Weapons

Knife Fighting: What You Need to Know to Realistically Use and Defend Against a Blade

Of all the possible topics an instructor can misinform students about, defense against a knife attack is by far the most dangerous. Anyone who claims to be an expert with a knife and teaches blocking, empty-hand disarms and low horse stances might as well be teaching students to catch bullets in their teeth.

Because very few knife-fighting tournaments take place in the United States, it is difficult for a prospective student to gauge the authenticity of an edged-weapons instructor. It seems that all an instructor needs to fool the public is a pair of camo fatigues and a photo of himself with a nasty expression on his face and his knife positioned against his opponent’s throat and — shazam! — instant Rambo.

Martial artists often underestimate the difficulty of knife disarms, Vunak says.

In my opinion, the most realistic methods for fighting with and defending against edged weapons come from the Philippines. Because real confrontations with blades are all too common in that Southeast Asian nation, their fighting techniques have nothing to do with phony heroism and everything to do with survival.

This article will describe the techniques and training methods you need to know to defend yourself against a blade — and to use one.

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The infrastructure for knife fighting is footwork. It allows you to maintain the correct distance between yourself and your opponent. Having a low stance with no footwork is like having a Ferrari with no wheels. Being able to quickly maneuver toward or away from your opponent is essential in any fighting scenario — but when he is pointing a knife at you, the necessity skyrockets.

When you think of proper footwork in boxing, you probably envision Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard darting around the ring — light, cat-like and constantly sticking and moving. That is the type of footwork that is appropriate for knife fighting.

Obviously, when you have a sharp weapon in your hand, you do not need to plant your feet to do damage to your opponent. It is far more important to stay light and agile. One slice across the knife hand or a quick thrust to the face may be all it takes to end the altercation.

Distance is key when a knife is play, Vunak says. Too close means too easy to cut.

The distance at which you choose to fight your opponent is important. Many instructors teach their students to engage in knife fighting in boxing range. But if you were to watch one round of a boxing match and count how many times each fighter gets hit, you would see that contact takes place way too often. If the boxers traded their gloves for straight razors, within 10 seconds they would be wallowing in a pool of blood.

There are hundreds of drills that involve close-quarters knife and stick work in boxing range, but they were developed to improve your attributes: sensitivity, coordination, body mechanics, etc. That’s why they are called self-perfection drills. They should not be confused with real weapons fighting for the purpose of self-preservation.

In combat, an experienced knife fighter always fights in largo mano range, which is just outside kicking range. He can more easily avoid being sliced, and he can still accomplish his primary objective, which is to cut his opponent’s knife hand.

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If you cut your opponent’s hand, you will instantly disarm him. It is physically impossible for him to hold a knife when the tendons, muscles and ligaments responsible for controlling his hand are severed. Once you have defanged the snake, the snake is harmless; you then have the choice of killing it or letting it go. Correct footwork and distancing are crucial to making this strategy work.

“Defanging the snake” also applies in stick fighting. Unfortunately, in most modern tournaments you see fighters with protective gear obsessively engaged in head-hunting. Although those bouts do teach students how to deal with adrenaline and are a worthwhile experience, that type of practice should constitute about 5 percent of your training. It should not be your focus because the rules seldom award points for smashing the opponent’s hand, and that is unrealistic for self-defense. If a fighter were to defang the snake by striking his opponent’s unprotected hand with a …

Modern Training With Traditional Okinawan Weapons, Courtesy of Andrea Guarelli and Matayoshi Kobudo

[Sponsored Post] Most Black Belt readers are familiar with the basic weapons of the Japanese and Okinawan martial arts, like the bo and nunchaku. That’s because those ubiquitous self-defense tools are taught in a variety of systems, both traditional and modern.

The Matayoshi style of kobudo is unique in that it teaches techniques for wielding those traditional implements of self-defense along with many, many more. In fact, the system is renowned for the emphasis it places on weapons that otherwise would have been lost in the distant past.

