of Anthony Drexel Biddle, William E. Fairbairn and John Styers, I had the rare privilege of consulting closely with the late Col. Rex Applegate and personally picking his brain on World War II-era knife combatives. I also thoroughly researched the works of early modern authorities like Michael D. Echanis, David E. Steele and James Keating, as well as masters of the Philippine and Indonesian systems. Every step of the way, I learned something — even if it was what not to do with a knife. The result of my 30-plus years of training, research and analysis is Martial Blade Concepts. It draws heavily from battle-proven tactics taught in the Philippines and Indonesia and adapts those methods to the needs of modern personal defense. Although it can — and has — been adapted to military environments, it's primarily a self-defense system. As such, its greatest value lies in its relevance to the problem at hand: the effective defense of your life and the lives of loved ones against the types of attacks that occur in our society. MBC is based on a number of fundamental concepts that define its reality-based self-defense focus and clearly separate it from knife systems that are unrealistic, poorly conceived or inappropriate for modern applications. Realistic defensive knife tactics are not about knife dueling. Knife fighting — at least the way I see it — is best defined as "learning how to fight effectively with a knife." As long as you're legally justified in bringing a knife into a defensive situation, it doesn't matter what type of weapon your attacker is armed with. Whether he's swinging a stick, a brick, a tire iron or a blade, your tactics must be sound and versatile enough to adapt to the situation. Don't limit yourself to training that focuses only on knife-vs.-knife dueling. Be able to apply your skills to the broadest possible set of defensive situations. [ti_billboard name="Wood vs. Steel"]
Accept that you'll fight with the knife you have when you're attacked. The design of the "ultimate fighting knife" will always be a hotly debated topic, but the truth is that the best fighting knife in the world is the one you have with you when the altercation starts, not the one back home in your sock drawer. Many of the designs recommended by self-proclaimed experts cannot be legally or practically carried by civilians on a daily basis. Understand that, accept it and choose your weapon accordingly. Research the laws in your area and the areas you typically travel to and choose a knife that's legal in those jurisdictions. If possible, select one that has a training version that's mechanically identical to the live blade but allows you to safely make contact with your partner. Then tune your training to focus on the deployment and practical application of that weapon and make its carry part of your daily life. It's essential to understand the cutting and puncturing performance of your carry knife so you know what it — and you — can do to a target. You need to have a clear understanding of its destructive potential, and the only way to do that is to actually cut and puncture targets with it. The best target for this phase of training is one that accurately simulates flesh-and-bone body parts and is covered with a layer of clothing. I use something I call a "pork man." I start with a 5-pound pork roast, then cut it lengthwise about halfway through its thickness and tie it around a 1-inch dowel with a generous amount of butcher twine (which replicates tendons and connective tissue). I wrap the entire thing in 20 to 30 layers of plastic wrap, tape down the ends and cover it with cloth — the leg of a pair of jeans, a sleeve from a jacket or something similar. The result is a good facsimile of the average man's forearm, upper arm or lower thigh — the preferred targets of MBC. Obviously, before you attempt any live-blade cutting, you must have the requisite knife skills and take the proper safety precautions to avoid injury. It's best to train with an unsharpened knife for at least several months before attempting any cut. Live-blade cutting allows you to validate the destructive capability of your carry knife against a realistic target and, in the process, gives you an accurate understanding of the resistance involved when cutting through clothing into flesh. During this part of testing, you should assess the effects of each cut and thrust. Be consistent with the techniques you use and make sure they're not contrived power swings. Until you've invested the time to prove it to yourself, take my word for it: With proper skills, a sharp, high-quality folding knife with a 3-inch blade will cut "to the bone" on a pork man covered with medium-weight clothing. Real self-defense is all about "stopping power." In any fight, your goal is to get away safely — period. As such, the focus of your training should be to stop the attacker efficiently and decisively, to minimize injury to you and to create an opportunity for escape. Unfortunately, most knife systems confuse stopping power with killing power. If you defend yourself by delivering a lethal cut but that wound doesn't produce an immediate stopping effect, you're still in danger. Although your attacker may die, he has the opportunity to kill you before he does. That's not good enough. [ti_billboard name="Against an Angle No. 1 Attack"]
Study human anatomy to learn what targets you can cut to reliably stop an attacker. Although most systems focus on closing the distance and delivering potentially lethal cuts and stabs to the torso or neck, the effects of those wounds aren't immediate, reliable or predictable. Rather than going to martial arts sources, Internet forums or even military close-combat materials — such as the widely touted but wildly inaccurate Fairbairn Timetable of Death — I researched stopping power based on an analysis of knife attacks and interviews with trauma doctors, paramedics, physical therapists and medical professionals who regularly see the results of knife wounds. After hearing about many examples of people who were stabbed repeatedly in the torso but didn't stop fighting, it became clear that there had to be a better way. A foundational element of the Philippine martial arts is "defanging the snake," or biomechanical cutting. Basic anatomy teaches that muscles pull on tendons to move bones. If a tendon is severed or the muscle powering the action is cut deeply enough, the structure that enables movement is immediately compromised. Traditional defanging with a knife involves cutting the flexor tendons or the muscles on the inside of the forearm to take away an attacker's ability to grip a weapon. MBC expands on this by focusing on three target priorities:

  • The forearm and flexor tendons to destroy the grip
  • The biceps and triceps to destroy coordinated motion of the weapon arm
  • The quadriceps above the knee to destroy mobility

Such cuts not only target the tendons and muscles, thus producing an immediate disabling result, but also can be used to attack adjacent nerves and major arteries, providing an immediate secondary method of disabling the limb and achieving delayed stopping power through blood loss.

This approach has been reviewed by trauma surgeons, neurologists and physical therapists, including the staff of the International School of Tactical Medicine. All have found it to be medically sound and agree that, applied properly, it will produce predictable disabling effects.

That's why I recommend basing your tactics on natural, easily learned movements that take into account human instinct and the physiological effects of life-threatening stress. The natural reactions you must allow for include the “startle response" and a degradation of fine- and complex-motor skills. Although it's possible to train to mitigate instinctive reactions to stress so you can apply complicated tactics, it takes lots of time and intense training. A smarter approach is to accept that you'll respond instinctively and build your tactics on the foundation of that instinct.

In training, focus on patterns of motion that emphasize simplicity and commonality of technique. Rather than learning specific responses for each attack, learn a small number of versatile moves that can be reflexively applied to a range of situations. MBC uses a system of angles like the Philippine arts do, but the angles are based on your point of view and used primarily to identify and categorize incoming attacks. Together, those strategies yield a system that promotes rapid, reflexive decision-making followed by the application of instinctive and effective techniques.

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It's essential to develop your abilities using methods that involve the repetition of critical skills in challenging conditions. Repetition is the mother of all skill. Repetition under realistic stress is the mother of truly reliable skill. The “flow" drills taught in the Philippine arts can provide challenging and time-efficient training methods. In their rote form, they isolate and refine specific skills. At higher levels of training, you'll find yourself performing individual drills more quickly and with greater intensity, and you'll spontaneously transition from one drill to another without cueing your partner. This training format promotes quick actions and closely replicates the level of adrenal stress you'll experience in a real attack.

Integrating drill practice into a dynamic “chess game" also allows you to experience what it's like to react to various attack angles from many initial hand positions. In doing so, you program yourself to choose the most structurally efficient responses to attacks and overcome your opponent's checks, grabs and counters.

About the Author:

Michael Janich is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. He has more than 35 years of martial arts experience and is one of America's best-known knife-fighting experts.

To learn more about reality-based self-defense, check out The Ultimate Guide to Reality-Based Self-Defense. This book gives you the keys to unconditional survival. Featuring some of the best self-defense articles from the Black Belt archives, the book explores a wide spectrum of violent situations, delves into the criminal mind, and teaches you how to effectively assess a violent situation and act accordingly.

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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: or go to

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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