Andrea Guarelli (left) and Shinpo Matayoshi (with the suruchin)

Andrea Guarelli sensei is a master of goju-ryu karate-do and an eighth dan in Matayoshi kobudo. He is the only Westerner to have received his sixth dan and the title of renshi directly from Shinpo Matayoshi. That recognition followed an extended period during which Guarelli trained under the master and the two developed a deep personal friendship. Guarelli’s accomplishments are lauded in this certificate from 1996.

Translation: Mr. Andrea Guarelli, for a long time you have been applying yourself to the growth, diffusion and development, by your students in your country, of our cultural heritage, which is karate-kobudo of Okinawa. The extraordinary results you have reached have contributed to the prosperity of Zen Okinawan Kobudo Renmei. To pay you tribute for your contribution in the association and to honor the result of your effort, I would like to demonstrate my gratitude.”

Below is an exclusive video in which Andrea Guarelli demonstrates suruchin no kata and its application (bunkai) against the tinbe (shields).

Shinpo Matayoshi was known as an expert in suruchin-jutsu. Some believe this weapon dates from far back into history — to a time when it was used primarily against animals. When it’s deployed against a modern human attacker, Matayoshi kobudo teaches students to twirl the weapon with the aim of hitting or ensnaring the adversary’s limbs or neck.

The suruchin comes in different lengths. In the Matayoshi school, the length is proportional to the size of the user. The weapon’s length comes from the cord that runs between the two stones, each of which has a hole through its center. Shinpo Matayoshi liked to use the device to trap an enemy’s weapon, disarming him with apparent ease. He also would demonstrate blocking techniques against weapons that entailed first immobilizing the attacker’s fighting implement with the suruchin and then using the other end to quickly counterattack the person’s vital points.

The use of suruchin in Matayoshi kobudo encompasses numerous tactics and techniques, including the following:

•     Rotation (furi)

•     Defense (uke)

•     Grasping changes (mochikae)

•     Grips (hikitori)

•     Stop in the air (furidome)

•     Hooking (karage)

•     Lengthening (nobashi)

•     Shortening (chijime)

As chairman and founder of the International Matayoshi Kobudo Association, Andrea Guarelli has set out to preserve the history and teach the techniques of the Matayoshi style — including everything that’s related to the suruchin — to interested students and instructors around the world.

To achieve this goal, he wrote Okinawan Kobudo: The History, Tools, and Techniques of the Ancient Martial Art, now available in English from Skyhorse Publishing. This book delves deep into the history of the Okinawan martial arts and includes many never-before-seen photographs given to Guarelli by the Matayoshi family.

In addition, readers will enjoy a step-by-step photo tutorial of the oar kata known as chikin akachu no ekudi (techniques of the red man of Chikin) and eku no kata bunkai (oar-vs.-bo fighting techniques).

Okinawan Kobudo: The History, Tools, and Techniques of the Ancient Martial Art also discusses two rare weapons disciplines: tekko-jutsu and tecchu-jutsu.

Originally, the tekko (above), whose name means “iron hand,” was a horse stirrup. It was readily available and easy to transform into a knuckle-duster, aka brass knuckles. The tekko was favored because it was easy to carry and conceal. Consequently, it became a popular street-fighting weapon in the 1920s.

In 1934 the tekko was officially adopted into Okinawan kobudo. That occurred after Shinpo Matayoshi returned from China, bringing with him several models of tekko. He then devised techniques for wielding the weapon.

Matayoshi shared the tekko with few of his students. While no original kata are known to exist today, the tool was adapted for use with some karate-do kata. Matayoshi advised Guarelli to incorporate the tekko into the goju-ryu kata known as sesan. Some students of Shinpo Matayoshi and Shinko Matayoshi went on to create their own tekko kata — including forms that have been dubbed kakazu, odo and kanei.

Although the origins of the tecchu (above) are unknown, there is a version that descended from a tool that was used by fishermen to repair their nets. Intended for fighting in the water (like the tekko), it fits over the hand so it can be used for …

History and Techniques of Matayoshi Kobudo: Andrea Guarelli Discusses the Rare Okinawan Martial Art

[Sponsored Post] As a child, did you wish you had a nunchaku so you could fight alongside Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael? The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are fictional, of course, but Matayoshi kobudo is a very real martial art, and it’s making a resurgence around the world thanks to Andrea Guarelli of Verona, Italy.

Guarelli is a master of goju-ryu karate-do and an eighth-degree black belt in Matayoshi kobudo. He’s the only Westerner to have received a sixth dan and the title of renshi directly from master Shinpo Matayoshi. That is possible because Guarelli trained under him for many years, and the two developed a deep personal friendship — as evidenced in a 1996 certificate of thanks that reads:

“Mr. Andrea Guarelli, for a long time you have been applying yourself to the growth, diffusion and development, by your students in your country, of our cultural heritage, which is karate-kobudo of Okinawa. The extraordinary results you have reached have contributed to the prosperity of Zen Okinawan Kobudo Renmei. To pay you tribute for your contribution in the association and to honor the result of your effort, I would like to demonstrate my gratitude.”

As chairman and founder of the International Matayoshi Kobudo Association, Guarelli has set out to preserve the history and teach the techniques of the Matayoshi style to students and instructors around the world. As part of this goal, he wrote Okinawan Kobudo: The History, Tools, and Techniques of the Ancient Martial Art, which Skyhorse Publishing has just made available for the first time in English. The book delves deep into the history of the Okinawan martial arts and includes many never-before-seen photographs given to Guarelli by the Matayoshi family.

Of particular interest to the Black Belt readership are the full-color technique photos of eku no kata and related bunkai (fighting applications) that pit the eku (oar) against the bo (staff).

The use of “white weapons” for self-defense has always been part of the cultural heritage of Japan’s Ryukyu Islands, which include Okinawa. Karate and kobudo are two wheels on the axle of the Japanese martial arts.

And while karate is practiced more widely around the world, kobudo can add a similarly rich dimension of fitness to students of any martial art. Making the pursuit even better, training in weapons is a whole lot of fun. Below is a video of two of Guarelli’s students demonstrating nunchaku renzoku kumite.


The Matayoshi style of kobudo dates back to the 1500s. It was systemized and modernized by Shinko Matayoshi early in the 20th century. After his death in 1947, his son Shinpo Matayoshi assumed responsibility as soke and codified the art further, creating hojoundo (basic training exercises), kata and bunkai. When Shinpo Matayoshi died in 1997, his son Shinsei Yasushi Matayoshi inherited his father’s dojo — although he’s not a practitioner of the style. Shinsei Yasushi Matayoshi wrote the preface to Guarelli’s book:

“I congratulate Andrea Guarelli sensei, direct student of my father Shinpo, on the publication of his book about the history, techniques and kata of our school. In spite of national and language differences, no distance exists between people who aspire to the same martial way (budo), and I am deeply grateful for his love and respect toward my father, grandfather and family.”

The weapons of Matayoshi kobudo are divided into four categories: long, short, soft and double.

In combat, long weapons have two advantages over shorter weapons. They have a higher potential efficacy, thanks to their length and trajectory. And their range of action is wider than that of shorter weapons, which permits the user to strike first and from a safe distance. Matayoshi kobudo long weapons include the bo, eku, nunti (perforating weapon) and chogama (long scythe).

Short weapons are easier to carry. For this reason, historically they were more often used for defense than for offense. Matayoshi kobudo short weapons include the jo (medium-length staff) and kuwa (similar to a hoe).

The so-called “soft weapons” of Matayoshi kobudo include folding weapons and limber weapons. Their lengths vary, and they’re most frequently considered secondary weapons intended for use after a main weapon. They can be hidden around the waist (suruchin, or rope with weights at the ends), in the sleeves (nunchaku) or on the back (sansetsukon, or three-section staff) before deployment in a confrontation. Also in this category is the kuramanbo (“stick that turns”).

Historically, the double weapons of Matayoshi kobudo were its primary tools of defense. The sai and tunkuwa (also called tonfa or tuifa) are still in widespread use and viewed as basic weapons suitable for beginners. Others, like the kama and tinbe (shields), are intended for more advanced practitioners. A few, including the tekko (fist-load weapon) and tecchu (hand-held striking implements), are rarely taught and, therefore, reserved for students at …

Katana Care: How to Straighten a Bent Samurai Sword

If you regularly cut tatami mats or bamboo, you’ll become an expert at not only cutting but also bending or, rather, straightening your sword. A bent sword can be the result of using a poor quality weapon, an incorrect cutting technique or both. Even a well-manufactured mono-steel blade or traditionally folded san-mai model will bend or twist if your technique is off.

Strangely enough, bending is the good news. A blade that bends is preferable to one that breaks, chips or cracks along its edge. The fact that a blade bends in lieu of breaking while sustaining no edge damage reveals that its metallurgical structure is in good condition.

bent samurai sword

(Photo by Robert W. Young)

A sword bends because of damage to its internal crystalline structure. It should be corrected by a specialist who has experience working with steel. He’ll have at his disposal several methods and tools designed specifically for straightening blades. Among them are “straightening sticks,” or implements that will help him remedy bends as well as twists.

Although these tools and methods are best left to the experts, there are more conventional ones that can aid you should you need to tweak your sword yourself.

Before you begin, some words of caution are in order: A bent sword cuts flesh as easily as a straight sword. Furthermore, it has a curious appetite for its owner’s flesh. Prior to beginning any work, put on safety goggles and Kevlar gloves.

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Step one: Inspect the blade for damage other than the bend or twist. If the edge has a chip, it must be polished out before you attempt to straighten the blade. If the edge has a crack or the blade is fractured at any point, don’t attempt to straighten it or use it for cutting. A bent blade will tend to bend again at the same point. The steel in the affected area can wrinkle during the bending and straightening process. If improper technique is used, it might eventually break at the same point.

Step two: Prepare the blade for straightening. Determine where the bend or twist begins and ends and place a piece of masking tape across the convex, or outwardly bowed, section. Use a pencil to mark the tape at the center of the bend. Then mark where the bend starts and stops.

Masayuki ShimabukuroMasayuki Shimabukuro in action (Photo by Rick Hustead)

Step three: At the middle marking on the tape, attach a short length of half-inch dowel across the blade at a 90-degree angle. Secure it with rubber bands. Obtain two more dowels and use rubber bands to attach them on the opposite side of the blade at the beginning and end of the bend. The more acute the angle of the bend, the closer the two dowels will be to the center one.

Step four: Place the sword in a vise with the edge facing upward. The far jaw of the vise should press against the two outer dowels. If it’s not wide enough to accommodate them, you can lay a piece of angle iron over one or both jaws to effectively widen it.

Step five: Slowly tighten the vise. While doing so, be sure to support the sword by holding its handle. That will direct the pressure precisely onto the dowels while ensuring that the blade doesn’t shift. The goal is to put pressure on the shinogi (ridgeline) of the sword with little to none being applied to the edge.

Step six: Once you’ve corrected the bend, hold that position for 15 to 20 minutes. You can then loosen the vise and check the blade for straightness. If the new “set” hasn’t taken, repeat steps four and five.

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Complications: You may find that you have to bend the blade farther in the opposite direction to encourage it to take the new set; do so with extreme caution. If the blade has multiple bends or is twisted, you may have to straighten it several times with the dowels in varying positions. That could entail reversing the positions of the dowels to bend adjacent sections of the blade in different directions.

Making your life easier: A differentially heat-treated blade, or one that’s hardened only along the edge and softer at the spine, tends to be less difficult to straighten than one that’s tempered throughout its structure.

Alternative tools: To straighten a blade using clamps instead of a vice, prepare it as described above. Then place two 2-by-4 wooden blocks end to end on the edge …

How the Tonfa Became One of Traditional Karate’s Deadliest Weapons

“For me, the tonfa is a symbol of harmony,” Kina-san told me once. A friend of my karate teacher’s, Kina-san used to give some impressive demonstrations with a pair of his favorite weapons. I had seen him spin a tonfa and catch a solid wooden staff that was being swung at him, then hit it with such force that the staff cracked. So I had my doubts about the harmony stuff.

The simple tonfa, originally a handle used to rotate a gristmill, has been overshadowed by some flashier Okinawan weapons, but it’s every bit as effective and deadly as any other component of the makeshift armament of the Ryukyu. I’d been shown graphically how it could generate enough force to smash bones or pulverize organs. I couldn’t begin to guess how it could possibly symbolize harmony.

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Kina-san was born in Hawaii, but he spent his high school years living with relatives in Okinawa. He trained extensively in karate there. He returned to Hawaii in 1940, just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Bad timing.

tonfa vs. bo

Fearing imprisonment at the hands of U.S. authorities, he spent most of the next four years living in a friend’s hunting cabin in a rural part of Maui, gardening to feed himself and practicing with the tonfa to pass the time.

One summer evening, Kina-san told me about those years and the ones before when he was a karate student in Okinawa. I asked him what he’d meant when he said the tonfa was a symbol of harmony. He explained that while appearing to be of simple construction, it’s actually a complicated tool to manufacture. It must be fashioned carefully and with some precision to withstand the tremendous stress of combat and the abuse of daily training.

tonfa

Fumio Demura teaches the tonfa in Tonfa: Karate Weapon of Self-Defense. Order the DVD here!

The Okinawans discovered that a long time ago when they began adapting various farming and fishing tools for combat. One of those tools — called regionally a tonfa, tunfa or tuifa — was originally made of wood that came from a native species of tree similar to our white oak. These tonfa — the word means “handle” — were used on millstones. The projecting knob was inserted into a hole in the mill’s upper stone, and the longer shaft was used as a handle to rotate it against the lower stone.

Used this way, relatively little stress was placed on the tonfa. When they were adapted as weapons, though, the Okinawans discovered the tonfa often broke where the knob was inserted into the shaft. Several experiments failed to produce a tonfa that could hold up during combat.

Eventually — and I hasten to add that Kina-san admitted this was a folk tale, possibly true but not to be considered history — a farmer noticed that fishing boats were patched with wooden plugs similar in circumference to the knob of a tonfa. The plugs, called fundu, were subject to similar stresses. If the fishermen could craft a plug that was watertight and still flexible enough to withstand the motion of the boat, he reasoned, the same technology could be applied to the tonfa.

The flaw in his plan was that a rivalry existed between many farming and fishing communities in Okinawa. People who lived only a mile away were considered “outsiders,” and few would have dreamed of approaching them to ask a favor. Yet that’s exactly what the farmers decided to do.

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Two of them volunteered to go to the fishing community and humble themselves by asking for advice on making the tonfa stronger. They learned that the method of wood joinery was known to only a couple of local fishing families. The farmers went to them and were surprised to be met with respect.

The fishermen took the farmers down to the beach and shared their knowledge. One secret of the fundu was that they used a part of the iju, a tropical tree indigenous to Okinawa that’s been employed for making seagoing canoes and boats for centuries. Sections of iju wood were cut across the grain and then soaked in sea water to make them fit tight while remaining flexible.

The farmers thanked their unexpected benefactors for revealing the method. Then one of them asked, “Why did you share your secrets with us when there has always been so much distance between farmers and fishermen?”

tonfa book

Own a piece of martial arts history! Fumio Demura wrote Tonfa: Karate Weapon of Self-Defense

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